I went to the Costco liquor store this week, and as always when I walk into Costco, I walked out with a bottle of the Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cab from South Australia, one of my favourite New World value wines. When I first grabbed the bottle, I thought it was the same wine that I had previously reviewed back in November, but on closer inspection it was in fact a brand new vintage of Cover Drive, the 2009 (my reviewed bottle was the 2008). This provided a golden opportunity to examine a question that I’m sure many casual wine drinkers ask themselves: how much does vintage impact the flavour and quality of a wine? Is there really a discernible difference between the 2008 and 2009 bottlings of a wine made from the same grapes grown in the same spots? Most inexpensive wines are made to reflect a consistent flavour profile and style year over year, but my bet was that a quality producer like Jim Barry wouldn’t try to make his ’09 Cover Drive a clone of his ’08 and would retain some of the vintage variation arising out of the changes in weather patterns, sunlight, temperature, harvest dates and more between the two years. To find out, I wrote up tasting notes for the 2009 CD without re-reading my 2008 review, and now I’m going to retro-compare the two bottles by lining up my 08 notes side by side with my impressions of the 09. Hopefully this actually proves interesting. Here goes!
2009: This year’s release of the Cover Drive Cab was a bright, lurid, but still somewhat translucent purple colour…I was expecting it to be completely opaque but it wasn’t. Still, the depth of colour extended all the way to the rim and didn’t thin out as it got closer to the edge.
2008: Clear, deep, thick, glass-coating purple.
Comments: No surprise – young Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is purple in the glass. The 08 may have had a bit more depth and darkness of colour, but the difference isn’t that significant.
2009: There were three clear and distinct parts to the bouquet of this wine: (1) deep black fruit, sweet blackberry and saskatoon berry, which formed the core of the nose; (2) smoke, coffee and bakers’ chocolate notes layered on from the heavy dollop of oak treatment that wine received; and (3) classic Coonawarra (the region where much of the Cover Drive’s grapes are sourced) Cab undertones of menthol, eucalyptus, and, for lack of a better term, Vick’s Vapo-Rub. Each of these elements were enjoyable on their own, but they were quite separate from each other and hadn’t yet melded together into anything cohesive.
2008: Youthful aromas of “blackcurrant, chocolate, cedar, mint, smokiness/meatiness, lanolin”.
Comments: There is a clear overlap of key aromas between the 2009 and the 2008, which means that the wine is showing a fairly strong typicity (it consistently smells like you would expect a South Australian Cab to smell vintage over vintage), a good quality indicator in an inexpensive wine. However, I don’t recall the 2008′s aromas being so distinctly segmented as the 2009′s…it was much more “together” on the nose. Maybe this is because it had a few months of sitting on the shelves before I bought it, whereas the 2009 is newly released and hasn’t had that time to calm down; maybe it’s a signal that the 2008 was made a little more deftly than the 2009. Hard to tell.
2009: Not shy at all: powerful full body, fleshy texture, surprisingly prominent alcohol — it’s only 14% but comes through more than expected at that level — and sandy tannin. While the nose almost smelled sweet, the flavours on the palate are exactly the opposite, all tinged with a slight bitterness: blueberry, cranberry, mint, dark chocolate and an underlying herbaceousness (green pepper? sage?). I’m not used to tasting tart, green notes like that in an Australian red.
2008: Medium-plus acidity, tannin and body, high alcohol, but surprising structure. Flavours similar to the nose: black fruit, eucalyptus/linament, graphite/pencil, tomato, savoury spices.
Comments: Some clear variation between vintages here, as the 08′s flavour profile on the palate echoed the nose and retained its core of ripe black fruit, whereas the 09 didn’t fully carry over that same ripeness: the fruit went from black to blue/red between the nose and the palate, and the finish was tinged with bitter/green notes. I have a hard time imagining that the grapes in the 2009 were underripe when picked (one reason that herbaceous flavours end up in wine), as ’09 was a warm vintage in Australia and Aus is one of the hotter wine regions in the world, but the 2009 Cover Drive certainly tasted markedly different from the 2008.
2009: This seems a little jumbled right now. I think it will come across better in a few months once all of the components of the wine have had more of a chance to integrate and settle down, but even then I don’t think the fruit will be as bright and pure as I’ve come to expect from the Cover Drive. I still don’t think you’ll be disappointed paying $18 at Costco for this bottle, but the 2009 isn’t quite the highway robbery of a deal that previous vintages were. 86+ points
2008: “This wine sort of has a best-of-both-worlds appeal: if you like the big, powerful, fruit-laden Australian reds, then chances are you’ll like the Cover Drive, but if you instead prefer a more serious wine with prominent structure and varietal characteristics, well, you’ll like the Cover Drive too. There is no California Cabernet Sauvignon that you can buy for $18 anywhere that’s as “Cabernet” as this wine; this goes beyond an enjoyable quaffing bottle and actually gives you a decent sense of grape and place for under 20 bucks.” 89 points
$15 to $20 CDN