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


Participation in the 2016 Royal Easter Show Wine Awards represented my 35th year as a senior judge in the New Zealand wine industry.  Time to step down,  therefore.  To mark the occasion,  and with the active endorsement of chair of judges Kate Radburnd,  I presented a little 'Farewell  Tasting' of older New Zealand cabernets to the judges.  This fitted neatly into the gap when all the results are being collated,  and the final wines are being assembled for the Trophy judging,  and then deciding the Champion Wine of the show.

There were two key players in the early days of (post-Prohibition) New Zealand Cabernet,  in the 1940s and 1950s.  They were Tom McDonald (later joined by Denis Kasza) at McWilliams in Taradale,  Hawkes Bay,  and Alex Corban in Henderson,  who later also had some grapes planted out towards Kumeu.  In the later '50s they were joined by Dudley Russell of Western Vineyards,  Henderson,  a former vineyard now slipping from wine-public memory,  but well-known in its day for its Hock and Sauternes.  In the later 1960s,  Nick Nobilo planted cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir,  as well as pinotage,  at Kumeu,  and set out to make great New Zealand red wine.  He was the first in New Zealand to systematically use new French oak,  for his top reds.  Nick is still well known today in another guise,  with his Vinoptima gewurztraminer vineyard,  in  Gisborne.

Sadly I have never owned any of Alex's Cabernet,  but I was able to show the judges:  1967 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon,  1967 Western Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon,  1969 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon,  and 1974 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon.  To set the scene,   and more particularly to illustrate to younger judges that before American wine writers so  dominated the international wine scene,  cabernet sauvignon / claret was often a relatively light and fragrant wine,  I introduced the tasting with 1966 Ch Talbot.  It was never a big wine,  and so did not dominate the tasting at all.  Style-wise it was just right.

The five wines were presented revealed,  in the following order (as in photo),  with the handout notes (now slightly amended) in the italic 'admin' part of each review,  below.  Experiments the previous week suggested the wines would show best if decanted about 4 hours before tasting.  The judges were joined by Mike Cooper,  in recognition of his standing as New Zealand's senior and most experienced wine writer.

Scores in a reflective tasting of this nature are arbitrary to a degree.  In those days,  politically correct details such as declaring the alcohol level had scarcely been dreamt of.  I do not recollect all the prices,  but those given indicate the range at the time,  noting that the famous 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon was $1.40 ex-winery,  and demand for the wine was such that it immediately became $2 and then $2.40 in subsequent vintages.  All in all,  the tasting was a thrill:  the 21 tasters were,  in a word,  rapt.  For the presenter,  this was a great outcome,  since older wines and younger tasters do not always appreciate each  other.

1966  Ch Talbot
1967  McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon
1967  Western Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
1969  McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon
1974  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon

1966  Ch Talbot   17 +  ()
Saint-Julien 4th Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $4.50   [ Cork 53mm;  original price;  a clean but small-scale wine,  considering the quality of the 1966 vintage in Bordeaux.  Chosen to benchmark the cabernet style,  to set the scene,  and to give these early NZ vinifera wines a chance to show well.  Cepage then approx. CS 70%, Me 20,  CF 5,  PV 5,  whereas NZ wines nominally 100% CS;  www.chateau-talbot.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  clearly the most 'rosy' of the wines,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet absolutely captured mature cabernet / merlot blends,  wonderfully fragrant and evolving in the  glass,  clear suggestions of browning cassis closest in style to the 1969 McWilliams,  but backed by a warmer spread of berry than that wine.  The integration and alchemy of browning berry,  new  cedary oak,  and suggestions of brown portobello mushrooms was (I thought) sensational in its autumnal way.  This wine is after all a lighter representative of the generally good 1966 classed growths,  at 50 years of age.  Palate followed through harmoniously,  lighter and fractionally leaner than the bouquet promises,  a little acid just noticeable.  But even so,  the spread of supple flavours was greater than the New Zealand wines,  reflecting the merlot component particularly,   which the New Zealand wines lacked.  A lovely bottle,  reflecting how very differently wines evolve in temperate Wellington,  compared with the 3 –  4° higher ambient temperatures in (pre-air-conditioning) Auckland cellars.  GK 02/16

