Cullen diana madeline vertical

Margaret River magic: Cullen Diana Madeline Vertical,1981 – 2010

How to sum up this iconic Cabernet Merlot?  A daunting task – but if there’s a thread to be pulled from Cullen’s 40th anniversary tasting of its flagship Cabernet Merlot, it’s about strength in frame and freshness.

Unstrident, fruit was a harmonious element of the (fruit, flower and earth) whole, making for wines of great composition, grace and beauty from 1981, right through to barrel samples of the 2010 vintage.

The minerality of the line up was much remarked on, viticulturist Pete Mammone finding a resonance of Diana Madeline block’s forest grove soils in the wines (pictured). Rockpool Bar & Grill’s Wine Director Sophie Otton found a spectrum of earth and minerals “from warm brick to clay terracotta to ochre, iron filings and iodine.” For some, iodine was their kelp.  I think it’s my boot polish, while Otton’s iron filings are my gravel.   And it seems to me that the most recent, positively mineral-sluiced, vintages are possessed of this trait from the off.


At around 12.5% abv, later vintages also have lower alcohol, for Chief Winemaker Vanya Cullen, an outcome not an intention.  As she puts it, the intention is to encourage vitality in the vines and land (the spur for cultivating the vineyard biodynamically).  An outcome of this vitality is earlier ripening – she says,“it’s the vines and vineyard making the decision” and you can hear more about this and Cullen’s reflections on Cullen Wines past, present and future in my video interview below.

Cullen’s favourite vintages?  The 2009, 1994 (reserve), 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002.  Mine? 1982, 1987, 1988, 1990 (regular), 1994 (reserve), 1995, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007 & 2009.

You’ll find my tasting notes below and, if you’d like to know more about the history and evolution of Cullen Wines, including the background to their conversion to organic then biodynamic viticulture, click on this link – Ahmed On the Vine Cullen – for a copy of an in depth feature I wrote for The World of Fine Wine in 2007 after I’d spent two weeks cellar ratting at Cullen Wines. The feature concludes with notes on verticals of the flagship wines which I tasted with Vanya Cullen back in March 2007, which make for an interesting comparison.  And click here  for my report on the 40th anniversary tasting of Kevin John Chardonnay (2002-2010).

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1981

Holding its colour well, the 81 is deep garnet with a bricky rim. Though the fruit is shadowy on the palate, it’s sweet and the wine still fresh, with gravel and rose petals to the fore, lending it a delicate refinement and grace. With time in glass, it reveals hints of warmer liquorice and tar. Contemplative. Bé 12.5°, pH 3.5, TA 6.2 g/L, Alcohol: 13%

Background information: another hot and dry vintage at Cullen Wines. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.2 tons per acre.  Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon: 17 to 24 March, Merlot and Malbec: 16 March. The wine spent 18 months in oak before bottling.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1982

I tasted this wine in 2007 (see the attached pdf) and it blew me away then with its vigour, and again in 2011.  It’s a virile wine, assertive despite a whiff of cork taint, with terrific intensity and complexity which builds in the mouth revealing layers of plum, chocolate, anise, liquorice, dried roses and savoury meat pan juices.  Firm tannins maintain order.  Involving.  Bé 12 – 12.9°, pH 3.3 – 3.6, TA 6.0 – 7.0 g/L.  Alcohol: 13%

Background information: excellent rains during the growing season in December. Long cool ripening period gave a great season for Cabernet Sauvignon. Awarded gold in Melbourne. This wine was runner up to the Cape Mentelle for the Jimmy Watson Award. Yield: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.5 tons per acre, Merlot – 1 ton per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot: 5 April to 22 April. This wine was left in oak for 22 months. Final blend: 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1983

Garnet with mellow, slightly dilute plum with a menthol hint to a medium finish.   Despite the eggs (which Vanya Cullen still remembered cracking), with its fading palate the sinewy tannins edge through.  Bé 13.2 – 14.5°, pH 3.30 – 3.54, TA 6.8 – 5.3 g/L, Alcohol: 13%

Background: Low acid levels and high tannins. Poor winter rains and plenty of bush fire. Decided to make only one flagship red wine, namely the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. It took 3 years to sell! Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.9 tons per acre, Merlot – 1 ton per acre. Harvest dates: Merlot 4 March, Cabernet Sauvignon 2 to 28 March. The wine spent 22 months in oak. The high tannin levels meant that ten egg whites were used per barrel.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1984

