Thursday, 11 December 2014

Talking Biodynamics with Olivier Humbrecht

If a viticultural map of Alsace were to be drawn, a large X would be placed over Domaine Zind-Humbrecht with the words, “Here be Giants”. Well, one giant - Olivier Humbrecht, who in real life looms as large as his reputation. Being the first Frenchman to attain the coveted MW initials and renowned as a savant of biodynamics, Olivier is already assured a place in the history books. Yet there is no brash swagger as he speaks – his words, while full of conviction are carefully chosen and his brow constantly furrowed as though grappling with the deeper mysteries of wine. The quality of his wines is such that Olivier is highly sought after for his opinions on winemaking, Alsatian wine and biodynamics.

Like a tug-of-war, the region of Alsace has at various times formed the eastern border of France or the western border of Germany. This duality has left its mark on the wine industry, seen in the mishmash of French and German grape varieties which include Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. Alsace’s inland location gives it a subcontinental climate with harsh, cold winters and hot summers. Sheltered by the Vosges mountain range, Alsace also has very low rainfall making it the driest region in France. At 16,000 ha, Alsace is slightly over half the size of Champagne, and a fraction of Bordeaux, but geologically it is complicated region. Olivier states that broadly speaking there are three types of soil here. On the Vosges itself the soil is acidic, well-drained and poor in nutrients, ideal conditions for making quality wine. The second type of soil is on the foothills of the mountain which has a calcareous base, and the third type of soil can be found on the valley floor, comprising alluvial sediments and pebbles. “When you combine these different soils and aspect which can be north or south facing, you then understand why there are so many different grape varieties,” says Olivier. 

Olivier has been following biodynamic principles since 1997 at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, a viticultural approach that harnesses cosmic energy and utilises herbal preparations. It is a topic he is clearly passionate about, going far more into detail than any winemaker I’ve met. Olivier reminisced how in the early days of conversion to biodynamics he had difficulty finding the right compost because even the organic material he purchased from nearby suppliers were full of antibiotics and did not provide a supportive environment for microbial life in the soil. “When you remove life from the soil, the compost goes through anaerobic fermentation, transforming the earth around the wood and making it hard, like desertification,” explains Olivier. Now with his own biodynamically prepared compost, Olivier says that he can see life coming back into the vineyards. Meanwhile preparations made out of herbs and other plants help anchor the vine to the ground and connect it to the cosmos. “Plants have memories of cosmic influences,” says Olivier. “By bringing these memories to the vine we help the vine to function better. For example if I want the vine to flower better I use a plant with a strong Venus influence. I take the plant and make it into an herbal tea and spray it onto the vine. This takes the energy of the plant and puts it in contact with the vine through the element of water – it is like trying to teach the vine the lesson of the plant.”

Olivier throws out many of the axioms of winemaking. Fermentation for white wines at most wineries take two to four weeks, at Zind-Humbrecht it can last for up to a year. Does he ever have problems with stuck fermentations, where the yeast dies off before it can complete the process? “I never stop the fermentation because if I do everything right then the fermentation naturally stops when the wine has reached proper balance,” explains Olivier. “Wine being alive understands where to go better than I do. If you kill the wine with additives then it doesn’t know what to do.” The must is handled with the utmost care, from a gentle pressing to gravity flow systems for the tanks. Eschewing the use of stainless steel, Olivier prefers to use old oak foudres for the majority of his wines. “Only Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois can take new oak – Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat cannot. Like jam and caviar, they don’t go well.” Olivier also finds that the clarification process is easier with oak, and that the fermentations start faster due to the microorganisms present in the wood.

Never one to let convention dictate his methods, Olivier also extends his pragmatism to the way his wines are marketed. For example, when Olivier realised that consumers had difficulty telling whether his wines were dry or sweet, he introduced a sweetness index on the label ranging from 1 (driest) to 5 (sweetest).  “My wife found a Riesling in the cellar and didn’t know whether it was dry, medium or sweet. I thought that if my wife doesn’t know what this wine tastes like then my customers won’t either,” said Olivier. 