1967  McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon   16  ()
Taradale,  Hawke's Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $2.40   [ Cork 47mm;  third vintage of the 'first' New Zealand semi-commercial cabernet,  overseen by one of the great New Zealand cabernet pioneers,  Tom McDonald,  later joined by Denis Kasza.  Tom,  Denis,  and the label long since deceased.  US oak. ]
Amber and garnet,  scarcely any ruby glow,  the lightest wine,  but still healthy and attractive.   Bouquet is the 'other face' of McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon of that era,  wines with a lactic / vanillin and faintly phenolic / carbolic note in the American oak,  mingling with and influencing the  cassisy berry.  These 'alternative' McWilliams cabernet wines are impossible to hide in a blind lineup,  whereas the 1965,  1969 and 1971 were more berry-dominant,  in their day,  and more fun to present with other wines.  Palate is harder than the 1969,  total acid a little higher,  the flavour not quite so crystal pure.  Actual richness is still surprisingly good,  though,  having regard to the light colour.  Scuttlebutt of the era had it that there was a dollop of another variety,  chambourcin maybe,  in the 1967,  but nobody is saying a word,  today.  Still an interesting bottle.  GK 02/16

1967  Western Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon   16 ½  ()
Henderson,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 40mm;  so long since a practising winery,  few now even know of it,  but was 'famous' for table wines in the '50s and early '60s,  mainly whites.  Not even a vineyard,  now,  residential.  Joe Babich confirms there were cabernet grapes,  but only enough for two small (50-gallon) barrels / year to be made,  so the wine now is rare beyond belief.  I thought this might be the most dubious wine,  and commented it would only be presented if it opened sufficiently well.  It seemed 'genuine' in its day,  and in fact opened convincingly.  Whisky or bourbon barrels,  therefore probably US oak. ]
Ruby and garnet,  the second deepest wine.  This wine smelt a little different,  initially,  but  became better and better with air.  Knowing it had most likely been raised in American whisky barrels,  that thought was inescapable in tasting it,  but nonetheless the volume of browning cassisy berry grew and grew.  Palate weight was clearly richer than the 1967 McWilliams,  and even the 1969 McWilliams,  but the purity of flavour is less than the 1969.  The ripeness level is far greater than popular mythology would consider 'normal' for Henderson,  for example the  Babich 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon,  which raises interesting questions.  At the tasting it seemed somewhat leathery and muted,  but the dregs I conserve (with all the sediment,  lots in this case) clarified beautifully,  and the wine evolved for several days in the glass.  The ultimate ratio of berry to oak is in fact better than the Nobilo '74,  with clearly noticeable dry extract.  GK 02/16

1969  McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon   17  ()
Taradale,  Hawke's Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 48mm;  fifth vintage of the 'first' New Zealand semi-commercial cabernet,  overseen by one of the great New Zealand pioneers,  Tom McDonald,  later joined by Denis Kasza.  The 1969 was considered second-only to the 1965,  in its day.  Tom,  Denis,  and the label long since deceased.  US oak. ]
Ruby,  still a flush of 'rosy',  the second lightest wine.  Bouquet on this wine is dramatic,  absolutely the closest indication now of the near-mythical 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon.   The key character is the purity of exact browning cassis,  wonderfully aromatic,  as in bottled blackcurrants 20 – 30 years old (well-bottled blackcurrants easily last 30 years,  in quart-size  jars).  Palate shares the cassis cue with Talbot,  and as soon as you carefully compare them side by side,  the key to these two wines is the absolute purity of new oak.  Popular mythology did not suppose Tom and Denis had new oak again,  after the 1965,  but on the taste evidence here,  they did.  This wine does not have the lactic note that slightly muddies the 1967 in this tasting,  a character which became obtrusive in the next decade of this label.  Palate weight nearly compares with the Talbot,  but there is merlot 'flesh' in the latter which the 1969 McWilliams lacks,  being straight cabernet sauvignon.  My high score for this wine is influenced by the absolutely stunning bouquet;  some tasters found it too lean.  Label ceased late '70s,  though related wine marketed till mid-80s.  GK 02/16

