Moss Wood 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon
The vintage conditions have resulted in the 1998 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon being reasonably typical. The colour is medium-to-deep brick red and condition is bright. The nose has lively fruit aromatics of redcurrant, mulberries and raspberries with hints of stewed apple and rhubarb, all neatly integrated with chocolaty, smoky oak aromatics. The palate is ripe and supple, with good weight and flesh. The myriad of red fruits apparent on the nose show through again, and so there are lively concentrated fruit flavours that give richness and length. There is power, a characteristically tight structure, and well-balanced acid and fine ripe tannins that give definition and length on the finish. Finally, the wine is rounded out by smoky/spicy oak flavours.
Although the amount of rain that fell during harvest period made this the wettest year since 1989, it is better compared to the 1985 vintage which was also picked in two parts because of rain after the semillon harvest. Interestingly, Keith regards the 1985 alongside the 1980 as the best Moss Wood Cabernets of the decade. In comparing the 1985 and the 1998, Keith believes that they both show lovely sweet fruit, ripe tannins, a soft, supple texture and impressive depth of flavour. Because of the introduction of cabernet franc and petit verdot to the blend, he feels that the 1998 is showing slightly fresher fruit aromatics compared to the 1985 at a similar stage of its development. Although the 1998 lacks the complexity and concentration of the 1996 and 1995, it has lovely flavour and typical Moss Wood richness.
After the difficult harvest in 1997, the team at Moss Wood found the 1998 growing season more favourable. There were some small problems with hail, but the winds were less troublesome than they had been the previous year and spring rains were plentiful. The summer temperatures were mild while the small amount of summer rain in mid-January gave the vines a pre-harvest boost and caused no disease problems in the vineyard.
Vintage started on time in near-perfect conditions. Most of the early ripening varieties (semillon, chardonnay, and pinot noir) were picked in warm, dry conditions. Then came the complication of rain. The vineyard was soaked twice: 50 mm fell on the weekend of March 7th and 8th and 78 mm two weekends later. Cabernet Sauvignon is robust and while rain slows the ripening process down it doesn't cause the grapes to become diluted. Moreover, its thick skins mean that it is not prone to splitting. The worry at Moss Wood was that the cabernet might fail to ripen if there was more rain. A decision was made to pick in two stages. All the cabernet that couldn't be fitted under nets was picked at 13.5 degrees beaume. The rest was left to achieve maximum ripeness so that the wine would show the richness which is expected of Moss Wood Cabernet. Fortunately, the region experienced fine, mild weather with no further rain during the two weeks it took the cabernet to ripen to 14.5 degrees beaume.
The 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon was made in the traditional Moss Wood style, being fermented in open tanks, hand plunged four times a day with one pump over towards the end of fermentation. The winemaking team have continued to work on a new approach to assessing the amount of skin contact time allowed post fermentation. All tanks are tasted daily after 0 degrees beaume is reached to monitor the evolution of the tannin structure. Initially tannins are aggressive and furry but gradually soften and evolve better definition. When the wines get to the stage where they are soft and have good definition and show no further improvement, the grapes are pressed. With the Cabernet being picked in two halves in 1998, there was less pressure on fermentation space than usual and so the wine was left in contact with skins for 16 days instead of the more normal 10 to 12 days. The 1998 Moss Wood Cabernet was aged for two years in medium toast 225 litre French oak barriques from Tonnellerie Remond - 50% of which was new. Before bottling, the wine was lightly filtered but not fined.
The 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon drinks well now, however it will be worth the wait in the next ten years.