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Delegat's Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997

This week, a little trip down memory lane for me, and also a salutatory lesson (or two). This rather tatty looking bottle has now been residing in my cellar for about eight or nine years, it having been purchased on release probably in late 1998 or early 1999. It was purchased at the time when New Zealand still looked very much like a one-trick pony, producing copious amounts of pungently identifiable Sauvignon Blanc admired by many, but very little else. Today of course New Zealand has rightly established a reputation as a source of charming Pinot Noir, and other red varieties are becoming increasingly worthy of appreciation. But nearly ten years ago the idea of a Bordeaux blend from Hawke's Bay was one more likely to raise eyebrows than expectations.

Delegat's Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997I say this is a little trip down memory lane because this purchase comes from a time when I was restocking my cellar, predominantly with mid-priced New World efforts, with Australia and to a lesser extent South America and New Zealand being prime sources of daily drinkers and short-term keepers for me at the time. Whereas all those bottles have long disappeared this one came to linger in the cellar, in fact it has resided in a series of cellars over the years, including one very damp one (which it shared with a number of mice and even a bees' nest at one point - that was an exciting day), hence the condition of the label (see the Delegat's website for rather better examples of how the bottles are supposed to look). The truth is that of the two bottles I bought the first I tasted simply didn't impress, and I was hoping time might help the next bottle show a little better. I never really intended, however, to wait until its tenth birthday before opening it. So if the truth must be known, I had little hope that this wine from Delegat's, a family firm established by Croatian immigrants to New Zealand in 1947, would offer me much pleasure today. I opened it with little ceremony, and with my low expectations abruptly exceeded, those salutatory lessons began.

The Delegat's Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, despite now having ten years under its belt, still displays an attractively deep hue, of a maturing nature, fading a little at the core, but it is certainly full of promise. As indeed is the nose, which offers up a wonderful, cycling complexity of aromas, starting with a blast of iron-tinged violets as the cork is first pulled, with a purity to the crushed, ripe berry fruit which is admirable. Then come the characteristics that perhaps suggest New Zealand, the little notes of green peppercorn and mint, and a little green capsicum too, although it is fleeting and wrapped up a a svelte, dark chocolate character, and then it disappears, so it does nothing to detract from the overall experience. Then some nuances which sing of Cabernet in general, although they are often associated with left bank communes in Bordeaux, such as graphite or pencil shavings, and liquorice too. It is all very perfumed and full of unexpected pleasures, enticing and layered, with many of the aromas returning from time to time as if they are all determined to share in the limelight. The palate has a purity like that on the nose, finely textured, with a rather green edge to the creamy fruit, which along with the balancing acidity helps to maintain a rather fresh appeal, rather than this being a soupy, over-ripe effort which would give me little pleasure. As you can tell, I don't find a little greenness in my wine to be a bad thing, provided it is not in excess. It has a good grip, and an array of flavours matching some of those on the nose, especially the violets. Altogether this is very nicely synthesised, vibrant with a peppery bite, and takes top marks for exceeding all my expectations.

Delegat's Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997Lesson number one, then, is not to underestimate the power of wines such as this to give pleasure. I have never really been in the habit of subjecting this sort of wine - a mid-priced Bordeaux blend from the new World - to lengthy cellaring, especially when one considers it originated in country with a reputation for Sauvignon Blanc and, at that time, little else of a vinous nature. Lesson number two is to perhaps consider adding such wines to my cellar for the sheer inexpensive pleasure they receive; there is life beyond the Bordeaux big guns with which my palate has had perhaps too much experience over the past decade, but with which my wallet is now finding it increasingly difficult to cope. The solution is not just to look to the good quality and good value Cru Bourgeois properties (although that is surely a sensible response) but it is also to look elsewhere. New Zealand, Australia, South America and closer to home, the Languedoc and the Loire. With my recent trip to the latter region, I have put my money where my mouth is, stocking up with Chinon and Bourgueil from what seems to me to be a very successful 2005 vintage. More of these, which are of course not just Bordeaux substitutes but wines of intrinsic merit, in coming weeks. 17/20 (30/7/07)

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