COLERAINE, 1982 – 2015
There is perhaps a reserve, at least a lack of flamboyance, in the wines. ... Te Mata's Coleraine is built
on deep fruit with a certain severity that needs ageing ..." Steven Spurrier, Decanter, February, 2007
PART 1: THE HAND-OUT / BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR THE TASTING ...
• The beginnings:
• The present tasting:
• Table: The vintages tasted, and Growing Degree Days
PART 2: REFLECTIONS ON THE LIBRARY TASTING ... AND COLERAINE THE WINE ...
• What is the level of achievement for Te Mata Estate Coleraine ?
• The myths and the reality:
• Scoring of wines:
• The Future: what does Coleraine need, to in fact achieve at the level the winery already claims for it ?
PART 3: THE WINES REVIEWED:
• Table: Ranking of the wines by participants:
• Wine reviews:
PART 1: THE HAND-OUT / BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR THE TASTING ...
Ask the ubiquitous google.com what is New Zealand's most famous red wine ... and one is instantly buried in an extraordinarily diverse range of views ... and grapes ... and no clear unanimity at all. Quite surprising, in fact. So I will jump into the breach and say: Te Mata Estate's Coleraine (cabernets / merlot) is arguably New Zealand's most famous red wine. The two main challengers in my view might be Stonyridge Larose (cabernet blend) from Waiheke Island, and Felton Road Pinot Noir (as a concept, several label variants), from Otago. However, Coleraine has probably been attracting favourable overseas reviews for a longer timespan. In particular the 2000 Coleraine raised the wine's profile considerably. It received several good reviews in the British wine press, comparisons being made with Bordeaux and the Medoc in particular. By way of example, the well-respected Jamie Goode, of the United Kingdom wine website Wine Anorak reviewed it thus:
Te Mata Coleraine Cabernet Merlot 2000, Hawkes Bay, (£22.99)
Rich, intense ripe creamy blackcurrant fruit nose. Very rich and enticing. The palate is bold and
concentrated with nice minerally structure underlying the bold fruit. Very good/excellent, 92/100
As related by John Buck in the booklet Te Mata produced at the time of their 'Coleraine: The First 25 Years' vertical tasting (3 May 2008), the story of Coleraine goes back to a tasting presented by the late Tom McDonald in Hawkes Bay, in the spring of 1966. The wines included a vintage of Ch Haut-Brion, and the just-bottled 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon. In John's words:
"The significant thing about the McWilliams wine was that it had an aroma of classical Bordeaux about it. It was a floral fragrance, an aroma that you still don't get from most red wines, and for me it was that aroma that I had left behind in Europe. I believed then, and still do, that this characteristic is regional, that here in New Zealand was a place where wine like that could be grown.
This tasting was like lighting a fuse. Michael Morris, our partner in Te Mata Estate, and I drove back to Wellington, saying 'we seriously need to consider getting into grapegrowing and winemaking in Hawkes Bay'. There was not a hint of disagreement or qualification of the goal. It was all about finding the sites.
It took eight years and many, many visits before the purchase of the historic Te Mata Estate. ... our fundamental plan of making a red wine based on cabernet sauvignon with floral characteristics, remains. We look for old dark roses, with a background of violets and peonies. ..."
Peter Cowley, winemaker for Te Mata since 1984, and now Technical Director, goes on to say:
"Great cabernet / merlot is rich but elegant, with sweet fruits and a refreshing dryness, tinged with the dried herb nuances of cabernet sauvignon. It always improves with cellaring, gaining suppleness and a unique fragrance that distinguishes it from other wine styles.
Coleraine is a blend of wines from our best and oldest vineyards. The intention is always that Coleraine has very pure and precise aromas and flavours, and to this end we avoid some of the new methods such as barrel fermentation, the use of American oak and the addition of tannins. ... In looking back I know that in every year we made the best wine possible and that each Coleraine accurately reflects the time and place in which it was made. The longer I work with the Bordeaux grape varieties in Hawkes Bay, the more certain I am that our soils and climate are exactly suited to the Bordeaux blend and the more excited I become about the future."
In addition to the 25-years booklet, the best summary of Te Mata's viticultural and wine-making approach to Coleraine is provided by Michael Cooper, in his Classic Wines of New Zealand. The first few vintages were made from fruit solely grown in the Coleraine vineyard surrounding the Buck homestead, above the winery on the Havelock Hills footslopes. Since the 1989 vintage other sources within the Te Mata spread of vineyards have also been used, where the grapes meet the desired quality. These sites are mainly on the Havelock Hills, but may extend to The Triangle (Peter Cowley's Bullnose vineyard). Quite apart from the excellence of Te Mata's Bullnose Syrah, lately Chris Scott has also been demonstrating exactly how good The Triangle is for cabernet blends, with Church Road's famous Tom Cabernet / Merlot blend now being largely sourced from that zone, not the Gimblett Gravels.
All grapes for Coleraine are hand-harvested, the cropping rate averaging 7.5 t/ha (3 t/ac). Cooper records:
"The fruit is processed in batches, based on variety, vineyard and soil type. The grapes are destemmed but not crushed, and there is no pre-ferment maceration. The must, inoculated with cultured yeasts, is warm-fermented at up to 32° C in open wide-diameter stainless steel tanks, holding 8 or 11 tonnes of grapes. The wine spends a total of approximatively 21 days on its skins, punched down three to four times daily during the ferment with a semi-automatic, pneumatic cap-plunging system, which moves from tank to tank, achieving a thorough, gentle extraction. Malolactic fermentation occurs in the tanks. Blended after seven months, the wine is matured for 18 to 20 months in French oak barriques (75 per cent new), with ongoing topping and three to four-monthly racking. Egg-white fined during the second winter, it is bottled in December and released three months later, at two years old, with an average alcohol content of 13.5 per cent."
Coleraine is not sterile-filtered to bottle. Production of Coleraine is understood to now have crept up to over 3,000 cases per annum. Peter Cowley notes that while the approach is fine-tuned each season, there has been remarkably little change over the years. He further comments:
The intense blending process (assemblage) after seven months in barrel has as the underlying principle, 'the whole being greater than the sum of the parts'. From this point, the primary characters of fruit, oak, tannin and acidity develop in harmony as the wines get older. Coleraine is fragrant with concentrated dark berry characters, a firm, finely textured palate and a sustained finish. It develops and intensifies in bottle for 15-20 years from harvest."
