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Wine of the Week for week ending 11 September 2011
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Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Where has all the cabernet gone?
Long time passing.
Where has all the cabernet gone?
Long time ago.
Growers have top grafted them ...
to something more reliable.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

With apologies to Peter Seegar, but after tasting some terrific New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignons last week I had to wonder why so few growers persist with the variety. Well of course I know it is about producing quality wines to get a return on investment. But sadly it seems that, in many vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon does not grow consistently year after year to the high standard required for a single varietal wine to warrant that investment. Therefore it is slowly being replaced in vineyards and where it is still grown, it's most often blended with Merlot, and these days it seems that Merlot is also the often-dominant component of the blend. So it's nice to come across some stellar Cabernet Sauvignons that shows the greatness this grape can achieve for single varietal wines when the conditions are right.

Mills Reef is one of those producers that seems to have a magic wand when it comes to producing consistently reliable Cabernet Sauvignon but even so it is not made every year. The five most recent vintages are 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. And with the latest release, Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, the proof is in the tasting.

The colour is dense and purple yet has a glow to the lustre. The concentrated bouquet emanates scents of plums, liquorice, smoky French oak and cassis and while the wine is a little leathery on entry to the palate, the red and black berry fruit soon take pride of place. A concentrated, savoury wine with suede-like tannins and a creamy oak veneer together with liquorice, cigar box and spice with some lovely dried herb complexities and a long, fine finish that lingers elegantly. It is truly a wine of great finesse and becomes quite luxurious and velvety with time.

When the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on the Mere Road Vineyard were harvested by hand on Anzac Day 2009, the 22.3 average Brix was lower than normal. The grapes were cold soaked for four days, then fermented with a selection of yeasts in open top fermenters and plunged twice daily, with nine days on skins altogether. Then the wine was run off into French oak, 27% new, the remainder one-year-old, to mature for 16 months. The label states 13.5% alcohol, the bottle has a screwcap closure and the price is about $45.

A superb wine with food, we enjoyed this over two nights: the first night it was an outstanding match to lamb shanks and the second night to fillet steak. Read more about the food matches on my blog for September 5th together with the other Cabernet Sauvignon wines we tasted.

To find about more about this outstanding red, check out

© Sue Courtney
5 September 2011

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