Cullen Wines



James Halliday review, The Australian, 27 July 2013

content-population-template-CULLEN-WINES-280414-(3)-95IN May I participated in one of the most fascinating – and enjoyable – tastings I can remember.

It was a simultaneous vertical and horizontal tasting of 30 vintages of Cullen Wines’ cabernet merlots, 28 vintages of Moss Wood (both starting with 1983), 13 vintages of Woodlands (also starting with 1983) and 10 vintages of Fraser Gallop (since 2002): 81 wines in all.

This week’s column focuses on Cullen; next week it will be the turn of Moss Wood. First, a fact hitherto unknown to me: the late founders, Dr Kevin Cullen (a local doctor) and wife Diana planted a trial acre (0.4ha) of vines on their Margaret River sheep and cattle property in 1966, one year before Vasse Felix was established. With six children to raise, the demands of medical practice and the farm to run, it was not until 1971 that they planted the first 7.3ha of today’s vineyard.

Even then it was Di (as she was known) who took responsibility for the vineyard and winery, formally becoming chief winemaker in 1981, and making history as the first woman to win a trophy at the Perth Royal Wine Show. In 1983 she was joined by daughter Vanya, who became chief winemaker in 1989 and managing director in 1999. Vanya was responsible for first taking the 49ha vineyard to certified organic, and thereafter biodynamic status, with hand-harvesting of the grapes on fruit or flower days. An equally bold decision was to eliminate the addition of acid to the must or wine, and to rely on indigenous/wild yeast for both the primary and malolactic fermentations. The final step was to achieve a carbon neutral and naturally powered winery.

One overarching feature of each of the 30 vintages tasted is the alcohol level, usually in a range of 12.5% to 13.5%. Thus, despite the exceptional longevity (and consistency) of the wines, they are perfumed, elegant, medium-bodied and effortlessly complex.

2011 Cullen Diana Madeline
The name of this flagship wine was adopted in 2002 to honour Di Cullen. A blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 4% malbec, 3% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot, it spent 18 months in French barriques. The bouquet is attractive but doesn’t prepare you for the sheer intensity of the quite beautiful palate, with gloriously juicy redcurrant and cassis cradled by fine tannins and integrated oak. 12.5% alc; screwcap
97 points; drink to 2031; $115

2012 Cullen Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
A blend of 54% sauvignon blanc, 43% semillon and 3% verdelho, wild yeast fermented. Vibrantly fresh, and with great length to its citrus/lime/lemon fruit, balanced acidity driving the finish. 11.5% alc; screwcap
94 points; drink to 2017; $29

2011 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay
Harvested on fruit and flower days; hand-picked and whole-bunch-pressed, then wild yeast fermented in French oak barriques; 33% went through natural malolactic fermentation. An intense but supremely elegant wine; grapefruit and white peach has absorbed the oak without a tremor. 13.5% alc; screwcap
97 points; drink to 2021, $105