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Wine of the Week for week ending 7 Sep 2008
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Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

In celebrating the ten years of my domain name,, I opened up one of the wines that I would perhaps consider as a 'Wine of the Decade'.

It is the Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and I just loved it on first tasting in March 2000, when I scored it 19/20, which is high scoring for me. Tasted again several times during that year, including a 'Super Tasting' of the 1998 vintage wines held at First Glass, where the iconic Esk Valley 'The Terraces' 1998 was also poured, the Reserve wine was every bit as monumental. So being less than half the price of The Terraces, we decided to buy three of the Reserves at $38 a bottle. It was the right decision at the time. The wrong decision, in hindsight, as we drank this last bottle, was that we did not buy more.

I reviewed this wine as Wine of the Week at the end of October 2000 - and it was also one of my Wines of the Year for that year.

Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
This big, concentrated blend of 48% Merlot, 28% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc exudes a wonderful vinosity on the nose. Deep and densely coloured red, it's rich and creamy with toasty oak, plums, blackcurrants and spicy fruitcake flavours, hints of chocolate and liquorice, and plenty of smooth and fine ripe fruit tannins. Powerful and mouthfilling with excellent length, there's a gorgeous lingering aftertaste of lifted blackcurrant fruit. The delicious wine has easily years of life ahead of it. Reviewed as Wine of the Week, week ending 5 Nov 2000.

So what would the wine be like ten years after vintage and eight years after purchase? Let me tell you, "just simply amazing".

Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 is a remarkable colour, a deep purple red in the light (more black red in the photograph) with no real indication of age at all - perhaps because the cork was perfect - perhaps because it had been cellared undisturbed - or perhaps because of the Malbec, a grape variety that is known for its opulent deep, dark colour. It is opaque and inky with translucent edges.

The deep and thought-provoking aromas are laced with vanilla, cherry, cassis and smoke.

My new 'drop on the tongue test' was a little spicy but fruit sweet and savoury.

In the palate there is plenty of cedar and sweet macerated plum and dark cherry fruit, a touch of spice, dried herbs and finely structured tannins that are still quite firm and grippy. "Dusty maybe," said Neil.

There's lovely fruit brightness and lift, with nuances of vanilla and liquorice and an earthy depth - perhaps some graphite / pencil wood together with some floral notes emerging on the cedary finish.

A easy 10-year wine, but for those of you who still have bottle of Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 tucked away in your cellar, based on my perfect bottle, there is no hurry yet. The wine has a cork closure and states 13.5% alcohol.

So we opened this bottle on the 19th August 2008 - to celebrate the ten-year milestone and between us we drank about half the bottle. The cork was reinserted to enjoy the following night. But things got busy with other wines to taste then Neil took off for a long weekend skiing, others things got in the way and it was it was a full week before we could sit down and relax and pull the cork again. I was thinking I had wasted half a bottle of one of the best 10-year old New Zealand reds to ever pass my lips. But incredibly the wine was amazing and hadn't deteriorated at all. Not wanting to take any more risks, we finished the second half with dinner. Did I say how enjoyable an aged New Zealand red made from classical Bordeaux varieties goes with lamb? The first night I roasted a small leg of lamb with redcurrant sauce and the second night, much easier and quicker lamb back straps were covered with a couple of our favourite rubs (one with sumac, one with soy).

This wine reflects a highlight of ten years of

© Sue Courtney
1 Sep 2008

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