Master blend

(by peter)

Master blend tasting Nov 13 IIThose who fear scores, tasting notes and Cabernet blends – look away now.

Below are the results – both personal and global – of the 2009 vintage Master Blend Classification tasting. This annual event, now in its second year, brings 30 top Cabernet-based blends from the same vintage around the world in a blind tasting conducted in three countries: UK, Canada and Australia. It’s organized by Australian producer Wolf Blass to mark the release of its Black Label blend. (You can read my report from last year’s 2008 vintage tasting here.)

I think it’s fair to say that the wine world is ambivalent about this kind of blind tasting.  As am I, to a certain extent. I think the danger is that too much can be read into the results – be it by enthusiastic producers, commentators or drinkers.

But I also like them because they can offer a fresh perspective on the world of wine. And, as a participant, they offer a fascinating first-hand perspective on some great producers in the same vintage, and insights into stylistic and winemaking trends around the globe.

By way of quick comment, the global results saw four wines come out on top: Château Léoville-Las Cases, Wolf Blass Black Label, Château Latour and Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. But the results were grouped fairly closely – the top-rated wines scored 92 points, while the bottom-rated wines scored 86. Only eight wines were scored under 90 points.

As you’d expect, there were more variations on a personal level. My top wine was Château Mouton Rothschild, which I scored at 97/100; my least favourite wine was Sassicaia, which I had at 78/100. I suppose you could say I’m a Bordeaux fan: seven out of my top 10 were clarets. I differed from the global results in a number of ways, preferring Mount Mary Reflexion to the average result, for example (it came last), but not rating Wolf Blass Black Label very highly. (I also, on a personal level, didn’t rate Lafite nearly as highly as when I’d tried it at the IMW 2009 Bordeaux tasting a few weeks before, perhaps a bit more closed and less showy on this occasion.)

Rather than scores, however, what was most interesting was what distinguished the successful wines from the duds.

In my view, Cabernet blends can be sensational wines but need to have balance, scent and savoury appeal above all. Wines that fall into the trip of being over-ripe, overly alcoholic, over-oaked are just as bad as those that are lean, green and under-ripe. Cabernet loses all its charm in such wines. (My top seven wines were all 13.5% alcohol or under.) Cabernet should provide a firm backbone to a wine – fresh acidity, plentiful yet fine tannins – that can then be fleshed out, or rendered more complex and alluring by the deft addition of other varieties. It should never fall into excess and should always strive for graceful, savoury appeal,  refreshment value and, for the best wines, an ability to age well in the bottle.

It was interesting to see how the London tasting was picked up on both by the Drinks Business and Liv-Ex (the latter’s headline reading: ‘Ducru-Beaucaillou 2009 declared world’s best Cabernet blend’).  It’s important to add that Wolf Blass head winemaker Chris Hatcher was tasting with all the groups and his scores were included in the final computations. You can also read the official results from Wolf Blass in pdf format (including breakdowns of the individual tastings and results, plus details on the tasters and format) here: MBC 2013 Media Toolkit1

Master blend tasting panorama

Peter’s ranking (all 2009s, tasted blind, my score out of 100 in brackets)

  1. Château Mouton Rothschild (97)
  2. Château Léoville Barton (96)
  3. Château Margaux (95)
  4. Ridge Monte Bello (94)
  5. Mount Mary Reflexion (94)
  6. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (93)
  7. Château Leoville-Las Cases (92)
  8. Joseph Phelps Insignia (92)
  9. Château Haut Brion (91)
  10. Château Latour (90)
  11. Antinori Solaia (90)
  12. Seña (90)
  13. Vasse Felix Heytesbury (90)
  14. Cullen Diana Madeline (89)
  15. Château Cos d’Estournel (88)
  16. Henschke Cyril Henschke (87)
  17. Ornellaia (87)
  18. Château Lafite Rothschild (86)
  19. Château Lynch-Bages (86)
  20. Vina Almaviva (86)
  21. Château Montrose (85)
  22. Harlan Proprietary Red (85)
  23. Wolf Blass Black Label (85)
  24. Kanonkop Paul Sauer (84)
  25. Opus One (84)
  26. Wendouree (84)
  27. Château Beychevelle (83)
  28. Château Pichon Lalande (82)
  29. Dominus Estate (79)
  30. Sassicaia (78)

Global ranking (global average scores out of 100 in brackets)