Relatively deep in colour and flavour with delicious dark chocolate, concentrated but fleshy plum, leather and more than a lick of anise and liquorice spice.  Firm cheekbone tannins make for a resolute finish.  I wonder if they’ll outlast the fruit?   Bé 12.5 – 13.0°, pH 3.40 – 3.50, TA 7.6 – 7.5 g/L, Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: It was a long ripening season, with no bird damage and good crop levels. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.7 tons per acre, Merlot – 1.4 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 0.5 tons per acre. Harvest date: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. 6 March. 18 months in oak. Final blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1985

Marred by brettanomyces. Alcohol: 14.5%

Background: Hot and dry vintage until rain in March (Bé 11.7 – 13.7°, pH 3.45 – 3.6, TA 7.2 – 5.6 g/L). Good flavours in red wines. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.5 tons per acre, Merlot – 0.5 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 0.5 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc: 5 March to 21 March. Final blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine was placed into oak for 18 months.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1986

A tarry note doesn’t detract from the overall freshness of this wine – a quality which held true across the line up.  Good frame, but lacks a little in body/dimension.   Alcohol: 13.5%

Background:  A good season with a cool, slow ripening period. Wines with great depth of flavour. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2 tons per acre, Merlot – 0.5 ton per acre for Merlot, Cabernet Franc – 1 ton per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon 7 March to 21 March (Bé 13.0 – 13.1, pH 3.53 – 6.63, TA 6.4 – 6.0 g/L), Merlot and cabernet franc: 14 March (Bé 12.9°, pH 3.55, TA 6.0/L). The wine spent 24 months in oak, of which 30% was new. Final blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1987

Great rectitude and length – the Cabernet really asserts itself.  Building in the mouth it shows concentrated, pure and focused sweet blackcurrant fruit well supported by a firm but ripe backbone of tannins, the whole elegantly stone washed by gravelly mineral acidity.  Lovely poise.  In its prime.  Alcohol: 13.2%

Background: Drought year with very low cropping levels. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1 ton per acre, Merlot – less than 0.5 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – less than 0.5 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 9 March to 19 March (Bé 12.0 – 13.1°, Ph 3.30 – 3.50, TA 8.1 – 6.3 g/L), Merlot and cabernet franc, 25 March (Bé 12.6°, pH 3.52, TA 4.2 g/L) The wine spent 24 months in oak, of which 30% was new. Final blend: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1988

Lovely depth and sheen to its perfumed blackcurrant fruit on nose and palate, the tannins fine.  A strong finish shows hints of spicy, savoury bayleaf and a gravelly minerality.  Delightful and with more to give.  Alcohol: 12.7%

Background: Another drought year that was very hot and dry. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc all produced very low yields. The first trial area of Scott Henry trellising was established and the first of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlots was produced. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – less than 1 ton per acre,Merlot – less than 1 ton per acre,Cabernet Franc – less than 1ton per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 March to 29 March (Bé 12.25 – 12.80°, pH 3.55 – 3.60, TA 6.45 – 5.0 g/L). The regular wine spent 22 months in oak, of which 30% was new. The Reserve (see below) remained in oak for a further year. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1988

If the “regular” 88 had sheen, this is brighter still, with pixels aplenty lending great definition and intensity to its spicy, textured palate.  Tafetta tannins slowly tease out fleshy layers of berry and currant fruit interwoven with forest grove notes of leather, dried roses and pine needle, anise, liquorice, earth and minerals.   Terrific.  Alcohol: 12.5%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1989

Relatively pale garnet with a bricky hue.  Seems quite developed and savoury with meat pan juices to the fore; lovely fine tannins though.  Alcohol: 12.8%

Background: Although it was a good winter, we were unfortunate in having summer rains. The wines that we produced were light and pretty at a young age. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.4 tons per acre, Merlot – 1 ton per acre, Cabernet Franc – 3 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon 1 April to 9 April (Bé 12.6 – 13.6°, pH 3.60 – 3.81, TA 6.0 – 5.4 g/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 21 March (Bé 13.0°, pH 3.40, TA 5.25 g/L). The regular wine spent two years in oak, of which 50% was new Nevers oak. The Reserve (see below) had a further 12 months in oak. The third year for the Reserve was in new oak. Final blend: Regular – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1989

Much more oomph to the reserve, with a rump of ripe plum, blackberry and blackcurrant fruit to the mid-palate well supported by ripe but present tannins; lovely freshness makes for a supple, animated wine.  Alcohol: 13%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1990

Very deep colour here, some boot polish on the nose, with a great depth of fleshy dark black fruits, plum and chocolate well supported by ripe but present, velvety tannins. It finishes long, lingering and lithe, with good underlying mineral acidity making for a very present, persistent wine – powerful, but fine. Lovely now but plenty to give yet. Alcohol: 13%

