The kinship that Cabernet Sauvignon has with a maritime climate is understood due to history of Bordeaux’s Medoc region. Cabernet Sauvignon’s origins can be traced back to France’s Bordeaux region.
Over the past 15 years or so there have been many articles written by proponents of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon such as James Halladay, Oz Clarke, Robert Parker Jr and James Suckling and I agree that these wines are authentic, terrific and dynamic.
Cabernet Sauvignon reaches its highpoint (although Napa Valley may beg to differ these days) on the gravel soils of the Medoc, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary where it is widely blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot. Within the Medoc are the famous communes, which produce some of the world’s best red wines.
Okay…so, it is fairly obvious that most (but not all) of Australia’s top quality cabernets come from regions with climates similar to Bordeaux (noticeably Coonawarra and Margaret River) which have a closeness to the sea and without any mountainous regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is a somewhat low yielding varietal, with small berries and thick skins, which give off high color, flavor and tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late, and has firm tannin structure that guarantees that it’s capable of producing wines with good potential to improve with cellaring.
Cabernet Sauvignon has been in Australia for a very long time. Early records show that by the end of the 19th century it had spread to South Australia’s Clare, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra regions as well as in Victoria. Today Cabernet Sauvignon is really considered one of Australia’s great red wines and is widely grown all over the country, from the cool climate of Tasmania to some first-rate vineyards in Western Australia.
So let’s get on with the key Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Regions!
Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
The fine strip of red ‘terra rossa’ soil over a limestone base produces Cabernet Sauvignon of distinction and refined structure, with the best wines merging sophistication and power. There’s this chocolate intermingled with the fruit and cedary oak. Lingering flavors are focused by dusty fine tannins that jog my memory to Rutherford California …Coonawarra Estates has some fine Cabs as does Phoenix Estate. Penfold 169 is a high end…there is also Penfolds 407 which is a blend of several regions including a good dose of Coonawarra.
Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The Barossa Valley has been an important source of Cabernet Sauvignon, largely as a blending partner with Shiraz. The Barossa Valley makes terrific Shiraz. There are vines of Cabernet Sauvignon in the adjacent Eden Valley also but are of smaller quantity, but fit well with the warm Barossa material. Elderton Estate is one that I like as well as Peter Lehman’s wines.
Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon
Margaret River has fashioned some of Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons over the past 25 years and is praiseworthy just like Coonawarra. Their best vintages are hardly ever green, and have ripe black fruits, earth and spicy characters. The majority of Margaret River and Western Australian Cabernet Sauvignons, totally benefits from the blending Merlot. The Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignons vintages of late have been outstanding. There have been last six have been good to excellent vintages from 2007 to ’10 decidedly so and ’11 and ’12 to showing well too.
Mt Barker Cabernet Sauvignon
This West Australian region is known for some outstanding red wines. The overall climate and terroir is restrained enough to foster Cabernet Sauvignon to full ripeness with abundant structure and the capacity to develop into great wines.
Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Some of Australia’s top Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds come from the Yarra Valley, from nicely situated vineyards with great terroir. These wines are low in extraction, supple in texture, with lean blackcurrant flavors backed by hints of Eucalyptus and Black Olives.
Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the mainstays for Cabernet Sauvignon many years, there are some of the oldest vines and areas of superior soil in Langhorne Creek that make very rich, substantial and earthy wine. That is offset by notes of cedar with hints of cardamom, tobacco and licorice spice.
Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The Clare Valley produces very deep, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon of power and elegance. This region should not be overlooked. These are wines that possess great aromatics that can have good structure that are medium to long-term propositions in the cellar.
Other Australian Cabernet Sauvignon regions
The above regions are the prime areas that produce Cabernet of renowned quality. Other notable Cabernet Sauvignon regions include Central Victoria, South Australia’s McLaren Vale region, the famous Mudgee and the Hilltops in New South Wales.
Some of my favorites are from Mclaren Vale…seek Mitolo Jester, Two Hands and Kangarilla Road.
There is a wide range of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon styles and regional characters, from elegant, medium-bodied examples through to full-bodied reds full of intense black fruit flavors, with oak to match and firm tannins. Australian Cabernet Sauvignons are generally versatile, rich and well structured, and usually benefit from further age in bottle, so it’s also well worth cellaring them for a year or two.
Australian Cabs also can be decanted as an option! Use a nice big 750ml glass…
By the way…Grilled Steaks and Burgers with Dijon Mustard, Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Fresh Mint Sauce, BBQ Ribs in a spice rub or sauce are great place to start for food pairing as well.