1974  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon   16 ½ +  ()
Huapai / Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 48mm;  this label ceased 1979 (I think);  '74 selected over the more famous '76,  since trial bottles in Wellington indicated the '74 richer;  understood to be 2 years in French oak,  a high percentage new;  in 1977,  Peter Saunders thought the 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon would cellar for 7 years from vintage,  at least. ]
Ruby and garnet,  the youngest in hue,  and the deepest in weight.  The first bottle opened was lightly TCA-affected.  A back-up bottle was much better,  but it too was not singing,  sad to say,  compared with a trial bottle the week before.  But one has to look through these things when wines are as rare as these.  In actual berry richness,  the Nobilo clearly seemed the biggest wine in the set.  It tasted the richest too,  but there was a forthright sturdy quality to it,  reflecting too much new oak.  The persistence of fruit on palate is nonetheless remarkable,  given that it is nominally 100% cabernet.  Age seems to have smoothed-over 'the hole in the middle'.  In the set,  the most modern wine,  more winemaker-influenced relative to the cepage-dominant Talbot.  A perfect bottle would score higher,  even today.  The label illustrated is from the 'Own a vine' scheme Nobilo instituted at the time.  The commercial version of this label did not survive the '70s,  as the family firm experienced various vicissitudes.  GK 02/16

Saunders,  Peter,  1977:  A Guide to New Zealand Wine.  Wineglass Publishing,  64 p.
Scott,  Dick,  1964:  Winemakers of New Zealand .  Southern Cross Books,  Auckland,  100 p.
Thorpy,  Frank,  1971:  Wine in New Zealand.  Collins,  199 p.
Kelly,  Geoff,  2008:  The Evolution of Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay Blends in New Zealand, to 2005.  www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=145


In February 2016 the opportunity arose to re-taste the nominally 1903-vintage Lansdowne red wine,  thanks to the generosity of Ed Beetham and his long-established Wairarapa family.  Coordination of the tasting was undertaken by wine journalist John Saker.  The wine came from a vineyard located adjacent to the suburb of Masterton now called Lansdowne,  on the north-east side of the town.  The  Beetham family then owned that land,  centred on Lansdowne House,  as well as Brancepeth Estate,  in the gently hilly country at Wainuioru 15 km southeast of Masterton.  I say re-taste,  because I had  the pleasure of tasting this wine in 1985,  and wrote that tasting up in National Business Review. That article is reprinted on this website,  here.

The grapes in the vineyard,  the cepage,  are not formally documented,  but the Beethams and the Williams of Hawkes Bay intermarried,  and there was contact with the Chambers family of Te Mata,  and the Mission Estate.  Grapes probably came from these sources,  and the Beethams brought some from France directly.  There are some records of pinot noir and hermitage (syrah) being planted in the vineyard,  but I have not seen them.  Scott (1964) records:   [ Romeo ] Bragato was accompanied by three Agriculture Department officials to Beetham's Wairarapa vineyard.  He inspected three acres of wine grapes,  found them in perfect condition and drank some prime quality six-year-old Hermitage.  This was 1895;  hermitage is syrah (then named after the village Hermitage in the Northern Rhone Valley where the grape finds its greatest expression).  Being cooler than Hawkes Bay,  pinot noir seems highly probable to be have been the dominant grape.  In the same report,  Bragato mentions Pinot in Hawkes Bay as being the finest grapes he had seen.  Syrah would go with it naturally.  The Mission had much meunier in that era,  and it is likely too.  Cabernet franc has been mentioned,  but no confirmation is known.  It would be great to research these matters in more depth,  in Beetham family correspondence,  in contemporary newspapers,  and directly in Romeo Bragato's reports.

When I tasted the wine thirty years ago,  I described it as clearly old burgundy in style,  still showing a rosy flush in a copper-garnet hue,  with a surprisingly fragrant bouquet and flavour for its age,  though very dry.  30 years on,  therefore,  I was apprehensive that the wine might have declined seriously,  since it was no longer a big wine,  even then.

