Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

Background:  The 2008 New Zealand Cabernet / Merlot Forum was convened by Hawkes Bay WineGrowers.  About 120 people attended,  with winemakers and industry predominating.  The programme is still available @ www.cabernetmerlotforum.co.nz  Winewriter James Lawther MW from Decanter magazine contributed a European viewpoint,  and Nick Stock,  Editor of the Penguin Good Australian Wine Guide,  did likewise for Australia.  Both selected wines representative of their regions for the Forum formal Tastings.  

There were four formal blind Tastings,  though presented in five flights of six for logistical reasons.  The 30 wines came forward in the following batches,  the batches in this sequence,  the wines random though they are listed alphabetically here.  For links to the reviews,  scroll further down to the standard-format list:

HAWKES BAY TASTING,  chaired by Rod Easthope,  Craggy Range:
2005  Church Rd Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2007  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone
2007  [ Delegat's ] Oyster Bay Merlot
2006  Red Metal Vineyards Merlot Basket Press
2005  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve

BORDEAUX TASTING,  chaired by James Lawther MW,  UK / France:
2004 Ch d'Agassac  (Haut Medoc)
2002  Ch d'Aiguilhe  (Cotes de Castillon)
2004  Ch Cambon la Pelouse  (Haut-Medoc)
2001  Ch la Conseillante  (Pomerol)
2004  Ch Smith Haut Lafitte  (Graves)
2003  Ch Virginie de Valandraud  (St Emilion)

AUSTRALIA TASTING,  chaired by Nick Stock,  Australia:
2006  Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon The Tally  (Coonawarra,  SA)
2005  Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Diana Madeline  (Margaret River,  WA)
2005  Forest Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5  (Great Southern,  WA)
2004  Houghton Cabernet Sauvignon Jack Mann  (Frankland River,  WA)
2005  Majella Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra  (Coonawarra,  SA)
2005  Parker Estate [ Cabernet Sauvignon ] Terra Rossa First Growth  (Coonawarra,  SA)

INTERNATIONAL & NEW ZEALAND TASTING,  chaired by Nick Stock,  Australia:
Part 1
2004  Angelo Gaja Ca' Marcanda Camarcanda  (Tuscany)
2005  Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Ornellaia  (Tuscany)
2006  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone  (Hawkes Bay)
2006  Sutton Grange Winery Estate [ Sangiovese / Cabernet ] Giove  (Bendigo,  Vic)
2005  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine  (Hawkes Bay)
2005  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Malbec / Petit Verdot ] The Gimblett  (Hawkes Bay)

Part 2
2006  de Bortoli [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Melba Lucia  (Yarra Valley,  SA)
2006  Craggy Range [ Cabernet / Merlot ] The Quarry  (Hawkes Bay)
2005  Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon Cyril Henschke  (Eden Valley,  SA)
2005  Te Whau Vineyard [ Merlot / Cabernet ] The Point  (Waiheke Island)
2005  Voyager Estate Cabernet / Merlot  (Margaret River,  WA)
2006  Yalumba [ Cabernet / Shiraz ] Reserve Bin FDR1A  (Eden & Barossa Valleys,  SA)

These wines are reviewed below.  They are presented in my rank order,  from top to bottom.  The ranking and views presented are mine alone,  and are in no way endorsed by Hawkes Bay WineGrowers.  They are intended to present a view of the proceedings which illuminates the unique qualities and opportunities which the Hawkes Bay viticultural milieu presents.  

For the Bordeaux offerings,  once the wines had been tasted,  a sense of disappointment emerged.  Only one was a leading-edge chateau,  none were highly-regarded vintages,  some were faulty to a degree,  and one had not been reviewed by either Robinson or Parker.  Perhaps the state of play in the cabernet / merlot class in New Zealand was a little underestimated,  in selecting these wines.  Conversely,  some of the Australian wines were absolutely leading-edge,  but that did not preclude some of them being handicapped by both the Australian climate as it relates to viticulture,  and the Australian perspective on wine quality.  The latter was set at a time when imported wines were rare in that country (beyond Melbourne and Sydney),  and a somewhat bellicose belief in the superior quality of Australian wine was ubiquitous.  In the last 30 years an almost blind faith in technology has been grafted onto that,  so that to an outsider it sometimes seems that provided the pH of the wine is within an arbitrary but academically defined 'acceptable' zone,  it scarcely matters what the wine is like in the taster's mouth.  One or two wines in the Tastings illustrated this syndrome well.  

