Cellar classics: Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 vs 1991
Typically, my birthday lasts for a week. Some years it’s more like a fortnight, and three years ago it was almost a month. But mostly it’s just a week of celebration.
This year, however, I’ve compacted things down into just a few days. It might be because I’m getting old. It might be because thirty four is a nothing birthday. It’s might be because I’ve got way too much else on this week to fit in much celebration.
Whatever the reason, this year I feel like I need to go hard for a shorter time. Drink better, eat better. Drink more, eat more. More and better.
Which means that for last night’s birthday dinner (at Sydney’s Guillaumes) I went all out. In came the additional lobster and wagyu course. In came the bottle of Champagne (a sprightly Diebolt Vallois blanc de blancs) rather than just the glass.
And in came this pair of classic Australian reds from Wynns.
1990 and 1991 have something of a mythical reputation here in Oz, with ’90 particularly considered to be the vintage that Australian red wine made it. A strong, warm vintage in many parts of the nation (largely South Australia), it produced the sort of concentration and intensity that had people from around the world (notably the US) trying to figure out where the Barossa actually was.
It was, to mangle a cliche, the vintage that put Australian wine on the map. The vintage of the century.
So much so that when the 1991 vintage came along it was all but forgotten. The clamour for ’90 meant that the cooler, more structured forms of the 91 South Australian reds were cast aside.
Yet fast forward a few years and suddenly some of those ’90s didn’t look as great as expected. The ’91s instead looked more even, cooler, with more acid. Less power, more glide. So much so that now, twenty five odd years later, many producers ’91s look better than the ’90s.
What’s fun about this contrast is that it’s not a hard and fast rule (and it’s largely a South Australian thing), with any comparison of ’90 and ’91 vintage premium reds from wine producers in the Barossa, Coonawarra, Clare bound to bring up differing results.
For one example, the ’91 Petaluma Coonawarra is, for mine, a much more impressive wine than the jammy ’90. Ditto the ’91 Katnook Cabernet, which edges out the ’90 in many ways.
But I’m not so sure about these two Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignons. I sat there with a small glass of each in front of me last night and mulled over which wine I preferred and why. I was drinking, rather than tasting, so didn’t really score. But you get my drift.
This is what I came up with:
Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1990
Raspberry, cough syrup and black currant liqueur. Immediately riper and more red fruited than the 91, it’s thick set and bold, with just a background edge of baked fruit, though thats also part of the charm. Almost prickly acid punctuates the finish and its still young, even with the mushrooming and earthen evolution of age. What give it an edge over the ’91 is that its just more generous – less severe. It is, however, not getting any better, though the acid suggests it could live for many years yet. Impressive wine, arguably an icon, but is it truly seduction in its form? That I’m not sure about it. Still, there’s something wonderfully real about this wine – from first whiff its identifiable as warm year Coonawarra Cabernet and, for what was a humbly priced wine back in the day, its an unquestionably attractive red.