Houghton fineries – verticals of Jack Mann, White Burgundy and more
This article appeared in print earlier this year. Seems only right to reprint it here now and include the tasting notes from a few Houghton verticals too.
Oh, and a note – this was written for a ‘lifestyle’ mag, so the tone is a little different to the norm…
Firstly, a question – one that was asked of me recently, and I got completely wrong.
Namely, where do you think Australia’s third-oldest operating winery is located?
My first pick, naturally, was the Hunter Valley, which has a wine history dating back to the 1820s. Next guess was the Barossa (1840s) with Victoria’s Goulburn Valley an outside pick for good measure.
But all of those answers were incorrect. In fact, Australia’s third-oldest operating winery is located in a seemingly unlikely, rather unfashionable part of the Australian wine world – Western Australia’s Swan Valley.
To be honest, I really should’ve known better than to forget about ‘The Swan’, as this powerhouse of WA wine production can trace its roots back to 1829. In fact, the Swan Valley region can not only lay claim to the third-oldest Australian winery but the second and sixth oldest too, with more old wineries in this underrated part of WA than there are miners in the Perth airport QANTAS club.
|The pretty Houghton cellar door|
Speaking of underrated, the third-oldest winery itself, Houghton, seems to be perennially forgotten when Australian wine heritage is talked about, with Houghton known better for its sub $15 white wine – the famed Houghton’s White Burgundy (or White Classic as it is now called) – than anything else.
Just like the Swan Valley however, it is foolish to discount Houghton, for a closer look at some recent wine show results turns up the fact that it is amongst the most awarded wineries in Australia. More to the point, Houghton also picks up more trophies and gold medals for Cabernet Sauvignon than nearly anyone else in the nation, even though few people would ever think mention Houghton when they’re talking about top Cabernets.
If ever there was a wine to ram home just how fine these top Houghton releases can be it is the superb, soon-to-be-released 2011 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon. Crafted using grapes from one of Great Southern’s oldest vineyards (the Justin vineyard), it is a wine that demonstrates what can be done when you have access to grapes all over WA. Jack Mann is a ‘cream of the crop’ wine that deserves to count amongst Australia’s great reds, with enough intensity to see it live for 20 years or more no sweat.
There is only one challenge ahead for a wine like this – namely, it’s still a Houghton, which means that the public perception is more about cheap and cheerful rather than iconic superstars. In fact, even the bottle itself feels more like budget wine, the glass lighter and the lid flimsier than either the price tag or the quality of the wine deserves.
But maybe that is part of the equation – a reminder that the best wines come from humble origins. Humble origins… just like the Swan Valley.
These were written in a large lineup of Houghton wines served at the winery earlier this year. Notes are as scribbled on the day with extra bits in italics.
Houghton White Burgundy 1998 (Western Australia)
13% alc, pH 3.3, TA 5.8g/l. Cork.
Golden yellow. Warm and quite forward honey fruit, lanolin and creamy apple pie before some jutting alcohol. At its peak and just a little creaky, though nice creamy finish. 16.5/20, 88/100
Houghton White Burgundy 2002 (Western Australia)
12.5%, pH 3.31, TA 6.8g/l. Cork.
Straw yellow. Slightly muted nose over a gently honeysuckle palate. Still quite primary and some citrusy tightness. Pleasant but not remarkable. 17/20, 90/100
Houghton White Burgundy 2006 (Western Australia)
12%, pH 3.1, TA 6.2g/l. Cork
Still some green fruit in this – definitely a much tighter and more linear wine in the lineup. Perhaps a fraction too neutral? Has some delicious pear fruit in there with just a hint of cream bottle age. Freshness and some bottle age interest. Passion fruit finish. Quite fun. 17.5/20, 91/100
Houghton White Classic 2009 (Western Australia)
12.8%, pH 3.1, TA 6.4g/l. Screwcap
Green fruit. stuck in between primary and secondary stages with largely just firm acidity to show for it. Super neutral now. Come back in 3-5 years. 16.5/20, 88/100
Houghton White Classic 2013 (Western Australia)
13%, pH 3.16, TA 6.2g/l. Screwcap.
Looks rather tropical, all fresh tropical fruit on the nose. Aromatic yeasts? Pyrazine hints too. Palate looks curiously thin and Dispirin like. Acidity looks balanced though. Come back in 10 years. 16/20, 87/100+
Houghton Wisdom Chardonnay 2007 (Pemberton, WA)
13.8%, pH 3.25, TA 6.09. Screwcap.
Open, Sao biscuit nose. Bottle aged but clearly also a ripe and quite toasty (oak and lees) style. After the promise of the nose the palate is a little stunted and boozy, the finish warm too. Extra points for the nose though. 17/20, 90/100
Houghton Wisdom Chardonnay 2009 (Pemberton, WA)
13.5%, pH 3.24, TA 6.62.
Quite reserved, acid driven style. Indeed it looks rather muted for 09. A curious wine that is still sorting itself out – that acidity is quite tinny. Need another look at this 16.8/20, 89/100
Houghton Wisdom Chardonnay 2011 (Pemberton, WA)
13.5%, pH 3.24, TA 5.8
Open, nutty and viscous – the nose is quite perfectly judged and quite complete. The finest Wisdom in this line and the longest too. Rather satisfying, complex and nutty Chardonnay. 18.5/20, 94/100
Houghton Wisdom Chardonnay 2013 (Pemberton, WA)
13.5%, pH 3.2, TA 6.1. RRP $36.99
Very tight and still carrying banana ferment esters. Added acid here? Still unfurling in the bottle though. Hold. Lots of power but not even or balanced enough to love as yet. 17.5++
Houghton CW Ferguson Cabernet Malbec 2007 (Great Southern, WA)
14.3%, pH 3.5, TA 6.4. 75/25 Cabernet/Malbec
Fleshy, open and a little boozy. Drained finish. Nice gravelly classic Cabernet nose, but a little skinny. Still dense and chewy but feels slightly underpowered. Nice tannins. Where is the fruit. 16.8/20, 89/100
Houghton CW Ferguson Cabernet Malbec 2008 (Great Southern, WA)
14%, pH 3.42, TA 5.69. RRP $59 92/8 Cabernet/Malbec.