Tasting notes:

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Terroir d’Alsace 2011 – From young vines planted mostly on granitic soils. Sweetness index 1. Slightly spritzy with notes of lime, white grape and honey. Medium bodied and very fresh. Sharp and precise flavours with penetrating intensity. Long lime-filled finish. Superb.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Brand Grand Cru Riesling 2011 – Legends tell of a dragon hiding under the vineyard that spits fire resulting in a warm microclimate (the word brand means fiery). The vines here are very old – Olivier explains that the soil is composed of pink granite with decomposed black mica which requires very deep roots to extract minerals. A high-acid, full bodied style with cracked white pepper and lime notes. Extraordinary length with a hint of tropical fruit on the finish. Long lived potential, barely out of its infant stages.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012 – Off-dry (sweetness index 2), with intense pear, red apple, guava and nutty flavours. Gorgeously balanced with fresh acidity and ripe fruit extract.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain Grand Cru 2012 – If you’ve ever wondered what heights Pinot Gris can reach given the right combination of outstanding terroir and careful winemaking, this is it. Steep slopes, volcanic soils and old vines have imbued this wine with a concentrated palate of sweet pear, honey and bitter lemon, extending to a finish that seems to go on forever. Sweetness index 4.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl Gewurtztraminer 2011 – Sweetness index 5. Gewurtztraminer can be a difficult grape because its acidity drops alarmingly even as sugars rapidly accumulate. In this wine the variety has been precisely handled to yield perfectly ripe fruit with refreshing acidity. Notes of exotic spice, lychee syrup an
d Asian pear dominate the palate, with a long, fruit-filled finish.

Domaine Zind-Humbrect is distributed in Singapore by Wein & Vin.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Madeira, the Immortal Wine

It’s almost a given that at any wine appreciation class the question of how long a wine can keep for will be raised. It’s a simple question with a complicated answer as much depends on factors such as grape variety, vintage conditions, and style and quality of the wine. It comes as a surprise to most that the majority of wine is not designed for long aging. In the case of Madeira however, it is safe to assume that the wine will be able to last easily for several years, if not decades in the bottle. Even after being opened, it can be enjoyed over several weeks. At a masterclass on Madeira held at the Portugese Embassy in London, expert Rui Falcao declared that “The wine is immortal - it goes on and on and on.”

It was only through sheer luck that I was able to attend the masterclass at all as by the time I registered all available slots had been taken up. I persisted though, hanging around the embassy until the organisers informed me that due to a no-show a vacancy had opened. The rewards of stubbornness! Madeira is a wine seldom seen in Singapore and I’d be damned if I was going to pass up a chance to taste some examples.

Madeira is both the name of the wine and the island that it originates from. Part of Portugal, it lies in the Atlantic Ocean and has a markedly hot Mediterranean climate with a mean temperature of 19°C. Rainfall is variable, with around 3000mm at high altitudes and 500mm along the south coast near sea level. Irrigation, provided through a series of canals called “levadas”, supplements the water requirements of the vine.

Grapes are planted on terraces called “poios”, buffered by walls of basaltic stone. Land is scarce on this island of 732 km2 so vineyards utilise the “latada” system, which suspends the vines off the ground on stakes. This allows growers to plant other crops under the vines, and also reduces the risk of fungal diseases by improving air flow. The soil is volcanic and rich in organic matter, which is an important factor in maintaining the acidity of the wine. There are around 1200 growers on the island, a large number with some growers only having 4-5 vines. According to Falcao, this is a challenge for the winemakers because for each grower they need to vinify the grapes separately.

The demand for Madeira was helped by the island’s strategic location along major trading routes. In the 17th and 18th centuries Madeira served as an important port of call between the Americas, Europe and the West Indies. To preserve the wine during these long sea voyages, grape spirit would be added to it. It was discovered that the heat from these journeys (no refrigeration back then!) would transform the wine into a completely different elixir that was more stable and had a complex, oxidised character. These wines came to be known as “Vinho da Roda” or round-trip wines. Due to the expense of these voyages, modern Madeira is made by simulating the process either through direct heating or tanks installed with hot water coils.

Unlike the majority of Portuguese table wines which are a blend of different grapes, Madeira is a single-variety wine. The grape variety also indicates the style of the wine, thus Sercial is dry or extra dry, Verdelho is medium dry, Boal is medium rich and Malvasia is the sweetest style. There is an additional grape variety, Tinta Negra, which accounts for around 82% of plantings and is by far the most important variety in terms of quantity. This versatile grape can be made into any of the four styles, so the way to distinguish a wine that has been made from the four noble grapes is to look for its name on the label. Legislation is currently being considered that will also allow Tinta Negra to appear on the label.

