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22 October 2015

Australia: Cabernet Sauvignon

The Oz red fashion has perhaps shifted towards varieties such as Shiraz (Syrah) and Pinot Noir and Italian or Spanish grapes, as highlighted in a recent post on harpers.co.uk: "the trend to also move away from the once overwhelming focus on French varietals seems to be growing." But when you taste Australia's premium Cabernet Sauvignons and blends, you're quickly reminded of how good some of them are. In fact, I'd argue that higher-priced reds (whites too actually) sourced from more specific regions or vineyards are this country's strength, rather than the big-production big-brand blends from much bigger areas (generalisation of course where you will always find exceptions), which are trying to compete with similar wines from say Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Spain or eastern Europe even. And it's the posher type of wine and price-bracket that Australia is aspiring to promote to consumers with so far limited success it seems.
For instance, I recently bought a bottle of De Bortoli's South East Aus (or was it Riverina region? Doesn't matter in any case) Cab-Merlot for £5 at Asda, which was very average for this long-established family producer who can and does make lovely wines (e.g. two of their Yarra Valley Pinots also featured below) and perhaps typical of a Bordeaux-blend from what I assume are large-scale irrigated and high-cropping vineyards. Those tell-tell characters of dilute flavour and odd combo of slightly herbaceous unripe notes yet 13.5% abv, as in plenty of sugar ripeness but not the skins/tannins? This could probably be said about other similar wines I'm sure, without wanting to single them out in particular. Anyway, to illustrate my point, here's a selection of 25 better-quality and some top Aussie Cabs and Cab blends (plus a couple of Pinots as mentioned) tasted earlier this year, priced from about €12 in Ireland (I sampled these in Dublin) or £8 in the UK right up to €275 or £200-£250 (depending on vintage) a bottle for Penfold's iconic Bin 707 for instance (pic. from penfolds.com). All are 100% (or mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) unless specified...

Hardy's HRB 2007 Coonawarra (South Australia, SA) and Margaret River (Western Australia, WA) - Minty and ripe cassis nose, turning savoury vs still structured, quite concentrated with tasty finish. €25
McGuigan Black Label Reserve 2012 SA - Nice enough 'commercial' style with sweet vs savoury fruit, soft and mature vs a bit of grip, fairly easy and reasonably tasty though. €12-€15, £8-£9
Peter Lehmann Portrait 2009 Barossa SA - Sweet cassis with savoury edges, soft and silky mouth-feel with a touch of tannin, lovely sweet/savoury combo to finish. Good stuff. €17
Peter Lehmann Mentor 2009 Barossa SA - Similar but richer with delicious sweet/savoury profile, still firm and powerful palate vs lingering minty and dried cassis fruit with meaty edges, long finish. €37
d'Arenberg The High Trellis 2011 McLaren Vale SA - Minty blackcurrant with meaty edges, fair depth with chunky fruity palate and grip vs ripe finish. Nice wine. €16
d'Arenberg The Galvo Garage 2009 McLaren Vale SA: CS, Merlot (M), Cabernet Franc (CF), Petit Verdot (PV) - Enticing maturing savoury nose with ripe cassis, firm and punchy vs lush dark and spicy finish. More serious. €24
d'Arenberg The Coppermine Road 2009 (mostly CS + Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec) - Delicious maturing savoury vs lightly herby/minty, big and firm vs mature meaty vs dried cassis. Good.
Penfolds Bin 407 2011 SA - Tighter closed up style with cedar hints vs concentrated blackcurrant fruit, turning lusher on the finish yet still firm and structured; pretty classy red needing more time. €77
Penfolds Bin 707 2010 SA - Intense rich cassis, dark vs cedar-y with touches of coconut oak grain/flavour, very concentrated though with delicious fruit vs firm and closed up finish. Wow. €278
Katnook Estate Founder's Block 2011 Coonawarra SA - Maturing savoury nose with cassis, quite elegant style with tasty sweet/savoury finish and a bit of grip. €19
Katnook Estate Odyssey 2009 - Developing tobacco and wilder rustic edges vs chunky and grippy palate vs nice smoky savoury fruit on the finish. €65
Wynns The Sidings 2012 Coonawarra SA - Alluring dark cassis nose with meaty edges and minty herby tones, fairly soft mouth-feel and drinking nicely, well-balanced. €23
Wynns Johnstone Block 2004 Shiraz-Cabernet Coonawarra - Maturing aromas yet still very alive on the palate, nice silky texture and rich sweet/savoury fruit, long sexy finish. €40
Wynns Black Label 2007 - Enticing savoury cassis nose, smooth and mature vs structured and concentrated still, tasty meaty vs sweet fruit finish. €45
Wynns John Riddoch 2008 Coonawarra - Lovely intense ripe cassis and black cherry with minty vs savoury notes, closes up with firm and concentrated finish. Delicious red. c. €90
Parker Estate Coonawarra Series Coonawarra 2012 - Quite soft and mature with savoury vs sweet berry flavours, subtle finish with light grip too.
Parker Estate 95 Block Cabernet-Petit Verdot 2012 - Maturing with savoury vs minty flavour mix, attractive supple mouth-feel with a bit of structure underneath. £32
Parker Estate Terra Rossa 2012 - For the same age it's pretty structured and firm with dark vs crunchy cassis fruit, tight closed up finish needing more time. £22-£24
Parker Estate First Growth 2010 - Enticing maturing nose with sweet/savoury minty cassis vs meaty combo, grip and oomph on the finish but it's well-balanced and tasty too. £45-£55
Gatt Barossa Valley 2009 SA - Nice maturing cassis aromas and flavours, tasty sweet/savoury fruit with a little grip still, well-balanced and drinking now yet has a bit of power left. £23, €33
Gatt High Eden 2012 Eden Valley SA (vineyards at 500 metres altitude) - Leafy cassis notes leading to chunkier richer ripe berry fruit vs a touch of oak, nicely balanced though with rounded mouth-feel vs light grip and reasonably subtle overall. £23, €33
Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec, Margaret River WA - Delicious maturing savoury cassis with herb and mint edges, still structured and grippy layered with very tasty maturing Cab fruit, powerful and concentrated yet balanced. Yum.
Thorn-Clarke William Randell 2012 Eden Valley - Ripe cassis and meaty leather notes mingle giving way to a dark and lush vs crunchier profile, punchy (15% abv) vs good depth of fruit and nice sweet/dry texture. €53

Pinot Noir

De Bortoli Windy Peak 2013 Yarra Valley Victoria - Quite sexy floral perfumed cherry fruit, silky soft mouth-feel with light grip and tasty sweet/savoury fruit combo, fresh bite too. Good. €19
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate 2012 - Lovely delicate intricate Pinot nose, concentrated and classy with sweet/savoury fruit balancing rich vs elegant and grip vs silky, delicious fresh even and very long. €30 
Click here for my recent note on the Eileen Hardy Pinot from Tasmania.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.