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

The Original Invitation:
There has been approval expressed for the concept of two 1975 wine tastings,  but with one of the key wines in the Pt I tasting ending up less than impressive,  the cost of that tasting now looks on the high side.  Let's therefore do a bit of penance in the pricing of a Pt II,  which will be strictly for people whose primary interest is in wine per se,  not wine labels.

For 1975 in Bordeaux,  I won't repeat the Introduction to the vintage printed in my write-up of Pt I,  giving the views of various authorities in some detail.  It almost reluctantly emerges as perhaps the second-best vintage of the 1970s,  after 1970 itself.  It was a stern and tannic year,  which is not so appealing to modern palates,  but the tannin has enabled the good / rich ones to live.  

In New Zealand,  Nick Nobilo recalls it as an average season,  but documentation was skimpy at the time.  No wines of the year stood out,  unlike 1976.  Nick had taken over from Tom McDonald and Denis Kasza as the leading vinifera-red wine maker in the country,  and was passionate about his cabernet sauvignon and pinotage.  Not that his work with chardonnay and pinot noir can be dismissed.  So the question will more be:  can New Zealand cabernet sauvignons from way back then (before the advent of the pivotal 1980 – 1983 New Zealand Food & Drug regulations requiring wine to be 95% grape juice,  that is,  outlawing the till-then common practice of adding water),  even last 40 years ?  And how will they compare with some 1975 petites bordeaux ?  We'll have five pleasantly reputable minor Bordeaux (though some are actually classed),  to see.

In Australia,  the year was generally good,  or better.  Most zones seemed to score 5 out of 7,  in the records of the time,  but the Clare Valley (one of our wines) was 7.  Though I doubt they will fit the tasting particularly well,  the chosen wines being more to ensure there is some meat in the offering,  there is a quite famous-in-its-day Hunter shiraz,  two very reputable South Australian blended wines from then leaders,
and a straight cabernet sauvignon from McLaren Vale.  Interesting to note that self-styled Australian 'experts' like Robin Bradley considered all but one of our Australian reds "Prior" in 1993 – 22 years before this Library Tasting.  The extraordinary insularity and virtuoso myopia of some Australian wine commentators is a long-standing source of amazement.

Integration of the two 1975 Library Tastings
There is little to add to the introductory discussion presented in Pt I.  Bordeaux wines at the level of cru bourgeois,  even best cru bourgeois,  do not generally look vigorous after 40 years.  Even in the exciting and rich 1982 vintage,  only the better cru bourgeois are now startlingly good.  As one might predict,  the more ample Australian wines carried their years more easily,  though the lack of subtlety in oak use in that era now haunts some of the wines.  For the New Zealand wines,  doubters notwithstanding,  it was pleasing to see that even the least had some semblance of verisimilitude,  when seen in appropriate company.  Referring back to the Pt I wines,  with careful management it proved possible to taste the earlier wines alongside the later batch.  The relative quality of the wines in the two batches could thus be integrated.  A bald list appears below,  for interest.  For detail of the earlier wines,  please refer to the 1975 Pt I article.

1975  Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard   18.5 +
1975  Ch Leoville Las Cases   18.5
1975  Ch Montrose   18 +
1975  Stanley Leasingham Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 49   18
1975  Richard Hamilton Cabernet Sauvignon   17.5 +
1975  Wolf Blass Cabernet / Shiraz Black Label Jimmy Watson Trophy   17.5
1975  Ch La Lagune   17 +
1975  Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz Grey Label   17 +
1975  Ch Leoville Barton   17
1975  Ch Talbot   17
1975  Ch Lynch-Bages   16.5 +
1975  Ch La Tour Carnet   16.5 +
1975  Ch Lafite Rothschild   16.5
1975  Ch Liversan   16.5
1975  Stanley Leasingham Cabernet / Malbec Bin 56   16.5
1975  Ch Moulinet   16 +
1975  Ch Lascombes   16
1975  Sonoma Vineyards (now Rodney Strong) Cabernet Sauvignon   16
1975  Ch Branaire   15.5
1975  Ch Cantemerle   15.5
1975  Nobilo's Cabernet Sauvignon   15 +
1975  Elliots Oakvale Dry Red Private Bin   15 +
1975  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin   14.5
1975  Montana Cabernet Sauvignon (red-brown capsule)   13.5

It was good to be able to talk with Nick Nobilo,  and Peter Hubscher then Chief Winemaker of Montana Wines,  about these vintages.