In selecting their vineyard site in Hawkes Bay, Buck and Morris put into practice what has commonly been supposed: that in nett grape flavour and hence wine quality terms, the better parts of the temperate Hawkes Bay and Bordeaux wine districts are remarkably comparable, climatically and viticulturally. In the discussion for each vintage below, the Growing Degree Days (GDD) figure given is Te Mata's estimation for the season, based on Te Mata's data-loggers (since 1996) and an average of their Havelock Hills sites and The Triangle. Prior to 1996 they have established a correction factor for the data from the Lawn Road Research Station figure (nearer the coast, in Clive). The total is for the seven-months growing season, October to April. Allowing that both Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay are too big and diverse for any one number to be meaningful for any one site, recent detailed research by Anderson et al (2012) as cited by the latest Oxford Companion to Wine shows that Hawkes Bay with total GDDs given as 1334 median to 1423 max is indeed remarkably comparable with the Bordeaux average of 1387. Peter Cowley notes that in most years they do not utilise the total summation, by virtue of picking on taste, before the end of April.
Given a sufficiently warm season, success in Hawkes Bay viticulture is critically dependent on settled weather in the March / April period. At that time of the year, the principal risk is decaying ex-tropical cyclones descending to the latitude of the Bay, bringing humidity and warm rains from the north-east to east sector, that is, directly from the ocean. March and April rainfall means vary around the Hawkes Bay grape-growing districts, but are of the order of 55 to 75mm per month, with the risk of one day of ground-frost in April. Daily mean temperatures for the four months January to April are between 19° (Jan) to 15° (April), which coupled with the district being one of the sunniest in New Zealand, makes it ideal (in a temperate-climate sense) for the cabernet family of grapes, and syrah.
The present tasting:
The foundation for this tasting is the legacy of the late Grant Jones, founder of Regional Wines, and wine entrepreneur extraordinaire. Recognising Coleraine as an emerging fine wine of New Zealand, from the beginning he laid aside two bottles of most vintages, for a retrospective vertical tasting at an appropriate point. This goal was cut short by Grant's untimely death in 2004. Some vintages were added in subsequent years by Alastair Morris (son of Michael Morris), when he was managing the firm. Due to subsequent misadventure, the selection of vintages at Regional Wines had certain gaps for critical years, where Coleraine did particularly well. These have been filled by Geoff Kelly, who has also taken out a back-up bottle for every vintage but one, since cork taint is almost inescapable in opening two sets of 12 bottles spanning 31 vintages. This left only the 1989 vintage without a back-up bottle. Michael Parker has generously supplied that.
We decided to present 12 only of the 31 vintages, to focus the experience constructively. The vintages chosen for our tasting were decided by first asking Peter Cowley which were his favourite years, then checking which of those wines we could muster. The only 'top' year missing from our dozen is 2000, which Regional lacked, and I decided to conserve my resources to run in 2000 vintage Bordeaux tastings. Instead we have the 2002, climatically similar. Peter has kindly provided a thumbnail couple of words to sum his view of each year's wine (except 2002). I have then sought an overseas view where available, or Michael Cooper. Finally, Raymond Chan's comprehensive overview from Te Mata Estate's own 'First 25 Years tasting' is provided (precis-ed) up to the 2005 wine, plus later vintages from his website.
The vintages to be tasted, and the Growing Degree Days, (courtesy Peter Cowley)
| 1982: GDD 1457 |
1983: GDD 1398
1989: GDD 1664
1991: GDD 1557
1995: GDD 1536
1998: GDD 1757
| 2002: GDD 1425 |
2005: GDD 1448
2007: GDD 1452
2009: GDD 1494
2013: GDD 1489
2015: GDD 1405
It is now 35 years since the first vintage of Coleraine was made, the first being 1982, three years before the first Stonyridge Larose. While there are New Zealand wine labels that are older, for example Matawhero Gewurztraminer, Babich Cabernet Sauvignon, Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon, Te Mata Estate's Coleraine is arguably the longest-established premium wine label (meaning of international quality) under the one proprietorship in New Zealand. In that time 31 vintages have been released, the latest being 2015. We have both the first, and the latest, and pretty well all the best years in-between. Coleraine was not made in 1992 and 1993, consequent on global cooling from the Mt Pinatubo eruption June 15, 1991 in the Philippines, and again in the coldest year since, 2012. The proprietors’ preparedness to not release the wine in such years is a measure of how serious they are about making a wine which will show New Zealand's bordeaux blends at their best.
There have been other tastings spanning all or part of the range of Coleraines, but few have been written up appropriately. The most important was the 25th anniversary tasting mounted by Te Mata themselves, and presented in Napier, Saturday 3 May, 2008. Te Mata produced a handsome booklet for that occasion, which Peter Cowley has made available to me. Happily Te Mata did invite Raymond Chan to that event, so there was at the time a detailed record of how the wines opened up. It was published on the original Regional Wines website, but (sadly) that material is now not available. Raymond has made a copy available to me, to background this tasting.
On this occasion the wines are not being presented blind, the goal being to appreciate each year for what it is. Nonetheless, we will still seek a ranking of the most and least-favoured vintages.
PART 2: REFLECTIONS ON THE LIBRARY TASTING … AND COLERAINE THE WINE ...
What is the level of achievement for Te Mata Estate Coleraine ?
There is no doubt that this vertical tasting gave much pleasure to the participants, not only for its rarity now, with the oldest vintage 35 years old, but also for the quality of the top wines. The two tastings booked out in a few days. The 'popular' reputation of the wine in isolation in New Zealand is now such that it is difficult to in truth establish its factual reputation. Most of the people who comment on the wine, do not in fact see it in strictly blind tastings, alongside comparable wines from (for example) the Margaret Rive district of West Australia, or Bordeaux west bank chateaux. Also, sometimes they have senior people from the winery in attendance, exerting their not-always-subtle influence on the taster's perceptions. Tastings such as this one, concentrating only on Coleraine itself, are a pleasure in themselves, but do not answer the wider comparative question. Therefore, in this section of the review, I will examine aspects of the wine's wider standing, and ask: what is the level of achievement of Te Mata Estate Coleraine, over the years, noting that our tasting had 11 of the 12 best vintages, with the lesser ones omitted. Just as in Bordeaux, Hawkes Bay is a marginal climate for cabernet sauvignon particularly, so there are some very good years, rather more average years, and some that are lesser. To Te Mata's credit, Coleraine is not released in the poorest years (three in 34 vintages so far, to 2015). But that subtlety of climate allows the best years to achieve a delicacy and complexity not found in the wines of warmer climates. Vertical tastings of Bordeaux classed growths are likewise normally of the good years.