This cultural perspective is now attenuating – as in New Zealand,  familiarity with imported wines and overseas perceptions of wine quality is growing amongst leading Australian winemakers.  But I think it is fair to say that the most progressive New Zealand winemakers are ahead in the two great classics – the claret style (the subject of the Forum) and the burgundy one,  in this context meaning pinot noir.  So,  mixed messages emerged from the five Tastings,  and what participants took out of them will vary widely from person to person.

Brief impressions of a couple of Forum papers,  and an overview of the Tastings,  will be presented in the February / March Issue of New Zealand WineGrower.  It will subsequently be added to this site,  as an Introduction to this report.

Acknowledgements:  Hawkes Bay WineGrowers allowed me to attend the Forum and Tastings.  Mary Shanahan and Terry Dunleavy facilitated this.  I appreciate their assistance very much.

Parker,  Robert M.,  2003:  Bordeaux (Fourth Edition).  Simon & Schuster,  1244 p.


2004  Ch d'Agassac
2002  Ch d'Aiguilhe
2006  Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon The Tally
2004  Ch Cambon la Pelouse
2005  Church Rd Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2001  Ch la Conseillante
2006  Craggy Range [ Cabernet / Merlot ] The Quarry
2005  Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Diana Madeline
2006  de Bortoli [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Melba Lucia
2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2005  Forest Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5
2004  Angelo Gaja Ca' Marcanda Camarcanda
2005  Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon Cyril Henschke
2004  Houghton Cabernet Sauvignon Jack Mann
2005  Majella Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra
  2007  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone
2005  Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Ornellaia
2007  [ Delegat's ] Oyster Bay Merlot
2005  Parker Estate [ Cabernet Sauvignon ] Terra Rossa First Growth
2006  Red Metal Vineyards Merlot Basket Press
2006  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
2004  Ch Smith Haut Lafitte
2006  Sutton Grange Winery Estate [ Sangiovese / Cabernet ] Giove
2005  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine
2005  Te Whau Vineyard [ Merlot / Cabernet ] The Point
2005  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Malbec / Petit Verdot ] The Gimblett
2005  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2003  Ch  Virginie de Valandraud
2005  Voyager Estate Cabernet / Merlot
2006  Yalumba [ Cabernet / Shiraz ] Reserve Bin FDR1A