Evans, Len 1978:   Complete Book of Australian Wine.  Hamlyn,  512 p.
Halliday,  James,  1985:   The Australian Wine Compendium.  Angus & Robertson,  576 p.
Parker,  R  1991:   Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  1026 p.
Saunders,  Peter,  1977:   A Guide to New Zealand Wine Vintage 1977.  Wineglass Publishing.  64 p.
www.erobertparker.com  =  Robert Parker alone for this tasting


Prices shown below are the current wine-searcher values for the 1975 vintage,  where available.  Historical cost where available is in the 'admin' section for each wine:

1975  Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz Grey Label
1975  Ch Cantemerle
1975  Elliots Oakvale Dry Red Private Bin
1975  Ch Liversan
1975  Montana Cabernet Sauvignon (red-brown capsule)
1975  Ch Moulinet
  1975  Nobilo's Cabernet Sauvignon
1975  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin
1975  Richard Hamilton Cabernet Sauvignon
1975  Stanley Leasingham Cabernet / Malbec Bin 56
1975  Ch Talbot
1975  Ch La Tour Carnet

1975  Richard Hamilton Cabernet Sauvignon   17 ½ +  ()
McLaren Vale,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 43mm;  Dr Richard Hamilton is a son of the owners of the then well-known Hamilton's Ewell Vineyard.  He set up his own winery in 1972,  based at Willunga on the southern edge of the McLaren Vale district.  Evans (1978) comments the wines were then 'hard to come by'.  Reds were fermented in stainless steel,  and matured in 300-litre American hogsheads,  the style oaky.  Richard Hamilton is now the McLaren Vale label in the Leconfield of Coonawarra stable,  all owned by Richard Hamilton;  www.leconfieldwines.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  about midway in richness.  There is a purity and elegance to this wine which is delightful.  It is not as complex as the Talbot,  and there is a certain sun-soaked gentle oaky smoothness to the very ripe blackcurrant and plum berry notes,  but it is inviting.  Flavours are a world apart from the minor bordeaux and New Zealand wines,  a suppleness and ample fruit quality which superficially is all-enticing.  Yet when you check back against the La Tour Carnet,  for example,  you see exactly what Jancis Robinson is on about,  with her regular reference to 'refreshing' as one of her key 'wants' in red wines.  The concept is not so to the forefront in Australia,  where there is a preference for ripeness,  size and weight in red wines,  but that is slowly changing.  This Hamilton Cabernet is a good compromise.  What I like about this wine is,  it seems nearly straight cabernet,  the fruit is dominant over oak,  even if it is American oak,  and it is good with food.  Fully mature,  but no hurry – if the corks allow.  GK 04/15

1975  Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz Grey Label   17 +  ()
Langhorne Creek,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 43mm;  CS 80%,  Sh 20;  Wine-Searcher doesn't know about this label in the '70s,  but the 1986 is currently available for $134 in one shop in Australia.  The Grey Label series was for individual vineyard wines.  It was introduced in 1967,  the first wine to bear the Wolf Blass logo,  rather than the previous Bilyara.  One reason for the success of Blass reds was his introduction of barrel-fermentation to produce soft rich flavoursome wines with great oak impression,  but not harshly tannic.  60% of this wine was in Nevers oak,  40% American,  ratio new not known but high;  gold medals in Canberra,  Brisbane,  Perth and Hobart;  Halliday,  1985:  Rough-sawn new-wood characters were still to integrate in 1979.  Very good potential,  however,  16.5 / 20. ;  www.wolfblasswines.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the third deepest.  This wine has a bigger bouquet than the Hamilton,  and it is a bigger wine,  plenty of fruit lifted by mint and smoothed by malt,  perhaps the American oak component dominating,  vanillin now melding with the malt.  In mouth there is wonderful rich velvety even voluptuous fruit,  not  showing much hint of age beyond smooth maturity.  Again like the Blass in Pt I,  one wonders,  is this wine bone dry ?  It shows much more obvious shiraz flesh than the Black Label Blass in Pt I.  When you go back to the light aromatic Talbot,  the contrast with this rich wine is dramatic,  whereas the Black Label compares more favourably.  Yet it is soft,  the tannins are beautifully tailored,  and it is food-friendly.  Final aftertaste is oak,  though,  so despite the apparently richness,  perhaps it is fully mature.  Much the favourite wine,  for the tasting group.  No hurry,  in a cool cellar (apart from the corks,  again).  GK 04/15

