Pamment opts for elegance

Ross Pamment (pictured) makes the smaller production, high-end Great Southern wines at the Houghton Swan Valley winery. (Photo: Accolade Wines)

The newly released 2015 vintage of Houghton’s flagship Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon is the most elegant yet. Houghton chief winemaker Ross Pamment tells why.

“It’s the most elegant Jack yet, mainly because of the year. It was not a year that made big wines. The 2015 season was characterized by warm, dry growing conditions during the ripening period, but then we saw the season cool during the later stages. It resulted in what can be described as a more elegant wine relative to previous years.”

The upshot is that the top-end Houghton red wines are less oaky, less tannic, less extractive, more balanced – more elegant if you like – than the wines of the past.

The wine has always come from the same vineyard, the Justin vineyard at Frankland River.

“The vineyard is about 60km from the sea, and it gets south-westerly winds. Compared to Margaret River (the source of another top Houghton wine, the Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon) it’s more continental, with hotter days and cooler nights, and colder winters. Margaret River is a more moderate, maritime climate and cabernet there is more crushed-leafy; there is darker fruit character in Frankland.”

Cabernet sauvignon was chosen as the Jack Mann tribute wine from the first vintage 1994, released in 1997, because it was Mann’s favourite grape variety. Jack Mann* was a giant of a winemaker, who worked at Houghton for 51 vintages, and claimed cabernet was “the only grape that would be tolerated in heaven”.

There are other reasons why the Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon is a more elegant style these days. According to Pamment, there is less juice run-off than there used to be, less time in oak – 18 months instead of 24 (Jack would have approved, as he disliked oak in any wine), and less extraction during the fermentation.

And tannin is no longer added.

“A decade ago, it was considered normal. Everyone was using it. But adding too much tannin can upset the wine’s balance, and it’s the same with juice run-off.”

Juice run-off, or saignée, is when a proportion of the juice is ‘bled’ off the tank of must after crushing and before fermentation, the idea being to further concentrated the final wine.

“We are less likely to do a juice run-off now, only 5 to 10% and only when the vintage makes it necessary.”

The upshot is that the top-end Houghton red wines are less oaky, less tannic, less extractive, more balanced – more elegant if you like – than the wines of the past, when big wines were more fashionable.

To that end, the Accolade group’s chief winemaker, Paul Lapsley, is also influential.

“Paul also has an opinion. This (2015) is the style we’d like to continue with.”

While all of the group’s fruit from Margaret River is vinified at the Nannup winery at Pemberton, where Courtney Treacher is the winemaker in charge, Pamment makes the smaller production, high-end Great Southern wines C. W. Ferguson Cabernet Malbec, Thomas Yule Shiraz and Jack Mann, at the Houghton Swan Valley winery.

Pamment thinks there should be more high-end wines from the Great Southern – after all, Margaret River has no shortage.

“Great Southern cabernet should be talked about more. It should have more equity. There’s not much top-end cabernet there – Larry Cherubino, Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward, Alkoomi Blackbutt, our Jack Mann, but there’s room for more.”

The 2016 C.W. Ferguson Cabernet Malbec is AUD $71, the 2014 Thomas Yule Shiraz is AUD $79, the 2016 Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon is AUD $89, and the 2015 Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon is AUD $137. All are highly recommended, but the Mann is the undisputed champ. It has long been one of Australia’s greatest wines, but it’s now also one of the most elegant.

*A favourite Jack Mann quotable quote (and there were many): “You can exist without wine, but you cannot live.”

2 thoughts on “Pamment opts for elegance”

  1. Andrew says:

    I’m curious as to when the Jack Mann stopped having tannin added to it (I would love to know if my newly acquired 2014s have it). I have honestly never heard of this, and it seems kinda weird to me. I hate an overly tannic wine that doesn’t have the fruit weight to match it.

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      Tannin addition is less common now that it was in the late ’90s and early noughties. It’s used to stabilise colour as much as to improve palate texture and structure. It’s not usually used simply to make a wine more tannic. Tannin addition has long been a cornerstone of Penfolds’ winemaking, although they call it ‘tannin fining’, which is being a bit cute, really. As with all of these things, there are good and bad examples. I don’t hear too many people complaining about Penfolds red wines!

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