Wine Review: 2008 Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon

2 11 2011

Oh right, did I mention this wine is cricket-themed? All the more reason to Costco it up.

Long time no speak!  I was shocked and appalled to discover that it’s been almost a full week since my last PnP post, but rest assured that I have not been wine-slacking:  after 17 hours spent in classroom for the WSET Advanced last weekend, I’ve been spending my weeknight evenings preparing for my exam next weekend by re-reading my textbook (which we were told we should do 4 times in the next 2 weeks.  The book is 300 pages long.).  The whole experience to date has been both more intense and more rewarding than the Intermediate course that I took in the summer; I walked in Saturday morning feeling intimidated and out of place and left on Sunday feeling like I actually belonged in the class, which was gratifying.  I also thanked my lucky stars for 8 months of doing Pop & Pour reviews, because we had to sample, evaluate and identify FORTY wines blind in two days using the WSET’s copyrighted Systematic Approach to Tasting, designed to allow someone to create a quick, consistent, (mostly) objective analysis of the main components of a wine and use that to formulate an opinion on the wine’s price, quality level and identity.  It’s fun for the first few times, but increasingly taxing as you hit wines #18 and 19 of the day.  To give you a sense of the WSET tasting method in action, I thought I would write up tonight’s wine using their proprietary method…just to ensure that I don’t get sued, let me clarify again that I did NOT invent this approach and am a mere student and user of the WSET’s brilliant taxonomy.

I’ve had the Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon once before (in a hotel room in Grande Prairie, AB…classy!), so I knew what to expect when I picked this up at Costco for $18; I grabbed it again because I think it over-delivers for its price and because, despite being big and burly and fruity, it is not your standard stereotypical motor-oil-and-syrup monster Australian wine.  The first wine book that I ever read (aptly titled “Educating Peter”, by Food & Wine Magazine editor Lettie Teague) went as far as to say that “The Cover Drive may be the best inexpensive Cabernet in the world” (p. 131).  I don’t think I’d go that far, but when you think of sub-$20 Aussie red, I assure you that you’re not thinking about this bottle.  What does the WSET Systematic Approach have to say about it?  Voila!

APPEARANCE

Clarity/Intensity/Colour:  Clear deep purple

Observations:  Thick, glass-coating

NOSE

Condition/Intensity/Development:  Clean, medium/medium+ intensity, youthful

Aromas:  Blackcurrant, chocolate, cedar, mint, smokiness/meatiness, lanolin

PALATE

Sweetness/Acidity/Tannin/Alcohol/Body:  Dry, medium+ acidity, medium+ tannin, high alcohol, medium+ body

Flavours:  Similar to nose — black fruit, eucalyptus/linament, graphite/pencil, tomato, savoury spices

Intensity/Finish:  Medium+ intensity; medium-length, almost mineral, finish

Observations:  Surprising structure — soft but still assertive tannin, notable acidity

CONCLUSIONS

Quality:  Very good

Readiness to Drink/Ageability:  Can drink now, but can also age 3-5 years

Identity/Price:  South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon; inexpensive ($18)

Stelvin Rating: 7.5/10 (Now THAT's a screwtop. Circus tent or bad golf pants? Either way, I'm all over it.)

There you have it — less flashy and considerably more boring than your average PnP review, but all key points covered in an easily-reusable analytical framework.  To expand a bit from the WSET script, 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.  The 2008 Cover Drive is stated to be from the catch-all wine region of South Australia, but previous vintages stated that the wine was from the renowned Cabernet appellation of Coonawarra, a tiny area near Adelaide whose unique red soils have made it a Southern Hemisphere Cab Sauv mecca, generating wines with stunning fruit and signature prominent minty/eucalyptus flavours.  Even though the larger zone stated on the 2008 bottle means that Jim Barry is now also sourcing grapes from other nearby regions for the wine, the original “Cover Drive” vineyard remains in Coonawarra, and the flavour profile of the wine suggests that a significant portion of the fruit still comes from this esteemed area.  I’m making a big deal out of this because you don’t see Coonawarra Cabs on sale for $18 either.  If you want to know what Australian Cab can really do without entering the premium wine realm, this is a pretty solid bet.  Just toss it in the fridge for 20 minutes before you open it so that it’s not super warm and boozy when you drink it and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

OK, back to studying…this may be my only entry this week, but I promise this lull is a temporary aberration only.  Back to normal scheduling after Nov. 12th!

