Multi-talented Maxwell’s

Maxwell’s Mead is a pleasing alliteration, but it could equally be Maxwell’s Mushrooms.

The Lime Cave at Maxwell’s McLaren Vale winery (tastings) was originally excavated for the purpose of cultivating mushrooms – it’s appropriately dark, damp and cool. Recently, mushroom growing has been revived and the Maxwell family grows a commercial quantity of shiitake for use in its Ellen Street Restaurant.

Lime Cave is also the brand-name of Maxwell’s top cabernet sauvignon (tastings), a $40 wine which is one of the region’s best cabernets. I recently tasted the last 10 vintages from 2013 back to 2004 (the ’13 was an unbottled sample, so doesn’t appear on the app).

The hallmark of the wine is ripe fruit. There is none of the herbaceousness that marks cabernet from cooler climates. Some of the hotter years have resulted in a wine that may lack a little elegance, but there’s none of the ‘dead fruit’ or porty characters that dog some of the reds from South Australia’s hot, droughty years of the late noughties.

The Lime Cave cabernets are more likely to be chocolaty than overtly leafy or blackcurrant-like. Cabernet in McLaren Vale is near the warmer limit of its potential for top wine, so you don’t often perceive the detail or intense varietal character that cabernet can show in Coonawarra or the Yarra Valley. The trade-off is that it’s seldom green or thin. (And I’ve always maintained that most people prefer the taste of slightly overripe red wine to underripe: it’s the same with any fruit.) 

The best wines were the 2012 (tasting) and 2010 (tasting), the ’12 simply outstanding, while the sample of ’13 looked very promising. And the wet-year 2011 (tasting) was remarkably good and certainly not out of class. At 10 years of age, the 2004 (tasting) has mellowed into a lovely complex, mature glass of red wine.

The cabernet vines that supply the grapes for Maxwell Lime Cave are the so-called Reynella Selection which, according to Mark Maxwell, is not a clone but a selection take from the old Chateau Reynella vineyard. It’s a low-yielding selection which is noted for its high-quality wine and fine tannins.

Maxwell’s is a family winery, established by Mark’s father Ken in 1979. Mark’s son Jeremy has been involved for the last three years in marketing, public relations and managing the restaurant. He has a degree in international business and marketing. The winemakers are Andrew Jericho (who succeeded Lexie Roberts from the 2014 vintage) and Mark Maxwell.

And that reference to mead? Maxwell’s Mead is a well-known brand of mead (or wine made from honey). In fact, mead is one-quarter of the winery’s production. 

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