  1. Master blend tasting Nov 13 IVChâteau Leoville-Las Cases (92)
  2. Wolf Blass Black Label (92)
  3. Château Latour (92)
  4. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (92)
  5. Joseph Phelps Insignia (91)
  6. Château Mouton Rothschild (91)
  7. Château Lynch-Bages (91)
  8. Opus One (91)
  9. Château Montrose (91)
  10. Château Léoville Barton (91)
  11. Château Lafite Rothschild (91)
  12. Château Cos d’Estournel (91)
  13. Château Beychevelle (91)
  14. Ridge Monte Bello (91)
  15. Antinori Solaia (91)
  16. Vina Almaviva (90)
  17. Ornellaia (90)
  18. Harlan Proprietary Red (90)
  19. Château Haut Brion (90)
  20. Château Margaux (90)
  21. Château Pichon Lalande (90)
  22. Henschke Cyril Henschke (90)
  23. Seña (89)
  24. Dominus Estate (89)
  25. Vasse Felix Heytesbury (89)
  26. Kanonkop Paul Sauer (88)
  27. Cullen Diana Madeline (88)
  28. Wendouree (87)
  29. Sassicaia (86)
  30. Mount Mary Reflexion (86)


  • Note that the average scores and rankings included all the tasters (Sarah Ahmed, Gerard Basset MW MS OBE, Richard Hemming, Martin Moran MW, Patrick Schmitt, Ole Troelso, John Stimpfig) plus Wolf Blass head winemaker Chris Hatcher
  • CS = Cabernet Sauvignon, Me = Merlot, Mal = Malbec, CFr = Cabernet Franc, PV = Petit Verdot, Sg = Sangiovese, Sy = Syrah

Château Mouton Rothschild 2009, Pauillac, 13% (97/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) LOVELY toasty charry dark fruit aromas. Seems classy. Very complex tobacco scent, seems really exciting. Layered, fine, complex, scented, invigorating. Brisk acidity too! Could be Lafite… Seems really focused, fine, linear, doesn’t give much in terms of fleshy midriff but is so super laser focused that it’s intense and compelling. Maybe just a touch more alcohol than you’d expect from Lafite, though… But it’s gravelly, scented, powerful, driven, savoury. Could be Mouton too I suppose. Needs to unfurl but pretty compelling stuff. (88 CS, 12 Me) (AUS $1,878) (Global average: 91; UK average: 93)

Château Léoville Barton 2009, St Julien, 13% (96/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Beautiful dark ruby. Leaping toasty charry roasted fruit nose, reminiscent of Margaux. Herbs and flowers too. Tobacco and cedar emerge as well. Fluid, lifted attack with juice and graphite depths. Very fine, firm. It’s a journey on the palate, you want to follow it and find out more. Flecked with nuance. Lovely savoury elegant fine textured filigree depths. So long and resonant. Such energy but class. THIS is how Cab is done, if you want to know. Very long, very fine. Touch of heat and looseness on finish but that might be a vintage thing. Beautiful Cab: defined, chiseled, intriguing, ageworthy. VVG. Tiny bit hot/big on finish. (77 CS, 22.5 Me 0.5 CFr) (AUS $234) (Global average: 91, UK average: 92)

Château Margaux 2009, Margaux, 13.5% (95/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Oh now we’re talking. Not the deepest but fabulous toasty smoky nose. Sappy too. This is reminiscent of Margaux. Gorgeous! Just love that aroma. Plush texture on attack. Silky. Aware of depths, though. Resonance of graphite, tobacco, roasted herbs and dark fruit. Lovely beautiful stuff. Maybe a touch overdone on the finish..? But the architecture, texture, complexity is pretty stunning. It’s exponential. But at its heart beautiful Cabernet. Layered, fine, noble. A bit too big on finish, yes, which detracts – such a shame, but this is wonderful Cab. (87 CS, 9 Me, 2 CFR, 2 PV) (AUS $2299) (Global average: 90, UK average: 92)

Ridge Monte Bello 2009, 13.5% (94/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deepish hue. Enveloping aromas. Complex high-toned very woody. Maybe a touch too woody? Some VA here as well. Bit charry. Glossy impression but deep, broad, spicy, fine. Quite a wine. Lots going on here, pretty compelling, if a bit overdone. Slight touch of brett too? It’s all going on. Banana notes as well so maybe some American oak here. I do like the grip on the finish, though. This will polarize people. I think it’s very young, so not really fair to judge it definitively just yet. The tannins are a bit austere. But I’d back this, it has the acidity and juice and grip and firm tannin to last and become really complex. Maybe just tiny bit hot. (72 CS, 22 Me, 6 PV) (AUS $169) (Global average: 91; UK average: 93)

