Raw truth is that West is best for bud­get beau­ties

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

BREN­DEN and Kylie Smith founded West Cape Howe in 1997 but af­ter seven years de­cided to move on. En­ter Gavin Berry, with a suc­cess­ful 15-year ca­reer as se­nior wine­maker at Plan­ta­genet. It is the dream of many tal­ented wine­mak­ers to es­tab­lish their own busi­ness, even though they may have ob­served the pit­falls, fi­nan­cial and oth­er­wise, that can bring such dreams to a painful fin­ish.

Berry quickly formed a part­ner­ship, which in­cluded viti­cul­tur­ist Rob Quenby, and in 2004 left the se­cu­rity of the much larger and longer-es­tab­lished Plan­ta­genet to head the team at West Cape Howe. It was fe­lic­i­tous tim­ing: the in­dus­try had emerged from a painful re­ces­sion and do­mes­tic and ex­port sales were grow­ing strongly.

A bonus was the 80ha Lans­dale vine­yard, planted in 1989. The brand al­ready had recog­ni­tion but Berry and his wine­mak­ing team (th­ese days in­clud­ing Dave Cleary and Coby Lad­wig) soon took it to an­other level.

In the early years they un­der­took sub­stan­tial con­tract wine­mak­ing. Here Berry’s ex­pe­ri­ence at Plan­ta­genet was in­valu­able, for Plan­ta­genet also had a sub­stan­tial con­tract in­come. But serv­ing many masters at the same time is an emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally drain­ing busi­ness, and West Cape Howe has pro­gres­sively weaned it­self as its an­nual pro­duc­tion has in­creased to a healthy 55,000 cases.

But it is the qual­ity of the wines, as well as the con­sis­tency, that is so im­pres­sive. When you drill down to the re­tail prices, the qual­ity may seem too good to be true. Dur­ing the past 12 months, West Cape Howe has re­leased seven wines scor­ing the five-glass rat­ing of 94 or more points, and an­other four only an eye­lash be­hind on 93 points.

It is true that most of the red wines come from the po­ten­tially ex­cel­lent though dif­fi­cult 2005 vin­tage, the white wines from ’ 06 and the warm, dry ’ 07, but you still have to max­imise the po­ten­tial in vine­yard and win­ery if you are to suc­ceed in the volatile wine mar­ket. Thus all the caber­net sauvi­gnon and mer­lot was picked be­fore the 250mm of rain that fell from the end of March through to early April in 2005.

The first cab off the rank in this tast­ing is the ries­ling, which is pre­dom­i­nantly grown in the Mount Barker re­gion, both the ’ 06 and ’ 07 scor­ing 94 points. Be­cause I ama Lud­dite when it comes to por­ta­ble com­puter tech­nol­ogy, I had no idea what I wrote about the pre­ced­ing vin­tage when tast­ing the latest re­lease. In this in­stance the notes were nearly in­ter­change­able, my unedited com­ments on the ’ 07 be­ing: ‘‘ Fine, taut, lemon-lime and min­eral; long, lin­ger­ing, zesty fin­ish; great po­ten­tial. To 2020.’’

All the tast­ing notes on the pre­vi­ous vin­tage are in my re­cently re­leased 2008WineCom­pan­ion , in which West Cape Howe re­ceives the high­est win­ery rat­ing of five stars. The fol­low­ing are from a sub­se­quent tast­ing of new re­leases.

The ’ 07 sauvi­gnon blanc (91 points, $19) has none of the slightly sweaty char­ac­ters of the ’ 06 and is in a more aus­tere mode: ‘‘ Firm, bright herb-grass­goose­berry; squeaky, lively acid­ity.’’ (Squeaky de­scribes the mouth-feel of acid, which is the op­po­site of chalky or crunchy, where it seems to coat my teeth as my tongue moves around in my mouth.)

By con­trast, the ’ 07 semil­lon sauvi­gnon blanc (92 points, $16) ‘‘ en­ters the mouth qui­etly but pro­gres­sively builds up flavour around the struc­tural core of semil­lon, then mov­ing to goose­berry and cit­rus’’. (For the record, it is 52 per cent semil­lon and 48 per cent sauvi­gnon blanc.)

Un­wooded chardon­nay sel­dom ex­cites — nor­mally bores — but the ’ 07 (90 points, $16) is ‘‘ an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of what cool-cli­mate chardon­nay can achieve; grape­fruit and man­darin flavours, gen­er­ous and sat­is­fy­ing, but neatly trimmed by acid­ity’’.

A small per­cent­age of viog­nier (dis­closed on the back la­bel) lifts the 2005 shi­raz (94 points, $16) into five-star ter­ri­tory: ‘‘ De­li­cious plum, black­berry and spice fruit; per­fect bal­ance with tan­nins and oak; medium-bod­ied, el­e­gant and sen­sa­tional value.’’

Fi­nally, there is the 2005 caber­net mer­lot (93 points, $16): ‘‘ Clear pur­ple-red; abun­dant cas­sis and blackcurrant fruit, with a touch of spice and of qual­ity oak; fine, ripe tan­nins.’’

I have re­gur­gi­tated the tast­ing notes in their raw, unedited form, as I wrote them, sim­ply to un­der­line the con­sis­tency of the wines. There’s no need to ap­ply any gloss to West Cape Howe.


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