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Wine Legend: Cape Mentelle, Cabernet Sauvignon 1983

One of the first estates established in Margaret River...

Wine Legend: Cape Mentelle, Cabernet Sauvignon 1983, Margaret River, Western Australia

  • Bottles produced 15,600
  • Composition 98% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Malbec (field blend)
  • Yield 35hl/ha
  • Alcohol 13%
  • Release price A$13
  • Price today £210

A legend because…

David Hohnen was the winemaking wizard behind Cape Mentelle from 1976 and founded Cloudy Bay in New Zealand. Cape Mentelle was to become quite a large estate, with vineyards in different areas of Margaret River, but the Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced primarily from its 16ha vineyard in Wallcliffe, which was planted in 1970. The most prestigious award in the Australian wine show circuit is the Jimmy Watson Trophy, which Cape Mentelle won not only for this 1983 Cabernet but also for the preceding vintage.

Looking back

Cape Mentelle was founded in Margaret River in 1970, making it one of the first estates to be established in the region. Its wines, Hohnen admitted, were initially seen as too expensive, which hampered domestic sales in particular, but international distribution was boosted by its partnership with LVMH-owned Veuve Clicquot from 1990, in a deal that included Cloudy Bay. Hohnen sold his remaining interest in 2000, and Cape Mentelle and Cloudy Bay were fully absorbed into the LVMH luxury group. Cape Mentelle’s white wines were highly rated, but it was the outstanding Cabernets that captivated wine lovers, aided by the International Cabernet Tasting, established by Cape Mentelle in 1982. In 2003, David Hohnen ended his association with Cape Mentelle, and moved on to create his own brand, McHenry Hohnen.

The vintage

It was a very hot year in Western Australia, with drought conditions, but Cape Mentelle claims to have fared better than most, thanks to cool ocean breezes. The Cabernet grapes ripened two weeks earlier than on average, and were picked over a five-day period.

The terroir

The Wallcliffe Vineyard is planted midway between the town of Margaret River and the Indian ocean just 5km to the west, making it one of the cooler sectors of Margaret River. In 1983, 4.8ha were devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils are called ironstone and are granite-derived, with a deep red colour. Gravel and varying degrees of sand give excellent drainage, as well as good water retention.

The wine

After harvesting, the grapes were crushed and tipped into large fermenters with daily pumpovers for 10 days. The wine was transferred into large oak vats for the malolactic fermentation, then aged for 20 months in barriques, of which one-third were new. It was filtered shortly before bottling.

The reaction

In 1985, James Halliday, in an article about the wine, hailed it as an ‘immensely rich, robust and massively structured Cabernet Sauvignon which demands cellaring for a decade or more’. Stephen Brook first tasted the wine in 1988: ‘Deep purple-red. Sweet minty nose, quite restrained. Rich and rounded, not too much oak, excellent fruit and length.’ And 25 years later, in 2013: ‘Lightly herbaceous nose, with black cherry aromas. Supple, ripe, and quite concentrated, with firm tannins. It still has lift and texture and is far from tiring.’

Jancis Robinson commented in 2017: ‘Deep blackish ruby. Very accomplished harmony and it’s easy to see how it wowed the judges way back. It’s ageing well, though with a little kiss of tannin that’s likely to remain to the end of its days.’ Sarah Ahmed attended a vertical tasting in 2018 and noted: ‘Spicy oak and perfumed cassis on the nose which follow through on the palate. It still retains fruit power. Classic Margaret River eucalypt and dried herbs, with ripe but sturdy tannins and savoury meat pan juices to the finish.’

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