Background: Good winter rains and good cropping levels produced wines of great stature. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.9 tons per acre, Merlot – 4.2 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 4 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 March to 7 April (Bé 12.6 – 13.3°, pH 3.70 – 3.82, TA 5.25 – 4.50 g/L, Merlot, 21 March (Bé 12.1°, pH 3.62, TA 5.10 g/L), Cabernet Franc, 29 March (Bé 12.6°, pH 3.70,TA 5.25 g/L). The regular wine spent 24 months in oak and the Reserve (see below) spent 35 months in oak. Final blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1990

Richer and riper, with a broad belt of deep and chocolatey fruit to the mid-palate.  Seemingly more solid, right now it’s not as beautiful or graceful as the regular 1990 but give it time – plenty of reserve in the tank.  Alcohol: 13.2%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1991

A deep plum hue with a narrow bricky rim, this is drinking very well now.  Very complete, with good intensity to its cedar and graphite edged plum and blackberry fruit, ripe chocolatey tannins, good freshness too.  Finishes long and gravelly.   Delicious. Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: Very hot and dry vintage. Good crop levels. Fantastic red wine vintage with ripe tannins and good acidity. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon -2.5 tons per acre, Merlot – 4.5 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 4 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 March to 16 April (Bé 12.6° – 13.5°, PH 3.43 – 3.64, TA 6.0 – 5.0 G/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 11 March (Bé 12.6°, PH 3.43, TA 6.0 G/L). The Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot wine was put in oak for 20 months, of which 50% was brand new. The Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Reserve was placed in oak for an extra year. Final blend: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1991

The Reserve is relatively showy – a glossy number with very polished, sweet, ripe blackcurrant and plum fruit, flattering oak, fine tannins and a savoury undertow which burnish of leather becomes more pronounced as the wine unfurls in the glass.  Alcohol: 13.5%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1992

A very firm if ripe backbone of tannins is well fleshed out with plush but perfumed cassis fruit, subtly layered with notes of cedar and, as it opens up, gravel, earth and dried pine needles. Very good. Alcohol: 13.5%

Classic season with good crops.  Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.7 tons per acre, Merlot – 2.5 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 3.0 tons per acre.  Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 March to 10 April (Bé 12.8 – 13.8°, Ph 3.42 – 3.70, TA 6.9 – 5.4 g/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 15 March (Bé 12.9°, pH 3.56, TA 6.5 g/L).  No filtration or fining for the Reserve. Both wines spent 22 months in oak. First time that the Reserve represented a selection of best barrels (as opposed to simply spending longer in oak).  Final blend:Regular 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, Reserve 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1992

Iron fist in velvet glove, a deep seam of cedar and anise kissed blackcurrant fruit is held in check by powerful, sinewy tannins – I think of the 82.  Though there’s some gamy evolution, it’s quite tightly coiled.  Very good. Lots to give.  Alcohol: 14%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1993

Not the most concentrated of wines, with some cool peppery/herbal notes on the nose and gravelly, slightly grippy tannins.  But there’s an attractive intensity to its sweet and sour plum fruit; dark chocolate strikes a mellower chord.  Alcohol: 13%

Background: The season was cool and dry. Some powdery mildew even though there was very little rain. Conditions were overcast with few sunny days. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.5 tons per acre, Merlot – 1.8 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 2.4 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 March to 7 April (Bé 11.7 – 13.0°, pH 3.76 – 3.72, TA 6.2 g/L). The wine spent 2 years in French oak. Of the oak, 30% was new, 40% was one year old and 30% was two years old. The Reserve was made from the best batches of wine and spent 22 months in 100% new French oak. It was not filtered. Final blend: Regular, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, Reserve: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1993

The Reserve is much firmer, darker and spicier.  It builds in the mouth, showing fleshy plum, then a more penetrating core of blackcurrant fruit edged with dark chocolate and hints of boot polish.  Gravelly tannins carry a well focused, lingering finish.  Well balanced. Alcohol: 13.5%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1994

Quite developed, with an ironstone, kelp tang, leather too, on nose and plush, plummy, chocolate-edged palate.  Very supple.  Drink now.  Alcohol: 13%

Background: First of the drought years. Hot and dry with very low yields, the lowest since 1988. Fabulous for red wines. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.6 tons per acre, Merlot – 3.6 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 3.1 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 29 March to 18 April (Bé 12.7 – 13.7°, pH 3.54 – 4.20, TA 5.50 – 3.74 g/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 18 March (Bé 13.0°, pH 3.60, TA 5.5 g/L). Final blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. The Reserve was made from the best batch of Cabernet Sauvignon and was mostly picked later on 21 April (Bé 13.5°,pH 3.8, TA 5.1 g/L). It spent 21 months in oak. Final blend: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1994

