Moss Wood, my pick as the winery producing the best Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia has been bottling a limited magnum edition of the flagship wine since 1991. And I have been buying one of each vintage and storing them and admiring them but until the weekend have never opened one. But as the 24th year rolled around, I decided to ask friends along and taste the first seven years to see how they have stood up.
As our little terrace in Guildford doesn’t have a lot of room we were lucky to have obliging neighbours who agreed to hold the soirée in their more expansive and elegant backyard; we supplied the wine and food, they supplied the venue, outdoor furniture, glasses, access to their kitchen and so on a glorious Sunday afternoon, moving smoothly into evening, nineteen people gathered to partake of the wine.
To make our guests earn their keep, so to speak, each was given a scoring sheet with some relevant comments about what could be expected of Cabernet and asked to score and make comments against each of the wines as we went through.
I had our guests use a standard show marking system – out of 3 for colour, 7 for bouquet and 10 for taste. (See About for an explanation of how this 20 point scale is aligned to the 100 point scale – both scores are mentioned below).
To begin, and to refresh our palates, we served a couple of magnums of a wonderful sparkling from another favourite winery – Myattsfield in the Carmel Valley.
Made from chardonnay and pinot noir, this wine is light straw in colour, with lifted lemon notes and yeast on the nose, has excellent acid, citrus and green apple elements on the palate, finishing very dry with a long, consistent mousse – just the thing to get us ready for the task ahead.
With growing anticipation, we decided to open three magnums to start, decant them and serve, then pause for some food, before moving on to the last four bottles – I opened oldest to youngest.
The first obstacle struck were the corks – the 1991 broke up under the corkscrew so I needed to push it into the bottle and strain it to decant. The next three would have posed similar problems; I tried the trusty Ah So – two long prongs that are slid down the side of the cork and wound around to extract, but alas the corks were loose and slid down, so into the bottle they went and the process was as above. Of the final three – the 1995 came out with the Ah So, the 1996 and 1997 with a regular corkscrew. These are some of the problems you face with older wine under cork, but a problem easily overcome. I would have strained all anyway to remove sediment so it was a simple matter to remove any cork remnants at the same time. Importantly none of the wines had leaked and the ullage in each was high with only the 1991 showing a level below the base of the neck and then only marginally.
After each wine we had a short discussion before moving on to the next. Comments and opinions and scores varied markedly, but at the conclusion I consolidated the marks to produce a final score for each, and incorporated the comments made to support the ratings. Some high scores were necessarily brought down when averaged against others – where participants judged a wine to be best, or equal best, I have included that in the comments, even though the average score may not reflect that.
1991 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 20 of 100 bottles released
The wine showed distinct browning. The nose while a little restrained exhibited elements of tobacco, violets, cherries, olives and ripe plum. The palate was soft, with spicy notes and liquorice on the mid palate, but with some tannin producing a smooth, but not lingering finish. The consensus was it had passed its best, but was still drinking reasonably well. Average score 15 (79).
1992 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 77 of 150
While it had some browning at the edge this wine had good depth of colour, brick red, with good clarity. The bouquet was stronger than its predecessor, showing evident blackcurrant, mint, ripe plums and cedary tones. The palate was smooth, but with grippier tannins, with ripe fruit flavours and hints of spice. Three people judged this as best or equal best wine of the night. Average score 16.5 (83).
1993 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 45 of 200
This wine had a vibrant colour with little browning. The bouquet showed cloves, liquorice and pepper, with blackberry and plums dominating. It had very soft tannins, producing a long smooth finish, hints of pomegranate on the mid palate, with ripe plums and some eucalyptus notes evident. Three participants judged this best or equal best wine. Average score 17.5 (88).
1994 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 97 of 223
Dark crimson, with good clarity of colour, this wine had a very aromatic nose with notes of peppery spice, blackberries, dark cherries, iodine and tobacco. It exhibited smooth silky tannins producing a long finish, and was redolent of blackberries, olives and plums on the palate. One person scored this as best or equal best wine. Average score 16 (81).
1995 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 39 of 218
A clear, deep red this wine had lifted blackberry aromas, with violets, spice and plums as back notes. The palate was smooth, with strong blackberry and plum flavours, with spicy pepper on the mid palate. It had a beautiful mouth feel with a long, satisfying finish. Five people judged this best or equal best. Average score 18.4 (92).
1996 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 58 of 250
Brilliant burgundy in colour, this wine had a strongly perfumed nose, with chocolate notes more discernible than in the previous wines. Blueberries, mulberries predominate with some hints of vanilla, mint and violets. It was a well rounded wine with a warm, long palate, full of berry and black fruit flavours, with soft tannins. It was judged by seven of the tasters to be the best or equal best wine of the tasting. Average score 18.5 (93).
1997 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 litre magnum, Number 8 of 250
This was dark crimson, almost purple in colour. It had a beautiful, lifted bouquet full of berries, cherries and chocolate, with mint, vanilla and violet undertones. Silky tannins and well integrated oak assisted it to a smooth, long finish, with good fruit flavours, plums, blackberries, cherries, chocolate and spice all evident. This was an outstanding wine, and was judged by eight to have been best or equal best. Average score 19 (96).