The most important, and surprising, takeaway from the masterclass was that Madeiras with an indication of age simply means that the wine had attained the expected quality and characteristics expected of a wine with that age. This is unlike, say, whisky where the age statement refers to the youngest whisky in that blend. For Madeira, the decision whether or not to award a wine with a designation of age is up to a tasting panel. An exception is Frasqueira or vintage Madeira which must by law be aged for at least 20 years before bottling. 


Tasting notes: 

Blandy’s Madeira Colheita Verdelho 1998 – Pale tawny colour. Nutty nose with aromas of dried figs. Medium dry with high acidity. Palate shows burnt caramel and a saline note. Long and persistent finish. Quite light bodied for a fortified wine. Refreshing with well defined flavours. Very good.

Pereira D’Oliveira Verdelho 1994 – Medium tawny appearance with a slight greenish rim. A yeasty, almost doughy bouquet. Concentrated mandarin peel and a slight chalkiness on the palate with a salty finish. A bitter note, similar to molasses, persists throughout. Medium dry. Complex and exotic.

Justino’s Madeira 10 Years Old Malvasia – Medium tawny appearance. Sweet and rich on the palate with notes of apple cider, overripe lemon and dates. Easy and not as persistent as the other wines in the tasting.

H.M. Borges Malvasia 15 Years Old – Clean and expressive nose with aromas of nuts, figs and raisins. Balanced, fresh and appealing. Ticks off all the boxes. Very good.

Henriques & Henriques Malvasia 20 Years Old – Deep brown. Intensely rich on the nose. Full and powerful with a bittersweet finish. Wide spectrum of flavours including soy sauce, bak kwa (sweet barbequed meat), cafe latte, caramel and raisins. Delicious!

Vinhos Barbeito Ribeiro Real Boal 20 Years Old – A blend of Boal and Tinta Negra. Easily the most pungent wine of the tasting. Sharp, smoky, burnt and even a tad sulphuric. Sweet raisins, saltwater salinity and bitter orange tanginess – this wine is complex and multidimensional.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Event Info: Robert Parker's Wine Advocate A Matter of Taste

On the 22nd of November, Singapore will play host to A Matter of Taste, the first in a global series of tastings featuring wines that have been rated RP 90 points and above by the Wine Advocate. This tasting is open only to subscribers of Said Editor-in-Chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW, “We’ve created Matter of Taste as a heartfelt thank you to our subscribers, the most knowledgeable wine lovers on the planet. It’s a way for them to experience world-class wines in an entirely new way while meeting the winemakers and estate owners who craft them. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to welcome new members into the world of Robert Parker. We are particularly excited to kick-off this worldwide series of events in Singapore – a city with a first-rate culinary scene, sophisticated collectors and a rapidly growing base of new wine fans.”

The Singapore event will feature wines from Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco and the Barossa. There will also be additional dinners and masterclasses highlighting information on regional terroir, viticultural methods and vinification techniques. Tickets for the dinners and masterclasses come at an additional price and are only available for those who have booked tickets for the main tasting. For more information, visit

Vinum Reopens at Shaw Centre

A stalwart of the wine retail scene, Vinum, has reopened following an extensive renovation of Shaw Centre. The building has been given a much needed facelift and now boasts subtle lighting and polished interiors. The fine wine specialist is now joined by Caveau, which lists mid-tier wines, and The Whisky Library, representing the group's first foray into fine whiskies. Previously a casual wine bar facing Claymore Hill, Caveau will now have an additional retail presence listing over 400 wines from producers such as Domaine Huet and Thibault Liger-Belair. Meanwhile, The Whisky Library will list some 200 single-malt labels from Scotland and Japan in a 400 sqft outlet. 

The grand opening of Vinum, Caveau and The Whisky Library was held on the 31st of October. Guests were treated to canapés prepared by the Les Amis kitchen and Bruno Paillard 2002 vintage champagne. The renovation is reported to have cost around a million dollars, with one of the highlights being Vinum's state-of-the-art biometric access cellar. Black steel and brass elements with lighter shades of wood combine to lend a feel of tasteful elegance. All three outlets are located next to each other on the second floor of Shaw Centre.

Vinum is part of the Les Amis Group, which includes fine dining and casual restaurants such as Les Amis, La Strada and Bistro du Vin, also located at Shaw Centre.