Mount Mary Reflexion 2009, Yarra, 12.6% (94/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Paleish in context. Piercing nose – leather and roasted beans and ash. Maybe also a little brett. Seems a bit out there. This will be a wine that polarizes people. Very leafy, very earthy, very green bean. Seems Western Australian. Lots of energy. Lots of baccy too, touch leather – seems a bit prematurely evolved to be honest. But that baccy richness and slight sweetness of fruit balances out the acidity and actually works quite well. Really nice style, if a bit weird. Acidity seems a tiny bit jarring, maybe added, but really the juicy redcurrant tobacco style is pretty classy and winning. Gastronomic. Mouth-watering style. (47 CS, 31 Me, 15 CFr, 4 Mal, 3 PV) (AUS $150) (Global average: 86, UK average: 85)

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2009, St Julien, 13.5% (93/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Bretty, elegant dark fruit. Savoury. A bit feral. Enticing. Graphite and cedar complexity, also meaty feral earthy notes too. Very fine, very long, very complex. Layered. Brett works. This is beautiful wine now, albeit not for everyone. I’d put this in Bordeaux…. Lovely gravelly savoury tannin, focus, not OTT on finish, real depths. Will polarize people due to its brett but as a wine, I love it, and tannins not dried out. Will be inherently variable though. (85 CS, 15Me) (AUS $575) (Global average: 92; UK average: 94)

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2009, St Julien, 13.5% (92/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Creamy oak, dark fruit. Not super characterful on the nose, albeit a bit heady. Juicy palate. Fine grainy tannins. A sleeper! I like this. A bit hot and broad but the tannin is lovely, it’s nicely understated, not too sweet: it’s savoury. Could be a very elegant New World style but on balance it seems more like a modern Bordeaux with ripeness but also balance and grounding. Nice savoury nutty herbal tones. Very good. (76 CS, 15 Me, 9 CFr) (AUS $675) (Global average: 92, UK average: 93)

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009, Napa, 14.5% (92/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep colour. Creamy minty dark fruit initially. Deep dark rich velvety fruit. Seems New World. Roasted fruit, ripe rich glossy fruit. On the palate the tannins are immediately noticeable. Pretty aggressive – but very fine, mouth-coating. I’d say this is a super classy New World style made with an Old World mentality. It could be bullish Bordeaux or maybe Italy but I’d go California hillside site. Lots of extraction but the wine carries it. Similarly alcohol pretty high but again in balance. This is very young and needs time, at least 5-10 years. Love those tannins. Just worry about the ripe fruit and alcohol on finish though. (83 CS, 13PV, 4Mal) (AUS $174) (Global average: 91, UK average: 92)

Master blend tasting Nov 13 IIIChâteau Haut-Brion 2009, Pessac-Léognan, 14.5% (91/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Not super deep and quite reticent aromatically. Opens up with leafy red fruit. But not super shouty. Herbal but also plummy fruit. Has a freshness running through it. Flirts with leanness and green tannins. Does it veer too much into that camp? I’d bet this will soften and age well, but it needs at least 5-10 years. It’s just a bit too lean at the mo. Nice gravelly finish. I’d back this but it’s showing a bit hard at the moment. And a bit alcoholic, which brings me down a bit further. (46 CS, 40 Me, 14 CFr) (AUS $1749) (Global average: 90, UK average: 90)

Château Latour 2009, Pauillac, 14% (90/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deepish. Seems quite high-toned, floral, along with creamy and glossy dark fruit. Attractive but might it be overly polished? Roasted fruit, layered, complex. Very fine tannin. Really classy. But very big alcohol. This is a MASSIVE wine, exponential in effect and awesome in power. But a bit big for me! It will improve with age by all means, lovely tannin, but I’d worry about the alcohol. (91.3 CS, 8.7 Me) (AUS $2400) (Global average: 92, UK average: 93)

Solaia 2009, Tuscany, 14% (90/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Mid-ruby. Reticent initially. Leathery depths. Doesn’t give that much. It’s sinewy, creamy, caramel. Fine. But also pretty hot and a bit imbalanced in this sense. Trying hard, lacks real cogency and finesse. Hard to place this. Seems to have NW fire and kick but also lovely OW tannic concentration, finesse and savoury elements. (75 CS, 20 Sg, 5 CFr) (AUS $262) (Global average: 91, UK average: 91)