1975  Ch Talbot   17  ()
St Julien,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $137   [ cork 54mm;  CS 70%,  Me 20,  CF 5,  PV 5.  Shelf price $23.35 in 1978 is $141 today,  according to the Reserve Bank Inflation Calculator.  That is considerably ahead of current vintage price.  Talbot tends to live in the shadow of Gruaud-Larose,  and the 1975 does not challenge that assessment;  Parker,  1996:  … a better showing than normal for this medium-bodied, hard, lean, austere Talbot. The wine revealed more fruit than in the past, an earthy, herbal, chocolatey, weedy-scented nose, good extraction, and the vintage's harshness and toughness in the finish. Although it will keep for another 10-15+ years, there is no reason to hold on to it that long,  84.;  www.chateau-talbot.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is sweet and fragrant mature claret,  a lovely blend of browning cassis and other berries,  dark tobacco and cedar,  beautifully clean apart from a shadow of brett.  Palate is not quite so apparently ripe and sweet,  the wine just past its prime,  fruit fading slightly but the acid of the year standing firm.  It is not as rich as the Leoville Barton in Pt I,  but it is purer,  so can be scored about the same.  Best finished,  before the fruit dries further.  GK 04/15

1975  Ch La Tour Carnet   16 ½ +  ()
St Laurent,  Haut-Medoc Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $121   [ cork 49mm;  CS 66%,  Me 33,  PV 1;  Parker thought the wine should be declassified to cru bourgeois in 1991;  with new management from the 2000 vintage he retreated from that view;  for the 1975:  … good, rather than special ...,  no score;  www.bernard-magrez.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is like the Talbot,  fragrant and notably clean,  not quite the berry complexity or the new oak component,  absolutely representative mature straightforward claret.  Palate has one of the better acid balances in this group of five lesser growths,  with pleasant mouth-feel.  The flavours however are just a little plainer and shorter,  browning plum,  tannins becoming noticeable.  In a way it seems richer than the Talbot,  yet it is less supple.  At a peak,  won't improve.  GK 04/15

1975  Stanley Leasingham Cabernet / Malbec Bin 56   16 ½  ()
Clare Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 43mm;  CS 80%,  Ma 20;  original cost $7.16,  a well-regarded wine at the time,  gold medals at Canberra,  Sydney,  and Brisbane;  Stanley Leasingham became part of the Hardy group in 1987,  and Bin 56 is now a lower-profile label in the latter-day BRL-Hardy → Constellation Wines → Accolade Wines grouping;  Len Evans, 1978:  This is one of two reds which have earned Stanley a high reputation in recent years, both with the public and Show judges. … Matured for about a year in American oak hogsheads, and then in larger wood, this is a big, rich strongly-flavoured dry red style with tonnes of fruit matched by excellent oak character. The '75 is a big,  full-flavoured style with plenty of fruit. ]
Ruby and garnet,  the second deepest wine.  Bouquet is big,  clearly minty going on euc'y,  very aromatic,  a lot of fruit but even more oak.  There is not the finesse the Bin 49 in Pt I showed.  In mouth there is still good fruit,  and plenty of browning plummy berry.  The tannin load from oak is massive,  though,  and ultimately overpowers the wine,  so it doesn't work with food as well as the Blass and Hamilton examples.  Hard wine to score,  you have to reward its vigour at 40 years,  and those who like oak will rate it more highly.  It was well liked by the group.  This will keep for years,  preserved by oak tannins,  again apart from the 43mm corks.  GK 04/15

1975  Ch Liversan   16 ½  ()
Saint-Sauveur,  Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 49mm;  CS 49%,  Me 38,  CF 10,  PV 3;  original price $9.28;  Parker in 1991 notes the great site Liversan enjoys,  adjacent to Pauillac.  With a change of ownership in 1983,  he feels it is latterly among the best cru bourgeois;  no notes found;  www.domaines-lapalu.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  lighter than the Talbot.  Initial bouquet is pleasingly sweet and ripe,  browning cassis like the Talbot,  but lacking the extra complexity that lifts that wine.  Palate is tending lean,  less fruit than the La Tour Carnet,  acid showing,  yet the whole balance of the wine is still classical (smaller) claret,  refreshing,  just past its prime.  Drink up.  GK 04/15