But no,  wonderful to report,  the first bottle opened was in amazingly good condition,  the cork clean,  firm for much of its length,  and dry.  The colour still shows a rosy salmon flush (see photo),  and  likewise in the bouquet,  once momentary bottle stink had cleared,  one could see faded rose-petal florals,  and even suggestions of browning red berry,  though it would be exaggerating to say there was any cherry character.  For anybody who likes old wine,  it still smelt lovely,  not at all oxidised,  just faded.  Flavour likewise still has some mouth feel and texture.  As at the last tasting,  it suggests the grapes must have been cropped very conservatively indeed,  as was the norm in those days,  to have remained so lively to this day.  

There is still a clear taste of browning berry fruit,  but the actual fruit sensation is short lived,  instead beautifully clean French oak quickly becoming the dominant flavour.  Yet as you reflect on it,  the oak still has this dry burgundian fruit to a degree wrapping it up,  and there is still perceptible dry extract.  What a thrill a tasting such as this is.  

The photos illustrate:  (top left) the four bottles brought up and settling for the tasting,  only two being opened;  (top right) a hand-written label denoting a bin of 'Claret Lansdowne 1903' (though the wine seems certain to have been predominantly pinot noir,  some syrah,  and maybe some meunier and cabernet franc);  (bottom left) the wines binned without labels,  in the cellar under the house;  and (bottom right) the wine in the glass,  still showing appropriate gentle colour (for its age),  but losing its rosy glow quite quickly.

It seems the bottles are still binned pretty well as they originally were.  Many bottles were originally wax-capped,  and some were re-waxed later in the piece.  One bin is labelled 1903,  but it is impossible now to know to which wines this refers.  Conditions in the cellar are dry (even though in earlier years it has been flooded),  with the result that many bottles are now empty or nearly so,  the corks having shrunk.  By the same token,  those corks that are good are in phenomenal condition,  relative to corks at my Lower Hutt place which are half the age,  but in somewhat higher humidity.  The corks must have been of first-class quality at the outset,  at least 45 mm long,  perhaps 50.  In more humid cellars,  corks often deteriorate to a puggy consistency after 40 or 50 or so years.  In the best bottle of the nominal '1903' opened,  the cork itself was remarkably fresh and firm.  I had opened a 1967 Hawkes Bay cabernet sauvignon two days before,  and its cork was almost decayed,  in comparison.

Wellington wine-man Raymond Chan has written this tasting up more fully,  here,  with more background information and illustrations,  on his now-remarkable free-access website.  This site is the most complete and up-to-date source of on-line information on New Zealand wine available,  with great background information for nearly all articles.

This exciting tasting raises the question,  will the best current New Zealand wines last so long.  The key issues here are cropping rate,  and thus the dry extract or richness of the wine,  and oak,  more particularly the ratio of oak.  Most modern New Zealand wines are too oaky,  following the (climatically inappropriate) Australian lead,  though it is fair to say that perceptive proprietors are reducing the ratio of new oak now.  It is hard for oaky wines to retain real harmony and elegance in old age,  when the perception of fruit must be dominant.  And most modern New Zealand wines still do not have the concentration,  to remain vital for 100 years.  A modern wine such as 2013 Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri,  cropped at c. 4.2 t/ha = 1.7 t/ac and with a dry extract of 31.5 g/L would be the best bet.  Or Elephant Hill's two top 2013 reds,  both with comparable dry extracts.  

A CHALLENGE FOR 'CONCEPT LINDAUER' (in the 2004 Lindauer Vintage review,  below) ...

   nv   Nautilus Marlborough Cuvée Brut [ 2007 base-wine ]
   nv  Chevalier Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Classique (c. 4 years old)
   nv  Champagne Lanson Brut [ Black Label ] (c. 4 years old)
   nv  Lindauer Reserve Blanc de Blancs (c. 4 years old)
  2004  Lindauer Special Reserve Vintage
1996  Champagne Pol Roger Chardonnay Extra Cuvée de Reserve Brut
1975  Champagne Pol Roger Chardonnay Extra Cuvée de Reserve Brut

