An exceptionally good year in South Australia; the harvest in New South Wales was spoiled by rain
Its an interesting phenomenon, but as time marches on the 1990 vintage may ultimately be downgraded by close followers of mature Australian wine. The reason? Theres little doubt that at the time it was one of the most exciting of all Australian red wine vintages. The season began without much rain and continued dry under a warm to hot sun, enabling growers on the southern and eastern sides of the continent to harvest fruit at what was considered at the time to be optimal ripeness. The wines began full of flavour and concentration, powerfully structured and seemingly able to live forever. What was feared at the time and has since been confirmed at the tasting table is that many makers were caught unawares by the opportunity to make richer wines than usual and didnt handle them as well as they might have done. There wasnt nearly as much knowledge in Australia about the handling of tannins and too many of the 1990 reds are harder and blockier than they might have been if made today. So, a great vintage in the vineyard could have had some of its potential glossiness slightly tarnished by its makers.
However, there are plenty of great Australian 1990s to justify the rating given above. Coonawarra had an exceptional season which resulted in red wines of unusual concentration and extract, just like virtually each of the major South Australian regions. The Yarra Valley produced some classic and refined cabernet blends, the Barossa some memorable and concentrated shirazes. The better reds from Margaret River and the Great Southern have shown a slightly disappointing green edge as they have matured, but Western Australia did miss the extremes of the eastern summer.
The list of the best 1990 Australian reds resembles an Australian red wine Hall of Fame. Penfolds produced one of the best Granges for the last two decades and a memorable Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines, like the dense and powerful Henschke Hill of Grace and Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon (both Eden Valley), are nowhere near ready to open. Mount Mary hit something of an apogee in 1990 with its Cabernet Quintet (Yarra Valley), while Yarra Yerings Dry Red No. 1 (Yarra Valley) and the Parker Terra Rossa First Growth (Coonawarra) are as clear a statement of style as their makers could deliver. Other highlights are the first Wynns Michael Shiraz since 1955 and a superb Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon (both Coonawarra) from the same maker.