Five of the more exciting and attractively ripe wines from the tasting. From the left: 1982 Coleraine, surprising ripeness, soft and fragrant, frail, 18; 1991 Coleraine, at a peak, more complexity, real Bordeaux style, 18.5, 1998 Coleraine, arguably the top wine of the tasting, approaching its peak, a delight, 19; 2009 Coleraine, another ripe year, complex, tannin to lose, 18.5 +; 2015 Coleraine, exemplary ripeness, all promise at this stage, one to invest in, 19.Overall, Te Mata do deserve great praise, and particularly for their single-minded vision. For John Buck and Michael Morris to crystallise their 1966 dream, put in place the tools and land needed to achieve it, and then in little more than a generation, achieve a qualified pre-eminence for the wine in New Zealand terms, is both heartwarming in a simple human context, and wonderful as a wine achievement, both for the proprietors and for the New Zealand wine industry. In particular they would have little chance of achieving the precise florality they desire, and recognised so accurately in fine Bordeaux, had they set up their vineyards almost anywhere in the less temperate (and thus more difficult) viticultural climate of Australia.
The great thing about the better years of Coleraine is the quality of bouquet it achieves, as the proprietors sought from the outset. In the florality, subtlety and finesse of its bouquet, and its pinpoint varietal definition, the wine is clearly of Bordeaux classed growth quality – even occasionally some second growths. The makers must therefore be paying great attention to the point of picking, seeking to avoid sur-maturité, to achieve this. This precise quality of bouquet is an attribute of the cabernet / merlot winestyle that few countries on Earth can achieve. And it is not by chance that the Te Mata people have built up the cabernet franc, and omitted petit verdot from Coleraine, thinking of that most fragrant of bordeaux, Cheval Blanc, maybe.
The other great achievement of Coleraine in particular, but for all the Te Mata red wines and chardonnay too, is their early restraint in the use of oak, at a time when many New Zealand winemakers had the all-too-typical New World thought that if a little oak is good, then more is better. For decades now, Te Mata have been a model to the industry, when it comes to oak. Even in youth, the oak is rarely obtrusive, and in maturity the ratio of new oak employed marries away to delightful cedary complexity. It is only alongside matching bordeaux wines that sometimes even in Coleraine the oak seems a little unsubtle.
But there is more to red wine than its bouquet. Indeed, as noted in the reviews below, for many tasters, the quality of bouquet is almost incidental ... at least while one is learning about the bordeaux winestyle. However, the universal esteem in which the 1998 Coleraine wine is held, plus my marking of the 2009 in this tasting almost to the same level, both warmer years, suggests that the proprietors are reluctant to ripen Coleraine to a level most critical tasters find pleasing. Capturing the warmth and ripeness of a season, in the explicit fruit quality of aromatic cassis augmented by dark plum, yet at the same time retaining the maximum possible floral qualities in the bouquet, is the supreme challenge, in the claret winestyle.
Yet for most people, it is the flavour and texture of the wine in mouth that is the key determinant of quality. It is here that Coleraine still falters. In the best years, it is lovely as far as it goes, but ultimately it lacks the saturation of flavour, the length and richness of texture, the absolutely mouth-filling qualities, of great claret. This is not about a wine being 'big' in the sense of strong and oaky and bowl-you-over rich, as so many Australian red wines seek to be. It is just an intensity of texture and beauty in mouth that is palpable, that criterion of quality where great bordeaux approaches great burgundy, even though the tannin structure of the two winestyles is different. On palate therefore, as confirmed by the dry extract measurement for the 2013 (see later), the level of achievement of Coleraine so far (and even then, only in the best years) is more at the level of the best cru bourgeois, or smaller-scale classed growths – wines of the calibre of Ch Potensac, Ch Cantemerle, Ch Talbot, or Ch Duhart-Milon prior to the 2009 vintage.
What is needed now, to take the wine to the next step of absolute parity with fine classed Bordeaux, is perfectly achievable in Hawkes Bay, thanks to the precise temperate-climate qualities of the district's climate. The most exciting thing about these conclusions is, in one sense, that the precise quality of bouquet is the hardest part to get right in the bordeaux (cabernet / merlot) winestyle, yet Te Mata Coleraine has achieved that, in its best years. The absolute qualities of richness and texture on palate that the wine needs to rank with second growths, even super-seconds, is achievable in the vineyard, as discussed in the section: The Future:
The myths and the reality:
In recent years there has been a virtual barrage of claims and announcements from both the winery itself, and from credulous winewriters and wine people, that Te Mata Coleraine is of the same calibre as some of the world's greatest wines, that it matches classed growths, that it matches second growths in particular, even that it matches first growths, that it is a 100-point wine. The list goes on.
By selecting the best years among the 31 vintages of Coleraine so far sold, the present tasting experiences and reports on a rose-tinted summary of the winery's achievements. In truth there are many vintages which are lesser, as there would be in Bordeaux. Coleraine too did not escape the nearly ubiquitous New Zealand problem of the 1980s and 1990s, that in some years our cabernet / merlot wines were critically under-ripe, by international standards, with leafy and green qualities through the bouquet and palate, coupled with the wines being thin, and often acid. Te Mata however have been zealous to a fault in covering up such years, and finding words in which to convey the most favourable interpretation possible on nearly every year they have released. By and large the standard of wine-writing in New Zealand is such that they have rarely if ever been challenged.
Thus, when it comes to review of the wines, the more praising, some might say gushing, the review is, the more likely it is to be reproduced on the winery's website. And given the New Zealand wine industry's still-persisting cultural cringe, whenever overseas reviewers have proven susceptible to the winery's persuasive powers, such reviews in particular have pride of place. Thus we have overseas reviews citing relatively light years of Coleraine as being the equivalent of Bordeaux second growths, as well as local reviews marking certain vintages of the wine as meriting 100 points. Similarly, recent reviews have taken to referring to Coleraine as New Zealand's 'First Growth', again implying that the wine is the equivalent of the very best of Bordeaux classed growths – the top 5 wineries of the thousands in Bordeaux. This is simply not the case, but that does not stop the winery promulgating such reviews widely. These reviews say more about the persuasive powers of the proprietors, than the qualities of the wine in question.