2006  Craggy Range [ Cabernet / Merlot ] The Quarry   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $62   [ cork;  CS 95%,  Me 4,  CF 1,  hand-harvested @ 2 t/ac;  21 months in French oak 84% new;  fined and filtered;  RS nil;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a classic claret colour.  Bouquet is intensely floral and cassisy aromatic cabernet sauvignon,  very fragrant and pure.  New oak counterpoints the berry,  without dominating.  The whole style is totally modern Bordeaux.  Palate confirms all the bouquet impressions,  with an absolutely silken texture,  all slightly fresher and not quite as rich as the 2005 Church Road Reserve,  but with stunning purity and delicacy.  The lingering cassis flavour is beautiful.  This wine should garner high praise in Britain,  for it has the freshness several United Kingdom writers seek.  By the same token,  it will be less popular in the United States.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Church Rd Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;  CS 74%,  Me 26,  80% hand-picked at c. 2.5 t/ac;  22 months in French oak c. 53% new,  not fined,  coarse filter only;  RS < 0.2 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  also a classic slightly older claret colour.  Bouquet is even more Bordeaux-like than The Quarry,  not quite so scintillatingly pure,  a little more oaky,  but at the same time more complex.  Every time I see this wine,  I am staggered that such an exact classed Bordeaux growth look-like is so readily available in New Zealand nowadays,  and for $35.  Why it has not sold out within moments of release,  I cannot imagine.  It is simply one of the best claret styles thus far made in New Zealand,  as previously described.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Malbec / Petit Verdot ] The Gimblett   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $30   [ super-critical 'cork';  Me 61%,  Ma 21,  PV 11,  CF 5,  CS 2,  hand-picked @ c. 2.75 t/ac;  c. 4 weeks cuvaison;  20 months in French oak c. 40% new;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as deep as the top two.  As for the previous sampling,  in the blind tasting this wine opened with a lovely aromatic component on the cassis just hinting at syrah,  very fragrant indeed.  Palate is closer to The Quarry than the Church Road,  and not as rich as the latter but clearly aromatic and cassisy.  It is surprisingly firm for a merlot-dominant wine,  and a little richer and riper than Coleraine 2005.  Like the 2006 Quarry,  a warm-climate taster might think it a little too fresh.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2001  Ch la Conseillante   18 +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $160   [ cork;  Me 80%,  CF 20,  typically cropped @ 2.3 t/ac;  s/s fermentation and up to 30 days cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 85% new;  Robinson 15.5 in 2007,  and as a close reader of Jancis Robinson I have to say the words for her sample bear absolutely no relation to the wine we tasted – surely la Conseillante would 'assemble',  17 in 2006,  sounding just like ours,  and 16 in 2002,  Parker 89 in 2004;  www.la-conseillante.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a similar weight to the 2005 Coleraine but older.  Bouquet on this wine was quite stunning in its flight,  being clearly the cleanest,  freshest and most modern of the Bordeaux wines,  and exhibiting sensational florality,  everything merlot should be.  In mouth that impression didn't quite endure,  the wine being a little leaner and crisper than fine Bordeaux,  more the palate weight of the Coleraine,  with a little acid showing.  Because of the crispness,  thoughts of cassis and the Medoc arose too.  This is a good example of food-friendly,  refreshing and varietal merlot,  contrasting vividly with the heavier wines found elsewhere in the five flights.  Total style of this wine reminded me very much of the 1966 Bordeaux the previous evening,  casting my mind back to when they were young wines.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Diana Madeline   18  ()
Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $95   [ cork;  CS 74%,  Me 16,  Ma 5,  CF 4,  PV 1;  19 months in French oak 70% new;  www.cullenwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good colour.  This is intriguing wine,  showing no betraying euc'y qualities at all.  It does however have suggestions of the cassis component over-ripened a little to the blackberry stage,  a quality sometimes seen in burly Bordeaux such as La Lagune.  Palate has an intriguing berry quality,  a little fresher than the Cyril Henschke,  very youthful and pure,  one-dimensional and a little clinical at this stage,  but not tasting of the blackberry on bouquet.  Oak and acid are gentler in this wine than the Henschke,  or some of the other Australians.  Given the lack of eucalyptus taint,  this looks to be an Australian 'claret' fit to run in blind international 2005 Cabernet / Merlot and Bordeaux tastings over the next 5 – 15 years.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine   18  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $72   [ cork;  Me 45%,  CS 37,  CF 18;  average vine age 20 years;  20 months in French oak probably around 75% new;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet and carmine,  lighter than the top three wines.  Bouquet is very fragrant and Bordeaux-like,  but the Bordeaux of a slightly less than optimal year,  with a fresh quality to the cassis hovering between:  is it tobacco complexity or slightly leafy ?  Palate shows potential cedar aroma development on cassis and red as much as black plum berry,  reinforcing the Bordeaux look-alike quality,  but all a little short,  as Pichon-Lalande can be in some seasons.  There is the concentration to cellar 10 – 20 years,  in its fragrant crisp style.  GK 11/08

2007  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $38   [ supercritical 'cork';  CS 45%,  Me 31,  CF 20,  PV 4;  inoculated yeast,  cuvaison up to 30 days;  c. 15 months in French oak 73% new;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a rich claret colour.  This wine along with another 2007 stood out in the tasting more as a work in progress,  having not had the time in bottle to develop a little complexity.  Bouquet is both floral and fleshy,  bottled black doris plum dominant,  but so youthful.  Palate is soft ripe and rich,  both juicy and unsophisticated as yet,  the oak scarcely showing.  The fruit quality is there for a much more exciting bottle in a couple of years,  but perhaps the wine is a bit soft for long cellaring,  beyond maybe 12 years or so.  If this is a forerunner of the quality in the 2007 vintage in Hawkes Bay,  we have much to look forward to it – as Hawkes Bay winemakers have been saying for some time.  GK 11/08

