Cabernet is a grape that’s grown all over the world, but it makes great red wine in relatively few places. It’s far more choosy about where it puts down roots than, say, shiraz. Marginal climates and over-cropped vines readily yield wines that smell and taste herbaceous and show green astringent tannins and elevated acidity.
You could mount a strong argument that California has better cabernet regions than anywhere in Australia. The style we produce is generally lighter, more herbal and more elegant – at least in our favoured cabernet regions of Margaret River, Coonawarra and Yarra Valley. However, even the relatively warm Margaret River produces many wines that are just a little too herbaceous to be considered great, in my view.
This month’s cabernet tasting of nearly 140 new-release wines revealed some rippers. St Huberts winemaker Greg Jarratt has made two crackers in 2012, his cabernet sauvignon (tasting) and cabernet merlot (tasting). These are supremely elegant, traditional Yarra Valley styles, with low-alcohols (13%) but not a skerrick of greenness. Beautiful wines, to drink now or cellar. Also from the Treasury group, Lindemans Coonawarra St George (tasting) and Pyrus (tasting) 2012s are superb: gone are the clumsy, oaky, colour-by-numbers wines of the past. These are superbly balanced and extremely ageworthy.
Yalumba’s latest The Reserve (tasting), an expensive cabernet shiraz blend, with serious bottle-age (the 2006 is current) is a wonderful cabernet, semi-mature and drinking beautifully now, but with many years ahead of it. From an exalted vintage, it treads the ripeness line perfectly.
There’s a welter of Margaret River cabs, some of them a touch too herbal for top marks from me, but the one I did love was Xanadu Reserve 2011 (tasting), an outstanding cabernet, and a better wine in my view than the same winery’s Stevens Road 2011 (tasting), which has been showered with praise elsewhere. Chacun à son goût (“each to his/her own taste”).
From the same region, Amelia Park (Reserve – tasting) and Aravina Estate (tasting) are two producers whose wines regularly come up trumps in my tastings, although I suspect many wine lovers are yet to discover them. Their 2011 cabernets are terrific. Also in the Margaret River ‘discovery’ category is Churchview, with its Bartondale 2012 (tasting).
To Coonawarra, and where would this region be without Wynns? The 2012 V&A Lane Cabernet Shiraz (tasting) is a highlight of this year’s Wynns releases, while the Black Label of both cabernet sauvignon (tasting) and shiraz (tasting) are spot-on, as you’d expect from Wynns in a year like 2012. For those with slightly deeper pockets, Wynns 2010 Alex 88 (tasting) is the goods.
Majella’s The Malleea 2010 (tasting) is another stunner, which will richly reward cellaring, and not far behind is their regular cabernet 2012 (tasting). Definitely one to lay down and forget about for a while is Joseph Moda 2012 (tasting), the amarone-style cabernet merlot from Joe Grilli, which is very oaky but also statuesquely built and will richly reward extended cellaring. Howard Park’s Abercrombie (tasting) is yet again one of the stars of the WA vintage in 2011.
There’s a lot of good cabernet around, for cellaring and drinking.