There is a difference between being good, or even very good, and being world-class. Stephen Brook in his acclaimed book The Complete Bordeaux estimates there are 13,000 wineries in Bordeaux. Focussing down on the west bank, and the Medoc where Coleraine finds its spiritual home, of them some 240 – 270 are good enough to be in the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois – the number varies year to year. Then there are the 60 classed growths – and not all of them are great. Certain Napa Valley cabernet / merlot producers have shown that young wineries in New World countries scrupulously matching Bordeaux viticultural and winemaking / elevation practices can match the fine wines of Bordeaux (e.g. The Judgement of Paris, 1976). But to claim that a Hawkes Bay winery not strictly following Bordeaux cropping practices already produces wines matching the top couple of dozen in the vast and diverse Bordeaux wine region, with its centuries of winemaking experience and history, strains credibility, at least to any thoughtful reader. But by promoting only such reviews, and completely ignoring other sometimes more thoughtful reviews, it can be argued that Te Mata do themselves as well as the customer a disservice. Conversely, it can also be said, Te Mata's brand-building for Coleraine is unmatched in New Zealand wine.
But overall, Te Mata do deserve praise. Many things they do superbly, taking the best of tradition, and supplementing that with a modern approach. Right from the outset in 1982 they have used 49 mm corks in Coleraine, when the industry average for quality wine in Australasia was 45mm at best, versus France at 49 mm. In the mid-1980s they moved to both full branding and vintage dating of the corks, something that many New Zealand wineries trying to convey a premium image by using cork as the closure, still cannot get right even today. In the mid-90s they adopted 54 – 55mm corks, to match the best Bordeaux producers, but felt obliged to return to 50mm when pathetic New Zealand customers complained they could not open them without the cork breaking. And almost alone in the industry, Te Mata's website provides some information for every vintage of the premium-label wines they have made. This is both wonderful, and shows a pride in their workmanship and achievements which is totally admirable. Would that far too many other New Zealand wineries showed any understanding at all of such a concept. I use the Te Mata website constantly, not only for their own wines, but more often as a proxy for more disinterested wineries who cannot be bothered documenting their wines at all, beyond the current-vintage they are trying to sell.
In this whole area of presentation, there is only one detail Te Mata slip up on. For many years their fill levels in the bottles have been lower than ideal, and when you think about it, less than generous. From and including vintage 2000 (since when evaporation is likely to be negligible), ullage on Te Mata Coleraine has averaged 17mm, for the most recent 16 bottles I have opened. In contrast the ullage on the same number of Bordeaux wines (from the same time interval) has been 13mm. This initial difference equals a significant number of years ageing / evaporation, for those of us who cellar wines seriously.
Scoring of wines:
Scoring of wines is relative both to the reviewer and their experience (of the wines of the world, not just one subset), and to their country of operation. In Australia and New Zealand far too many winewriters are currently engaged in a ghastly escalation-of-scoring race, whereby now dozens of wines are being ranked at 95, 96, 97 and more points, without the slightest regard (and in too many cases, even awareness of) the truly fine wines of the world beyond Australasia. The customer is simply being hoodwinked. Why is this happening? Unfortunately, the unstated agenda for too many wine reviewers is not to inform the customer, so much as to ingratiate themselves with the winery / supplier. Thus the supply of samples is assured. It matters not that the customer is being misled. These people forget that the key reason why Robert Parker became the single most important wine reviewer on the planet, before he took on associates, was because of his belief that the customer deserves the most honest and factual information available, Ralph Nader-like. Plus, he is consistent, the hardest of all wine-reviewing capabilities to achieve.
Thus in the reviews below, I too cannot escape entirely the Australasian influence, since I have been a senior industry wine judge over a 35 year timespan, and there is subtle pressure to mark up in judgings. But in private practice, I do allocate the level of gold medal, 18.5 points (or 92.5 points), extremely thoughtfully. The wine not only has to be technically sound, but it must be exceptionally pleasing. And it must measure up against closely related winestyles from overseas. In the case of Coleraine, that means Bordeaux, and more particularly, the wines of the Medoc. It is a matter of certainty, however, that if Jancis Robinson MW or Julia Harding MW of www.jancisrobinson.com, two of the world's most highly-regarded wine critics, had attended these tastings and written them up, that all their scores would be at least 1.5 points and more likely 2 or 2.5 points lower than here. They are notorious as conservative markers. Their posture can be criticised, even though there is a often a refreshing blunt truth in their views. But, and it is an important but, at a certain point of wine achievement it is reasonable, and it relates to reality to say, as Robert Parker does, that this wine is good enough to be called perfect, 100 points.
Robinson and Harding in effect don't do this. The very few wines they have ever allocated 100 points to (or, in their case, scoring out of 20, 20 points) are simply unattainable, or near-mythical, in practical terms. For example: for Ch Margaux, the wine that inspired Tom McDonald, often regarded as the most feminine of the first growths, only one vintage (1970) from 1900 to 2016 has rated 20 points with Robinson and Harding; for Ch Montrose, the more fragrant of the two great second growth Saint-Estephes (and a super-second), no vintage from 1900 to 2016; for Ch Palmer, another wine often remarked on for its beauty, and also a super-second, one vintage (1961), from 1961 to 2016; for Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou, arguably the most subtle and beautiful of the Saint-Juliens, and a super-second, no vintage back to 1920; for Ch de Beaucastel (ss) back to 1966, no vintages. This is a very austere view of the world. They do relent a little for Ch Latour, four vintages (1970, 1961, 1959, 1945), back to 1900. And for the famous sweet wine Ch d'Yquem, 12 vintages since 1900 make the cut. Just to add perspective, in the New Zealand context, no vintage of Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou since 1920 has ever been marked at the Australasian gold-medal level of 18.5 points. What do we make of this ? Marks have meaning only relative to the marker. So in this context, Robinson has never marked Coleraine higher than 16.5++ (for the 2007 vintage). They have not reported on the wine since the 2009 vintage.
But to take this discussion full circle, 1965 McWilliams (Tom McDonald) Cabernet Sauvignon represents the starting point for the modern New Zealand wine industry. There was not another wine of that quality until 1982 Coleraine maybe, or 1987 Stonyridge Larose certainly. Thus, for current New Zealand wine reviewers to be asserting that any current New Zealand wine represents perfection in world wine terms, as 100 points must mean, in just 50 red wine vintages, particularly when the vines are not cropped at the level top Bordeaux or Napa Valley proprietors practise, is highly unlikely. As an addendum to these observations, I will record that I purchased a 12-bottle case of each of those three wines at release, and a case of 1966 Ch Palmer (see below, amongst other 1966 Bordeaux) likewise, and feel I have some understanding of them - in world wine terms.
