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Vanya Cullen on the 2011 harvest, Margaret River plus a 2011 tasting across different harvest dates

Over the last two weeks I’ve posted links to my video interviews with several Australian producers about the 2011 vintage, assessing its highs and lows – which varieties performed best and which struggled with the unprecedented cool, wet weather.

The winners?  Well it depends, of course, Australia is a huge country, but in Victoria, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are looking very smart (and one Tim Kirk is quietly excited about his Pinot Noir in Canberra, New South Wales).

In South Australia, Clare Valley Rieslings are knockout, in Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc was the star and for reds, across the state, Cabernet Sauvignon appears to have outperformed Shiraz.

As for Western Australia, it escaped the bad weather, enjoying sunny, dry conditions for the fifth year in a row.  In the last of my video interviews from Liberty Wine’s Premium Australia tasting ( here), I speak with Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines, Margaret River (pictured) about the 2011 harvest, including the turbo-charge-like impact of the super moon on wild ferments at Cullen.

Where there was vineyard balance, she reckons Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon will be as great as the 2007 vintage, albeit “more classical” in style.  Semillon and Chardonnay also performed well.

 

Speaking more generally about vineyard balance in Australia, Cullen says while her country went through a stage that “was all about planting, not nurturing,” today there’s greater emphasis on soil health which, she points out, is key when “7t/acre of [top]soil is blown off Australian agricultural land each year.”  Cullen says this shift, combined with a better understanding of site and older vines means Australian wines are “getting better and better.”  (Pictured, Cullen’s viticulturist revels in the health of the soil)

Returning to the 2011 vintage at Cullen, what better way to assess it than to taste?   This I was able to do at Cullen Wine’s 40th anniversary celebrations in July (pictured below), which kicked off with a comparison of the component parts of yet to be finished wines from 2011, each from different harvest dates.  The Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in particular stood out, but there was plenty to excite – great intensity of flavour and at such low alcohol which, Cullen says, has been a happy outcome of biodynamic farming (click here for a video interview in which she discusses this phenomenon).

 

My tasting notes are preceded by Cullen’s overall assessment of the vintage for Cullen Wines and, for each sample, details of the date on which the grapes were harvested, the baumé (an indication of potential alcohol), whether it was a root, flower, leaf or fruit day, also the lunar cycle.  You will also find details of the wine’s “vital statistics” and, for the uninitiated- TA is total acidity, abv is alcohol by volume and pH refers to the pH scale which measures acidity.  The wines were tasted on the morning of Saturday 23 July 2011.

Watch this space for my notes on the subsequent tastings: thrilling verticals of the Chardonnay, Semillon/Sauvignon and Mangan Red over a decade plus a show stopping tasting of 33 vintages of Diana Madeline, Cullen’s flagship red.

Cullen Wines 2011 vintage assessment

“The very dry and warm Spring (only 111mm of rain from September 2010 onwards) combined with the consistently hot Summer led to the fruit of all grape varieties ripening within a relatively short period of time, and thus to harvest extending only from 1 February to 9 March. This was the earliest finish to vintage on record. It was also a vintage of super moons! The vintage conditions in 2011 are resulting in the production of white wines that have great flavour and elegance and to red wines with marvelously concentrated fruit flavours.” Despite the heat the wines, with flavour ripeness at relatively low baumes, the grapes were picked early and have held their acid well; alcohol levels are quite low.”

Cullen Wines 2011 sample tasting

1. Mangan Semillon 4

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 24th February (flower day, decreasing moon)

Baumé: 12.15

pH: 3.14

TA (g/L): 8.4

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 12.9

pH: 3.16

TA (g/L): 6.83

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.06

The Mangan vineyard, located just over the other side of Caves Road from the winery and original vineyard, was planted in 1995.  It shows gentle lemon meringue pie lemony, nutty notes and fresh apple on the nose.  In the mouth it’s lively with fresh squeezed lime and good line.  There’s a bosky, earthy note to the finish which I associate with this cuvee.

2. Mangan Sauvignon Blanc 2/5

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 13th & 16th February (flower day, increasing moon)

Baumé: 11.0-11.8

pH: 3.03-3.14

TA (g/L): 9.6-11.2

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 12.9

pH: 3.16

TA (g/L): 6.80

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.0

This sample has seen a touch of oak which Vanya Cullen believes is well suited to Margaret River’s powerful. Relatively broad shouldered Sauvignon.  It’s leaner, more citric with grassy hints, savoury bay leaf and that earthy, bosky note to the finish.  Well structured.