Caveau's wine list is available here

Vinum's wine list is available here

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Austria’s Winning Ways – A Tasting with Loimer and Heinrich

Among the winners at this year’s Business Times Wine Challenge was a wine that stood out in terms of obscurity not just in grape variety but also in country of origin. The Loimer Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2012 hails from Austria, a country so often confused with Australia that at a previous seminar on cool climate wines the speaker took pains to highlight the differences (no kangaroos in Austria for one). The wines were chosen by a panel of Singapore CEOs and yielded an insight into the palate of top decision makers. Boon Heng, owner of Wein & Vin which distributes wines from Loimer, commented that “This tells people that though they think Austrian wines and Grüner Veltliner are both non-mainstream, yet the CEOs picked it as one of the two dry whites in the top 10.”

Earlier in October Wein & Vin held a lunch featuring new vintages from Loimer and Heinrich at Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill & Sky Bar at ION Orchard. The wines were split into two flights with the whites from Loimer served in the first flight followed by the reds from Heinrich. Adding a slight twist to the usual format of these tastings, all wines were served blind and it was up to the guests to determine which wine was in which glass. It wasn’t too difficult to pick out the two Rieslings from the first flight, as the grape has such a strong personality and flavour profile, but the reds were far more challenging. If Grüner Veltliner is considered obscure, then tasting wines made from black grapes such as Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch is akin to spotting a unicorn trotting down Orchard Road.

Unicorn sightings may become less rare as Austria sticks to its strategy of focusing on exports and pursuing quality over yield. Export revenues for 2013 were at an all-time high of 139 million euros despite a smaller harvest, according to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. Loimer has made a name as a high quality, if somewhat irreverent producer. Look closely at the logo (based on a fertility symbol) and you will notice a third leg on the dancing man. Winemaker Fred Loimer and his team espouse the principles of a healthy, biodiverse environment and are members of Respekt, an association of wineries that aims to align biodynamics with contemporary developments. The winery is located in the Kamptal region and the majority of its production is based on Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, the leading varieties of that region.

Weingut Gernot and Heike Heinrich, based in Neusiedlersee, is also a member of the Respekt association, but here the warmer climate lends itself more to the production of bright, fruity red wines. Guest speaker and owner of Taberna Wine Academy Tan Ying Hsien likened Blaufränkisch to Gamay, saying that it displays redcurrant aromas with a lifted note similar to crushed ants. St. Laurent, like Blaufränkisch, is an old Austrian grape variety that resembles Pinot Noir with its red fruit and cherry flavours and fairly soft tannins, although Ying opined that it never hits the heights of Pinot Noir in terms of intensity and texture. Zweigelt, a cross between Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent, is Austria’s most planted red grape variety and is often given some oak treatment. It tends to have soft tannins and notes of morello cherry.

The wines were paired with signature dishes from Salt Grill including the sashimi of kingfish, ginger, eschallot & goats’ feta and NSW Rangers Valley 300 days grain-fed beef with Moroccan spice. These went sublimely with the wines, revealing another facet of Austrian wines – that they are very food friendly.

Tasting notes:

Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner DAC Reserve 2012
– A wine showing great depth of flavour with notes of guava, ripe honeydew and accents of green salad. Medium alcohol and body with a persistent length. Finishes quite dry. Best served chilled as it loses its edge at room temperature.

Loimer Riesling Kamptal DAC 2012 – Very pale lemon appearance. Fine boned structure with sharp definition and rapier acidity. Classic Riesling with limey notes.

Loimer Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2012 - Herbal and just-mown lawn on the nose with hints of pear. Very delicate, almost amorphous, with citrussy fruit and bright acids on the palate. Long finish.

Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2013 – Floral, honeyed aromas with hints of chrysanthemum petals. Lemon and citrus on the palate expanding to honeydew and papaya on the finish. Medium bodied but with lots of fruit concentration and minerality, complexity and tension. Medium length. A well-made and very good value wine.

Loimer Lenz Riesling 2013 – Sharp, tangy acidity with notes of Chinese pear finishing with lemon sherbet. Long and focused with a feather-light body. Refreshing.

Loimer Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC Reserve 2012 – Pleasantly round body with a fat texture and notes of melon. Approachable, easy drinking.

Heinrich Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2011 – Deep inky purple. Dense and meaty with juicy blackberry and dark cherry notes. Savoury and long.

Heinrich Gabarinza 2011
– A blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Merlot, aged in 500 litre oak vats for 20 months before release. Deep ruby colour, with flavours of blackcurrant gummies and black tea. Mid-weight, fresh and fruity. Hint of milk chocolate on the finish, which is a tad short. Broadly appealing.