2005  Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Ornellaia   18  ()
Bolgheri DOC Superiore,  Tuscany,  Italy:  14.5%;  $258   [ cork;  CS 60,  Me 22,  CF 14,  PV;  hand-picked,  twice sorted;  destemmed;  25 days cuvaison,  MLF and 18 months in barriques 70% new;  Parker 93 in 2008;  www.ornellaia.it ]
Ruby and velvet.  This wine sat adjacent to 2005 Coleraine in the international tasting.  It immediately came across as a hot-climate wine with some spirit showing,  but also with a good deal of Bordeaux-styled cedary oak complexity,  and a suggestion of savoury herbes plus trace brett.  Palate wrapped all these components up into a cedary rich wine of some apparent age,  so the 2005 vintage came as a surprise.  There is rich supple fruit,  with cassis and dark plum qualities.  One gets the impression a lot of Mouton Rothschild has been tasted,  in creating this alcoholic Bordeaux look-alike.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon Cyril Henschke   17 ½ +  ()
Eden Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $133   [ cork;  CS 91%,  Me 9;  18 months in French oak 100% new;  Halliday rates Eden Valley 8 /10 in 2005;  www.henschke.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  more developed than most of the New Zealand wines.  Bouquet is lifted on pure alcohol,  but is otherwise clean,  cassisy and bottled plums,  with more oak showing than most.  In mouth,  the noticeable acid making the oak angular points the finger at Australia,  but the wine is almost free of euc'y notes.  Cassisy qualities linger attractively,  but there is a one-dimensional quality too,  making the wine seem simple alongside (for example) the also-alcoholic Ornellaia.  To balance that,  it is great to see these top Henschke wines now becoming essentially brett-free.  Alcohol aside,  this should cellar well in an aromatic style reminiscent of a clumsy Pauillac,  maybe.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2004  Ch Cambon la Pelouse   17 ½ +  ()
Haut-Medoc cru bourgeois,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $45   [ cork;  Me 60,  CS 30,  CF 10,  cropped at c. 2.5 t/ac from vines averaging 25 years age;  20 – 25 days cuvaison including 6 days cold soak;  12 – 15 months in French oak c. 50% new;  fined not filtered;  Robinson 15.5 + in 2005,  Parker 86 in 2007;  www.cambon-la-pelouse.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the deeper ones.  Bouquet needs a little air,  to become soft ripe and round,  clearly in a European 'complex' winestyle,  rather than a varietal blend.  No clear berry is evident,  just fruit,  dark tobacco,  some cedary oak,  all mellow and harmonious and not quite squeaky-clean.  Palate continues in the same vein,  softer and rounder than the Coleraine,  food-friendly.  Wines like this do point up the overly bright acid so many new world wines show – whether natural in our case or added in Australia.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/08

