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Wine of the Week for week ending 3 February 2008
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Te Mania Three Brothers Merlot Malbec Cabernet 2006
Nelson, New Zealand

Have you ever noticed wines with just Cabernet on the label without the qualification of Sauvignon or Franc? There is often no indication, at a quick, glance, exactly which 'cabernet' it is. I'm sure most of us assume Cabernet Sauvignon, but it could as equally indicate Cabernet Franc. However, it could also be an obscure Russian grape called Cabernet Severny - but unlikely as this CS was bred for the Russian cold climate and I've never heard of it before. But if the wine is a cheapie from Australia, then Cabernet might be an abbreviation for Ruby Cabernet, which, in contrast to the Russian grape, was bred for drought conditions.

Here in New Zealand, it's either going to be an abbreviation for Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. I have to point out that not long after becoming interested in wine and attending wine classes, I learnt there is no grape named 'Cabernet Merlot'. Wines labelled 'Cabernet Merlot' were either a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; Cabernet Franc and Merlot; or Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

It seems that the use of Cabernet, without qualification, is to save having to print the extra letters on the front label of the wine, or to trick the wine snobs who regard Cabernet Franc as inferior to Cabernet Sauvignon. However if they are real wine aficianados, they would know that Cabernet Franc is not inferior, perhaps just misunderstood.

Cabernet Sauvignon achieved its glamour status and 'King of the Red Grapes' title because it is the dominant red grape in Bordeaux blends from the exalted left bank of the great river the splits the Bordeaux region. The top classed growths in the Official Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855, wines like Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut Brion, are 'left bank' wines.

Cabernet Franc is more of a right bank dweller, a region which was largely ignored until 1955. Cabernet Franc is also the dominant red grape in the cooler Loire region, a little further north and the Loire region definitely does not have the exalted status of left bank Bordeaux.

I really like Cabernet Franc. It adds fragrance to a wine and has good tannin structure.

So after that preamble, you would think this week's Wine of the Week would be a Cabernet Franc. No - not at all - although I did review the rather exciting Kim Crawford SP Hawkes Bay Cabernet Franc Merlot 2002 on my blog on January 14th.

This week's wine is different. It is a wine labelled 'Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet' which, on further investigation - that is reading the back label - the Cabernet was identified as Cabernet Franc.

The wine is Te Mania Three Brothers Merlot Malbec Cabernet 2006 from Nelson- yes, from Nelson. A rich, concentrated, juicy, tasty blend from the top of the South Island in a country where Hawkes Bay is the capital for this style of wine.

Te Mania Three Brothers Merlot Malbec Cabernet 2006 is deep in colour, a deep purple plummy red with flashes of black. Fragrantly scented, delicately floral, spicy and vinously complex on the nose then in the mouth there's a good attack of cherry and black currant fruit that is ripe and concentrated and lingers rather pleasantly long after the wine is swallowed. There's a pleasing balance of creamy vanillin cedary oak to the fruit and spice components, with a sweet earthy richness and tannins are smooth and silky. Medium to full-bodied in style, it's immediately appealing - but it gains even more complexity in the bottle over a couple of days. The Malbec asserts itself to add a luscious savoury, almost rustic depth and a velvet-edged richness. There's even hints of bitter cherry chocolate and liquorice that emerge too.

Checking out the Te Mania website, I find this is a blend of 41% Merlot, 35% Malbec 35% and 24% Cabernet Franc. There is no Cabernet Sauvignon to be seen. The wine has 13% alcohol by volume, it matured for 10 months in a blend of French and American oak (I'm guessing a blend of old and new), and is sealed with a Diam cork. The 'Three Brothers' branding has a double innuendo. It refers to the three brothers in winemaker Jon Harrey's family, but also to the Three Brothers landmark near where they live.

A very appealing wine, especially when you consider the cellar door price at the Grape Escape in McShane Road, Nelson - just $19.90 a bottle.

This wine is just delicious as a Barbecue red at this time of year - at least to my BBQ meal of baby lamb cutlets in a mint-infused marinade (mint, sugar, water, EVOO, balsamic, worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt & pepper). The methos of cooking added a touch of bit of smoky char while the fruit sweetness of the wine combined perfectly with the tender juiciness and subtle flavourings of the meat.

Te Mania has forged a reputation for its Pinot Noir, but I've noticed that the other reds - this blend and the Te Mania Syrah, are rather exciting too.

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© Sue Courtney
29 Jan 2008

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