Grapevine: Cabernet in the Cabinet
As a young wine-producing country, it’s hard to find uniquely Australian contributions to the wine world. We don’t have any native varieties, or centuries of history growing grapes in particular areas, but we are slowly finding the areas and wine styles that have something unique to offer the world.
Just one example is the Cabernet Shiraz blend, which has its roots overseas but over the past century has become a uniquely Australian style.
The roots of the blend lay in the Old World region of Bordeaux where Cabernet Sauvignon forms the basis for many of the blends from the left bank of the region. The firm Cabernet is blended with varying portions of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot to construct a more complete wine than the Cabernet may produce on its own. During the 19th century, they were far lighter, paler coloured wines referred to as Claret. This eventually evolved to refer to wines of a similar style as Bordeaux. However, the blend would often not be the same as that in Bordeaux. While we did have Cabernet planted, we didn’t have as much of the other constituent varieties in a classic Bordeaux blend. We did have plenty of Shiraz, though, pragmatism played its part and the firm, dry Cabernet often with the characteristic “hole” in the middle of the palate was filled out by the use of Shiraz as a blending partner.
While Cabernet from Bordeaux and Shiraz from the Rhone were often blended in France, once the regional laws began to come in to effect in the early 1900s this was no longer possible as the cross-regional blend was no longer allowed. There are very good reasons for laws that protect the regions in France, our youth as a wine producing country meant we had no such history to protect and the freedom allowed us to be more flexible and make the blend our own.
Yalumba is noted as producing some of the earliest blends in the 1800s when they shipped wines to the British Raj in India, nowadays their Signature is an iconic example of the blend. Max Schubert is credited with establishing the blend as a genuine contender in the world of fine wine with the legendary Bin 60A Cabernet Shiraz, Grange and Bin 389. Many other producers, principally in South Australian regions have put the blend to good use particularly with the use of Coonawarra Cabernet and Barossa Shiraz.
Part of the difficulty for the blend recently may be due to the pre-eminence of single site and single block wines. As we try to dial in on the intricacies of site, the skill in blending varieties has fallen somewhat behind the ability to find and express a single variety from a single site clearly. There are still plenty of producers committed to refining classic Australian styles and blends that worth tracking down.
Taltarni was established in 1969, before being sold soon after in 1972 to John Goelet, Bernard and Dominique Portet. The trio were on the hunt for a vineyard comparable to the vineyards of Bordeaux where their father had worked at Chateau Lafite, in the Pyrenees of Victoria at Taltarni they found their vineyard. It’s no surprise that they established a strong reputation for their long-lived Cabernets but they didn’t shy away from Shiraz that performs just as well in the Pyrenees and eventually began blending the two. Pyrenees reds can sometimes display imposing structure in their youth requiring years to settle down, but the current releases show impressive integration and approachability as young wines – It’s still a bold wine and there is plenty of structure to hold it together for a decade or more in the cellar but there is a suppleness to the texture texture, generous mouth filling fruits of blackcurrant, black and blue berry, cedar, some dark chocolate, dried herbs and a hint of regional mint.