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Mount Mary Cabernets

by Tom Cannavan, 09/01

Many authorities regarded the Mount Mary estate in the Yarra Valley as one of Australia's very best. Established in the early 1970's by Dr. John Middleton, winemaking is now shared between Dr Middleton and Mario Marson, who have produced a string of "classically-styled" wines that are said to age beautifully, and have achieved cult status. The formidable following for The Cabernets in particular, created in tiny quantities, creates such a clamour that the wine rarely appears on the open market. Oz Clarke describes Mount Mary as "a classic property with a justifiably exalted reputation".

The Cabernets (sub-titled "Quintet" because it uses all five Bordeaux grape varieties) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It has achieved its reputation and cult status apparently without marketing effort, save a newsletter to mailing-list clients with each annual wine release. Most of the wine is sold this way, and bottles re-appearing at auction bring such high prices that the only Australian wines to match Mount Mary are Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace.

Langton's Classification of Distinguished Australian Wine (the bible of Australia's finest) rates only seven wines in the Exceptional category (the most prized wines on the market): Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wendouree Shiraz, Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace and Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets.
 

This vertical tasting was therefore, an exceptionally rare opportunity. We had before us six vintages of The Cabernets, from 1986 to 1994, with an average price of perhaps between £100 and £175 per bottle. The collection had been amassed and presented to UK wine journalists by Virginwines.com (I would guess that some of the wines had come as a legacy of their takeover of the Australian-owned wineplanet.co.uk retailer a few months before).

I have to say that I thought this was a tremendously impressive first glimpse of these wines. These are subtle wines that share a common theme of beautiful fruit quality throughout the vintages, matched with a sense of structure and reserve that means they offer a lovely balance of joyously ripe fruit, and savoury, serious depth. These examples have indeed aged well, and it would appear these are wines that can indeed cellar well for a couple of decades. Most impressive wines that, if you can live with the prices, deserve a place amongst the world's best. Incidentally, Dr. Middleton doesn't suffer fools gladly, and considers wine writers to be amongst the biggest fools of all; more than one famous name has been shown the door on attempting to visit the property!

The current vintage of The Cabernets is around £65, the 1990 is around £165. UK Agent is Vin du Van on 01233 758727. Stockists include Virginwines.com, WineVault.co.uk, Ballantynes of Cowbridge, Uvine.com.

Mount Mary Cabernets "Quintet" 1986
Youthful colour. Big, vegetal, dark, slightly overripe nose. Serious, with cedar and red fruit and plum bouquet, touches of tobacco. The palate has masses of sweet, silky berry and plum fruit and a soft tannic structure still making its presence felt, with moderate acidity and fine, graceful length. Very good indeed for drinking now, but still time ahead of it.

Mount Mary Cabernets "Quintet" 1989
A much purer sweetness on the nose with a vivid cassis fragrance and exotic notes of dried Asian plums and spice. Strikes the palate with a big mouthful of ripe, jammy black fruit. Again a lovely silky texture, hints of tobacco and smoke, warm cedary undertones and fine structure gently underpinning into a very long finish. Excellent. Just hitting a lovely mature resolution.

Mount Mary Cabernets "Quintet" 1990
Back to the slightly baked, plummy, more old-fashioned style of the '86 on the nose, but there is also a lovely core of blackcurrant jam fruit. Lots of grip on the palate here, with nuances of black olive and herbs adding savoury appeal to sweet black fruit. Really terrific tannins; very ripe and sweet, with good acidity and a muscular, yet refined character. Needs time, but good length and classy components. Very good indeed.

Mount Mary Cabernets "Quintet" 1992
The first wine where the nose is still dominated by toasty, coffee, sweet vanilla oak over cherry and plum fruit. The palate is infused with gorgeously sweet and hedonistic fruit that really floods the mouth. Fat, rich and sweet, yet again fine balance and a sense of elegance is given by a certain mineral acidity and firm background tannins, which extend into a long, well-delineated finish. Very good indeed/excellent.

Mount Mary Cabernets "Quintet" 1993
Slightly more reticent nose, with deep, luxurious baked plum pudding aromas and a delicate, cedary fragrance. Weighty palate is fat and glycerine-rich, with sweet, ripe, full fruit of glossy blackcurrants, raspberry and some chewy plum-skin depth. Lovely savoury appeal and terrific structure once again. Very impressive, with another long finish. Very good indeed.

Mount Mary Cabernets "Quintet" 1994
Sweet, slightly leafy, minty blackcurrant nose. Beneath there is a toffee fudge quality and a creaminess. Black fruits are powerful at the core of this wine, with hints of violet and blueberry. Again that terrific sweetness of fruit on the palate; very, very jammy and juicy, with orange acidity and some serious tannic structure underpinning. A fine, series and chewy style of wine, with the tannins gripping into another fine finish. Very good indeed/excellent.