2004  Houghton Cabernet Sauvignon Jack Mann   17 ½  ()
Frankland River,  Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14.1%;  $35   [ cork;  CS-dominant,  hand-picked,  from vines aged c.35 years;  single vineyard wine;  18 – 24 months in new and second-year French barriques;  www.houghton-wines.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  Bouquet is pure cassisy cabernet,  fragrant and not too spirity,  a little monochromatic with just oak complexity.  In mouth however,  although there are fine-grained tannins,  noticeable acid points up the oak more,  and narrows the palate.  The wine thus illustrates vividly the charm and satisfaction cabernet / merlot blends from more temperate climates can achieve,  without the need for acid adjustment.  A suggestion of eucalyptus complexity also takes the edge off the wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Te Whau Vineyard [ Merlot / Cabernet ] The Point   17 ½  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $90   [ cork;  Me 43%,  CS 42,  CF 10,  Ma 5;  5 day cold soak,  wild yeast fermentation,  some oak,  mostly s/s;  18 months in French oak 40% new,  balance 1 and 2-year;  no acid adjustment or fining,  light filter;  c. 450 cases;  www.tewhau.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet,  quite developed.  This wine surprised me,  being an exact look-alike for some fragrant St Emilion reds encountered over the years – St Emilions with cabernet sauvignon in the cepage.  Bouquet includes almost rose florals and a salvia (= kanuka ??) –like aromatic on red and black currants,  plus potentially cedary oak – all very fragrant and appealing.  Palate like the Coleraine is a little less than the bouquet,  lean and quite oaky,  needing a little more richness and softness such as the less-pure but more satisfying Cambon la Pelouse shows,  even in a less-than-ideal year.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $63   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  French oak;  2006 not on website;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  lighter than the 2005.  Like the Syrah pair,  the 2006 shows wonderful merlot florality,  violets and roses,  on pristinely pure berry character embracing both cassis and dark plums.  Palate is precise merlot,  plummy with a hint of dark chocolate,  but only medium body,  and noticeably fresh acid.  There is a remarkable similarity of style and weight to the 2001 la Conseillante (a top Pomerol) – both clearly temperate-climate wines.  This Brokenstone shows both fresher oak and less of it than some previous vintages,  and thus optimises the varietal quality.  A little more weight would be ideal.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Parker Estate [ Cabernet Sauvignon ] Terra Rossa First Growth   17 +  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.7%;  $100   [ screwcap;  CS 91%,  Me 9;  cuvaison up to 6 weeks,  some BF;  19 months in French oak 100% new;  www.parkercoonawarraestate.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet.  Freshly opened,  though spirity there was an attractive quality to the bouquet of this wine,  like a raspberry and plum tart fresh out of the oven.  In the Australian flight,  it was marvellous to have one that wasn't too euc'y and too oaky.  In mouth,  the wine shortened up dramatically however,  which always comes as a let-down after a promising bouquet.  Palate is clear-cut rich cassis,  but hard and angular on added acid,  which accentuates the alcohol and oak.  Once one knows,  textural enrichment from barrel fermentation,  with some milk chocolate notes,  is detectable.  If only Australian winemakers would make cabernet / merlot for the European market,  with its emphasis on style,  rather than the American with its emphasis on size.  Though that is too simplistic,  as the Aussie taste converges with the American one.  Quite apart from the high alcohol,  one only needs to look at the numbers,  to see why these wines are so unsatisfactory in mouth.  The pH is given as 3.37,  bespeaking much added tartaric acid owing much more to the Roseworthy school of technological winemaking,  rather than the Bordeaux one optimising complexity,  beauty,  and texture – and for the better chateaux these days reconciling those priorities with technical factors.  Nonetheless,  this big modern Coonawarra will cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Red Metal Vineyards Merlot Basket Press   17 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Me 88%,  CF 12,  machine-harvested;  100% de-stemmed;  MLF in tank;  12 months in French & American oak;  this label the middle one of five levels of Me-dominant wines at Red Metal;  www.redmetalvineyards.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is light,  fragrant,  clean,  scarcely varietal,  a little oaky,  almost mute alongside a wine like The Gimblett.  Palate improves things greatly,  juicy red plummy fruit reminiscent of Te Whau from Waiheke,  vanillin oak now in balance,  natural acid,  almost a lingering note of loganberry.  This should have a lot more to say for itself in five years.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/08

2004  Angelo Gaja Ca' Marcanda Camarcanda   17 +  ()
Bolgheri DOC,  Tuscany,  Italy:  14.5%;  $250   [ cork;  Me 50%,  CS 40,  CF 10;  18 months in new French barriques;  61 ha property bought 1996 (syrah also planted);  no info on website www.gajawines.com,  best info @;  www.armit.co.uk/angelogajacamarcanda.aspx ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  This is one of the most floral and fragrant wines in the whole set of 30 presented at the Forum.  Bouquet shows red fruits mainly and very fragrant cedary oak with almost a silver pine terpene note,  plus threshold VA.  Like several other wines,  however,  palate is on the lean and acid side,  refreshing,  as if there were sangiovese in it.  Aftertaste is quite short but fragrantly oaky,  like a cool-year Pauillac rather than the merlot said to dominate the wine.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Yalumba [ Cabernet / Shiraz ] Reserve Bin FDR1A   17  ()
Eden & Barossa Valleys,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  CS 71% from the Eden Valley,  Sh 29% from Barossa,  hand-picked;  this label previously made in 1974,  2000,  2004,  2006 not on website yet so 2004 used here – indicative;  23 months in mostly American oak 46% new;  www.yalumba.com ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is in a simple Australian red style,  ample plain over-ripe berry,  slightly reduced,  clearly euc'y.  With air,  the wine opens to a fleshy palate,  still a little euc'y,  but with cassisy flavours emerging in the plummy fruit,  and oak,  acid and alcohol not too obtrusive.  It is closest in style to the Mission Jewelstone Merlot / Cabernet but acid more apparent.  If it were not euc'y,  it would rate a little higher.  Cellar 5 – 15  years.  GK 11/08