The Future: what does Coleraine need, to in fact achieve at the level the winery already claims for it ?
A superficial reading of my earlier comments (on the level of achievement for Coleraine) might be interpreted along the lines that Te Mata's Coleraine needs to move to the modern style of weighty, over-ripe and over-extracted bordeaux which some Bordeaux consultants encourage, and some American commentators praise highly, but the ever-wise Andrew Jefford decries. Jefford (2002) quotes Christian Mouiex, for many years winemaker at Ch Petrus, tellingly:
"I'm against those new technologies, which I think have the big danger of losing the finesse and the elegance and the subtlety which for me make Bordeaux unique. ... We are entering the competition of the muscles rather than the brain."
I agree with Jefford. But that said, there is a richness and substance to the palate of fine traditional examples of bordeaux which Coleraine has never approached. As John Buck relates in the Introduction re his wine learning, 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon made by Tom McDonald (and Denis Kasza) was an eye-opener in my wine education too, the kind of reference wine one had to buy by the case (of 12). However, the full details of what is needed in fine Bordeaux blends were made more explicitly clear to me from the moment I tasted 1966 Ch Palmer, and then bought a case (also of twelve) to study. That wine has been my absolute mentor in all the ensuing years, and to this day too (in the sense I still have the wine). It was my guide in making assessments of New Zealand red wines in the 1970s and 1980s which upset winemakers of the day. Many winemakers then simply were not familiar with wine of the calibre of 1966 Ch Palmer, a wine which went on to be regarded as one of the definitive examples of the quite good 1966 Bordeaux vintage, matching the first growths. The lesson from those bottles of 1966 Ch Palmer was wonderfully clear. Great examples of the bordeaux winestyle (cabernet / merlot blends) can be both rich and satisfying and textural on palate, yet remain infinitely subtle and floral and beautiful and endearing, in both bouquet and palate. In part, this is what John Buck was talking about, after attending that initial tasting with Tom McDonald.
But there is one fish-hook that needs thinking about. In an earlier discussion about the Coleraine style, some of which is repeated here, I noted that John was gaining experience in the United Kingdom wine trade in the 60s. Notwithstanding the great wines since the war, the 1945s, '53s, '59s, and '61s, that was a different era climatically. And it became progressively a much lesser and cooler era through the later '60s and nearly all the 1970s. The wines were in the simplest terms much lighter in body and often very much less ripe than in those great years. Slightly under-ripe wines are often more fragrant and floral than fully-ripe or particularly over-ripe wines. As with pinot noir exactly, but even more acutely so because of the methoxypyrazine chemistry in the cabernet family of grapes, the challenge with cabernet / merlots is to achieve maximum florality in the wine, yet without under-ripeness, leafyness or stalkyness in taste. It must be noted that traditionally the Bordelais abhorred sur-maturité, whereas latterly (or at least until very recently) this concept has become much less valued, as winemakers pursued full and even over-ripeness (by Bordeaux standards) to secure high rankings from American winewriters, who are habituated to a Napa Valley level of ripeness in cabernet sauvignon. Considering all these factors, I therefore surmised that John came back to New Zealand with a slightly skewed later '60s / early '70s idea of style and weight for good bordeaux, which samples of Bordeaux bought at that formative time would have reinforced. So therefore in establishing the approach for Coleraine, in the late '70s, John and in turn Peter Cowley came to believe that a lighter and slightly less ripe wine than is ideal for cabernet / merlot blends would be 'correct' for Coleraine.
That time was long before anybody in New Zealand knew what dry extract was, let alone its significance to wine quality and longevity. Unfortunately, this problem continues even today. Too many winewriters and wine people in New Zealand simply do not think about, or indeed even understand, the significance of dry extract as a measure of wine quality. The same can still be said for a number of New Zealand wineries, with so many still habituated to over-cropping. Today, dry extract analyses for some better second growths, compared with that for Coleraine, would clinch this debate once and for all. In recent years, after making review of some of the top 2013 Hawkes Bay red wines, and seeing where Coleraine fitted in relative to the competition, I took a small step in this direction for a later article, by having the dry extract for 2013 Te Mata Coleraine analysed, by Hill Labs. In the winery's view, the 2013 was at that point the best Coleraine they had ever made, and accordingly biddable winewriters made absurd claims for the excellence of the wine. At the same time I had a very good cru bourgeois (in taste terms of lesser classed growth quality, but clearly not matching a good second growth) analysed. In a second review of 2013 Coleraine in the follow-up article I went on to suggest (paraphrased) that if 2013 Coleraine at a dry extract analysis of 27.1 g/L is not as rich and concentrated as a good cru bourgeois (2010 Ch Paveil de Luze) at 28.5 g/L, let alone some of the truly fine classed growths where dry extract may reach or surpass 30 g/L, then clearly Coleraine could in truth be an even finer wine than it is today.
Lacking the resources to first open a batch of second growths, let alone the super-seconds which the proprietors would most like Coleraine to be compared with, and then secondly commission dry extract analyses for each wine (> $100 per sample), fortunately there is a proxy we can use. It is widely agreed, but not yet fully documented in easily available technical literature, that cropping rate is the key factor in achieving wines of the quality of classed growths in Bordeaux, or grands crus in Burgundy. Cropping rate is after all, the basis for the Appellation d'Origine Controlée regulations, which shape the entire French wine industry, and are responsible for its quality reputation.
Therefore, if we take the cropping rates for the 10 wines (on the West Bank) commonly regarded as super-seconds (as listed for example by Jeff Leve), namely: Chx Cos d'Estournel, Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Las Cases, Leoville Poyferre, La Mission Haut Brion, Montrose, Palmer, Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, Pichon Longueville Baron and Pontet Canet), we find their average cropping rate (Parker, 2003 figures) is 6.05 t/ha = 2.45 t/ac. Note that that figure is not typical of years considered 'great', 1961 and the like, where the cropping rate would be appreciably less (see the 1998 Coleraine review). But even so, this figure is clearly different from the average cropping rate given for Coleraine in 2005 of 7.5 t/ha = 3.05 t/ac. It is no wonder therefore, that super-second wines taste noticeably richer and more satisfying in mouth than even the best years of Te Mata Coleraine.