1996  Champagne Pol Roger Chardonnay Extra Cuvée de Reserve Brut   18 ½ +  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $248   [ cork;  winesearcher value;  Ch 100%;  complete malolactic fermentation;  no oak;  >5 years sur lie;  dosage c.9 g/L;  www.polroger.com ]
Good straw,  markedly lighter than the 1975 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs.  One sniff – and this is champagne as one dreams of it:  glorious crust-of-baguette in finest Le Moulin (Wellington bakery) style,  white stonefruits deepening just a little,  with hints of mealyness and hazelnuts,  just lovely.  Palate has the perfect quality you see in good champagnes,  of presence and weight and substance,  yet no fleshiness or fruitiness.  The flavour lasts and lasts,  on the subtle dosage say 9 g/L,  but the richness makes it seem sweeter. This is glorious,  and will cellar for 5 – 15 years yet.  This wine too will be offered in a Library Tasting in Wellington,  2016.  GK 02/16

nv  Champagne Lanson Brut [ Black Label ] (c. 4 years old)   17 ½ +  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $45   [ cork;  release price;  PN 50,  Ch 35; PM 15;  no MLF;  no oak;  c.3 years en tirage;  9 g/L dosage;  www.lanson.com ]
Light straw with a clear lemon wash,  elegant.  Bouquet is absolutely benchmark non-vintage champagne,  showing beautiful autolysis quality combining crust-of-baguette and some suggestions of brioche,  on appropriate fruit,  really very good.  Palate hints at pinot noir (when alongside the Lindauer Reserve Blanc de Blancs),  a light tannin grip,  and more palate weight than the Cremant de Bourgogne.  Considering one or two merchants had this down to $40 or so at the time,  this is immensely pleasing wine.  Will hold some years.  GK 02/16

nv   Nautilus Marlborough Cuvée Brut [ 2007 base-wine ]   17 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $36   [ cork;  based on 2007 fruit,  PN 70%,  Ch 30,  all hand-picked;  100% MLF of base wine,  no barrel component;  5 – 15% reserve wine added when laid down;  36 – 42 months en tirage;  RS 7 g/L;  www.nautilusestate.com ]
Light straw still,  with a hint of lemon.  Bouquet has a purity to a to it which is astonishing,  combining palest stonefruit with clear-cut baguette-quality autolysis,  plus a hint of lemon zest.  Palate is not quite so good,  just a slight suggestion of fleshiness,  but lovely flavour and length,  the tannins better handled than the Chevalier.  Dosage is drier here,  around 7 – 8 g/L.  Will hold for some years.  GK 02/16

2004  Lindauer Special Reserve Vintage   17 ½  ()
Marlborough, Gisborne & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $18   [ cork;  release price;  Ch dominant,  PN,  some of the grapes hand-picked;  lees contact in tank,  followed by 2 years en tirage;  dosage c.10 g/L,  not 12 as previously given;  no website now relevant. ]
Straw,  a little deeper than the Chevalier.  The purity of bouquet on this wine is simply staggering.   It is closest to the Lanson in style,  but fractionally more petite,  elegant fruit and subtle but genuine autolysis.  Palate is exactly in sync,  but with an extra dimension,  beautiful white fruit,  subtle baguette,  but the faintest sweet-biscuit 'grip',  for want of a better word.  In discussion with Jane de Witt,  the maker of this wine (and despite the corporate changes,  still the winemaker for Lindauer),  the secret is:  the 2004 base wine saw a little new oak – the only time the Lindauer people experimented with this approach.  

This is stunning wine,  given its original price.  It raises the question:  when will 'concept Lindauer' take itself seriously ?  And act accordingly.  The quality of Lindauer Reserve and Lindauer Reserve Blanc de Blancs has never been higher,  but still the owners persist with dosage levels which appeal to the lowest common denominator in the market.  Here in this 2004 wine,  the quality is every bit as good as the best Lindauer Reserves,  and the dosage seems fractionally less.  