1975  Ch Moulinet   16 +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 52mm;  Me 60%,  CS 30,  CF 10;  a modest but clean wine,  in Parker's estimation,  at best perfumed,  lightly fruity and elegant,  but often less;  no notes found.  Included to have a merlot-dominant wine ]
Garnet and ruby,  the oldest of these bordeaux,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet lacks the aromatic berry / cassis of the high cabernet wines,  naturally,  so therefore appears tending-leathery,  as the plummy merlot browns.  By the same token,  acid is lower,  and mouth-feel is the best of these minor bordeaux,  rounder than the La Tour Carnet.  An attractive very small-scale Pomerol,  at full maturity for those who like old wine.  GK 04/15

1975  Ch Cantemerle   15 ½  ()
Macau,  Medoc Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  11.5%;  $49   [ cork 53mm;  CS 40%,  Me 40,  CF 18,  PV 2;  Parker notes this property was in decline till its sale in 1980;  before then the wines were erratic.  At best though,  he considers it fragrant claret,  now worthy of re-rating upwards.  Parker,  1998:  The 1975 is still remarkably hard, tannic, and tough. It is rustic, full bodied, and muscular on the palate. The wine exhibits plenty of concentration, but the astringent, even severe tannins of the 1975 vintage continue to give rise to doubts about how well this wine is evolving,  84;  www.cantemerle.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the deepest of the Bordeaux.  Bouquet is complex relative to the other French wines,  but not all for good reasons.  There is a suggestion of decay in the sense of humus,  some brett,  and a leafy component,  in fading berry.  In mouth there is a clear stalky streak bespeaking a picking and sorting regime very different from today.  This wine is fascinating for New Zealand,  because even though it also shows stalkyness and mixed ripeness alongside the two clearly under-ripe New Zealand wines,  the richness and cropping rate,  and hence dry extract,  are vastly superior to the New Zealand wines.  The Cantemerle is in fact richer than the Talbot,  but infinitely plainer,  and with much higher acid.  People would score it very differently therefore,  depending on the 'size' wine they like.  Will hold for some years.  GK 04/15

1975  Nobilo's Cabernet Sauvignon   15 +  ()
Kumeu,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 49mm;  CS 100%;  this wine was all raised in French oak,  much of it new,  for 24 months;  Saunders,  1977:  the longer wood age given to these wines makes a longer bottle age period necessary, even essential. The 1974 is a big wine, with excellent qualities and I think it will be showing fine form in another year or two, but will hold this form for a couple of years at least after that … worth the higher price … the 1975 … is also going to need bottle age.  The 1974 gained silver medal in the National Wine Competition.  For the record,  the 1976 Cabernet Sauvignon was the greatest of these early-70s cabernet wines from Nobilo. ]
Garnet and ruby,  the second lightest.  And one sniff tells you why:  a lot more oak exposure.  The wine is amazingly fragrant,  but it is very hard to separate the vanillin of new oak from the aroma of browning cassis.  In mouth there is some texture,  the wine reflecting a cropping rate somewhat closer to the petites bordeaux.  There is more acid than the minor Bordeaux,  though,  and much less berry complexity.  I imagine this is a consequence of being a single-variety wine,  plus probably some chaptalising.  Considering 1975 was a lesser year than 1974 in Huapai,  and much less than 1976,  yet this wine is still nearly in step with these minor clarets,  this is a good result.  It confirms Nick Nobilo's pre-eminent place in the New Zealand red wine hierarchy of the time.  The wine is fading,  but will be OK for several years yet.  GK 04/15

