Absolutely classy red – 2008 Whalebone Merlot Cab Franc

Author: Andrew Graham
Source: Australian Wine Review
Review Date: Mar 2013

Another day, another dogma challenging wine. Here though, the question is not about climate challenging varieties (as it was with yesterday’s Domaine A Cabernet), but about regionally challenging blends, featuring two grapes that have been traditionally delegated to mere second string blending components in the Coonawarra/Wrattonbully construct.

In this case, those grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc, both of which make up just 1.8 hectares out of the 8 hectares of older plantings on the Whalebone vineyard property, the vines dating back to 1974. Dry grown and producing just 2 tonnes/hectare (0.8 tonnes/acre or 2/3rds the yield of Grand Cru Burgundy) these small, tough vines produce seriously concentrated grapes (and fittingly concentrated wines).

Concentration is not the reason why I’m writing about this Merlot Cabernet Franc instead of its brother, the Cabernet Shiraz though. Nor am I writing about this blend purely as it makes a better story. No, I’m writing about this because, when placed beside the more traditionally favoured Cabernet Shiraz blend, it is this wine that I think comes out as superior. Superior in both drinkability and interest that is, and a wine to remind exactly why right bank styles – when done well – really can captivate.

Part of the captivation with this red comes in the form of a vintage defying vibrancy, a sense that, whilst the late vintage heatwave tried its best to suck the life out of the grapes, these tough old vines managed to pull on through nicely.

That being said, there is no question that this is warm year wine – there is a hint of fruitcake shrivelling on the nose that the savoury coffee/moccha oak and such can’t quite compete with. It’s a well made fruitcake though, which means that whilst it comes on strong, the middle is rich and balanced. 

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Merlot is what drives the quality of this wine, that dusty edged, dark plum character generous but carrying the dry pluckiness of the grape. Cabernet Franc too contributes a vein of red fruit, a lightness and brightness that carries the whole way through the palate. Arguably, that palate is a little bound through the middle and could do with a fraction less alcohol sweetness and more linear tannins, but otherwise you can’t help but admire the old world, St Emilion inspired (and not one of those tacky new world aping St Emilion estates for that matter) structure driven style.

Unquestionably high quality and unique, this is absolutely classy red from go to woah. In a slightly more supporting vintage it could be a megastar.

Drink: 2013-2020+
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? As a conversation piece really. I like it muchly but not sure if I would really drunk much of it.

Original review:

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