The wine world has a funny relationship with the idea of signature wines. On the one hand, regions or even countries seem to benefit heavily when able to carve out a clear niche (think Napa cabernet or New Zealand sauvignon blanc); but what at first seems like a blessing can sour on the vine when producers find themselves unable to escape that narrowly defined box.
This is particularly pertinent when it applies to entire countries. Too often, a diverse portfolio of specific and sensitively made wines gets brutally overshadowed by the “signature” behemoth. Australia, for example, can struggle to raise awareness internationally of even its most deeply historical wine styles because its name is inextricably linked with shiraz.
A subset of Australian wines that seems to have got lost in the vast gulf between its “modern wave” of big, boisterous shirazes and its hip “new wave” of skinny chardonnays, pinots and funky natural wines is classic Aussie cabernet sauvignon, incarnations of which have been quietly chugging along, developing an ever more nuanced and sophisticated profile.
So when an opportunity arose to taste a selection of top Aussie cabs against international benchmarks, I happily put my hand up. It did not hurt that Wine Australia had pulled together a truly plum list (the international benchmarks alone included such treats as Pichon Baron 2015 and BV Georges de Latour 2015, while the Aussie list included two listed as Exceptional in Langton’s Classification, the ranking of best-performing Australian wines) for a webinar led by Oz Clarke, Mary Gorman-McAdams MW and John Szabo MS.
There are three areas of Australia that are associated with cabernet sauvignon to varying degrees: Coonawarra in South Australia, the Yarra Valley in Victoria and Margaret River in Western Australia. The grape is also grown in other regions, including Barossa and Langhorne Creek in South Australia, but these have less of a clearly defined regional style.
A quick refresher on the variety: it is one we think of as “structure-driven” in that it has comparatively high levels of acidity and small berries with thick, dark skins that give high levels of tannin (plus a deep ruby-purple colour). It usually has only middling levels of body and alcohol (say 14 per cent on average) unless very ripe, which it ideally should not be. As a result, it is commonly blended with merlot, which has complementary traits to cab, as well as a smattering of other varieties like cabernet franc and petit verdot. As a late ripener, cabernet is happiest in an environment with a long, sunny growing season but it wants cooling maritime influences to save it from excess weight. Some connoisseurs also feel it should retain a hint of leafiness; others abhor those notes.
A unique characteristic of Australian cabernet sauvignon is that, due to its long history in the country (the oldest cabernet vines in the world are believed to be found in Penfold’s Kalimna Block 42, planted in 1888), several regions have had decades to develop distinct styles that draw the best out of their natural environments.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Ice Ice Baby
Can an ice bath for your face really work wonders for your complexion?
Oscar-winning costume designer Tim Yip has chosen Eileen Chang’s work for his stage directorial debut. Here’s why
It might be winter, but there’s no time like the present for Supergoop! founder Holly Thaggard to convince you to change the way you think about sun protection
Louder Than Words
There’s a beauty in SUEN’s handcrafted jewellery not found anywhere else
Reclaiming the Culture
From rock bottom to rock and roll, chef Gaggan Anand gets candid about shifting attitudes towards Indian cuisine ahead of his highly anticipated Singapore pop-up
Our body has an incredible ability to heal and regenerate itself, but a myriad factors can block its recovery. We talk to healing practitioners who use the power of sound and elemental energy to bring harmony and balance within
Mind the Gap
Serial entrepreneur Azran Osman-Rani is laser-focused on redefining modern healthcare to become more holistic and ensure both physical and mental wellbeing are looked after
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Wellness advocates Maggy Wang and Talitha Tan talk about taking the bad with the good when it comes to personal growth—here’s how and why
The Razak Reset
As his book tops local best-selling lists, Tan Sri Nazir Razak reveals a glimpse of the man behind his name in this Tatler exclusive
With sustainability built into infrastructure, we can afford a greener way of life that is practical and effortless