The name Lindauer is now (almost sadly) associated only with their bread-and-butter sparkling wines,  in an almost-vulgar range of styles,  all designed for only-price-matters supermarket buyers,  and instant consumption.  Given the wine-contrast between these supermarket wines and the Reserve wines,  I suggest it is high time that Lindauer split itself into:
#  Popular Lindauer sparkling wines in the present distinctive skittle bottles,  dosage as now,  and then in complete contrast:
#  A Reserve Series where 'Reserve' actually means something,  to be presented in 'proper' champagne bottles,  absolutely standard-shaped bottles.  
The Reserve Series range could be confined to four wines:  nv Lindauer Special Reserve Brut as now,  salmon-flushed and pinot noir dominant,  nv Lindauer Blanc de Blancs Reserve Brut,  chardonnay dominant as now,  nv Lindauer Rosé Reserve Brut a little more clearly pinot-noir based than the standard Reserve,  and finally a Vintage Lindauer Reserve Brut,  no hint of salmon flush,  with a near-invisible touch of barrel ferment / oak elevation in the base wines,  and priced a couple of dollars more.  Conjoined with this approach are two key needs:  reduce the dosage in the new Reserve Series to 9 – 10 g/L,  and market them as serious but affordable sparkling wines,  for as long as it takes.  Recent marketing efforts for the Lindauer Reserve wines seem to be virtually zero.  The early achievements of the label are in danger of being lost.  

The Lindauer Reserve Series of sparkling wines could really be something,  with sustained effort.  The quality of winemaking has been and continues to be remarkable.  For a start,  such a new series could recapture the market share the label once held in the United Kingdom,  if the wine were revised along these more sophisticated lines,  and marketed accordingly.  Now that the price of United Kingdom domestic sparklings is approaching champagne values,  such a redefined Lindauer Reserve range would eclipse most Cava,  the main competitor in the more affordable (but not basic) bubbly market there.  Now 'concept Lindauer' is owned by Lion Breweries,  there is the perfect opportunity for them to capitalise on Pernod-Ricard's bizarre decision to sell one of their (potentially) best assets,  and really take Lindauer Reserve to new heights.  But to succeed with a restructured Lindauer Reserve Series,  Lion needs to understand they are aiming for a serious consumer,  not a populist one,  and undertake a long and sustained campaign to raise awareness of this new 'reincarnated' wine,  both at home and abroad.  GK 02/16

nv  Lindauer Reserve Blanc de Blancs (c. 4 years old)   17 +  ()
Gisborne mostly & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $18   [ cork;  this bottle 2011 release;  Ch 100%,  full MLF;  some reserve wine use;  c.24 months en tirage;  11 – 12 g/L dosage;  www.lindauer.co.nz ]
Light straw with a clear lemon wash,  close to the Lanson,  glowing and lovely.  The 'sweetness'  and purity of bouquet on this wine is as good as the 2004 Montana,  but it differs in less apparent autolysis,  and more citrus zest – which matches the chardonnay dominance.  It is remarkably comparable with the Lanson,  but you can see it is a blanc de blancs.  Palate is gorgeous:  four years from release is the absolute 'sweet spot' for the Lindauer Reserve series,  the integration of fruit and autolysis is beautiful,  and the tannin-handling is exemplary.  The Chevalier shows just how good the Lindauer Reserve winemaking is,  in this respect.  All that lets the wine down is the dosage around 11 g/L,  which the proprietors persist with,  in their current blinkered approach to marketing the Lindauer Reserve series of sparkling wines.  See the comments under the 2004 Lindauer Vintage,  above.  GK 02/16

1975  Champagne Pol Roger Chardonnay Extra Cuvée de Reserve Brut   17 +  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  too old for winesearcher (!);  Ch 100%;  complete malolactic fermentation;  no oak;  >5 years sur lie;  dosage c.9 g/L;  www.polroger.com ]
Straw,  a suggestion of gold.  Bouquet is rich and biscuitty,  but you have that feeling this is not a perfect bottle.  You can't smell TCA as such,  but there is a suggestion of dull caskiness,  as if the cork were made of 'wood',  which loosely speaking it is.  Palate is lovely however,  still great fruit,  still a hint of citrus in the amalgam of baguette crust and white stone fruits,  as rich as or richer than the Nautilus,  but somehow not 'fleshy',  elegant crisp dosage tasting like 7 – 8 g/L.  A good  bottle of this should still be wonderful.  A tasting later this year at Regional Wines,  Wellington,  of old champagnes and related wines,  will put a second bottle to the test.  GK 02/16