3. Cullen Semillon 1/2

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 11th & 18th February (fruit day mid moon cycle & fruit day, full moon)

Baumé: 10.2-11.4

pH: 3.04-3.12

TA (g/L): 6.75-8.2

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 11.1

pH: 3.04

TA (g/L): 6.9

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.05

The Cullen vineyard was planted to Sauvignon and Semillon in 1976.  With almost 20 years in hand, this Sauvignon has greater depth and penetration of flavour.  Really tightly focused, intense and long with fresh cut green apple.

4. Cullen Sauvignon Blanc 3

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 14th Feb (flower day, increasing moon)

Baumé: 10.8-11.7

pH: 3.06-3.27

TA (g/L): 8.1-9.5

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 11.7

pH: 3.05

TA (g/L): 7.88

Residual Sugar (g/L): 1.0

This sample has spent the longest time in oak, which is detectable on its subtly spicy nose and muscular palate.  Very poised, it’s intensely lemony and long; a sleek, powerful Sauvignon.

5.  Chardonnay

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 1st, 9th and 11th of February (fruit, descending moon; fruit ascending moon; fruit, mid moon cycle).

Baumé: 11.1-12.7

pH: 2.98-3.18

TA (g/L): 8.25-10.5

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 13.0

pH: 3.06

TA (g/L): 9.15

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.31

Vanya Cullen reckons 2011 is a great Chardonnay year.  This wine was fermented in 1 year old French oak and, since 2009, as much fruit as possible is basket pressed (as to which see my comments here).   It’s marvellously intense, muscular even, with tightly coiled cinnamon dusted dried pear fruit and no shortage of underpinning thanks to a steely, long thrust of grapefruity acidity which lends great precision and clarity.    Terrific promise.

6. Merlot 1 – Cullen

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 18th February (fruit day, full moon)

Baumé: 12.7

pH: 3.4

TA (g/L): 6.2

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 12.7

pH: 3.46

TA (g/L): 6.08

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.18

All the red samples, aged in 1 or 2 year old oak are destined for Diana Madeline; what fun to orchestrate these different notes.  While this, the first sample, is wonderfully expressive in terrms of perfume, it’s also tightly focused with bright plum and sappy blackberry fruit.  Fruit tannins make for a dry (by which I mean unsweet, not astringent) finish.

7. Malbec 1 – Mangan

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 22nd of February (flower day, decreasing moon)

Baumé: 12

pH: 3.38

TA (g/L): 8.45

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 11.6

pH:  3.47

TA (g/L): 6.3

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.16

Bright, sappy and mineral-sluiced, with its perfume and powdery tannins, I reckon this is as finely honed as Malbec comes.

8. Cabernet Sauvignon 1/Cabernet Franc

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 19th of February (fruit day, full moon (super moon) Perigee)

Baumé: 12.0-12.5

pH: 3.36

TA (g/L): 7.5

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 12.0

pH: 3.53

TA (g/L): 7.5

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.10

Cullen says this fruit is sourced from a beautiful block.  It shows hints of tobacco as well as dried roses on nose and palate, so plenty of lift to its fleshy, rich dark chocolate edged black fruits as well as darker liquorice and spice.   Ripe but present tannins make for a very complete wine.

9. Cabernet Sauvignon 2

Harvest Analysis:

Date:  20th of February (fruit day, Perigee, influence of full moon (super moon))

Baumé: 12.2

pH: 3.35

TA (g/L): 8.3

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 11.7

pH: 3.59

TA (g/L): 5.93

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.13

With its firm slightly chewy tannins and earthy notes, there’s more “bottom” to this sample –  a bass note upliftingly scented with roses.

10. Cabernet Sauvignon 8

Harvest Analysis:

Date: 8th of March (fruit day, increasing moon)

Baumé: 12.8

pH: 3.62

TA (g/L): 6.3

Current Wine Analysis:

Alcohol: 12.4

pH: 3.72

TA (g/L): 5.4

Residual Sugar (g/L): 0.21
My pick of the bunch, this component really blew me away – liltingly perfumed and leavened on the palate it’s elegant and intense, with an amazing clarity and brightness to its blackcurrant and red cherry fruit.  Fine powdery seamless tannins caress the mouth and make for a long, lingering finish.  Fabulous.

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