Seña 2009, Aconcagua, 14.5% (90/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Not the deepest hue. Super resinous, minty, eucalpyt aromas. Seems Chilean.  Dense, dark palate, good juicy acidity and layers, complex. Some blackcurrant pastille flavours too though, which jars a bit. Quite hot and generous on the finish. Actually there’s a nice harmony here, albeit the garrulous style, sweet fruit, warm finish. Touch of age suits it. I’d prefer less sweet fruit and alcohol but that said it’s pretty decent in its context, with harmony and cogency and length. (54 CS, 21 Carm, 16 Me, 6 PV, 3 CFr) (AUS $190) (Global average: 89, UK average: 88)

Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2009, Margaret River, 14.5% (90/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Not super deep. Scented: talc plus green bean. Western Australia? Juicy, lively, herbal. Gravelly tannin. Classy, long, focused, linear. Like this! Gastronomic style. Difficult to place, though. Definitely has some punchy alcohol on the finish. Like the acidity and focus but alcohol is a bit concerning. Nice, edgy style tho. (75 CS, 15 PV, 10 Mal) (AUS $90) (Global average: 89, UK average: 89)

Cullen Diana Madeline 2009, Margaret River, 12.5% (89/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Fairly pale in context. Creamy caramel tones initially. Then pretty pungent leafy green bean, seems Western Australian. Crème caramel with green beans is over-riding impression on nose. Fluid, juicy palate, nice green bean freshness. It’s focused, lively and refreshing – gastronomic in style – but it lacks real complexity and profundity. Also lacks beguiling scent. But in this context it’s very nice, well done.  (88 CS, 6CFr, 4 Me, 2 Mal) (AUS $101) (Global average: 88, UK average: 88)

Château Cos d’Estournel 2009, St Estephe, 14.5% (88/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Inviting though subtle smoky leathery dark fruit aromas. Touch bacon. Fine texture. Dark fruit layers. Very impressive but also pretty hot on the finish. Has a familiarity to it…could be New World. Just too much tannin and alcohol to be really balanced but has some nice elements as well. (65 CS, 33 Me, 2 CFr) (AUS $850) (Global average: 91, UK average: 91)

Henschke Cyril Henschke 2009, Eden Valley, 14% (87/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deepish hue. Charred red pepper aromas: smoky, oaky, rich, bloody. Seems New World, maybe California? Bright juicy red plum fruit on the palate. Joyful and friendly but lacks persistence on the finish and back palate. All a bit pastille fruit and no real structure and drive here. Seems more Australian all-told. Touch of elegant leather though. Doesn’t quite hang together, despite some nice elements. (81 CS, 13 CFr, 6 Me) (AUS $130) (Global average: 90, UK average: 90)

Ornellaia 2009, Bolgheri, 14.5% (87/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep. Dark bloody renal depths here. Interesting, if a bit muddled and odd. Stewed plum. Fine firm tannin. Lots of it. Seems classic and refined. But just with a slightly odd spirit stewed plum overlay. The structure is fine, the flavours jar. Ill at ease – awkward bottle? Might well be Italian. (52 CS, 22 Me, 21 CFr, 5 PV) (AUS $250) (Global average: 90, UK average: 90)

Château Lafite Rothschild 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% (86/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Complex savoury aromas, with hints of leather and baccy. Maybe a touch bretty but it’s very attractive. Also get a floral and green bean character coming through. That briney edge continues on palate, where green bean comes through, also with pretty pinched tannins. It’s a bit on the raw side. Will this soften and open up? It will need to. Not super convincing at this stage, seems closed and a bit angular. But it does just have a certain savoury appeal to it…(82.5 CS, 17 Me, 0.5CFr) (AUS $2500)  (Global average: 91, UK average: 91)

Château Lynch-Bages 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% (86/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Juicy dark fruit. Doesn’t seem exceptional but could just be reticent. Slightly jammy/earthy. Fine tannin, pretty savoury, doesn’t seem sweet in any way. Which is quite inviting really. Just lacks real grace on the nose. And a bit overdone on the tannins. Some nice elements but doesn’t really come together. (76 CS, 18 Me, 4 CFr, 2 PV) (AUS $205) (Global average: 91, UK average: 91)

Viña Almaviva 2009, Maipo, 14.5% (86/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep colour. Very creamy. Caramel. Stewy rubbery dark fruits. Seems Chilean, but somewhat stereotypically. Strawberry compote flavours. Big, grainy, boisterous. A bit too big and sweet for my liking. Briary fruit. The various different parts don’t really coalesce into one meaningful whole. Shame. (73 CS, 22 Carmenere, 4 CFr, 1 Me) (AUS $119) (Global average: 90UK average: 90)

