Saturday 4 June 2011

Robert Mann, another terroir believer from the New World

‘The best thing a winemaker can do to make the wine better is nothing,’ says Robert Mann, the senior winemaker at Cape Mentelle. He learnt this during his six years at Hardy’s when the team tried to make every wine taste like Penfolds Grange and ended up over-extracting, over-oaking — basically over-making the wine. I'm sure a lot of winemakers would like to be in Robert's current position as he is making wine using some of the best grapes from the Margaret River.

Margaret River has been identified by Dr. Gladstones as the best region to make Bordeaux style wine in Australia, as it as it has a similar but more reliable climate and similar but more ancient gravelly soils, allowing vines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, to show their best. The only thing that separates Robert from the Old World crowd is his use of cultured rather than indigenous yeasts. Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon is restrained with a floral and fragrant nose not dissimilar to Chateau Margaux. However, I wonder if it would have the same savoury aroma that gives Chateau Margaux that extra complexity if Robert used wild fermentation?

While in Hong Kong, Robert hosted a Cabernet International Tasting, a blind tasting of 15 world-class Cabernet or Cabernet-dominated wines from Bordeaux, Tuscany, Napa, Margaret River and Coonawarra. The objective was not to rank the wines but to demonstrate how diverse Cabernet can be. This is a clever marketing tactic for New World producers as I’m sure most guests would find the New World wines to be of the same quality, if not better than their Old World counterparts because they are more accessible. Both Chile and New Zealand have staged comparative tastings similar to the one that saw top Bordeaux beaten by California in the famous ‘Judgement of Paris’ in 1976 that helped put California wines on the world wine map.

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