nv  Chevalier Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Classique (c. 4 years old)   17  ()
Burgundy,  France:  12%;  $12.50   [ cork;  special price;  'traditional blend using the four Burgundian grape varieties' [ for Cremant ] = pinot noir,  chardonnay,  gamay noir,  aligoté;  no info;  no website. ]
Light straw.  Bouquet on this wine is enchanting,  bespeaking a fragrant red skinned grape.  In a Champagne-district wine,  you would immediately say,  pinot meunier,  but in Burgundy meunier is scarcely an authorised variety,  though no doubt part and parcel of vineyards.  Instead gamay noir is authorised for Cremant,  and I'm picking the wonderful nearly rose-blossom florality this wine demonstrates is due to that variety.  In addition there is lovely brioche autolysis,  'sweeter' in character than baguette-crust.  Palate is nearly as good,  not as big a wine as the Lanson,  but neat taut fruit,  good autolysis flavours,  just faintly phenolic alongside Lindauer Blanc de Blancs of closely similar age,  dosage around 9 – 10 g/L.  Paul Mitchell aka The Wine Importer,  Kumeu,  had a parcel of this wine 'on disposal' before Christmas,  at $12.50.  It is the best value imported  bubbly offered in New Zealand for years (the original price was in the $30s),  genuinely in style,  unlike so many imported sparkling wines touted by spin-master merchants quoting fanciful local reviews.  Not a wine to cellar for long,  however.  GK 02/16


The first three wines are the trial / preview tasting,  for assembling the old New Zealand cabernets for the Easter Show judges.  They are included to document a better bottle of the 1974,  and to make the comparison with the more-famous 1976.  The Tahbilk Cabernet is included to document the wine I spoke about at the Royal Easter Show Awards Dinner.  I had been asked to present The Heritage Rose Bowl Trophy,  for the set of three wines showing the greatest consistency over a 10-year or more span of vintages.  In doing so I encouraged participants to cellar their favourite Trophy or Gold Medal-winning wines,  in sufficient quantities to in fact guarantee future enjoyment.  I used this wine as an example,  noting that its merits as a young wine were such that immediately on tasting it (in 1973) I bought 4 cases (of 12),  and thus could still enjoy the wine today.

1967 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon
1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon
1974 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon
1971  Ch Tahbilk Cabernet (standard bottling)
1997 Peter Lehman Sparkling Shiraz Black Queen Methode Traditionelle
1975 Ch Filhot

1967  McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon   16 ½  ()
Taradale,  Hawke's Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $2.40   [ Cork 47mm;  US oak. ]
Light garnet and ruby,  healthy.  Bouquet still retains that familiar curious American-style oak that characterises the McWilliams cabernets of that era,  in a quite fragrant wine.  It is more oaky than a cru bourgeois would be,  and now faded to a point where it is a stretch to recognise  blackcurrant,  exactly.  But on palate,  a browning berry / even cassis quality does come through,  the wine is indeed healthy,  quite good fruit considering,  still some texture and mouthfeel to balance the oak,  finishing neatly.  At one stage the 1967 had an awkward quality to it,  but it is much more in line for an old cabernet sauvignon,  now.  Fading,  but will hold a few more years.  GK 02/16

1976  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon   16 +  ()
Huapai / Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  11.9%;  $ –    [ Cork 48mm;  understood to be 2 years in French oak. ]
Ruby and garnet,  twice the apparent fruit of the 1967 McWilliams,  and clearly more ruby.  Bouquet shares some similarities with the McWilliams '67,  just a little harder and smelling more phenolic.  A cassis component is more clearly recognisable,  but the hard edge is more noticeable too.  In mouth the wine is less ripe,  and more aromatic,  than the McWilliams,  so the oak seems more obtrusive,  even though it was predominantly French.  Finish is richer than the McWilliams,  but less well balanced,  with a thread of acid,  and noticeable oak tannin.  The relatively poor showing of this wine (or just this bottle ?) is unexpected,  1976 being a well-regarded year in the Auckland district.  Fading now.  GK 02/16