Incredibly different from the “regular” wine, with tremendous vibrancy and freshness to its succulent red and blackcurrant fruit, lovely saturation too.  Fine grained tannins seamlessly bed down the flavours, making for a long, persistent, very precise finish with wonderful gravelly minerality.  Terrific.  Alcohol: 13.5%

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1995

A powerhouse.  Rich, deep and ruffled, with transporting layers of cassis, plum, cherry, truffle and chocolate, this wine brings with it a tremendous sense of well being, harmony and balance.  A long, involving, supple finish has an attractive earthy ironstone, bloody tang and hints of dried roses.  Superb. Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: The 1995 vintage came after the hot and dry season of 1994. Like the previous year, little significant rainfall was recorded between October and the harvest in March. As in 1994, it is in these hot conditions that, if the vines are in good health and not carrying too much crop load, they achieve physiological ripeness and therefore the greatest fruit concentration. 1995 was one of the fastest ripening seasons ever and produced the highest quality of fruit. However, as the vines regulated themselves following the hot season of 1994, the crops were relatively low. This was the first year that we ceased making the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, since the wine quality of the individual batches was sufficiently good to make just one wine. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.4 tons per acre, Merlot – 3.5 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 3.7 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 March to 27 March (Bé 13.3 – 13.9°, pH 3.77 – 3.79, TA 5.6 – 5.0 g/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 2 March (Bé 13.1°, pH 3.60, TA 5.5 g/L). 50% of the wine was barrel fermented and 50% was left on skins for four weeks. The wine spent 17 months in oak, comprising 20% new, 30% one year and 50% two year old barrels. Final blend: 70% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 7% cabernet franc.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1996

This vintage is much spicier and earthier than the 95.  Liquorice, anise, warm brick/earth and eucalypt hints give lift to its generous plum fruit; cedar and chocolate follow through on a long, expressive finish. The tannins are melt in the mouth fine grained. Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: Following the drought conditions of the previous two years, 1996 saw the weather return to normal conditions. It was a warm and dry season leading into harvest, and the vines across the region produced good crops that were not stressed due to the climatic conditions. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.2 tons per acre, Merlot – 3.5 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 3.3 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon – 13 March to 27 March (Bé 12.9? – 14.0?, pH 3.48 – 3.63, TA 5.4 – 5.0 g/L), Merlot – 11 March (Bé 13.2?, pH 3.71, TA 5.2 g/L), Cabernet Franc – 28 March (Bé 13.5?, pH 3.60, TA 5.1 g/L) The wine underwent 10% barrel fermentation, with the remainder being left on skins. Of the wine, 40% was placed in new oak and left in barrel for 18 months. Final blend: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1997

Looking relatively developed and correspondingly looser knit than the 95 and 96, though it’s attractive enough with its fine tannins, chocolate and rich savoury, gamy, leather accented fleshy plum and cherry fruit.  Alcohol: 14%

Background: This year saw ample spring rainfall in the region. There was a mild warm ripening period, but rain came in early March. The vintage started and then stopped. However, the rain did not affect ripening of the crop due to the relatively low yields. The Indian summer which returned in late March (so typical of Margaret River) provided excellent final ripening for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.4 tons per acre, Merlot – 3 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 3.2 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 March to 10 April (Bé 13.0 – 14.6°, pH 3.70 – 3.71, TA 5.2 – 5.0 g/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 27 March (Bé 13.0°, pH 3.60, TA 4.6 g/L). The wine spent 15 months in oak and, of the barrels, 32% were new, 48% were one year old and 20% were two years old. Final blend: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1998

The white noise of cork taint detracts from this wine; it seems stripped – angular with drying tannins. Shame. Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: Unpredictable elements yet again caused the usual stresses and strains associated with harvest time. Two downpours of rain in March unexpectedly proved to be beneficial for vine health and flavour ripeness. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2.3 tons per acre, Merlot – 2.3 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 4 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 March to 15 April (Bé 13.1 – 13.7°, pH 3.56 – 3.83, TA 6.23 – 5.60 g/L), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 25 March (Bé 12.7°, pH 3.60,TA 6.0 g/L).  The wine spent 15 months in oak, of which 20% was new, 35% was one year old and 45% was two years old. Final blend: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1999

A very firmly structured, virile wine with terrific vitality, structure and depth.  Building in the mouth it reveals red currant and cherry as well as cassis fruit, subtly burnished with leather.  Top notes of anise and cedar spice offset an earthier undertow.  Lovely, sprightly too. Alcohol: 14%

Background: The early summer was cool with southerly winds dominating in this part of the season. This gave the vintage a late start and the grapes achieved flavour ripeness at lower sugar levels. Cyclone Vance, which created havoc around Australia, threatened the vintage just as the reds were approaching harvest. Fortunately, Vance diverted eastward and the reds were saved. After this nature turned on the most glorious Indian summer which lasted for weeks and produced one of the best red wine vintages of the decade. A small amount of Petit Verdot from the Mangan Vineyard was added to the wine. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.9 tons per acre, Merlot – 2.3 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 2 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon – 23 March to 12 April (Bé 13.1? – 14.4?, pH 3.61 – 3.80, TA 6.0 – 5.2 g/L). Merlot and Cabernet Franc – 4 March (Bé 13.3?, pH 3.50, TA 5.0 g/L). The wine spent 18 months in 50% new oak. Final blend: 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot.