While winemaking techniques (such as lees stirring) can influence dry extract measurement in wine to a degree, the principal determinant of dry extract in the finished wine is the cropping rate. On the evidence outlined in the text, the cropping rate for Coleraine is appreciably higher than that for highly-rated classed growths. There is therefore plenty of scope to reduce the cropping rate for Coleraine, and thus achieve a richer yet still appropriately fragrant and ripe wine (in the sense that smaller crop loads ripen more easily, so more care will be needed with picking date) which in smell, taste and dry extract analysis more exactly fits with the lofty claims (of parity with top bordeaux wines) that the proprietors make for Coleraine today.
This has to be a wonderfully encouraging conclusion, and it is made even better by the fact that the vineyards contributing to Coleraine the wine now average 25 years in age, with parts of the Coleraine ss vineyard now 37 years old. It is universally agreed that mature vineyards are an essential component of fine wine, with some agreement internationally that 35 years is a desirable qualifying age for the concept vieilles vignes / old vines. Further, since for the 2015 vintage Te Mata has applied a hefty price increase, to $140 per bottle, the pricing is now in place to amply justify a more conservative cropping rate. My hope therefore is that Coleraine, already in its best years a fragrant and lovely wine on bouquet, will become a truly world-class wine achieving a palate weight, body and texture that in truth matches the better second growths they aspire to equal. We will know when that desirable quality-level has been achieved, not from the all-too-biddable winewriters whose views are so often quoted now by Te Mata, but when the wine is submitted to Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (strictly), and is consistently marked by them at the level of 18 or so, in the better years.
Anderson, J. D., et al., 2012: Analysis of viticulture region climate structure and suitability in New Zealand. Journal International des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin 46(3): 149 – 65.
Brook, Stephen, 2007: The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines, The Chateaux, The People. Mitchell Beazley, 720 p.
Buck, John and Peter Cowley, 2008: Coleraine: The First 25 Years. Te Mata Estate, 32 p.
Chan, Raymond, 2008: Te Mata 'Coleraine' 1982 – 2006. Formerly published on www.regionalwines.co.nz website, now lost, manuscript courtesy Raymond Chan. 6p.
Cooper, Michael, 2005: Classic Wines of New Zealand. Hodder Moa, 471p.
Cooper, Michael, successive years: Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines. Various publishers.
Goode, Jamie, 2003: The wines of Te Mata Estate, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. www.wineanorak.com/temata.htm
Jefford, Andrew, 2002: The New France. Mitchell Beazley, 256 p
Kelly, Geoff, 2015: 2013 Te Mata reds, Domaines Rothschild, The Wine Importer, recent red releases: 45 reviews: www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=229
Kelly, Geoff, 2015: Dry Extract and the 2013 red vintage in Hawkes Bay: 43 reviews: www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=234
Leve, Jeff, no date: Guide to Super Second Bordeaux Wine Producers:
Parker, Robert M., 2003: Bordeaux, Fourth Edition.
Simon & Schuster, New York, 1244 p.
Robinson, Jancis, and Julia Harding (Eds), 2015: The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press, 912 p.
Stewart, Keith, 1997: Te Mata: The First 100 Years. Godwit Publishing. 95 p.
Cowley, Peter, 2017: Correspondence.
www.raymondchanwinereviews.co.nz various dates
www.temata.co.nz [ The Te Mata website demands praise. If only other New Zealand winemakers hoping to be taken seriously were as proud of their history and wines as Te Mata, the New Zealand wine industry might develop more of the depth it aspires to. ]
Peter Cowley, now Technical Director and formerly Chief Winemaker, Te Mata Estate, and Phil Brodie, now Chief Winemaker, gave every assistance in preparing this tasting. That does not mean they necessarily agree with all my conclusions. Raymond Chan provided a much-appreciated copy of his 2008 report on Te Mata's 25th Anniversary of Coleraine tasting. John Shearlock, Regional Wines & Spirits, facilitated the tastings proper. I appreciate all this help greatly.
PART 3: THE WINES REVIEWED:
# The first price given below is the estimated current auction value, via wine-searcher, if they list it. The release price (approx) when known is given in the ‘admin’ section text.
# Table below:
Ranking of the wines, on the night. The wines were not presented blind, but in vintage order from youngest to oldest, to optimise understanding. After the quiet tasting stage, but before discussion, tasters were asked to vote for their Top wine, their Second favourite wine, and their Least wine. No more than two wines allowed as equals. First figure, night one; second figure, night two. As can be seen, every wine appealed to somebody, a great result. The differences between the nights is not able to be explained by bottle variation: in some cases lesser bottles were marked up. For well over half the wines, I thought the two bottles identical, see reviews. 21 tasters present, but participation is voluntary.
Ruby and velvet, a remarkably fresh colour considering its age, clearly above midway in depth. The beauty of bouquet for this wine is remarkable. Among the young wines, it is near-identical (in style, not detail) to the 2009, reflecting a warmer year, with not quite the emphasis on florals that is considered ideal for Coleraine. Nonetheless there is a wonderful aromatic cassisy (slightly browning now) quality that lifts the bouquet and gives a freshness and near-florality, complexed by cedary oak of great sophistication which hints at cigar-boxes. 1998 truly was a cabernet sauvignon year, and this wine, with its higher than normal cabernet reflects that. In mouth the wine gives the impression of being fractionally richer than all the other Coleraines, while not matching good classed growths. Flavours are total Medoc, aromatic (the cabernet again) cassis and blackberry extended on cedary oak, perfect ripeness and acid balance, unusually good length and harmony. In this tasting, it certainly gives the impression of being one of the most perfect Cabernet / Merlot wines ever made in New Zealand.