2005  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $51   [ screwcap;  CS 55%,  Me 30,  Ma 15,  hand-harvested;  vinified @ Mangere,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation,  with a longer cuvaison than the Merlot Reserve;  MLF and 24 months in French oak some new;  RS nil;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  attractive.  Initially opened,  the oak shows on this wine in an unfortunate way – an aroma beyond the hessian so often characterising new French oak to an almost linseed note.  This gets the wine off to a bad start.  On palate,  there is good berry richness,  some cassisy notes,  not quite optimal berry ripeness even though fruits are black more than red,  the wine a little acid to the tail.  Like the Virginie de Valandraud,  the oak is rather pervasive,  but here not so pleasantly flavoured.  I thought this wine looked markedly better than this a year ago,  and it should look better again later.  Right now it seems to be in an ugly mood.  Hard to score,  therefore.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 11/08

2006  de Bortoli [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Melba Lucia   17  ()
Yarra Valley,  Victoria,  Australia:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  CS 71%,  Me 18,  Sa 8,  PV 2,  hand-picked;  wild-yeast fermentation,  cuvaison c.40 days;  14 months in oak unspecified;  included to illustrate new thinking in the cabernet / merlot class in Australia,  in this case by adding 9% sangiovese to the blend;  www.debortoli.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  close to the Oyster bay.  Bouquet is intriguing,  very fresh,  with almost red cherry in red plum,  and thoughts of redcurrant and ripest red rhubarb stalks too (+ve).  Oak and alcohol are restrained,  making the whole wine smell enticing.  Palate is fresh,  crisp,  flavoursome,  the sangiovese seemingly having an influence out of all proportion to the cepage,  making the wine lean and racy the way chianti used to be when it was made primarily for Italians.  Even on palate,  the oak expressed as vanilla wafer is subtle,  though the acid creeps up.  As well as chianti,  the red fruits in this wine make one think of Loire Valley reds too,  though there is more body here than most.  This is interesting and food-friendly wine,  not too serious,  but bone dry.  It would be diabolical in an options game.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  maybe longer.  GK 11/08

2003  Ch  Virginie de Valandraud   17  ()
St Emilion Grand Cru,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $122   [ cork;  Me 65%,  CF 30,  CS & Ma 5,  all de-stemmed,  average age 30 years;  Virginie is an individual wine,  a designated part within the Valandraud vineyard;  28 – 30 days cuvaison inc. 3 days cold soak,  James Lawther advises no acid addition despite hot year;  18 – 20 months in 100% new oak;  Jean-Luc Thunevin is one of the original 'garagistes',  Michel Rolland consults even though Jean-Luc is himself a much-used consultant;  Robinson 16 in 2003;  www.thunevin.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the older wines.  First impressions of the bouquet are an oaky and new world wine,  with a hint of pennyroyal.  In mouth there is good ripe fruit in a somewhat rustic as well as oaky and hot climate style,  closer to the Ornellaia than the New Zealand wines.  2003 may have been a hot summer in Bordeaux,  but this is really quite clumsy modern wine,  far from classical Bordeaux,  a funny one to use as an exemplar of Bordeaux in the Forum context.  It therefore offers great hope for the much more floral,  purer,  more classical and better balanced Hawkes Bay and Waiheke cabernet / merlots – the better ones.  This Virginie is pleasant,  but is unlikely to make a graceful older wine,  so cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Forest Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5   16 ½ +  ()
Mount Barker,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $65   [ screwcap;  CS 100% cropped @ c. 2.25 t/ac from some of the oldest vines in district,  up to 40 years;  18 months in French oak 60% new;  RS 0.05 g/L;  www.foresthillwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  This is a narrow Australian red,  despite coming from a cooler climate in Australian terms.  Bouquet is red more than black fruits,  quite oaky,  a little euc'y,  very clean almost to the point of being empty.  Palate shows the same style,  acid and oak noticeable against the more temperate climate wines,  leaving the mouth with a hard feeling even alongside the acid Gaja.  Australian tasters sometimes seem desensitised to these unflattering aspects of their wines,  I guess because for many,  the technical parameters are seen as more important than conformity to international expectations for wine style.  Cellar 10 – 15 years,  hopefully to throw some tartrate crystals and soften.  GK 11/08

