Wickman tasting of icon Aussie Cabernets

Mark Wickman of Wickman Wine Auctions invited me to a really nice tasting with some of his other clients – nice people.

The tasting was partly to check the condition of these wines which have gone to Singapore and back – they were in pristine condition, obviously they have been kept under good cool cellar conditions.

Here are the wines that were tasted in order:

Mount Mary Quintet 2003 – 13% – Yarra Valley – 88 points

A charming, soft savoury food oriented wine. European herbaceousness. I came back to it at the end of the tasting and wasn’t quite so impressed (I can understand Parker complaining that this is a poor imitation of Bordeaux and that Australia should focus more on what it does best) but it is a good wine, just not really worthy of the fame and price.

Cullen Diana Magdelaine Cabernet Merlot 2004 – Margaret River – screwcap – 14% – 91++ points

Superb cab merlot fruit, lots of high quality oak, tannin, strong concentration. In spite of its youth and intensity it’s a pretty delicious wine. My only gripe with these top WA cabernets, Cullen in particular, is that they always seem so youthful, I’ve seen them soften and integrate a bit with age but not develop complex secondary characteristics of age. Perhaps they just age very slowly. That said they have delicious flavour from early on. Classy wine.

Moss Wood Cabernet 2002 – Margaret River – screwcap – 14% – 91 points

A very interesting wine, I would have picked it blind for Merlot not Cabernet, a very dense high quality merlot. Could be a Californian icon wine.

Sawdusty warm oaky nose, plummy fruit, almost a touch of that fruitcake ripeness that top Pomerols show. Plenty of stuffing, and tannin too. Very ripe but not cloying.

I’m not sure I’d have liked this wine so much if I had it alone with dinner, but I could very well be wrong. Intruiging wine. Very different from the Cullen but similar quality level.

Domaine A Cabernet 2003 – Tasmainia – 13.5% – 88 points

Lacks the concentration of the prior two wines. A bit sweet and simple at first but nice cool climate fruit flavours emerge, and a welcome degree of secondary development starting to emerge. Has some charm, it’s a very interesting and good ambassador for Tasmania – cabernet is hardly their most successful variety, which makes this all the more impressive. Suffers in comparison with the prior two much deeper WA wines though.

Balnaves ‘The Tally’ Cabernet 2005 – 14.5% – 85 points

The disappointment of the tasting. Dark yet slightly dull colour, syrupy currant nose, palate is warm-hot climate straight forward Aussie cabernet, with too much alcohol. Some people felt it was more like “dry red” than varietal. It’s a powerful wine that shows first class winemaking but a style that just tramples over terroir – I’d have never picked this as a Coonawarra wine. It’s good quality but way over-priced and competing head-on with McLaren Vale and Barossa cabernets.

Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz 2006 – Barossa – 14.5% – 90 points

I expected this wine to absolutely bomb in the company it was shown in here. This is a soft alcoholic sweet fruity Barossa shiraz with lashings of American oak, very different from the largely elegant line-up that cam before it. If it had been tasted blind this would have been an awful shock!! But fortunately it wasn’t. I had low expectations, the last Meshach I tried was very sweet, but this wine showed some restraint in the use of oak, and the added acidity gave balance without standing out. It’s not a wine I’d seek out, there are too many better and cheaper competitors, but I was pleasantly surprised here. A good example of a particular style of Barossa shiraz.

I see it won a gold at the Decanter world wine awards.

Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 1998

92 points

Barossa Valley, South Australia. 14.5%

Surprising touch of mercaptan aroma.

A close knit Barossa shiraz that has only recently started to mellow. Nice balance, not overtly sweet like some, or too dolled up with added acid and Am oak like some.

That said while it’s quite correct it isn’t that exciting. For the price and vintage I had hopes of something a bit more interesting.

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Peter Lehmann Stonewell 2008

87?++ points. 14%

This has been given very high scores by wine critics who are far more accustomed to drinking young intense wines.

For me, it smells of shiraz. It tastes tight and quite tannic. No Barossa lusciousness yet. French oak. All very correct. No glimpse of soul or terroir yet.

Leave for 10 years at least.

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Shiraz by Farr 2008

92 points

Geelong, Victoria. 13.5%

Wow, this is a million miles from the Barossa, well not quite just 100km south of Melbourne, but clearly cool climate shiraz. Whole bunch fermentation shows, as does the flick 4% of viognier. Tannins are almost non-existent. It’s young, still showing an almost just fermented character but it’s riper and with softer acid than many Northern Rhone wines so it comes across as very pretty. The young cool shiraz fruit isn’t as cloying and floral, though I’d still recommend cellaring for a few years. That said, I can imagine this being a big restaurant favourite, especially amongst New World Pinot drinkers.

Which raises the question why drink this when you can drink Pinot? Perhaps a fair question at this stage but give it a year or three and this will assert itself more clearly as cool climate shiraz rather than a shiraz made in a pinot style.

Very interesting wine.

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Seppelt St Peters Shiraz 1998

93 points

Great Western, Victoria, Australia. 14.5%

In spite of the 14.5% label this comes across as a medium bodied wine and with practically no tannin. But the flavour is gorgeous, classic shiraz, plus aged complexity. Top Aussie cabernets just don’t seem to show this aged character, at least at this age.

The acid is very soft. The oak is French and very restrained.

Absolutely not a blockbuster. Gorgeous.

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Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz 2006

91 points

13.5%

Youthful and dark colour.

This once was Seppelt Great Western Sparkling Burgundy. In more recent years it’s been sourced from a variety of places and quality varied somewhat but in recent years it is back as the best value sparkling red in Australia and a wine of distinctive style.

It’s red fruited, quite unlike some sweeter and black fruit to prune flavour competitors. Quite tight and reserved, though there is clear varietal flavour. This is rather dry, very food oriented. Indeed almost too dry to drink without food. I have a fear that it may simply dry out and fall over with age as some Seppelt Victorian wines have had a tendency to do – even though they start life seeming so dark and concentrated that they will live a long while.

Time will tell. But at the moment it’s a classy flagbearer for sparking shiraz in Australia.

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Voyager Estate Shiraz 2004

91++ points

Margaret River, Western Australia. 14%

Great colour, balancing acidity, deft oak, ripe grapey tannins. Lots to admire in this modern Rhone style, but the deep fruit seems locked away. It certainly doesn’t seem like an 8 year old wine. A cold cellar and screwcap have perhaps arrested development.

I have high hopes. One for the cellar.

Turkey Flat Shiraz 2002

90 points

Barossa Valley, South Australia. 14.5%

from the great 2002 vintage where it was said that even a drover’s dog could make decent wine. That said, later in bottle some signs of incomplete ripeness have shown and there is a vegetal seam here not usually seen on Turkey Flat.

Also some interesting aged character, old leather even. Has classic Barossa creaminess but more savoury and complex than most.

Awful tiny cork.

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Alpha Estate 2007

89 points

Florina, Greece. 14%

Syrah 60%, Xinomavro 20%, Merlot 20%.

The best Greek wine I think I have ever tasted. Still youthful. Fresher more herbal than most wines from the South of France. Excellent balance. Just marred by a touch of raisin.

That said, Next to it Turkey Flat Shiraz 2006 just sang. Richer deeper yet without any raisin.

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Yalumba The Signature 1993

92 points

Barossa Valley, South Australia.  13.5%

A classic Australian 50/50 Shiraz/Cabernet blend that should be more famous than it is.  This vintage is heavily oaked in a Penfolds style.  This calms down with a bit of breathing, but it’s still a weighter more forcefull wine than some other vintages which show more elegance.

The Cabernet provides an extra flavour dimension to the Shiraz, but it is the latter which contributes the complexity that age can deliver.  Quite a few years ahead of this wine.

Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz 2008

83 points

Barossa South Australia. 14.5%

Surprisingly mellow and unconcentrated. Bland. Reflects its price, not the stellar ratings that Wine Spectator gave it.

In spite of the back label talking of “wine that speaks of honesty” Schild Estate were caught bottling a 2nd different (bought in) wine under this label after selling out due to the Wine Spectator review. I was assured that this was the first bottling (the 2nd was given a note on the label – after they were caught).

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Houghton Gladstones Shiraz 2001

91 points

Frankland River, Western Australia.14.5%

Classy wine with some high quality fruit, but the volume is turned up a little too high, too much oak, too much concentration. Perhaps all it needs is more time, but I’m sure they could have picked a little earlier, extracted a little less, used less new oak and achieved a finer more elegant wine. Nevertheless it has style and depth – very good wine.

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Stella Bella Shiraz 2007

90 points

Margaret River, WA. 14%

This has that intense varietal character that marks Margaret River Cabernet and Chardonnay. Clear as a bell Shiraz without any of the super ripe characters of Barossa or the floral characters of cool areas. A relaxed loose knit style, potentially a wine of great charm. Certainly very high on the drinkability stakes, restaurants should be clamouring to get this on their list.