Heinrich Pannobile 2011 – Heinrich is part of the Pannobile association, each member of which produces a single red and white wine from indigenous grapes annually. This wine is a blend of 70% Zweigelt and 30% Blaufränkisch. Gentle and light with barely perceptible tannins, soft redcurrant fruit and a silky texture.

Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012 – Mid ruby appearance, a little stemmy on the palate with stalky notes.

Heinrich Zweigelt 2011 – A convincing testament to the popularity of Zweigelt. Fine and balanced with a soft and supple texture. Palate shows red fruits with a hint of oak and clay earth. Very accessible.

Heinrich St. Laurent 2011 – Marred by brett, which contributed a barnyard aroma. Unfortunate, as the wine showed potential with earthy black fruit and soft tannins.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Different Side of Sauvignon

Sauvignon Blanc often suffers from “Middle Child Syndrome”. While Chardonnay gets all the expensive oak treatment, and Riesling is fawned upon by winemakers and journalists, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be pretty overlooked. It is a hardy and vigorous vine, adaptable to many soils and prone to producing abundant foliage and fruit. Yet just like a child whose growth has not been nurtured, a vine that is ignored will fail to develop its full potential. Overcropped Sauvignon Blanc is bland and watery, lacking focus and complexity. Ong YiXin, founder of KOT Selections, states that even Sancerre, the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc, is a “sea of mediocrity”. “Badly farmed, made for the Parisian market,” he tut-tuts.

YiXin should know. KOT Selections is Singapore’s foremost importer of Loire wines, ranging from texturally rich Chenin Blancs from Anjou to the herbal examples of Touraine Sauvignon Blancs. YiXin works with around 30 vignerons from the Loire, and in the past three years has only managed to find one grower from Sancerre who meets his expectations. “What makes Sancerre special is minerality,” says YiXin, “and you need proper terroir to get that.” On their selection criteria, YiXin explains that “Quality is our benchmark, then we look at the price. Very few producers meet our standards of quality, and unfortunately even fewer are able to offer the wines at reasonable prices.”

KOT Selections holds a monthly wine tasting on the last weekend of each month. Dubbed the Weekend Wine Bar, each session has a different theme. These tend to be lively, well-attended affairs, but YiXin wanted to add another offering in the form of tutored masterclasses for sommeliers and trade professionals.  KOT’s Marketing and Sales Executive Fernanda Koprowski says, “It is important that people working in the trade know about the wine so that they can sell it.” The support of this group is especially important for KOT Selections because 80% of their business is with restaurants.

Their second masterclass was held in September and focused on the Sauvignon Blanc grape. My last visit to the Loire revealed some toothsome, well-priced wines, and I jumped at the chance to reacquaint myself with this region. Yet YiXin still managed to surprise by pulling out some wines which showed the diversity of Sauvignon Blanc. We had oaked, and even aged examples, with the flavour spectrum running the whole gamut from fruity to minerally, and even vegetal. Some of the wines were extremely pungent and my guess is that consumers will either love or hate them (durian lovers may tend towards the former).

Tasting notes:

Francois Cazin Cheverny Blanc “Le Petit Chambord” 2013 - The Cheverny AOC is a relatively new one, having been created in 1993. To gain the AOC designation the wines must be a blend, and this example is made primarily of Sauvignon Blanc with a minor proportion of Chardonnay. The nose is rather faint with hints of lime and passionfruit. The palate shows more concentration, with tangy freshness and smoky notes leading to a grassy finish. 

Domaine du Clos de L'Elu “Terre!” 2013 – Fermented using wild yeasts. Doesn’t really taste like a Sauvignon. Toffee and earthy notes, hints of apple cider and a bit savage.

Clos Roche Blanche Touraine 2011 – The nose is pungent, grassy and a little earthy. Palate shows green salad and hints of nuttiness. Rather short on the finish.

Clos Roche Blanche Touraine 2010 – A step up from the 2011, this was a little richer in fruit concentration, but still had those pungent and earthy notes with mushy peas. Light bodied and could be a bit fresher.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry Sancerre Blanc “Melodie de Vielles Vignes” 2013 – Biodynamic producer.  The vineyards for this wine are planted on chalk soils. Light nose, more fruity than herbal. High extract and rich in texture, showing complex notes of chalk, honey, yoghurt, and lemon fruit with a mineral tension. Vibrant and fresh. A wine that, like its name, truly sings.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry Sancerre Blanc “Constellation du Scorpion” 2013 – An interesting side-by-side comparison against the Melodie, with the only difference being that this wine came from vineyards planted on silex soils. Delicate aromas of lime, straw and honey. Prickly acidity with delightful purity of fruit and a zesty, lime-filled finish. A tad lighter than the Melodie but no less complex.

Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon “No. 5” 2010 – Aged in large oak fuders and bottled after a year and a half. A selection of the best grapes from the Clos Roche Blanche vineyards. Pronounced aromas of herbs, sweet pea, ginseng and pine. Supercharged intensity and incredible depth, but not an easily understood wine; more of an intellectual challenge. Slight warmth on the finish.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry “Pour Vous” 2010 – Limited production of only 600 bottles annually. Intense aromas recalling smoke, baked/stewed apples, cashew nuts and overripe lemons. Medium+ acidity with vanilla, smoke and cinnamon spice on the full-bodied palate. There is a lot going on here but it will take a few years for the components to integrate.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Cape Mentelle’s Aristocratic Cabernets


What do Cloudy Bay, Dom Pérignon and Belvedere vodka have in common? They’re all owned by French conglomerate LVMH, maker of monogrammed luxury goods and accessories. With a bank account rivalling the GDP of smaller countries, LVMH can afford to be picky with its investments. The company’s strategy for its Wines and Spirits business group is to focus on the high-end range, maintain a strict pricing policy and foster a strong dynamic of innovation. 

Fittingly then, that when it came to expanding their portfolio Down Under, LVMH acquired Cape Mentelle, one of Margaret River’s oldest wineries with a stellar reputation for its Cabernet Sauvignon.
It is often boasted that although Margaret River only contributes about 3.5% of Australia’s total wine by volume, nearly a quarter of the country’s premium wine comes from here. The acquisition was made through LVMH's champagne subsidiary Veuve Clicquot which included sister winery Cloudy Bay, both founded by David Hohnen. The benefit for Cape Mentelle is access to the LVMH distribution network, which accounts for its presence in many international markets and duty-free outlets.

Estate Director Cameron Murphy highlighted some recent changes at the winery during a lunch celebrating the launch of the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. The most significant investment was the introduction of an optical grape sorter, a AUD$400,000 machine that takes 200 photos per second of the fruit passing through on a conveyor belt and rejects any grapes that do not meet pre-programmed size and colour requirements. “In a nutshell, the machine allows the selection of the finest grapes from our oldest vineyards,” said Cameron. The winery has also implemented a number of sustainable practices, such as bringing in guinea fowl to get rid of snails and insects, and using sheep as organic lawnmowers. This move to becoming more environmentally friendly has been a learning process for the winery. For example, the guinea fowl had the unforeseen effect of attracting eagles so the winery had to build shelters in the vineyard, but the predators also kept away starlings which are a major pest as they damage the grapes during harvest. 

The improvements in winemaking at Cape Mentelle recently led to its Cabernet Sauvignon moving up from the “Excellent” to “Outstanding” category in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine, now in its sixth edition. It is described as “a modern legend inspiring a whole generation of winemakers to succeed in their craft.” Cape Mentelle burnished its credentials early on by being the only Western Australia winery to win the Jimmy Watson trophy in consecutively in 1983 and 1984, both for its Cabernet. Fruit for this wine comes from the original Wallcliffe Vineyard, which has deep gravelly soils and ample water. A minor kerfuffle was caused recently when Cape Mentelle sought to trademark the use of name Wallcliffe, which was being used by other wineries as well. 

The wines we tasted were, as one might expect, incredibly polished and suave. After a period where high alcohol dominated many Australian wines, there has been a return to balanced (not low) alcohol levels that, combined with more precise winemaking, have resulted in bright, ripe fruit that enliven rather than dull the palate. Cape Mentelle has a rich history and an enviable track record, but its future speaks of even greater promise and excitement.

Tasting notes:

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – A scintillating ruby robe hinting at its youth. Pronounced aromas with warm, dark chocolate and loamy earth. The palate shows poise and vivacity with full, ripe tannins, notes of fruitcake and an amazing length that finishes with hints of spice and anise.

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 – A warm and dry vintage that led to an earlier than normal harvest. Tasted after the 2012, this 2011 was comparatively more reserved, yet still showing a firm structure, sturdy tannins and expertly applied oak. Contains 6% Cabernet Franc.

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – A blend of 96% Cabernet and 4% Merlot. Intense dark berry aromatics with hints of spice and anise. Full bodied and opulent yet still fresh and structured with mouth-watering acidity. A slightly savoury note, backed with intense blackcurrant character. A worthy addition to any cellar.