Cabernet time at the Graham house
|Stop! Cabernet time|
What’s the biggest challenge with attempting to judge young Cabernets? They typically show poorly in their youth… As barrel samples Cabernet can look great, but once in the bottle most straight Cabernet Sauvignon looks gruff, gangly and frequently, well, rubbish.
This lineup of eight Cabernets was a perfect case in point. Day one I opened and double decanted all of these and followed it up with a proper ghetto decant* an hour later (All best practice tasting there).
On the first day I was underwhelmed. Depressingly underwhelmed. So underwhelmed that I started to worry that my love affair with Cabernet might be ruined (did I mention that there is more Cabernet/Cab blends in my cellar than any other variety?).
Thank God then that I stuck the bottles back in the fridge. Thank God for 24 hours of air time (in the fridge). For that sleep did wonders for some of these wines. Almost to the point that I was considering two very different tasting notes for several in true chameleon style. Still, no questioning that many of these come from very difficult vintages, which shows rather obviously…
The following notes then may look a little discombobulated and schizophrenic, but I can’t stress enough how much just a little bottle age would/could help turn some of these frogs into princes (or at least just better looking frogs. Maybe).
Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Goulburn Valley, Vic) 14.5% $24.80
Like all Tahbilk reds (seriously all of them) this needs time. It requires patience and a cool cellar. I’m just glad that I gave it a full 24 hours to reveal itself…
A “challenging vintage” according to the Tahbilk notes, and I hate to say it but that’s obvious from the first whiff. It smells of a warm and hot year, of caramelised, slightly strained fruit, of raisining and dustiness. Yet by day two that fruit begins to settle back in again, almost as if it’s found a second wind. The palate is fresher, with a flush of berries to complement the drying tannins. Actually, the tannins are the hero for this wine, they look a little desiccated and dried out on day one, but by day two they were holding everything together.
So where does that put this wine then? It’s still a Tahbilk Cabernet, so it’s still a stout and well made wine. It’s perhaps not the best example of the lineage but, with a decent decant, this is actually quite solid drinking. Patience… 16.5/88+
Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Margaret River, WA) 14% $29
Produced off exclusively estate fruit, this was given 10+ days on skins and spent 18 months in (30% new) French oak. Normally a very reliable drink, I think it’s a somewhat riper wine than is usual for this label, a perception which is announced via some of volatility on the nose, over concentrated and warm, dusty, jammy berry fruit. It’s ripe on the palate too, perhaps a fraction too much so, with the berry fruit looking a little cooked and bitter, the tannins a fraction sticky and dry.
Recognisably Margaret River and carrying some proper regional eucalpyt and cedar, it’s pleasant enough though probably overripe in the scheme of things. By day two it looked a little more composed, but only fractionally so, with hard tannins and with more pronounced oak too.
Not much love from me I’m afraid. 15.7/86
Mount Avoca Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Pyrenees, Vic) 13.5% $25
From a hot, warm and windy vintage, this includes 10% Cabernet Franc in the blend.
It carries the touch of a warm year too, with minty, leafy Pyrenees fruit that looks a little confected and desiccated, with a figgy edge. That juiciness is the key feature, but it can’t cover up the dulling hessian characters of slightly dried out Cabernet. Should improve in the bottle and not a bad wine, but I just didn’t quite feel the freshness. 16.2/87+
Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, SA) 14.5% $29.95
Sourced mainly from the older Hollick plantings (all 25yrs+ and planted on prime terra rossa soils) this spent 20 months in French oak (30% new).
A slightly odd smelling wine this one, with grilled capsicum and smoky, squished berry fruit, In this case it’s all about mixed ripeness, both over and under. The medium bodied palate is quite fresh, all things considered, with rather dry tannins and finishing with slightly astringent, capsicum edged tannins. Fair, but hardly earth shattering, though the freshness is welcome after the last couple of wines, this ultimately just lacks the extra punch to really make it a winner. 16.5/88
Mcguigan The Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra, SA) 13% $28.99
10 day open ferment, new French and American (!) oak for 16 months. I’m still puzzled by why you’d be using American oak with Cabernet (it works for 707 I s’pose).
This looks positively ruby after the last couple of wines. Raspberry, cedar and licorice with hessian oak overtones. Looks very coiled actually, with swirls of boysenberry fruit popping out too. Quite a vitality to that fruit, even if, again, it looks to have come from a warm vintage. Nicely unforced red fruit palate looks positively glossy and even pretty in this context, even if it’s just a fraction desiccated. There’s pleasure here though, a welcome freshness even if it’s just a teensy bit dried out. By day two it looked rather appealing actually, the finish and balance feeling quite pleasant and feline. Genuinely good booze. 17.2/90+
|Terre a Terre Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
The pick of this lineup
Terre à Terre Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Wrattonbully, SA) 13.9% $35
Extended (2 weeks) cold maceration post ferment. 21 months in oak, 100 days (exactly) in a 4,000L foudre. Close spaced (1.5m x 1.5m) plantings. The real deal. Such attention to detail makes this wine.
Real deal indeed. Lovely vibrant voilet/red colour and lighter than anything else in the lineup. Immediately more vibrant on the nose too, more composed if still carrying the pippy red fruit ripeness of the vintage. Dry and juicy with excellent grainy tannins make this a really attractive style. Excellent tannins. Long and poignant, with a whole other realm of balance and tannins compared to any other wine in this lineup. Should get even better with age too. 17.9/92+
Flaxman Shhh Cabernet 2008 (Eden Valley, SA) 14.5% $35
I like the amount of love that all the Flaxman wines get. Open fermenters, minimal pumping, 20 months in French oak. There was only 85 cases of this wine made apparently. Drawn from a vineyard in Moculta (which is on the Barossa/Eden Valley edge).
Lot’s of flesh with this wine too, with a very sweet fruit nose of chocolate edged blackberry jam. Unbelievably blackberried. Has a very sweet and plummy, fleshy palate too with some slightly odd, warm year apricot fruitiness. Light tannins to finish. Drawn from a hard year and looks very light and easy because of it. Caramel edges. Just not quite serious enough but fleshy caramel pithy fruit will appeal to many. An odd wine though in the wash. 16/87
Clairault Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Margaret River, WA) 14.5% $45
92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot. Comes off the estate’s original 1976 plantings. Open ferments, 10 days skin contact, 18 months in French oak (40% new).
Boom! Step up for real Margaret River Cabernet character. Darkly leafy nose, hello meaty deep fruit. Serious. Minty and dry palate is muscular and deep if just a fraction forward. Perhaps an acquired taste and a minty/meaty wine with a suggestion of horse, but there is genuine form and depth here. 17.7/92
*A ghetto decant involves pouring a glass out of a bottle and then, using the headspace left in the bottle to ‘decant’ by shaking vigorously until the wine is frothy. Can also be done by pouring into a glass and placing a hand over the glass. Special note to make sure the bottle/glass has a well secured lid/hand over the top or otherwise serious spillage can occur.