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000

A fleshy, supple wine, coolly endowed with cassis, mulberry and plum, a touch of chocolate too. Very smooth and even in delivery so though quite primary in terms of flavour spectrum, it’s very approachable now. Lacks the layer and detail of the best wines. Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: Another unusual season. The hottest December on record was followed by rain in early January, Cyclones Steve, Norman and Olga created a bit of a touch and go vintage. The growing season was blessed with good rains which gave the vines good health and all grape varieties seemed to ripen at the same time, making space in the winery a problem. Red wines made were elegant, fragrant and attractive, even at a younger age which made them lighter than in the two previous years. The Cullen-Mangan vineyards provided small amounts of Petit Verdot and Malbec fruit. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.6 tons per acre, Merlot – 2 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc – 2.7 tons per acre, Mangan Petit Verdot – 0.5 tons per acre, Mangan Malbec – 0.5 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 March to 23 March, Bé 13.3 – 13.8°, pH 3.40 – 3.67, TA 8.0 – 6.0 g/L, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 3 March (Bé 13.1°, pH 3.4, TA 6.6 g/L), Malbec, 23 March (Bé 13.4°, pH 3.68, TA 5.2 g/L), Petit Verdot, 27 March (Bé 13.3°, pH          3.30, TA 10.5 g/L).  The wine was left in oak for 15 months, with 40% being in new barrels. Final blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2001

Tremendous depth of colour and a deeply flavoursome, vital palate, well supported by powerful, ripe taffeta tannins. Palate saturating, concentrated cassis and blackcurrant is complexed by savoury, mineral notes of black olive, kelp and gravel. With consummate balance, this accomplished wine is truly built for the long haul. Alcohol: 14%

Background: The driest season in Margaret River for 126 years. Possibly one of the most brilliant harvests for several years in terms of evenness of temperature and therefore ripening.  Both physiological ripeness and acid retention were at an optimum.  It was felt that organic practices used at Cullen Wines helped the flavour development in this dry vintage which is considered the best in Margaret River since 1999 and especially for Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine was renamed the Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot to honour the passing of Di Cullen. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.6 tons per acre, Merlot, 2.8 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon – 8 March to 27 March (Bé 13.0? – 14.4?, pH 3.48 – 3.53, TA 6.6 – 5.7 g/L), Merlot – 5 March (Bé 13.3?, pH 3.50, TA 7.5 g/L). The wine spent 18 months in 40% new oak. Final blend:75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002

A real contrast with the 2001 and, while it lacks the underpinning for seriously long term drinking, it’s an extremely elegant, perfumed wine with its cool, slightly stalky nose and perfumed, precise blackcurrant fruit. Cedar, dark chocolate and earth notes make for a very classic profile. Lovely now (as was an Imperial poured to drink, not taste, at the welcome dinner the previous evening). Alcohol: 13%

Background: A cool harvest producing fine and elegant wines.  Due to the even, cool temperatures of vintage, excellent acidity and perfumed aromas. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon-2.5 tons per acre, Merlot-1.3 tons per acre, Petit Verdot-1.9 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 13 March to 8 April (Bé 12.4 – 13.7°, pH 3.40 – 3.66, TA 7.9 – 6.0 g/L), Merlot, 12 March to 24 March (Bé 12.6 – 13.00°, pH 3.4 – 3.48, TA 7.2 – 6.15 g/L), Petit Verdot, 10 April (Bé 14.2°, pH 3.4 – 3.36, TA 7.2 – 9.07 g/L).  18 months in oak barrels of which 65% were new. Final blend: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2003

A handsomely proportioned vintage with a chunkiness/density to its dark chocolate, warm earth, cherry, berry and concentrated cassis.  Powerful but supple graphite tannins cradle the still youthful fruit.   Alcohol: 13.5%