2004  Ch d'Agassac   16 ½ +  ()
Haut-Medoc cru bourgeois,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $45   [ cork;  CS 60%,  Me 40,  cropped at c. 2.5 t/ac;  3 – 4 week cuvaison;  some MLF in barrel;  15 months on lees and stirred in barrel c. 30% new;  www.agassac.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is straightforward minor bordeaux of a pleasant year,  reminiscent of many chateaux from Entre Deux Mers across to the Medoc.  It shows red fruits perhaps more than black,  including red and blackcurrants and red more than black plum,  some tobacco,  older oak,  and is technically satisfactory without being squeaky clean.  Palate is the same,  refreshing,  a hint of leafiness without being under-ripe,  so one calls it tobacco.  This wine illustrates clearly why the Oyster Bay would be even better received if it were sold with appropriate bottle age.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 11/08

2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  Me 56%,  Ma 24,  CS 20;  inoculated ferment;  MLF  in barrel,  21 months in French oak;  RS nil;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  quite old for its age.  Bouquet is clean,  spirity and very oaky,  in an older style of 'serious' New Zealand red,  closer to Australia than France.  There is browning cassis in the red berry,  and a curious edge of capers or seaweed,  not unattractive.  Palate is very dry,  rich but too oaky,  the latter exacerbated by the unfortunate alcohol.  Some of the younger wines in the tasting,  and the best of the Bordeaux,  show why this is not an optimal interpretation of cabernet / merlot for New Zealand,  though it will mellow for 5 – 15 years.  It certainly looked attractive as a younger wine,  as its awards and even reviews on this site indicate,  so it will be intriguing to see if this result reflects a rough patch the wine is going through,  or a decline.  GK 11/08

2007  [ Delegat's ] Oyster Bay Merlot   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels & elsewhere,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Me 100% cropped @ 3.2 t/ac from vines 3 – 11 years age;  inoculated fermentation in s/s mainly and some BF,  12 days cuvaison;  a 'large proportion' matured in French oak 6 months;  RS 1.9 g/L;  www.oysterbaywines.com ]
Good ruby,  carmine and velvet,  though not as rich as the same-year Mission Jewelstone.  This wine didn't show well freshly poured,  being a little reductive and this exacerbating a hint of green / seeming under-ripe.  It needed a splashy decanting.  Aerated,  it shows clear bottled black doris plummy merlot characters on bouquet and palate,  in a fresh temperate-climate juicy wine style,  closest to Chilean merlot / carmenere,  but a little more acid and not quite so ripe.  It is simpler and lighter wine than the Jewelstone (which is a Reserve level wine),  but in comparison with some popular Australian cabernet / merlots at lower price points,  it is pretty well dry.  A pity demand is such that the wine cannot be sold with more appropriate bottle age,  which would allow it to marry up and benefit its perceived quality.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/08

2004  Ch Smith Haut Lafitte   16 ½  ()
Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $96   [ cork;  CS 55%,  Me 34,  CF 10,  PV 1,  cropped at 2 t/ac before triage;  whole-bunch ferment in oak cuves,  cuvaison 5 – 6 weeks,  MLF and 18 months in barrel 80% new;  Robinson has 5 scores ranging 16.5 – 18,  2005 – 2008,  no two the same (this has a comforting air of reality to it !),  Parker 91 – 93;  www.smith-haut-lafitte.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is unashamedly European,  complex beyond simple components like berry and oak,  instead fruit,  dark tobacco,  earthy,  mushroomy and bretty.  Palate is rich and like the Cambon Pelouse,  but much more rustic with a touch of acid from the suboptimal year.  A wine for stylists only,  another funny one to choose,  and therefore hard to score for a conference dominated by winemakers.  My number is a compromise.  The aftertaste of manuka-smoked snapper is appealing,  showing the many guises the bacony component of brett (4-ethylguaiacol) can adopt.  Score would be 17.5 at dinner,  when one doesn't think of brett so much.  Interesting to note session leader James Lawther MW characterised the wine as (paraphrased):  " … up a class [ from Cambon Pelouse and d'Agassac ],  more complex,  fresh and digestible."  Cellar 5 – 12 years or so,  in its rustic style.  GK 11/08

2005  Voyager Estate Cabernet / Merlot   16 +  ()
Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  in French oak 50% new for unspecified time;  website lacks wine info;  www.voyagerestate.com.au ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  On bouquet one would swear this was an older New Zealand cabernet / merlot.  There is a clear hint of methoxypyrazine in the cassis and tobacco berry complexity on bouquet,  making the wine very fragrant.  It is a good example of what Stephen Spurrier used to call the green-tinged claret style.  Palate doesn't follow through so well,  the wine being aromatic and cassisy but quite acid,  which accentuates the bell-pepper note.  Fruit richness is good,  though,  and the wine would be refreshing with appropriate food.  Hard to score.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  keeping an eye on the green note which will degrade to a cigarette-ashtray phase with age.  GK 11/08