1975  Elliots Oakvale Dry Red Private Bin   15 +  ()
Hunter Valley,  New South Wales,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 45mm;  Sh 100%;  original cost $AU4.98;  The Elliot family bought Oakvale in 1893.  They became highly-regarded winemakers,  finally selling in 1974,  though the family continued winemaking for the new owners for a time.  After several owners,  it is now the home base for Oakvale Wines,  some of which James Halliday is rating highly;  for our wine,  Len Evans (1978) comments:  made from straight hermitage … very low yield … the Private Bin … the pick of Elliot's dry red material in any one year. The Private Bins over the years have produced some very attractive wines. Recently the '76 and '75 have both been impressive …  The '75 was a much fuller, richer style. Undoubtedly one of the best Elliot's reds I have seen for some years. Beautiful depth of fruit on the palate and a lovely balance of richness and softness throughout. It will mature into a classic old style Hunter. ]
Garnet and ruby,  much the deepest wine.  And on bouquet,  this is also a very different wine,  though in a polar opposite sense to the Montana.  This is the wine of another era,  massively overripe,  big,  brown,  rich,   no new oak,  vaguely reminiscent of an ancient Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  leathery going on tarry,  with lots of alcohol.  Flavours are enormously concentrated,  but the tannin load is staggering.  The tannins pile up on the aftertaste,  raising doubts about the microbiological security of the wine,  but 24 and 48 hours later it is still OK.  Best described as an ancient monument,  hard to treasure today.  Dubious keeping any longer,  all the same,  with that tannin-related doubt on the aftertaste.  GK 04/15

1975  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin   14 ½  ()
Gisborne mainly,  possibly some Hawkes Bay and Waimauku,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 45mm;  nominally CS 100%;  release price also $3.20;  the Penfolds venture in New Zealand (with Dominion Breweries) lasted from 1963 to 1977 or so;  this wine entered in the 1975 National Wine Competition (Commended,  ie below Bronze),  so probably little oak exposure;  no info ]
Ruby and garnet,  clearly the lightest wine,  yet not tired in hue.  Bouquet is simply astonishing,  given the colour.  It is really fragrant,  but as is often the case with 'fragrant' reds,  the level of bouquet here is augmented by a leafy under-ripe component.  Relative to several of the minor clarets,  it is squeaky clean.  In mouth however it has less to say.  There is a clear chaptalised component melding quite pleasantly with red currants rather than cassis berry,  and leafy notes.  It's all quite like an old Loire cabernet franc,  yet there is a hint of ripeness suggesting perhaps some Hawkes Bay material.  Surprisingly good,  considering,  but comparison with the commercial Sonoma vineyards wine in Pt I shows the vast difference in cropping rates in the two countries at the time.  GK 04/15

1975  Montana Cabernet Sauvignon (red-brown capsule)   13 ½  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  12%;  $ –    [ cork 45mm;  nominally CS 100%;  grown in the company's Gisborne vineyards,  an improbable area for quality cabernet sauvignon;  around nine months in American oak,  release price $3.20;  the following review is reproduced in full,  to at the same time provide the modern reader with a glimpse of wine values in mid-70s New Zealand:  Saunders,  1977:  A wine which we can be proud of. We have waited for a commercial quantity Cabernet of good standard, and  Montana have produced it. On sale all year round. There are two bottlings of the 1975 vintage. One has a white plastic capsule around the cork, and the other has a tighter red binding. The difference, we are told, is that the white capsule line was bottled earlier than the red, with the latter consequently having more wood maturation. Both show excellent fruit character. The red capsule seems a fraction lighter, but the wood influence is starting to meld well into the wine. Both of these styles should be aged – as Cabernet develops in New Zealand it will be interesting to have some “pioneer” Cabernets to look back on. But apart from that, they have both got good keeping qualities which will continue to provide rewarding drinking in the short-medium future. Air-time useful. ]
Garnet and ruby,  the third lightest,  but the colour has a drab black note to it.  Bouquet is the most different in the set of 12,  smelling strongly of sautéed red capsicums in a vaguely grassy berry context,  plus a carbolic oak note,  and stalks.  It is clean,  though.  In mouth it is more pleasant than the bouquet suggests,  like the Penfolds it tastes of chaptalising,  acid showing in the leafyness and stalks,  but it is not completely empty.  The fruit tastes exactly what you would expect from Gisborne,  where cabernet and merlot simply do not achieve physiological maturity on most sites,  and particularly on the flats,  where this came from.  Yet some growers are still persisting with them,  40 years later.  The other thing the Montana and Penfolds wines dramatically show is the importance of cropping rate,  relative to any of the minor clarets.  The NZ two are simply skinny, yet both are still alive,  and drinkable (for undemanding consumers).  But all the same,  it is no wonder our red wines were mocked back then.  How different the New Zealand red wine scene is now.  GK 04/15