Background: 2003 was a classic Margaret River vintage with vines showing good health leading to excellent physiological ripeness particularly in Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Rainfall throughout the growing season was less than average but did not cause any problems in terms of vine stress. In fact, vine health was so good that they kept on growing after veraison, which is unusual. Flavour and tannin ripeness was great for Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The Cabernet fruit showed a beautiful balance of flavours. Yields: Cabernet Sauvignon – 1.44 tons per acre, Malbec – 1.97 tons per acre, Merlot – 3.24 tons per acre, Petit Verdot – 1.12 tons per acre. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 March to 4 April (Bé 13.2 to 14.1º), pH 3.51 to 3.68, T/A 4.7 to 6.3 g/L, Malbec, 25 March (Bé 13.8º, pH 3.75, T/A 5.2 g/L), Merlot, 5 March to 23 March (Bé 12.3 to 14.0º, pH 3.42 to 3.80, T/A 5.2 to 8.1 g/L), Petit Verdot, 26 March (Bé 14.2º,pH 3.41, T/A 10.5 g/L). Separate parcels of fruit were fermented on skins from 7 to 28 days. The wine was aged in French oak barriques for an average of 15 months. 52% of these barrels were new. Final blend: 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2004

Deeply coloured with no less intensity on the palate, it nonetheless retains great elegance.  Beautifully balanced and long, languid even, it shows juicy blackcurrant and cassis with savoury liquorice and black olive.  Melt in the mouth chocolatey tannins complete the picture.  A seamless, very complete wine with outstanding polish, purity and personality.  And it’s still young.  Alcohol: 14%

Background: Good rainfall, which extended through until November in 2003, produced an excellent growing season for vintage 2004. This was conducive to both vine health and grape quality. The cool and dry conditions that prevailed during January and February led to the production of fruit with great balance and flavour. These qualities were subsequently retained despite the rapid ripening of grapes in mid March as a result of a heat wave. This spell of hot weather had a positive impact on the ripening of the red Bordeaux varieties used in the production of the 2004 Diana Madeline wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and even Cabernet Franc achieved optimum ripeness, exhibiting fleshy palates supported with supple tannins. Harvest details: Cabernet Sauvignon, 23rd March to 8th April (Bé 13.4 to 14.2°, pH 3.40 to 3.90, TA 5.25 to 6.80 g/L), Yield 2.48 tons per acre, Merlot, Harvest 22nd March (Bé 13.9°, pH 3.55, TA 6.15 g/L), Yield 3.36 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc, Harvest 20th March (Bé 13.5°, pH 3.53, TA 5.60 g/L), Yield 2.85 tons per acre. Separate parcels of fruit were fermented on skins from 8 to 29 days. The wine was then aged in French oak barriques for an average of 18 months. 51% of these barrels were new. Final blend: 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc. The first biodynamic vintage.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005

A very structured vintage, the fruit – deep, intense and very precise – firmly grasped by ripe but present tannins.  An extremely youthful, powerful wine.  Imposing even.  Buttoned up; keep.  Alcohol: 14%

Background: The dry and cool growing season produced fruit with very good natural acidities, good colour and flavour. Yields were slightly below average due to smaller bunch weights rather than less bunch numbers. The abundance of Marri blossom kept bird damaged fruit to a minimum. This was our second biodynamic vintage and we are very pleased with the perceived increase in fruit brightness. Harvest details: Cabernet Sauvignon, 11th to 29th March 2005 (Bé: 12.1o to 13.7, pH: 3.36 to 3.52, TA: 5.6 to 7.5 g/L), Yield: 1.9 tons per acre, Merlot, 13th March 2005 (Sugar level: 12.5, pH: 3.34, TA: 5.6 g/L), Yield: 1.35 tons per acre, Malbec, 29th March 2005 (Bé: 13.2, pH: 3.44, TA: 5.6 g/L), Yield: 2.25 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc, 14th March 2005 (Bé: 13.6, pH: 3.32, TA: 5.4 g/L) Yield: 1.4 tons per acre, Petit Verdot, 7th April 2005 (Bé: 12.8, pH: 3.03, TA: 7.8 g/L), Yield: 0.24 tons per acre. The grapes were vinified and aged separately. Treatment varies with each parcel. One parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon received cold pre-fermentation maceration for 3 days. Overall maceration times varied from 2 – 6 weeks depending upon individual assessment. All wines were pumped over for an hour each day. The wine spent 19 months in French oak barriques, 70% of which were new. The wine is bottled under 75% screw cap and 25% cork. Final blend: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006

Unsurprisingly in this cool year, the emphasis is on red fruits – redcurrant and cherry, fresh, yet with a creamy. sweet pureed character.  Tannins are ripe but present.  Very much a reflection of the vintage it’s charming if atypical.  Alcohol: 13%