Château Montrose 2009, St Estèphe, 14% (85/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep hue, youthful. Elegant aromas: herbal leafy tobacco dark fruit. Opens up with slightly stewy dark fruit. A bit reduced? Some stewy floral dark fruit plum prune. Not the cleanest or most convincing. Fine dense tannin but it’s leathery, metallic and unyielding on the palate. Lacks scent and plumpness mid-palate. There is something here that’s decent – call it savoury firmness – but it lacks length and grace. Young? Maybe, but even so I wouldn’t back it. Trying too hard to be sexy and boisterous. (65 CS, 29 Me, 6CF & PV) (AUS $400) (Global average: 91, UK average: 92)

Harlan Proprietary Red 2009, Napa, 14.5% (85/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep. Leafy caramel. Slightly spirit aromas. Nose really doesn’t give much. Hot, hard, graceless. *rinses palate with water* Just goes ballistic on the alcohol on the finish. There is some nice tannin here and savoury grounding but it’s just too hot, sadly. (AUS $739) (Global average: 90, UK average: 91)

Wolf Blass Black Label 2009, South Australia, 15% (85/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Glossy pastilles with a touch of mint. This one definitely seems South Australian. Minty rich dark fruit, envelops the palate. Sweet fruit, fiery alcohol, added acidity. It’s a bit contrived, though the added acidity does have some nice red fruit character. Lots here but a bit obvious, needs more restraint and harmony and subtlety. (47 CS, 47 Sh, 6 Mal) (AUS $139) (Global average: 92, UK average: 93)

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2009, Stellenbosch, 14% (84/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Grassy, dusty, gently resinous. Seems a bit green. And earthy. Oak is raw, tannins hard, it’s all a bit contrived and trying too hard. Seems manufactured. Stodgy. Not long at all. Not a wine that has much to recommend it. Age may soften it but I doubt it will lengthen it or broaden its appeal(69 CS, 19 Me, 12 CFr) (AUS $47) (Global average: 88, UK average: 87)

Opus One 2009, Napa, 14.5% (84/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep. Leafy dark fruit. Some creamy high tones. Seems relatively simple. Quite hard on the tannin, bit alcoholic, lacking focus on the finish. Sinewy. Not bad but a bit simplistic in the context. Maybe a tiny bit oxidized? (81 CS, 9 CFr, 6PV, 3 Me, 1 Mal) (AUS $246) (Global average: 91, UK average: 88)

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2009, Clare Valley, 13.8% (84/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Dark. Pure Ribena aromas. Hint of mint. Seems really confected and slightly medicinal. Not super attractive. It tastes like menthol pastille cough sweets. Pretty simple. And very Australian. It does have some nice grainy tannin but the fruit is so confected it’s hard to see past it. Not the most pleasant tasting experience. (60 CS, 40 Mal) (AUS $85) (Global average: 87, UK average: 86)

Château Beychevelle 2009, St Julien, 13.5% (83/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Quite caramel. Some leafy dark fruit and plum too. Oak evident. Plus roasted leaf. Quite aggressive on the tannin, lacks the flesh to really balance it out. Hard and mean on the finish. Not a very attractive Cabernet. (46 CS, 44 Me, 6 CFr, 4 PV) (AUS $158) (Global average: 91, UK average: 90)

Château Pichon Lalande 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% (82/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Creamy leafy baccy herbal aromas. Seems classic OW, perhaps Bdx. Grassy leafy hints. Really quite short and a little bit mean. Grainy and lean. No no. (75 CS, 20 Me, 5PV) (AUS $399) (Global average: 90, UK average: 90)

Dominus Estate 2009, Napa, 14.5% (79/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Deep. Bit Ribena-esque. Seems simple, even on 2nd swirl. This is utterly out of place here. Simple baked confected jammy fruit. Fiery alcohol, really prickly (I’d say 15% or so), hollow, a travesty of Cabernet. Could be Grenache. Has no place on a table. Caricature. (86 CS, 10 CFr, 4 PV) (AUS $180) (Global average: 89, UK average: 89)

Sassicaia 2009, Tuscany, 14% (78/100, PR, 20 Nov 13) Quite pale. Dusty, leafy., grassy initially. Then a bit of warm earth. Grassy, metallic, hay. Dried cumin. Weird! Really drying and firm, stodgy, has no real length to it, sits bristling mid-palate. Crème caramel too. Confected, weird, borderline faulty. (85 CS, 15 CFr) (AUS $218) (Global average: 86, UK average: 85)