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Wine of the Week for week ending 15 December 2002
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Vidal Estate 'Joseph Soler' Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Little Bruno was nine months in the making. Born on the 6th November 2002 he is the apple of his Daddy's eye. But Bruno is just one of his Daddy's new babies. The other is the Vidal Estate Joseph Soler Cabernet Sauvignon conceived in the extraordinary vintage of 1998. The pregnancy was long for this new baby, the wine, was just delivered to the world last week, the 4th December 2002 to be precise.

It's fitting that this special wine was conceived in 1998 for that's when Rod McDonald (pictured) took over as winemaker for Vidal Estate. As the fruit came in from the various sites around Hawkes Bay, one of the company's newer vineyards established five years previously in what is now known as the Gimblett Gravel's Winegrowing district, was considered quite outstanding. The water stressed young vines had produced just a few small bunches with tiny grapes that were rich in colour, flavour, tannin and character.

As the wine developed in a combination of French and American oak barriques of which 80% were new, the exceptional quality was noted. It was decided to bottle some separately. Then, as the 1998 vintage red wines from vineyards in Hawkes Bay started being released the 'exceptional' was heard uttered from all quarters. Even the cheapies were relatively stunning. We'd never seen anything like it and the punters had a ball. Wine after wine was winning accolades and Vidal Estate wines were right up there with the Vidal Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot winning Champion Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot Predominant Blend at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

This previously noted 'exceptional' wine was therefore something very very special. It was time to create an iconic wine for the company.

Joseph Soler was the inspiration for Anthony Joseph Vidal, the founder of Vidal Estate. Soler had left Spain to travel to the new world to fulfil his passion to make quality wine for the connoisseur. After a brief stop in Victoria, which was too hot for the style of wine he wanted to make, he arrived on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand at Wanganui in 1865 and found the place to grow his grapes.

A.J. joined his Uncle Joseph in 1888 and together the pair worked the dream. The wines were some of the first to be exhibited in competitions, winning medals in New Zealand, Melbourne and London. One story that is oft repeated is the competition in Christchurch in 1906. New Zealand and Australian wines were entered. Soler's wines won three of the five gold medals being competed for. Much chagrined, the Aussies demanded a recount. The result was that Soler was awarded all five gold medals. Trans-tasman rivalry on the wine circuit had begun.

A.J. left his Uncle in 1905 to pursue his own dream. He travelled to Hawkes Bay and established Vidal Estate. The inherent winemaking tradition and pursuit of quality still continues today on that original site.

Joseph Soler is once again the inspiration for Vidal Estate. He is iconic in the eyes of the company's employees today.

Even though the wine has been maturing in the bottle for over two years, it is huge in colour showing the black red density of ripe blackberries with a developing blood red colour on the rims.

It an amazing wine to inhale from the confines of a Bordeaux-style stem. There's many nuances of aroma as the wine changes in the big glass. Nuances like cedar, cassis, rare meats and smoke with hints of licorice and leather. As I keep going back to inhale the smokiness seems more apparent.

In the mouth the flavour is rich and robust with lovely sweet dark fruit that is bright and spicy in flavour with creamy oak still quite forthcoming. Firm, fine-grained tannins are quite velvety and an attractive touch of licorice lingers. It simply has great fruit, great structure and with its sweet, ripe opulent fruit and fine-grained velvety tannin structure it is very very drinkable.

There's 14% alcohol by volume and a smidgeon of Merlot in the blend.

I found it was a fitting accompaniment to a rare fillet steak that had a strong beef reduction as a sauce.

I remember the wine I tried in November 2000, a 'special' wine bottled in magnum for the Hawkes Bay Vintners Charity Wine Auction. I quiz Rod. "Is this the same wine?". He kind of nods his head. When I tasted that wine I thought it the most phenomenal of all the wines selected for the auction. Labelled as the Vidal Estate Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, it was made from grapes harvested from 4 rows in the back corner of their Ngakirikiri vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels district and vinted as a separate parcel. "This is a very fine, elegant wine with wonderfully integrated cassis and blackberry fruit and spicy French oak. Tannins emerge on the finish to join the sweet lingering fruit.", I wrote. Packaged into six 1.5 litre magnums for the auction, the label was made from a shaved piece of stave from a French oak barrel, held onto the bottle by copper bands. It was a stunning wine with stunning packaging and I scored it 19.5 / 20.

It is good to re-read those notes and see how the wine has developed over the intervening 2 years. This is definitely one of the best red wines ever to come out of New Zealand.

It's quite competitive in price with other top labels from the vintage. $89 will secure you a bottle but as you can imagine, very little was made - the equivalent of 350 12-bottle cases. The wine comes in 6-packs or can be purchased in individual presentation boxes. More information available from the Vidal Estate website or freephone in New Zealand on 0800 505 656.

© Sue Courtney
8 December 2002

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