Background: The exceptionally cool weather that prevailed during the growing season in December 2005 extended through the following months to vintage in 2006, which turned out to be the coolest since 1982. Although ripening was consequently delayed by more than a month beyond when it typically occurs at Cullen Wines, the fruit still developed perfect physiological ripeness. Phenological and physiological ripeness were achieved in the red grape varieties at lower sugar levels than normal and thus the red wines have lower alcohol levels than in the past, a characteristic we aim to continue in the future. The very cool conditions that prevailed throughout the 2006 summer resulted in very low yields of the Bordeaux grape varieties at Cullen Wines. Those conditions led, however, to the production of a very refined and elegant Diana Madeline. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 21st of April to 5th of May (Bé: 12.1 – 12.5, pH: 3.34 – 3.45, TA: 6.0 – 6.8), Yield: 1.78 tons per acre, Merlot, 7th of April (Bé: 12.6,pH: 3.46, TA: 6.52), Yield: 0.59 tons per acre, Malbec, 10th of April (Bé: 13.1, pH: 3.44, TA: 7.12), Yield: 0.76 tons per acre, Petit Verdot, 20th of April (Bé: 13.5, pH: 2.91, TA: 13.05),Yield: 0.62 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc, 11th of April (added to Merlot for processing and fermentation), Yield: 1.25 tons per acre. A very late harvest stretching into the beginning of May for some Cabernet Sauvignon batches. The cooler summer conditions led to low sugar levels in the fruit, and hence a Diana Madeline of only 12.8% alcohol. The wine spent an average of 15 months in French oak, of which 40% was new. Final blend: 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007

Sense of a sea-change here. A sublime one at that. The detail seems writ larger so, though deeply coloured and concentrated with classic cassis and cedar oak notes, there’s a sheer quality to its vital, silky fruit revealing great filigree and thread of dried herbs, olive stone, dried roses and earth. Seamlessly complex. Youthful but already deeply expressive of its terroir. Alcohol: 14%

Background: This is one of the greatest Diana Madelines. The outstanding quality of this wine reflects a combination of the excellent conditions that existed for all red grape varieties during the lead up to the 2007 vintage and the benefits of employing the best biodynamic practices.  The vines at the end of winter in 2006 were in exceptionally good health and thus able to capitalise fully on the stimulus provided by an unusually warm spring. The more rapid than usual growth of the vines in the spring resulted in the grapes of the early varieties being ready for harvesting before the end of January, which led to the earliest start to vintage ever recorded at Cullen Wines. Although spring and early summer temperatures were as much as 2.5?C above average, they never became excessive and the vines received the benefit of two good bursts of rainfall at the peak of their growing season.  The outstanding quality of the fruit that was produced, particularly the red varieties, during the warm vintage in 2007 provides good evidence that the vines on the Cullen Vineyards are able to adapt very successfully to increases in temperature during the lead up to vintage. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 7th to 15th of March (Bé: 13.4-14.1, pH:3.43 – 3.53,TA: 5.9 – 7.5), Yield: 1.84 tons per acre, Merlot, 22nd of February (Bé: 12.2, pH: 3.3, TA: 8.0), Yield: 2.1 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc, 7th of March (Bé: 13.8, pH: 3.44, TA: 6.75), Yield: 2.34 tons per acre, Petit Verdot,13th of March (Bé: 14.1,pH: 3.21,TA: 9.3), Yield: 0.90 tons per acre.  This wine spent an average time of 14 months in oak. Of this, 48% was new, 40% one year old and 12% two year old. Final blend: 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2008

I well remember a remarkable tasting of still fermenting samples of this wine with Vanya Cullen and her right hand man, Trevor Kent, when I swung by the winery in April 2008.  Some had been through the whole kit and caboodle – vibrating sorting table, elevator and basket press.  Others hadn’t.  I can recall wondering where the tannins had gone on some samples, so pure was the fruit and so gentle the extraction! And this wine seems a step further along (down on) the denier scale, such is its translucency. It shows perfumed and mineral-sluiced bright cassis with juicy redcurrants and pomegranate.  Dark chocolate too.  Prism-like tannins are super-refined, refracted even.  Again, though it’s intensely youthful, it’s as though this element of the wine  – the tannin structure – is a step further along in its evolution, such is its integration. Alcohol: 12.5%

