Friday, July 22, 2011

Australia and Wrap up: A World of Cabernet Sauvignon

The final flight in our tasting covered Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Australia but, unfortunately, the results were somewhat disappointing.  The wines tasted were: 2001 Gralyn Estate (Margaret River, Parker 94); 1997 Penley Estate (Coonawarra, Parker 91); 1994 Penfolds Bin 707 (Barossa Valley, Parker 90); and 2003 Two Hands Aphrodite (Barossa Valley, Parker 94).

These wines might have suffered from being the last wines on a rather long night where they were preceded by 17 quality wines.  The Margaret River was described as having an Irish Spring aroma and collapsing on the palate while the Penley Estate hinted at molasses and muddy water with a definite Shiraz leaning.  The Bin 707 had a "Grange nose" and was "Napa on steroids" while the Two Hands Aphrodite had a short finish and was "uninspiring."  The Bin 707 was designated WOTF but, according to the panel, this had more to do with the weakness of the field than the brilliance of the Bin 707.

At the conclusion of the Australian flight, I asked the panelists for their impressions of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the varying regions.  Ron began by stating that there had been impressive wines tasted from each region but that the Bordeaux wines stood out for him.  He would approach this discussion by asking the question "What wines do I want in my cellar?"  He would eliminate Australia immediately.  He liked the older California wines -- the Heitz, for example -- but they do not make wines like those anymore.  The more modern California wines seem one-dimensional with low acidity and high alcohol.  Bordeaux is the one for him.  Those wines stood out and were the most interesting.  He was also very pleased with the Leonetti.  Overall, as you tasted the wines, you could clearly tell whether you were in the Old World or New.  But with Bordeaux, he could tell where the wine is from and the vintage -- for example, whether it was a wet year, or a hot year.  He had heard that Chilean Cabs were Bordeaux-like but did not get that sense coming out of this tasting (it should be pointed out that we only had one Chilean Cab in this tasting); as a matter of fact, he felt that the Don Melchor was closer to Napa than to Bordeaux.

In his comments, Andrew noted that Bordeaux stood out on its own.  "You cannot confuse these wines for anything else but Bordeaux."  In a blind tasting he would have placed the Ornellaia in with the Bordeaux wines.  Ron chipped in at this point to say that he would put Italy right behind France in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Andrew said that the Ornellaia was still fresh.  He found it a little hollow but would still put it in his cellar.  This tasting was an interesting window, according to Andrew, on how Cabernet Sauvignon has evolved in the New World.  For example, in Meritages he has a problem picking out the Cabernet Sauvignons from the Merlots from the Cabernet Francs, a problem he almost never encounters with Bordeaux blends which tend to be a lot more balanced.

Russell felt that the goal of the tasting was accomplished in that Cabernet Sauvignons from different parts of the world showed distinct differences in characteristics.  His bias is towards Bordeaux.  His surprise of the night was the 2003 Ducru-Beaucaillou, which showed great class and elegance.  Australia was disappointing for him in that the wines all tasted Shiraz-like but, that being said, the Penfolds was his favorite.  He enjoyed the Ornellaia.

Jeff was very sure that Australia and South American Cabernet Sauvignons were not for him (He came in with this baggage).  His preferences tend towards Napa and France depending on his mood.  If he wants the tertiary flavors like saddle leather, cedar, cigar box, etc., then he drinks Bordeaux.  According to Jeff you do not get those flavors with Napa Cabs except for wines like Dominus and some of the older Napa Cabs.  He was thrilled with the way the Heitz showed tonight.  The tasting basically served to reinforce his preferences.

I commented that I had a special place in my heart for Cabernet Sauvignons from Bolgheri but felt that the wines from Bordeaux, even the lesser ones, stood up very well against their peers from other regions. I am currently overweighting Bordeaux in my purchases in order to bring that region to a position of dominance in my cellar.  The Ducru, Leonetti, and Heitz were different, but standout, representations of Cabernet Sauvignon from my perspective.

Fred was more impresed with the New World wines than the Old but, as he says, that is his palate.  He liked the Leonetti, Revana, and Shafer.  Laurie and Lisa concurred with Fred in this position.  Laurie likes "California fruit bombs" while Lisa feels that Napa Cabs are great drinking wines which complement what you are doing today and have great flavor.

There is a clear sense of place associated with Cabernet Sauvignon from varying places around the world. Whether that difference is a result of sunlight, aspect, soil, climate, or a combination of these factors, is beyond the scope of this post.  We set out to identify regional differences and we did.

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