Wakefield Estate 2005 and St. Andrews 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
Family-owned Taylor Wines of South Australia's Clare Valley exports under the Wakefield
label to avoid trademark conflict with Portugal's venerable Taylor family (associated with port
wine since the 1830s). By the standards of the modern Australian wine industry, in fact, the
Clare Valley Taylors have been at it quite some time themselves; they purchased their first
land by the Wakefield River in Auburn in 1969. Through ups, down, smooth patches and
bumps they have been pursuing their vinous vision ever since. The firm's winery forms the
centerpiece of nearly 1000 acres of vineyards, making it one of the largest single-estate
wineries in the country. In a land known for huge, super-efficient beverage conglomerates,
Taylor holds its own as a family concern.
The Clare Valley, about 100 miles north of Adelaide, benefits from both altitude and an excellent diurnal temperature range. The hot days and cool nights make for balanced wines; the grapes ripen without sacrificing tannins, acidity, color, as the case may be. Wakefield's two Cabernet Sauvignon wines for the American market are the beneficiaries of this climatic largesse. The Estate 2005 Cabernet, $17 in the US, represents Wakefield's mid-level product line, the $50 St. Andrews 2001 Cabernet its top of the line. Since 2004, Taylor has been bottling all its wines using screw cap closures.
The Estate is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Shiraz, and 2% Merlot. The result is a workhorse Cabernet, though I would elevate the wine a rung above its price range if I were selling it. In the glass the wine is a solid ruby, nearly opaque, with edges that project scarlet or purple depending on your light source. The first note on the nose is alcoholic heat (the wine is 14.5%) but this quickly gives way to cedar, clove, blackberry, black olive and some good cigar tobacco. Palate notes are similar, but add red cherry and some tangible meatiness. I love the mouthfeel. The wine has a trumpet-like brightness to it, tannins that stay with you despite their softness, a satisfying and admirably ripe finish.
The 2001 St. Andrews (a vintage ago, since the 2002 is now on the market) is itself a bargain at $50. On the face of it, my personal notes are not that much different from my notes on the Estate, a third the price and a third the age. What then is the difference between the good wine and the great wine? The St. Andrews, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, is vineyard specific (Taylor acquired the neighboring vineyard, founded in 1892, in 1995). Yields are kept extremely low, averaging only about a ton an acre. After 14 months of aging in French oak, the wine is bottle aged on premises for several years, as if to save us from the temptation to open it before term. The mouthfeel, the wealth of layers, the wine's balance and complexity are all palpable. The fruit shows thick extraction, a range of black fruit, chocolate, the fine baking spice trio of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, cedar, a thick slice of earth, and the pungency of licorice. The tannins as can be expected already show some supple maturity. The finish completes the lesson in concentration, ripeness, and weight.
The Wakefield St. Andrews label design features St. Andrew's cross, a symbol of Scotland
and a constituent of the British Union Jack (and hence also a component of Australia's
national flag). At the bottom right of the label (faintly, almost as a watermark) are images of
seahorses, an image used on the Wakefield line to pay tribute to the fossilized seahorses that
have been found on the Taylor family estate.
Verdict: Two fine additions to our wine market
Only when you have engaged the full range of senses should you consign a drop of wine to the stomach.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman