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Cullen dinner at Flutes at the Fort

August 13, 2009

I have a healthy respect for the chardonnays and cabernet-based wines of Margaret River, especially after visiting the region last year. Favourites include Leeuwin Estate Art Series chardonnay, Moss Wood for their chardonnay as well as cabernet sauvignon, and the Cullen Diana Madeline, a true Bordeaux blend. These are just about everyone’s favourites as well. However, it would be idle to pretend that these wines match up in every way to actual Burgundy whites and Bordeaux reds, as this tasting of Cullen wines on 12 August 2009, with Vanya Cullen herself in attendance, amply shows.

DSC00139We started off with a 2008 Cullen Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. The Aussies love this sort of blend, but I just don’t get it. Very pale straw-colored, light and “grassy”. Straightforward and simple, although it had a fresh, zesty feel about it. I still don’t get it.

A pair of chardonnays followed. The 2007 Cullen “Kevin John” Chardonnay, light yellow, was served too cold initially, but one could discern some nutty flavours as well as caramel. It eventually did open up when the temperature was right, revealing good minerality and body, but not much complexity. Rather one-dimensional. Perhaps it needs more bottle time. Next to it, the 2002 Cullen Chardonnay, with the benefit of bottle age, was far more complex, with more depth of color and more intense, lifted aromas. It even managed more than a nod in the direction of a Giaconda, with a certain weightiness and layering that only mature, good quality fruit can deliver. Quite excellent.

Next came the much-anticipated duo of Diana Madelines, but which turned out rather disappointing. The 2007 Cullen Diana Madeline (84% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 4% each of cabernet franc & petit verdot) was very deep red and rather muted on the nose, although one could sense the intensity of fruit beneath. Medium, velvety, but somewhat disjointed, with a fair amount of leafy greeness. Didn’t quite seem like the Diana Madeline that I knew and loved, where the velvety supple tannins from the merlot matched seamlessly with the cabernet structure. Vanya Cullen seemed rather upbeat about the 2007 vintage, but I wasn’t convinced. The 1998 Cullen Carbenet Sauvignon Merlot (actually 68% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot and 6% cabernet franc, aged 18 months in 20% new oak) was even more disappointing. Still a very dark unevolved red after all these years. A huge wine, thick, bitter undertone, almost unctuous, very dense, shot through with a prominent liquered note, ending with a short finish. It’s as if one is drinking the distilled essence. Instead of the wine opening up with tertiary flavours, this is almost a complete opposite, a reduction. Is this how a Bordeaux blend is supposed to be after 11 years, tasting like a Barossa shiraz?? Not my type, for sure. This tasting only reinforced my allegiance towards Moss Wood as the torchbearer for Margaret River cabernet sauvignon – a 2000 vintage drunk earlier this year was very “correct” and pleasurable, and still very much on the ascent.

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