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Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1998

90 points

Coonawarra, South Australia.  14%

Interesting contrast to the Penfolds Kalimna 1998.  Both clearly from the same stable with Penfolds density of fruit, heavy oak and added acid – not over-blown but tight, built for age.  The Kalimna is warmer, with more sweetness – showing Barossa fruit and American oak.  The Bin 128 is more savoury, French oaked.  All to be expected I suppose, but that overriding family similarity is more than I expected.

Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Dry Red 1991

90 points

Hunter Valley, NSW. 12.4%

I bought a few bottles at auction as a gamble. I found a few negative reviews online so was expecting faulty wine but the level of fill wa excellent, colour was surprisingly dark, aroma clean attractive complex aged. A lovely old wine, still quite fresh, a gentle elegant savoury shiraz.

Great historic wine label too.

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Cambridge Road Syrah 2008

84 points

Martinborough, NZ. 13%

I was apprehensive about opening such a young wine but needn’t have been, it’s a soft gentle approachable wine.

Black pepper and dilute fruit on the nose continues on the palate. Very much a floral Pinot sort of style of shiraz, indeed the blend contains 9% Pinot Noir.

Geoff Kelly is a big advocate of NZ syrah, and quite down on hot climate shiraz. I have some sympathy for his advocacy and I prefer the more elegant Kiwi shiraz to some of the over extracted superbombs they have sometimes tried to make. NZ shouldn’t seek to emulate McLaren Vale but this wine goes too far, it reminds me of supermarket Crozes Hermitage but at 5 times the price. Bernard Faurie’s St Joseph 2005 tasted alongside has lots more stuffing, more acid, and seems years younger (not 3 years older).

Drink now.

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Te Mata Bullnose 2007, Clonakilla O’Riada 2007 and Turkey Flat Shiraz 2007

Three excellent modern, French oaked Syrah/Shiraz from the 2007 vintage. Young wines but now with 4 years in bottle.

The common varietal and age is very apparent. They all show excellent youthful deep colour. None of these wines reek of oak and they are all very clean.

The Bullnose is more savoury. The Clonakilla is slightly sherbity in comparison (in a way that some young Rhone wines can be in really ripe vintages). The Turkey Flat is sweeter still but in a fruit ripeness sense not actual sugar.

Alcohols = 13%, 14%, 14.5% respectively.

The hotter climate Turkey Flat is slightly less floral and clearly has riper flavours (a touch of fruit cake) yet it is pleasantly fresh for a Barossa wine amongst this cool climate company.

And at the other end of the spectrum the Te Mata Bullnose is not marred by any vegetal flavours. It’s the best on the night. Although the Turkey Flat is the most different in this company I’d place it second.

3 very good wines. The differences between them are fascinating. They share in common that they are reasonably priced (until their fame grows).

Stella Bella Shiraz 2007 cf Turkey Flat Shiraz 2007

A fascinating comparison. I expected the Turkey Flat to taste much more ‘hot climate’ than it did paired against the Stella Bella from Margaret River.

Both French oaked, very well made modern wines. Both under screwcap. They smell and taste like cousins. The Stella Bella is, as expected, slightly more fragrant. The Turkey Flat is the more complete satisfying wine and so, surprising for its age, better drinking now – and also in the long run too I expect. But the Stella Bella is still a very fine wine. The similarity in flavours is remarkable.

2007 was a near perfect dry warm vintage in Margaret River. In the Barossa it was difficult, a frost hit, concentrated hot dry vintage was hit with a huge downpour of rain in mid January which caused splitting. Turkey Flat did remarkably well.

90 points Stella Bella
91 points Turkey Flat

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Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz 2006

90+ points

Barossa Valley, South Australia. 13.5%

In this vintage Yalumba absolutely nailed this distinctive South Australian wine blend. It makes me think all Barossa Cabernet ought to be blended with Shiraz.

It’s serious concentrated warm climate fruit yet it retains a beguiling freshness. The balance is great which given the ripe fruit and tannins delivers a seductively drinkable wine at a mere 5 years of age. Hide as much as you can in your cellars though, out of temptation’s way, because this should gain a lot over the next 10+ years.  UPDATE after tasting some older vintages, sometimes alongside this 2006 I wonder if this is worth cellaring, it doesn’t gain much with age, it softens but not much more – or maybe it can age for nearly forever.  Certainly the 2006 gives a lot of enjoyment now, so there isn’t great incentive to wait.

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