From AU$28, €20, $29, NZ$41.99, £21.60
Cullen Wines are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, half a century since Diana and Kevin Cullen planted their first vines in Wilyabrup, 20 km (12 miles) north of the town of Margaret River in Western Australia (shown on this map) and just 5 km from the natural beauty and surfing paradise of the Indian Ocean. I tasted this wine in London as part of a long-distance anniversary tasting hosted by Vanya Cullen on the other side of the world.
This richly aromatic red, in 2018 a blend of 61% Malbec and 39% Petit Verdot, has the most impressive credentials for sustainability: the vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic and the entire business sequesters more carbon than it produces. All the wines are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Such hard-won credentials don’t guarantee enjoyment but the Red Moon 2018 Margaret River is pure pleasure even before you taste it. The vibrant aromas of red cherry, violets and mulberry – the fruit that I tasted straight from the tree as I arrived at Cullen a few years ago after a long journey from London – are made more complex by a light peppery spice. The aromas give way to a delicious combination of ripe fruit and freshness. The tannins on this young wine are just gently chewy, giving a subtle framework and adding depth and length to the fruit flavours.
The Mangan vineyard, planted in 1995–97, and the grape varieties gave their names to this blend first produced in 2000 but the extraordinary celestial event that took place on 31 January 2018 prompted Cullen to christen it ‘Red Moon’: the first coincidence of a full moon rising with a lunar eclipse for 151 years. This seems particularly appropriate given the biodynamic calendar that determines the timing of work in the vineyard and the cellar at this estate, whose history and philosophy are fully explained on their website.
The winemaking allows free expression to the characteristics of the vineyard, which is planted on gravelly ironstone, to the grape varieties that thrive here and to the hopes and the vision of Vanya Cullen and her parents: destemmed grapes are fermented without any additions, then half of the wine spends five months in seasoned French oak. The oak is barely perceptible except in the smoothing of the wine’s texture. The wine manages to be both juicy and concentrated, both wild and elegant.
The 2018 has only recently arrived in the UK and the US so some retailers will be selling the 2017, which is an equally eloquent expression of the fruit from the Mangan vineyard. It includes 6% Merlot but it is the other two varieties that dominate in every way.
It was the weather not the inclusion of a little bit of Merlot that made the difference between the two vintages. According to Vanya Cullen, 2017 ‘was challenging both in the vineyard and the winery’, with a wet winter and cooler than average spring and summer. I found the 2017 lighter-bodied and even fresher than the 2018 but it is just as juicy and enticingly aromatic.
UK importer Liberty Wines mention Oz Wines and The Secret Cellar as stockists of this wine, Exel Wines will be selling it for £22.25 and there are more options via the Wine-Searcher link above. Cullen's US importer, Old Bridge Cellars in Napa, are distributing both the 2017 and 2018 vintages to many states, or you can buy direct from them.
All photos courtesy of Cullen Wines.