1974  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon   17  ()
Huapai / Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 48mm;  understood to be 2 years in French oak. ]
Colour is the same weight as the 1976 Nobilo,  but the hue is a notch less ruby,  closer to the McWilliams but twice the depth.  Bouquet on this one is very different.  Initially opened it was a little congested – bottle stink in the traditional sense – but three hours or so in the glass sees the wine transformed.  The wine still shows good berry fruit and a clear browning cassis component,   plus brown pipe tobacco,  berry dominant over oak,  much richer and more harmonious than the 1976.  Palate confirms,  still clear fruit texture,  weight and presence in mouth,  and the oak sweeter and seemingly newer than the 1976.  Oak level is high by cru bourgeois standards,  but the nett quality of achievement is surprising,  in 2016.  Will hold some years more (in Wellington).  GK 02/16

1971  Ch Tahbilk Cabernet (standard bottling)   17 ½ +  ()
Goulburn Valley,  Victoria,  Australia:   – %;  $1.90   [ cork 46mm;  CS mainly,  understood to be some CF in the vineyard too;  original price,  bought from Maling & Co.,  discriminating wine-merchants of the era,  then 86 Gloucester Street,  Christchurch,  Dick Maling and Eric Purbrick being on friendly terms;  at that time,  the elevage traditional,  big old wood,  the wines having little or no new oak;  the back label states for 1971:  'Outstanding Vintage Year',  and the young red wines in youth were wonderfully deep,  dark and velvety;  www.tahbilk.com.au ]
Ruby and garnet,  still almost a velvety depth to the centre,  remarkable for its age.  Bouquet expands with air,  becoming soft,  fragrant,  browning 'plummy' and brown mushroom / chestnutty fruit,  surprisingly rich,  plus a faintly aromatic hint,  very subtle.  At this stage you can't identify cassis,  berry or plum,  as such,  the fruit is simply a total amalgam.  Palate also progressively softens,  to give the impression of softness yet with a firm furry tannin backbone,  still tactile fruit,  great length of flavour,  finishing on browning rich fruit reminiscent of a darker raisin-rich fruit cake rather than oak,  yet dry.  Aftertaste is in fact remarkably long and persistent,  yet dry and in style (an older style).  The extraordinary thing is,  you feel there is no hurry at all with this bottle,  even at 45 years of age,  that it will cellar another 5 – 15 years,  at least.  You also feel that the wine needs to crust,  in bottle,  to lighten-up just a little.  Even so,  it is a good food wine,  today.  A delight to reflect on the original price ...  GK 03/16

1997  Peter Lehman Sparkling Shiraz Black Queen Methode Traditionelle   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $24   [ cork;  original price;  c.12 months in older French oak hogsheads;  2 years sur lie;  RS 25 – 30 g/L;  www.peterlehmannwines.com.au ]
Ruby and some garnet,  older than most 1997 reds would be.  Bouquet is big and hearty,  overt berry fruit,  a lot of oak,  just too big and boisterous for the elegance and refinement one hopes for in quality sparkling reds.  But it is beautifully pure,  and it is not euc'y – just faintly aromatic.  It is hard to see autolysis as such,  but there is a kind of plum-pudding mealy quality which could be autolysis.  Palate is strong,  too sweet as quality sparkling wine,  yet not really sweet enough for black forest gateau (which it was trialled against),  and too tannic.  Ruby port worked better in this context,  being subtler with less obvious tannins.  Like so many Australian reds,  there is just a critical lack of subtlety for the wine to be really engaging,  no matter how well it is made.  Will cellar for years though,  and once it crusts it might be more pleasing.  GK 12/15

1975  Ch Filhot   17 +  ()
Sauternes,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $124   [ cork;  winesearcher value;  cepage approx. Se 60,  SB 35,  Mu 5;  in that era,  no new oak,  most of the wine being held in vat till bottling;  www.filhot.com ]
Glowing light gold.  Bouquet is complex and showing its age.  Like the 1975 Pol Roger Chardonnay,  here too there is just a hint of a casky / woody component more like cork 'wood' than new oak.  There is still plenty of golden peachy fruit,  and a complexity which may be botrytis –  hard to say,  since 1975 was not reputed to be a high-botrytis year.  Palate is still showing rich  golden fruit,  coarsening a little as the fruit and oak meld into suggestions of golden-syrup  flavours.  But the drying tannins make the wine interesting with a mealy / nutty dessert such as traditional English Christmas pudding.  The detail can be criticised in an older wine such as this,  but the nett impression is still pretty good,  at 40 years.  No hurry.  GK 12/15