89 points

$15 to $20 CDN 

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5 responses

3 11 2011
XoXOXo Xocalatl Xhocolate

I am still at odds about a screw-top cap over a cork – no “POP!” The other day, I purchased a Wallaroo Trail Cab Sav Blend from Australia – special at the Loblaw franchise here with 2 for $20 and I cringed when I got home to “unscrew” the pour, but once in the glass and I was sipping, I was pleasantly surprised for the price! The next night, I’m unpacking a workbench and organizing my DIY section of the apartment and found a zip-locked bag full of corks from wines of a bygone era and each one has a unique beauty. This bag is a most cherished prop I use for photography, and at one time, I could remember the occasion that went with each. Could I see myself collecting “Bottle Caps” and rustle up the same emotions?!??!!?! I kinda don’t think so. How do you not pass judgement of a wine that you “POP” to Pour, over a wine that you “SCREW” to Pour? No pun intended! 🙂

3 11 2011
petervetsch

From an artistic/collectability perspective I am definitely more of a cork fan too, but from a quality and business standpoint I can see why producers would turn to screwcaps for widely produced wines meant to be consumed in their first few years of life. When I’m buying a wine at Costco for under $20 I want a solid, consistent product and would rather not have to worry about cork taint (which affects up to 5% of all cork-closed bottles and makes them smell/taste musty and stripped of fruit); on the other hand, if I’m buying a bottle to cellar for a decade then I’m more willing to roll the dice on cork taint in exchange for the predictable aging pattern that a cork closure brings to the table. Since screwcaps are a total barrier to oxygen entering the bottle, the jury is still out on how appropriate they are for long-term aging.

In terms of passing judgment on a bottlecap in lieu of a cork, I certainly lower my expectations, since the producer has way less to work with: if it’s not totally black and the winery makes some semblance of effort to make it interesting, I’m satisfied. The goofiness of this cap passes that test and then some — I wish more producers would try a little harder with their cap closures!

7 11 2011
S.

I have to say I’m not a big fan of the WSET method – I like your method better. Granted I was trying to read it on a Monday morning, so that probably does not help matters at all.

I’m a bit divided on screwtops vs. corks. I love the vintageness of corks (in an era gone by) and although I’m a royal weakling when opening the bottle I still love having a cork to pop out. Screwtops are easier to open, but it lacks the romantic notion of a bottle of wine. Or maybe I’m just nuts. 🙂

Btw, thx for the tips on the Napa Valley wines – I’ll keep that in mind when I next pick up a bottle 🙂

8 09 2012
baz

I’m actually amazed that people commenting about screwtops in 2012 actually own a computer! Shouldn’t you be using a fountain pen and writing your feelings on paper and sending them in the Post?

Ok now to the wine… I’ve read dozens of reviews on this wine after drinking it last night with dinner and no one has mentioned the super high acidity and an overall sense of being out of balance on the acidic side. My favourite cabs in the world hale from the coonawarra and the margaret river, so, i’m no stranger to this region’s profile; I just don’t think it deserves all the accolades it gets from reviewers. Could the wine have perhaps tasted better upon release and just declining already? Or did I just get an off bottle? I’ll pick up a bottle next month when I’m back in Australia to see if my notes are consistent.

8 09 2012
petervetsch

I don’t think I mentioned screwtops in the review other than in the Cork Rating section (which I do for every wine I write up). Regardless, I think it’s a legitimate point to mention given the public stigma that still attaches to this type of closure, especially with respect to red wines. Not saying I agree with that stigma, but saying that it’s fair to talk about Stelvin vs. cork in a review.

I’ve had the 08 Cover Drive 4-5 different times and it has never exhibited the over the top acidity or sense of unbalance that you reference. I’d try another bottle and see if you get similar results. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with this wine (although I liked the 09, also written up on this site, considerably less). Thanks for reading!

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