2006  Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon The Tally   16 +  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  New Zealand:  15%;  $95   [ ProCork;  CS 100%;  20 months in French oak 100% new;  RS 0.55 g/L;  www.balnaves.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet.  To first sniff,  this wine simply looks ludicrous in an international tasting of the claret style.  When one considers the lavish praise that has been heaped on this wine in its own country,  the gold medals and 96-point reviews,  it illustrates beautifully the almost unbridgeable gulf there is between the American / Australian notion of wine quality (so often quantitative),  and the contrasting European (to which many New Zealand wine people thankfully aspire).  On investigation,  bouquet is essentially eucalyptus,  alcohol and oak,  big,  clean,  technological.  Closer examination reveals some cassis berry too.  In mouth the wine is massive,  blackcurrant jam one has overcooked,  with brown streaks grading into chocolate,  added acid,  harsh.  It is a perfect example of the latterday Australian heroic wine style,  made to impress domestically,  but in much of the rest of the world (except America) regarded as unsuited to food,  and hence not enjoyable.  Cellar 10 – 30 years,  in its style.  GK 11/08

2005  Majella Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra   16 +  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  CS 100%,  machine-harvested;  significant part barrel-fermented;  22 months in French oak hogsheads (300 L);  apart from awards won,  not much actual wine info on website;  www.majellawines.com.au ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is euc'y first and foremost,  more so even than The Tally,  and so can hardly be taken seriously.  Otherwise,  the wine is in the one-dimensional over-oaked overly alcoholic but cassisy and heroic Australian cabernet style.  Needless to say therefore it has a number of Australian gold medals.  Palate amplifies the eucalyptus and oak,  partly due to the alcohol,  making the wine nearly burning to the tongue.  Wines such as these lose sight of the fact that the goal of red wine is to accompany food.  Cellar 10 – 25 years,  maybe to mellow.  However experience the previous night with a 1965 Hardy's C546 straight cabernet partly from Coonawarra shows that as the wine dries out,  the eucalyptus component can increase and render the wine even less palatable.  GK 11/08

2006  Sutton Grange Winery Estate [ Sangiovese / Cabernet ] Giove   14 ½  ()
Bendigo district,  Central Victoria,  Australia:  13%;  $38   [ cork;  Sa 75%, CS 20, Me 5,  grown on granite-derived soils @ 300 m,  hand-picked;  wild-yeast fermentation,  12 – 18 days cuvaison varying with variety;  MLF and c. 19 months in French oak 5% new for CS only,  included to illustrate new thinking peripheral to the cabernet / merlot class;  www.suttongrangewinery.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is perfumed in a style not simpatico with any sangiovese or chianti-oriented wine I have ever tasted,  instead quite tarty and synthetic.  Palate picks up the synthetic thought,  with cheap raspberry sweets flavours.  Other tasters thought the wine reductive,  which was not my first impression.  Anyway,  it is not 'winey',  with strange acid / tannin interactions on the later palate,  making the wine hollow and short.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 11/08

2002  Ch d'Aiguilhe   14  ()
Cotes de Castillon,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $50   [ cork;  Me 80%,  CF 20,  hand-harvested @ a little over 1 t/ac in 2002 from lime-rich soils;  twice sorted,  de-stemmed;  cuvaison 26 days in wooden cuves;  MLF and 18 months on lees with micro-oxygenation in barrels 60% new;  Parker 87 in 2005;  great website;  www.neipperg.com ]
Ruby and garnet.  Bouquet is straightforward claret-styled but excessively old red wine,  vaguely bottled red plums,  older oak maybe,  but the character hard to define due to oxidation.  Inquiries revealed a majority of bottles were similar.  In mouth the wine was pleasantly ripe,  but showing Bovril and brown plum jam flavours,  and a short finish.  In New Zealand therefore,  for this particular bottling (if not 'assembled'),  or shipment maybe (if not imported in temperature-controlled containers as some importers still practice in New Zealand),  this is merely QDR,  not worth cellaring.  GK 11/08