White bor­deaux re­veal more than a dash of French flair in com­pe­ti­tion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

MORE than a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago, in 1982 to be pre­cise, Cape Men­telle held its first in­ter­na­tional caber­net tast­ing, pit­ting the best of Aus­tralia against the best of Bor­deaux, Tus­cany, Cal­i­for­nia, Spain and oth­ers. It was a great suc­cess and con­tin­ues to this day, staged al­ter­nately in West­ern Aus­tralia’s Mar­garet River and the east­ern states (for this year’s lo­ca­tion, see www.cape­mentelle.com.au). Oth­ers fol­lowed suit, Peel Es­tate (Peel, WA) with shi­raz, and Cullen (like Cape Men­telle, from Mar­garet River) with Aus­tralia’s best chardon­nay, against the best of Bur­gundy.

The com­mon for­mat is for the tast­ing to be blind, the points col­lected from each taster be­fore there is any dis­cus­sion, and for the points to be av­er­aged for each wine. Over the years, Aus­tralia has done par­tic­u­larly well in th­ese events. It is a moot point, per­haps, whether it would have out-pointed the over­seas wines if the iden­tity of all the wines had been known from the out­set.

Late last year, Fraser Gal­lop, a rel­a­tively new but sub­stan­tial Mar­garet River win­ery, ini­ti­ated an in­ter­na­tional sau­vi­gnon blanc-semil­lon tast­ing, bring­ing to­gether Aus­tralia’s best and the most es­teemed white bor­deaux.

Owner Nigel Gal­lop does not do things by halves. Not only did he bring Olivier Bernard of Do­maine de Che­va­lier to Aus­tralia for the event (and for a small din­ner the pre­vi­ous night with a range of Do­maine de Che­va­lier’s older vin­tages in mag­num) but made sure the very best Bor­deaux chateaux were in­volved.

The list of hon­our com­prised Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Lav­ille Haut Brion, Chateau Pape Cle­ment, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Chateau Malar­tic La­graviere, Chateau Car­bon­nieux (the rep­u­ta­tion of the lat­ter two much en­hanced in re­cent years) and, of course, Do­maine de Che­va­lier. (All ex­cept Lav­ille Haut Brion also pro­duce red wines for which they are, if any­thing, even bet­ter known.) All th­ese wines were from the out­stand­ing 2005 vin­tage.

Aus­tralia was rep­re­sented by, in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der, 2005 Ar­lewood Es­tate Semil­lon Sau­vi­gnon Blanc, 2006 Cape Men­telle Wall­cliffe Sau­vi­gnon Blanc Semil­lon, 2006 Cullen Sau­vi­gnon Blanc Semil­lon, 2006 Mount Mary Tri­o­let, 2005 Suck­fiz­zle Sau­vi­gnon Blanc Semil­lon, 2005 Voy­ager Es­tate Tom Price Sau­vi­gnon Blanc Semil­lon and 2005 Yarra Yarra Sau­vi­gnon Blanc Semil­lon.

Why, you might won­der, was Fraser Gal­lop not rep­re­sented? Sim­ple. Al­though the 20ha es­tate vine­yard dates back to 1999, and al­though the first vin­tage was 2002, it was not un­til 2008 that the lav­ishly equipped win­ery was fin­ished, with Mar­garet River vet­eran wine­maker Clive Otto pre­sid­ing. A 2008 semil­lon sau­vi­gnon blanc was made, but the semil­lon was not es­tate-grown, thus the first es­tate wine will be made in 2009.

So the event was akin to a high-level fo­cus group dis­cus­sion, with the at­ten­dees di­vided into three groups: con­sumers, in­dus­try (wine­mak­ers, re­tail­ers) and judges (jour­nal­ists and oth­ers).

There was con­sid­er­able con­sen­sus: Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and Chateau Lav­ille Haut Brion came equal first (28 points each), then Chateau Haut Brion and Do­maine de Che­va­lier equal third (18 points each), fol­lowed by (in or­der) Yarra Yarra, Ar­lewood, Suck­fiz­zle and Mount Mary (with only two points separat­ing them). (I used de­scend­ing or­der of points, with 10 points for the top wine in each judg­ing group, nine for sec­ond, eight for third and so on.)

The two white bor­deaux to end up at the tail of the field were Chateau Car­bon­nieux and Chateau Pape Cle­ment, a rat­ing I agreed with. Like­wise, I gave the four top wines high scores. The wheels came off with the Cullen and Voy­ager Tom Price, which were my two high­est scores (a short half head in front of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte) yet came near the tail of the rat­ings over­all.

As al­ways, it was as much a ques­tion of style as of qual­ity. Ei­ther way, the four wines at the top were un­de­ni­ably great, yet the Aus­tralian wines were far from disgraced. The con­sen­sus was that the white bor­deaux han­dled the oak com­po­nent bet­ter and were more savoury-min­er­ally than fruity. Cer­tainly Bernard had no dif­fi­culty in separat­ing the bor­deaux from the im­pos­tors (so to speak), and went a long way to iden­ti­fy­ing each of his neigh­bours.

If you were to com­pare the cost of the wines in each group, you might hes­i­tate be­fore buy­ing the bor­deaux, at least five times more ex­pen­sive than the Aus­tralians. Al­lot­ting points may be an im­pre­cise art, but so is de­cid­ing value.


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