Boring into cabernets

By Kevin Ecock
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Last October Time magazine, in a review of the ‘World Atlas of Wine’, quoted Jancis Robinson as saying, ‘Everyone is getting tired of the same old varieties – cabernet and chardonnay’.

eh, really? Everyone? All Cabernet? All Chardonnay?

I suspect and hope the quote was the result of a judicious realignment of words to suit a magazine column. Had the writer in question been at this January’s Santa Rita Estates ‘South American Wine Workshop’ he would have heard Brian Croser not only extol the virtues of Cabernet Franc but insist that it is, ‘the most aristocratic of them all’ and is ‘the red grape of the future’. What is it about journalists who, at times, avoid the obvious with carefree abandon? What is actually wrong with realizing that varieties, varietals and wines are three different beasts? Indeed, what’s wrong with writing about plain old wines that people actually drink without finding it all a bit tedious? You know chardonnays and cabernets.

Hopefully we are not all tired of ‘cabernets’ because if we are we have a problem. Take a look at the Anderson and Aryal database of vines around the world. (It’s brilliant and free!*). They show that Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the most planted red grape variety in the world and also the one being most planted. Not a good time to get tired of its wine! To cap it all plantings in China are accelerating year on year. Time does mention the World Atlas of Wines report on China and that Hugh Johnson considers the Changyu Moser red from the Ningxia region, as a wine that ‘could easily pass for a minor Bordeaux’. Faint praise? Hard to tell. So I asked Lenz Moser about this when he travelled through Dublin recently. His answer was fascinating.

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from Anderson and Aryuls database : Cabernet Sauvignon on the move

Over the course of nineteen trips to China in the past eight years Austrian winemaker, international champion of Gruner Veltliner and MD of TxB International, Lenz Moser has developed a real and substantial consultancy experience with the modern wine trade in China. (TxB, by the by, stands for ‘Thanks Bob’ and pays homage to Lenz’s great friendship and collaboration with the late Robert Mondavi). Two years ago I tasted a Changyu Cabernet Gernischt. It was well made but stalky and overtly ‘bell pepperish’. Not surprising then to find that Gernischt is actually Carmenére, the grape that Croser defines a having a ‘double ghost of the green gene’ making it the most tannic of the Carmenet grapes and susceptible to being unpleasant if it’s not carefully and properly ripened/ reined in. Lenz is now against using the grape again, ‘I don’t mess with Gernischt anymore’. It seems that after he read Jancis Robinson’s ‘Wine Grapes’ he realised that his doubts that Gernischt was an indigenous variety were well founded. He laughed when he said, ‘She (Jancis) destroyed my story! I was a fan of Gernischt from a marketing point of view as it would have given the country (China) something special, something new .. but it was such a pain to blend in, even with Cabernet Sauvignon, because it was so green’. The DNA evidence presented by ‘Wine Grapes’ was convincing and even Changyu’s entry level Moser labels are now Cabernet Sauvignon based.

The Chateau Changyu Moser XV Grand Vin is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 5% Syrah aged for 12 months in 60% new oak barrels. The initial bottling, from the 2008 vintage, is sourced from 66 hectares of 12-year-old vines adjacent to the new €70 m Chateau Changyu Moser XV winery. The second label is called Moser Family (even in China!) and is a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.

What an incredible story and to cap it all Lenz revealed that he is currently investigating an oddity associated with grapes from his Cabernet Sauvignon Ningxia vines.

They appear to ripen fully and yet only produce a 12% vol wine! ‘Don’t ask me why this is’, said Lenz, ‘I don’t know yet, but intend to find out. At 12% potential we get perfect ripeness with a long hang time where sugar levels don’t go through the roof but ripen and mature at the same time as phenolic levels. It’s fascinating’.

Cabernets boring? I don’t think so. The story of ‘cabernets’ gets more interesting all of the time. Lucky us.

P1012575-001a Happy Lenz – he was in Dublin!

 * Anderson, K. and N. Aryal, Database of Regional, National and Global Winegrape Bearing Areas by Variety, 2000 and 2010, Wine Economics Research Centre, University of Adelaide, December 2013

 

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