I have been eagerly awaiting 1st January 2022 for my Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 to become a year older and so, it seems to me, ripe for sampling. Whilst the start of the year means that, in England, it is grey, wet and cold, at least one’s wines get a year older!
Cape Mentelle used to be owned by David Hohnen and he had some great vineyards producing very fine wine. From Chardonnay to Zinfandel, they were always high quality and a lot of fun.
I think ‘fun’ was more the aim rather than peerless quality under Hohnen. However, since he had some of the oldest and best situated vineyards in the premium Margaret River region, his vineyards were a prize that one with large financial muscles would be keen to acquire.
Financial muscles do not get much larger than LVMH’s and they snapped up Cape Mentelle’s premium Cabernet and Chardonnay vineyards in the early noughties. LVMH’s Australian head chap, the gifted, charming and now sadly departed Dr Tony Jordan, was installed as chief winemaker and the focus very definitely changed from ‘fun’ to ‘quality’.
It took me a decade to find a bottle of the new-style Cabernet Sauvignon at a time when I had money. LVMH charged three times the amount I used to pay for the old Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, so acquiring a single bottle, with the intention of aging it, left my debit card smoking.
Now it is 2022 the wine is officially ten years old, and I consider that long enough to assess whether the new owners have managed to squeeze a few more drops of quality from their Cabernet Sauvignon vines than Hohnen could.
Let us drink and may the opinions flow like piss from a teenager after three litres of White Diamond cider!
Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Cape Mentelle
This has been under a screwcap (good!) since bottling so I will give it a quick decant as there are reductive hints on the nose. They have blown off after a few minutes in the jug and it seems quite attractive.
This is not a typical Cabernet Sauvignon nose of cedar wood, pencil shavings and cigar boxes, it primarily features fruit.
There are fresh blackcurrants and blackberries and shades of soft, mature plummy-ness. This carries its 14% alcohol well and does not seem heavy or ponderous.
Indeed, everything on the nose seems quite elegant and refined, not explosive but understated. This is quite different to Hohnen’s laddish Aussie Claret, and I think this is an improvement.
What it is not is spell-bindingly complex. Sure, there is the fruit and earthiness, but not much else. It smells very nice and refined, very pleasant, but there is not much here for your uber wine pervert to work themselves up into a frenzy about.
This primacy of fruit, earthiness and little else is how I remember that Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon of old and so it could well be that this is the terroir of the vineyard speaking. If this is the case, Cape Mentelle’s terroir is not all that engaging as far as Cabernet Sauvignon goes.
The palate is much the same. There is a lot of ripe fruit and a bit of earthiness; that is about it as far as flavours go.
The tannic structure has some elegance and is kept energetic by a good vein of acidity. It carries its alcohol well and does not seem at all exhausting to drink. This is a nimpie of praise I will throw it. I was worried it would be an Australian booze monster that will have turned to soup after ten years.
Luckily it is not like this at all. Indeed, the positive qualities make it deserve more than a tiny morsel of praise. It has good fruit and a reasonably vivacious, elegant palate. There may not be that much else after that, but these characteristics make it seem like a quite fun interpretation of the Bordeaux-style; Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon is still proper Aussie Claret!
The vile new label and inflated price are a bit of a fallaxity. Do not be deceived, it is as true to the Cape Mentelle terroir as it ever was. Alas, that terroir is simply quite dull. It may produce a solidly-performing, reasonably charming interpretation of the Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux idiom, but do not expect layers of involute sophistication.
This has not started its absumption yet, it has plenty of years of life ahead of it – it is just that those years, whilst reasonably fun, will not be all that interesting. I would get drinking if I were you.
I did not put this in the note as I felt I had already damned this enough with faint praise, but if you want Cabernet-/Bordeaux-blends that go beyond ‘quite nice’ to having characteristics like ‘complexity’, ‘length’ and ‘sophistication’, usually for less than the asking price of this, go to your South African pusher-man.
Wines like Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Thelema Rabelais, Stark-Conde Three Pines and Oude Nektar, MR de Compostella and the like are just as enjoyable as this whilst being far more compelling, engaging entities that are really worth your time aging. Much better than this Cape Mentelle.