It could have been called Judgement at Pall Mall, a blind tasting of the best of Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignons against some of the most prestigious Cabernets from the rest of the world, including Inglenook and some of the top Bordeaux estates. But it was the name Wendouree in the small print of the invite that got the pulse racing of our man at the tasting, Roger Jones, who dusted off his senior railcard, and hopped on the early train into town to bag himself front row at this historic event. It’s rare to get a chance to try Wendouree, this legendary Clare Valley Cab Sauv, and it was fascinating to try it against other Clare Valley Cabs as well as the best of the Old World.
“Hard to describe a wine that delivers perfection, one of those rare times,” Jones writes about the Wendouree Clare Valley Cabernet.
Looking around the selected audience it was nice to see a good cross section of invitees as often in the past these New World ‘blind tasting challenges’ have often been diluted by New World flag wavers (myself included) but the audience were certainly a fabulous balance with some keen Old World enthusiasts.
However it was soon evident that this was being played on home soil, albeit at 67 Pall Mall, but with the Aussie team live on screen, sun kissed and well watered, ready to enthral the London audience at 10.30 am on a December morning.
The invite was headed Uncovering Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon but, hidden in the small print was the word “Wendouree”, a name you drop everything for if there is a glass of their esteemed wine being given out.
Visiting this vineyard is pretty impossible and getting an allocation is handed from person to person and never on the open market, the owners of course were not in attendance with the rest of the Clare Valley greats on the live video. I have however tasted these wines a few times, mostly with huge thanks to Wales beating England at rugby and Tim Atkin MW generously paying up his debt with a duo of these wines.
However, and you will note later in the notes the Wendouree 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon was pretty epic, this was a full, brilliant showing of the majestic qualities of Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon going up against classics across the globe, much like Wales’s great rugby exploits.
We started with an open tasting of four classic Clare Cabernets
Paulett Wines Cabernet Merlot 2019
Watervale and Polish Hill River, vines aged between 35/40 years, this has a soft tobacco, violets, spiced savoury balance with some fresh vanilla cocoa background. As it evolves there is a blackcurrant and redcurrant freshness, hints of twigs, fresh herbs and tea on the finish. For a young wine retailing at around £11.50 (Ellis of Richmond) this certainly delivers a serious stylish Cabernet.
Knappstein, Enterprise Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Sourced from vines aged 50 years and over, on first taste this Cab really did perform quite superbly. Blueberries, violets, bright fresh acidity but with elegance and texture which evolved perfectly on the palate.
Michael Kane the winemaker said that the age of the vines “was not the important fact but the quality of the soil and ground was, as it is perfect”. It certainly gave that Bordeaux style, a touch of dry tobacco, balanced by the precise blue fruits and that perfect texture. (RRP £29).
Mount Horrocks Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Imported by Liberty Wines with a RRP of £34 this defies the price in comparison to class Cabernets across the globe. Quite young vines, planted in 2008, highlights the immense respect we have for Stephanie Toole, owner and winemaker at Mount Horrocks. The wine oozes with fresh bright purple berries, cassis, violets, then a savoury balance from dried herbs, cocoa, spices, evolving together to produce an elegant, vibrant wine that will evolve over the next 15 to 20 years.
Wakefield St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
This was more ‘masculine’, tasted of age, mahogany on nose, bright fresh confectionery, French jam, bright acidity, some depth then a black/red juicy fresh hit, a touch of offal, bacon, but then a brightness to balance and uplift the deep texture. Blackberries, redcurrants, pan-fried lambs kidneys with mustard cream (seriously Rog? – Ed.)… age this for up to 15 years, but also enjoy now.
Adam Eggins explained the winemaking: the fruit is taken from 25 year old vines, the grapes are de-stemmed, but not crushed and a variant of vessels are used for fermentation including ‘potter’ (tank) and ‘quintessence perle’ barrels, before pressing and going into French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation, before then being racked and refined and then placed in fine quality barrels to age further. NB – in Australia the estate is called Taylors (but this name cannot be used in Europe) and the wines are brought brought into the UK by Louis Latour with a RRP of £39.
Four Clare Valley Cabernets blind-tasted against Old World
We then were invited to go into a blind tasting with four of the greats from Clare going against four of their global compatriots, under the heading Icon Tasting. These were tasted in pairs and, after each challenge, we were asked which was the Clare and then which was our favourite, Clare won 4-0 in both categories with only the final two giving Clare a challenge.
Presented by the sunburnt Tom Barry (he blamed it on his Irish ancestors) this is sweet-fruited, gentle and delicate cedar aromas, with tiny clusters of fresh berries, which dance on the palate, clean and focussed. Cocoa, spiced, nutmeg, savoury thyme, luscious but still so youthful. At a RRP of £40 from Hallgarten this is an absolute bargain.
Inglenook Rubicon 2016, Napa Valley
Savoury, spiced, a touch closed, with a darkness, dark-fruited, violets, silky, good richness, although the alcohol shows, but a very good wine but the Jim Barry was a different class.
Kilikanoon Tregea Reserve Cabernet 2013
With vines planted in 1998, the fruit is hand-picked, hand-plunged, basket-pressed, and the wine shows off this attention to detail, with the finished article pretty seamless. Gentle spices, hint of liquorice, fine tannins giving spices and savoury nuances, gentle purple fruits, silky on the palate, relaxed and easy drinking, cassis and leafy with fine blueberries; this wine still needs time, drink over the next 15 years. Imported by Mentzendorff with a RRP of £52.
Dunn Vineyards, Napa Valley Cabernet 2013, Napa
Brett and Brett, 2 bottles tried, I mistook this for Bordeaux, under the meaty dark flavours there are some fine dark fruits, bacon, cedar and polish. But the Kililkanoon won hands down.
Jeffrey Grosset is one of those rare people that when he speaks you just shut up and listen – I have luckily met him many times both in the UK and in Australia and understand his need for perfection. This wine delivers in one mouthful everything that he excels in, namely perfection. Forward and ripe on first taste, quite beautiful, bilberries dancing on the palate, so fresh, so clean and pure, there is depth and texture here, violets, a touch of pencil lead, this is the 25th release and a wine that will evolve for another 25 years, imported by Liberty, with a RRP of only £50, a bargain.
Léoville Poyferré 2014, St Julien, Bordeaux
Enjoyed this Merlot-influenced Cab. – taut, leather, pencil, plummy, violets, spices and a very good wine, it was just a bit taut for me against the brilliant Grosset.
Wendouree Cabernet 2014
Here we go, just over excited to taste (drink) this and my word did it deliver, soft delicate purity on first taste, savoury (a tiny hint of perfect brett, or bacon) perfect blackberries, gentle spices, uplifting, hedonistic, perfumed excellence, pure, perfection, touch of aniseed, liquorice, a pleasure, thank you. Hard to describe a wine that delivers perfection, one of those rare times.
Ducru Beaucaillou 2014, St Julien, Bordeaux
Dark blueberries, blackcurrants, forest floor, inky, vanilla, cedar/pencil, classic Bordeaux, quite superb, but it was an unfair challenge against the master above, The Wendouree at a fraction of the cost.
Wow what a tasting, and especially to see the quality of Cabernets from Clare, huge thanks to Amelia Jukes who arranged the tasting and to master of ceremony Justin Knock MW and 67 Pall Mall for hosting.