Sweet bitumen style. Really all roasted fruit and warm spiky finish. Needs the palate weight to match the alcohol. Unbalanced. 15.5/20, 85/100
Houghton Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 (Margaret River, WA)
14%, pH 3.37, TA 6.93
Rambunctious nose – lovely gravels and cedar and spice. Oak rich palate is smooth and still tannic and drying. Don’t notice the huge acidity. Nice leafiness through the finish. This is top shelf gear, the finish exceptional. Maybe a little warm? Very handy though. Would have been an oaky wine in its youth, Gold medal quality. 18.5/20, 94/100
Houghton Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Margaret River, WA)
14%, pH 3.36, TA 6.22
An almost sullen wine in this context. Rather leafy with lots of eucalpyt. Drying tannins. Subtle and may live forever but maybe a little lean. Keeper though. I like the pure lines here. Give it 5 years. 17.7/20, 92/100
Houghton Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Margaret River, WA)
14.3%, pH 3.49, TA 6.18
Forward, ripe, warm and almost caramelised – is this an 08 from south Oz? Definitely has fruit sweetness but some obvious raisining. Tannins not up to the task either. Still, long long finish gets this some kudos. The bitumen dead fruit subtracts and dries everything out. Alcohol a full stop. Long but hmmm. I’d like to revisit in 5 years. 17.5/20, 91/100
Houghton Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Margaret River, WA)
13%, pH 3.51, TA 6.1
Much better. There’s some obvious oak on the nose of this – very modern oak though, plush and smooth. That palate is seamless too – cool and spicy. It’s still a puppy – and perhaps a little too youthful, but has a very good balance too it. Almost southern Victorian in its profile rather than gravelly Margs though. Nice even finish. This is a keeper. I’d like to see some more classic Margs characters as it’s perhaps too smooth, 18/20, 93/100+
Spicy black leaf mulch. Quite advanced on the nose. Palate is really backward though – deep, black fruit and a mid weight finish. Spicy. Clearly a palate and finish filler but misses its cab component. A bit uncompromising. Real cocoa powder richness here though – has an absolute decadence to it. 17.7/20, 92/100
Houghton Jack Mann 1994 (Great Southern, WA)
13.5%, pH 3.39, TA 6.7. 85/10/5 Cabernet/Malbec/Shiraz
Still impressively dark, just a hint of mahogany at the edges. Nose looks more forward and has the tea leaf character of older Aus Cab – starting to look more old wine than old WA wine. Still a lovely wine though with excellent drying tannins. I really rather enjoyed this. Fresh finish. Top class. 18.5
Houghton Jack Mann 1999 (Great Southern, WA)
14.5%, pH 3.39, TA 6.65. 70/30 Cabernet/Malbec
Heroic wine. Concentrated but seems to be driven by alcohol and tannins. Huge tannins. Sweet, mint and oak nose, palate looks like it’d teetering, holding onto oak richness but hot and heavy. Excellent intensity though – long leafy finish. If the alcohol could be reined in this would a star. 17.7/20, 92/100
Houghton Jack Mann 2004 (Great Southern, WA)
14%, pH 3.42, TA 6.2. 98/2 Cabernet/Malbec
Significant bottle variation in the 04 Hardy’s red releases – TCA and oxidation. healthy intensity and life but it just feels a dull and boozy. Low level TCA? I’m not convinced by this. 16/20, 87/100
Houghton Jack Mann 2011 (Great Southern, WA)
14% pH 3.56 TA 6.27. 96/3/1 Cabernet/Malbec/Shiraz.
Welcome back. Softer and pretty. A barrel sample-esque wine but such delicious drive. Harks back to the 94. I’m stealing Ralph Kyte-Powell’s quote ‘deceptively drinkable but will live for 20 years’. Fine tannins. Excellent drive. No acid. Back to the top tier, this is really natural and such length! 18.7
Cork vs Screwcap
What a comparison this was. Same wine, two different closures. I didn’t score these as was to interested in the comparison. Served blind.
Houghton Jack Mann 2001 (Cork)
Rather forward and caramel. Treacly but with big alcohol. Warm year wine. Open and flashy though – hearty drink with a slightly earthy ferrous red finish. Meaty and a little raw. Warm year wine for sure.
Houghton Jack Mann 2001 (Screwcap)
This seems more svelte, more closed and more boozy. I’m guessing screw as it seems much more backwards (bingo). A better wine? Not conclusive. I think the more open 01 under cork is better.
Houghton Jack Mann 07 (Cork)
Slightly more vegetal wine. Closed too. Lots of acid in this puppy. Quite refined though – tight lines. Fresher than the last wine.
Houghton Jack Mann 07 (Screwcap)
More polish, more tannins and more flavour – a rich bugger too. Is this the cork wine (it wasn’t)? Such a baby. Long termer. Classic. Very similar wine. Hard to separate cork and screwcap but this perhaps gets the edge. Long and purpley oak berry amalgam. An excellent wine. Tannin aplenty – slightly raw tannins but burly drive. Excellent!