It is intriguing therefore that Decanter magazine has recently announced that 1998 Te Mata Coleraine joins their select band of Wine Legends. Decanter Wine Legends is an Award that Decanter, London, the best-known British wine magazine, announces monthly. How long they have been running is not clear. Previous winners include: 1961 Ch Palmer; 1969 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Mouline; 1982 Ch de Beaucastel; 1990 Ch Montrose; 1993 Domaine Rousseau Chambertin; and 1994 Tyrrells Semillon Vat 1. The interesting thing about these Awards is that for many, they document the cropping rate, as an index of quality. For the six wines listed, the averaged cropping rate is 3.85 t/ha = 1.6 t/ha. In contrast the cropping rate given for 1998 Coleraine is 6.5 t/ha = 2.63 t/.ac, nearly twice as much. Though this figure is less than the norm given for Coleraine (7.5 t/ha = 3.05 t/ac), it is still clearly above the average for the super-seconds discussed earlier (6.05 t/ha = 2.45 t/ac). And as the figures for the other Legend wines show, it is far greater than wines considered great. Such a difference in cropping rate is both tasteable, as argued in Part 2, and can be verified by dry extract analysis. So in a small-scale way, 1998 Te Mata Coleraine by being a little richer, points the way towards what Te Mata could achieve for Coleraine, if they reduced the cropping rate to Bordeaux Second Growth or Super-Second levels. This wine is perfection now, in Coleraine terms, and will hold this form for another 15 20 years. It was the most favoured wine in the first tasting, seven tasters rating it first or second. Though I thought the wines identical for the two nights (when carefully compared side by side the following day), other wines triumphed on the second night, only three people rating the 1998 highly. GK 08/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the brightest and freshest of the wines, reasonably enough, and also the deepest. The 2015 is totally different from all the other wines on the table, solely for the reasons of youth. Alongside the 2013, there is in effect no bouquet, in the sense of a hint of secondary development. It is all primary fruit notes, darkly plummy mainly, some blackberry, but a hint of cassis, roses and violets promising wonderful things to come. Palate is the same, a big mouthful of darkly plummy (bottled black doris) fruit, almost as if the wine were merlot-dominant: where are the cabernets ? If the 2013 is any guide, just waiting in the wings. The ripeness achieved in this wine is a delight. It seems to me riper and richer than the 2013, there is no conceivable hint of stalks, yet it is not quite as ripe as the 1998, so there is more certainty of florals to come. This is going to be a great Coleraine, in traditional Coleraine terms, to cellar 15 35 years. Even this wine, however, is not as rich as a good second growth. Again, I thought both bottles identical, but the response to this wine differed wildly between the two tastings. For the second group, six rated the 2015 their most-favoured or second wine, yet for the first night, zero. GK 08/17
Ruby and velvet, nearly carmine, the third deepest wine, clearly a little older than the 2013. This 2009 wine intrigues me. This I think is the spiritual successor to 1998 Coleraine. Even though the growing degree days don't clearly support my interpretation, nonetheless in Hawkes Bay 2009 was generally thought to be a warm year. This 2009 Coleraine certainly seems to me to be the riper wine of a warmer year, clearly fragrant but not explicitly floral, instead this wonderful aromatic cassisy quality only achievable in temperate climates, great berry on bouquet, fragrant cedary oak augmenting. In mouth the wine is darkly plummy and beautifully ripe, softer than the 2013, less aromatic than the 1998, both perhaps reflecting the slightly higher merlot in 2009, richer than the 2013 too, with perfectly judged cedary oak framing the wine. Length of ripe slightly tanniny flavours is most impressive, not quite as fresh as the 2013, but gorgeous all the same. The wine is starting to show hints of approaching maturity. It will cellar for 10 30 years. The 2009 was rated highly by four tasters on night one, yet by none on night two. Again I thought the bottles identical. GK 08/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, fractionally older than the 2015, still the second deepest wine. And this difference is clearly reflected on bouquet, for this wine has a bouquet, already some appearance of secondary characters, superb roses and violets florals, clear cassis and blackberry fruit, the oak still nearly hidden. In one sense, the highly cassisy flavour shows a perfect point of picking, optimising florality yet no hint of stalks, lovely ripe but slightly fresh tannins, good length. So this 2013 Coleraine is exceptional on bouquet. It is only in palate weight that it does not quite measure up, as earlier discussed. The slightly more concentrated 2015 (and 1998) are ahead, in that respect. Which one prefers will depend on the weighting you give to florals on the bouquet, versus palate satisfaction. This Coleraine with its precise florality, must surely epitomise exactly what John Buck was talking about, when he referred to the florals he found in the 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux wines, in the history section quoted. This too will be a lovely Coleraine, forming a complementary pair with the 2015. It has to be said, sadly, that for most tasters, the qualities and subtleties of bouquet are much less important than the nett impression on palate. The 2013 did not shine for tasters, a couple each night rating it second-favourite, and one only first place. I thought the bottles identical. Cellar 15 30 years. GK 08/17
Ruby and garnet, the third to lightest wine. Nothing light about the bouquet however, the quality of browning cassis infused with cedary oak, dark tobacco, and cigar box being classical mature Medoc, and within the Medoc, more Pauillac than Margaux. Palate is smooth and velvety, some richness, beautiful ripeness and acid balance, again a lovely integration of mature berry and cedary oak. To be as vital as this at 26 years of age is a great achievement, so the wine still just slips into gold medal level. There might be a molecule of brett complexity adding to the bouquet, but since it is totally threshold after this time, it is completely academic, and positive. The bottles on the two nights did differ: both were good but the second night the wine seemed fresher, more fragrant, and younger. Accordingly in simple terms it was the most favoured wine of the tasting, with eight tasters rating it first or second. On night one it was well-rated too, but just surpassed by the 1998. This 1991 Coleraine stands alongside 1987 Stonyridge Larose as one of the few great achievements in the first 26 years or so of cabernet and cabernet / merlot winestyles, in the modern phase of New Zealand viticulture. It is fully mature, to starting to fade now, as the two bottles showed. Nothing to be gained from holding, though there is no hurry. The better bottles should have 10 years in them. GK 08/17
Ruby and velvet, above midway in depth. This vintage of Coleraine stands out for its vivid florals, violets and nearly lilac (i.e., hints of pinot noir), as if merlot were dominant (not so). Below is fresh cassis and plums both black and a suggestion of red. All the bouquet qualities point to it being picked a little earlier than the vintages marked more highly, so one tastes nervously in case there are suggestions of under-ripeness or stalkyness in the tannins. The flavour certainly is fresher than particularly the 1998 or 2009, and yes, the acid is a bit high to mark 18.5. Close though. Length of flavour is good, and as always in the case of Te Mata, oak is well in balance to the slightly lighter style. Acid balance is fresher than even the 2013, making the 2007 an exciting highly fragrant contrast with the riper years, yet it achieves appropriate harmony, in its slightly cooler style. Cellar 10 25 years. The 2007 achieved the distinction of being nobody's absolute favourite, over both nights the only wine in this category. This seemed further evidence for the notion that the floral qualities some seek in red wine are very much a learned perception. Or maybe I am being too tolerant of the fresh acid balance. Yet in some parts of the viticultural world, red wines simply do not show this wonderful floral quality which I so value, and tasters in such districts may not even seek them. This wine was not totally lacking support, three tasters on night one, and two the second night, rating it second. I thought the bottles identical. GK 08/17
