To say I was looking forward to visiting Cullen would be an understatement. Along with makers like Clonakilla, Grosset, Joseph, Oliver's Taranga and Shaw and Smith, they're among a handful of Australian wineries where I expect total brilliance with every single bottle. On this occasion, I wasn't let down.
I just wish the service at Cullen was up to the standard of the wine.
Our host didn't really have her heart in it, on what was a very grey, dark and rainy day. Initially she seemed rather displeased to have two such young drinkers walk into her workspace. I immediately told what her a huge fan of Cullen I am, but this didn't seem to interest her. In fact, I got the idea she thought I was making it up, and that it was a line I told all the cellar door hands in a premeditated fashion, much like her lines with wine. At first she tried to speed up our tasting, to keep us moving, but I like to evaluate my wine slowly, so I tried to slow it down through conversation. Without doubt she wasn't listening to a thing I said. She certainly didn't intend on talking to us for more than she had to, so when we were up to the reds, every time a wine was poured, she'd leave, then return a minute or so later.
I've heard time and time again, usually from drinkers more mature than I am, that talking shouldn't be allowed at serious wine tastings. I perfectly understand this theory at wine shows, but in the context of a relaxing cellar door visit I think this is rubbish. If wine can't stimulate conversation what can it do?
It's a shame about the service at Cullen. My ideal Margaret River cellar door would be at Leeuwin Estate, with Cullen's wine, Voyager Estate's food and toilet, and Jamie from Howard Park hosting the tasting. Now I could live at a place like that.
The wines at Cullen do live up to their lofty reputations. I very nearly walked away with one of every single bottle. If the service had been better I probably would've, despite being pricier than discount retail.
It was good to see the 2007 Diana Madeline bounce back to form after an underperforming 2006, but I think everyone knew that was going to happen. Strangely the 2007 Kevin John Chardonnay didn't quite seem up to its usual high standard, much like the 2007 Chardonnay of Pierro from down the road. The 2007 Mangan red looked to of improved leaps and bounds from when I last consumed a bottle in early March. It's settled a lot and I now see what all the fuss is about. It was much smoother, evenly balanced and more languid than my first impressions. The two limited release Mangan Vineyard wines (from semillon and merlot) were very impressive, especially considering how affordable they were by Cullen standards. The semillon in particular was a treat.
Anyone looking to visit Cullen's cellar door should realise that the Diana Madeline and Kevin John Chardonnay are only available for tasting on weekends.
Cullen Mangan Vineyard Semillon 2008 ($19)
Lightly oaked semillon. Aromas of grilled nuts and toasty oak sit over its restrained primary fruits, with light notes of herb and tobacco. The palate is slightly luscious and juicy, complex and funky, with a savoury expression of its varietal make up complemented by good length and soft acids. (reviewed separate post) 92
Cullen Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 ($35)
Tighter, lighter and more restrained than previous Mangans, but still retaining plenty of smoky, mineral complexity. Fresh, vibrant and sculpted citric acids provide wonderful backbone and penetration for the wine. It should age well up to the medium term. 94
Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007 ($70)
I expected this to leap out the glass at me but it just didn't. It had nice, vibrant melon, grapefruit and nectarine characters but it seemed a bit forward and simple for this price. Pleasingly juicy undercarriage and texture though. Could come together in another year or so, hence my score. 92
Cullen Mangan Vineyard Merlot 2007 ($24)
Contains toasty notes of dry earth, dark plum and cherry fruits with dark chocolate oak. Shows good concentration on entry to the palate, before revealing a slightly plump, juicy middle section. Its ripe fruit flavours are framed by dry, dusty tannins and a long finish. Good merlot at a good price. (reviewed separate post) 90
Cullen Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($39)
Violet florals, with a lightly jammy, smooth and concentrated palate complemented by great length, structure and fine, drying tannins. A fine little brother to the Diana Madeline for those of us with shallow pockets. (full review soon) 92
Cullen Mangan 2007 ($45)
Malbec/Petit Verdot/Merlot. Has improved a long way from when I first encountered it. Leathery, dark fruit and aniseed nose with an extremely long, complex, medium-bodied palate wrapped in powdery tannins. Very smoky, herbal and interesting wine by Australian standards. Reveals layers of flavour in its finish. 94
Cullen Diana Madeline 2007 ($105)
Classic savoury red fruit nose with finely tuned, fresh cedar/vanilla oak playing a counterpoint role. Perhaps a fraction more dark fruit than usual. Tons of depth and character. As always Diana Madeline's palate is magnificently defined by its tannin structure and length. Its tannin in particular is exceptional, building in waves of intensity in a very firm, grippy fashion, suggesting this will be as long lived as the best vintages of this Australian icon. 96