Background: The substantial rainfall and moderate temperatures that prevailed during the spring and early summer of 2007 were ideal for encouraging growth and fruit development. However, the excessive rains and winds that were experienced on occasions during September and October did lead to some splicing of the vine leaves and a reduction in the volume of fruit. The warm temperatures in January, which only advanced the time of harvest slightly from the norm, proved ideal for optimising the final development of the fruit. The berries of all varieties were small and produced highly concentrated juices. Although there is every indication that 2008 will be an outstanding vintage for both white and red wines, the relatively low yields of some varieties will mean that production of some wines will be below average. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 3rd to 20th of March (Bé: 11.2 – 12.7, pH: 3.20 – 3.59, TA: 8.55 – 5.55), Yield: 2.53 tons per acre, Merlot, 29th of February (Bé: 12.1, pH: 3.39, TA: 7.35), Yield: 0.78 tons per hectare. This vintage was the first to utilise our newly acquired Mistral® apparatus, which removes the leaf material and infertile berries from the quality fruit in the winery, in addition to the normal hand sorting. Also purchased for this vintage was a new basket press through which all red ferments were pressed. These additions to processing in the cellar allowed us to achieve even cleaner fruit in our ferments, and finer tannins in the wines. Final blend: 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot.

Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009

I adore the 2009 Kevin John Chardonnay and, no surprises, the Diana Madeline has similar power and grace. Airily perfumed with dried roses and cassis, like the 2008, it has a mineral sluiced quality which extends to its slighter firmer (but ripe and refined) gravelly tannins.  A clear-eyed beauty with great levity, freshness and persistence.  But make no mistake, great intensity too and, like the 2007, I expect it to flesh out with a couple of years more bottle age under its belt.   Alcohol: 12.5%

Background: Vanya has referred to the 2009 vintage as the Mozart vintage because all of the red and white wines produced in that year are in perfect harmony and balance. Good rainfall in the spring of 2008 resulted in excellent development of the vines and the provision of underground moisture for the lead-up to vintage. A small amount of rainfall in January 2009 was followed by little or no rainfall and no unduly hot weather in the following two months, during which the vast majority of fruit was harvested. A dream vintage for a wine maker. The quality, purity and vibrancy of the fruit produced in 2009 are exquisitely expressed in the Diana Madeline of this year. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 10th to 30th of March (Bé:12.4 – 13.3, pH: 3.35 – 3.61, TA: 5.78 – 6.75). Yield: 2.03 tons per acre, Merlot, 11th of March (Sugar level: 12.8, pH: 3.48, TA: 6.9) Yield: 0.87 tons per acre, Malbec, Harvest: 2nd of March (Bé: 12.05, pH: 3.38, TA: 6.6), Yield: 1.32 tons per acre, Cabernet Franc, 9th of March (Bé: 12.6, pH: 3.49, TA: 7.05), Yield: 1.60 tons per acre. The wine for the 2009 Diana Madeline spent 13 months in French oak of which 55% was new. Final blend: 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 2% Malbec.

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010

This sample has great vitality and delicacy both to its juicy, palate saturating cedar-edged dark cassis fruit.  That cool, mineral-sluiced quality again too. Lovely fluidity.  Very promising.

Background:  The Cullen Wines Team couldn’t believe their good fortune as the weather conditions in late 2009 and early 2010 began to unfold and it became clear that 2010 was going to produce the fourth outstanding vintage on the trot. The good rainfall that fell in November helped the vines through some hot weather and prudent shoot and foliage trimming, aided by the numerous benefits of biodynamic viticulture, resulted in an increase in yields, but without any loss of quality. The Marri blossom in the late summer and early autumn of 2010 was profuse and consistent, which kept the silver eyes occupied and thus only some of the most vulnerable vines needed netting. The summer was slightly warmer and drier in 2010 than in 2009, resulting in the production of slightly richer wines in the more recent of those vintages. Harvest dates: Cabernet Sauvignon, 8th to 30th of March (Bé:12.3 – 13.1, pH: 3.36 – 3.50, TA: 5.9 – 6.97, Yield: 2.54 tons per acre, Merlot, 2nd of March (Sugar level: 12.0, pH: 3.3, TA: 7.35) Yield: 1.33 tons per acre, Malbec, 2nd of March (Bé: 13.1, pH: 3.45, TA: 7.2), Yield: 2.29 tons per acre, Petit Verdot, 28th of March (Bé: 12.2, pH: 3.09, TA: 8.9), Yield: 3.13 tons per acre. The 2010 Diana Madeline has been in oak for around 15 months. This wine, which is still in barrel, currently has 51% new French oak. Final blend: 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot.

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  1. Brucer

    I only saw one cork effected bottle from the 90s.
    Much better then the dreadful run of corked bottles from my cellar. I now only have bottles with screwcaps.

    • sarah

      Hi Luca, thanks for this – glad you enjoyed the report and yep – what a line up!

      I just accessed the WFW article – if you click on the hyperlink: Ahmed On the Vine Cullen, it takes you to another Ahmed On the Vine Cullen hyperlink – click on that and you should be able to download the pdf – sorry it’s a bit longwinded! Sarah


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