Ruby and garnet, appreciably older than the 2005, midway in depth. The bottles on the two nights differed, the second night one being appreciably fresher and richer, and more berry-dominant. I have scored the second bottle. The concentration and ripeness of fruit in that bottle was reminiscent of the 1998, being ripely plummy and fragrant, though not exactly floral. There is also a suggestion of a savoury quality, which for the first night bottle was quite clearly savoury to the point of smelling like venison casserole (+ve). Palate is quite richly flavoured, furry tannins, drying just a little to the finish. These characters translate into a brett component, the wild yeast which wineries nowadays are hyper-vigilant to prevent. A very few people find this savoury brett character intrinsically disagreeable, rather more have learnt to dislike it, but the vast majority of non-wine-industry people love it. They think it is the missing factor that makes many European wines so complex and wonderful with food, whereas the New World wines are more one-dimensional. The point about brett is, if you have a wine in your cellar showing it, just keep an eye on it, unless the wine has been sterile-filtered to bottle. Unlike ordinary yeast cells which stop working when there are no simple sugars left in the wine, brett cells can continue working on the complex sugars. At a certain point the wine will dry out prematurely, and sometimes unattractively. And no two bottles will be the same, as we found. This wine was the second-most-favoured wine on the second night, with seven votes for first or second place. Even the night one bottle had five people rating it first or second. Cellar 5 10 years only might be best. GK 08/17
Garnet and ruby, the lightest colour, good for its age. There is a question mark on the quality of the corks in the first couple of years of Coleraine, as the proprietors established the new labels Coleraine and Awatea. Accordingly, the two bottles differed considerably between the two nights, and a third 1982 had to be rejected, not for TCA, but for oxidation. But the better bottle, on the second night, was sensational. It showed all the mellow fragrant magic that makes the claret winestyle, bordeaux, the most-loved red wine in the world. The melding of browning cassis, cedary oak and tobacco on this better bottle was magic on bouquet, and the quality of the complexed, browning but still cassisy fruit on palate remarkable. You ended up feeling a good bottle of this 1982 Coleraine could still usefully be presented blind in a 1982 Bordeaux tasting, provided good crus bourgeois were included, notwithstanding 1982 being a great year in that district. Both nights, tasters who like old wine rated this 1982 highly, five each night a great result. It is a gamble to hold this wine any longer, due to the corks. Best to enjoy its full harmony and fragrance while it still has the fruit. And interestingly, there was no hint of the cabernet hole-in-the-middle palate in this wine, despite the cepage. Bottles cellared north of Taupo will be lesser. GK 08/17
Ruby and some velvet, midway in depth. This is an intriguing wine, neat and precise, smaller-scale but remarkably Medoc in styling. Cassisy berry browning now is lifted by light florals and tobacco aromas, and complexed by cedary oak, into a fragrant whole which reminds very clearly of a good cru bourgeois from, say, Saint-Julien. Flavours are pro rata to the bouquet, it is not one of the richer Coleraines, but first impressions are appropriate ripeness for all varieties, the oak slightly prominent but lengthening the flavour. The more you taste it, just a thought that it could desirably be fractionally riper creeps in there is a firmness to the slightly acid and tannin finish that hints at austerity. The first night, three people rated this their top or second wine, and the second night, two. I thought the bottles identical. Cellar 5 15 years. GK 08/17
Garnet and ruby, below midway in depth. The 1995 Coleraine is close in style to the 2005 in every detail, fragrant browning berry and cedary oak in balance, but the whole wine just a size smaller than the 2005, and the ripeness achieved not quite so convincing. Even though a warmer year, the wine does not taste of it, with more a thought of Stevens Spurriers green-tinged cabernet and some tobacco notes, particularly on palate. But the balance achieved, like all Coleraines, is remarkably pleasing, though here in a slightly acid way. The bottle for the second night showed threshold TCA (only three of 21 tasters detecting it), but even so, five tasters rated this smaller scale of Cabernet / Merlot their favourite or second favourite wine on the night, so it is still a good taste of the Coleraine approach. Curiously, the better bottle on the first night had only one vote for first or second place. Not one for long holding, cellar 5 10 years only. GK 08/17
Ruby and garnet, surprisingly deep and fresh, just below midway in depth. This was the other different- smelling wine. Both nights the wine had a big bouquet, which we fumbled to find words for. There was a charry / smokey quality to the oak handling (it initially seemed) which was different, in a surprisingly rich wine for its age. As you tasted it, various components came and went. Gradually it became clear that there was not the ripeness of the 1982, even though the wine seemed as rich. With air, suggestions of cut-beans / sautéed red capsicum hinting at the under-ripeness of the 1989 became apparent, but masked because the wine is richer, with better but still noticeable acid balance plus the smokey component. With air the smokey note transitioned to the tell-tale ash-tray character. Going back to my 1985 review, I am intrigued that my technical assessment of the acid balance is correct, but I did not pick up the difference in flavour ripeness, relative to the 1982. Wine tasting is a lifelong learning curve. This 1983 has surprising richness, and will still cellar 3 8 years, in its style, if the corks hold out. Each night, three people had this as their top or second-favourite wine. The bottles were not quite the same, night one seeming more charry. Not much in it, though. GK 08/17
Garnet and ruby, the second lightest wine. This was one of the two most different-smelling of the wines, though still with a good volume of bouquet. There was a lifted quality to the bouquet which some tasters rated highly. In later discussion however most agreed that this key aroma was related to cut-beans / sautéed red capsicum notes, all complexed by the fine cedary oak. On palate while there is surprising fruit in one sense, there is a shortness and hardness exacerbated by the elevated total acid, relative to the set. Nonetheless, both nights at least five people rated the wine their top or second wine, before the discussion stage. We went on to discuss whether or not capsicum character (i.e. sauvignon blanc qualities) was in fact desirable in the cabernet / merlot winestyle. This confusion between perception and interpretation was I think due to the wine having plenty of its own distinctive character, so it stood out in the line-up. With air, this 1989 went on to develop on bouquet the cigarette ash-tray smell so characteristic of under-ripe cabernet sauvignon at full maturity. Even so, at table the balance of flavours would be pretty attractive accompanying a pizza containing red capsicums. The two bottles were essentially the same. Another wine not to hold much longer: enjoy it while it still has (under-ripe !) fruit. GK 08/17