Three cabernet blends
Cabernet sauvignon is wine-grape royalty, but it’s not always a complete wine on its own. A check of my last few cabernet tastings shows that nearly 40% of the 300 wines I tasted were blends. Usually, winemakers choose merlot, shiraz or malbec to plug the gap, which sometimes appears in cabernet sauvignon’s middle palate. Occasionally they use more of the Bordeaux red grapes, or even all of them – cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec.
The classic Australian blend is cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, while cabernet sauvignon and malbec are especially notable in the Clare Valley.
Cabernet sauvignon with merlot often signifies a cheaper price than the same maker’s pure cabernet sauvignon and is often made in a softer, lighter style intended for earlier drinking.
A peculiarly Aussie blend is cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot. The Rhône meets Bordeaux. Why not, if it makes a better wine?
Another purpose for blending is to increase complexity. In theory, the more grape varieties in the mix, the more complex the flavour and aroma.
Here are three contrasting Australian examples of blending, all with cabernet sauvignon as the base.
Malbec is a dark-coloured, firm-tannin variety somewhat like cabernet sauvignon but has a deeper mid-palate. If grown in too cool a climate it can have an unappealing weedy, herbaceous character. This is seldom a problem in Clare. Steve Wiblin makes a straight cab sav, a cab merlot, a cab shiraz and this cab malbec. All are good. This has some herbs among the berry aromas, in an attractive way, and the palate is full-bodied and complete, while the tannins are classically firm in typical Clare fashion. It will cellar very well. (AUD $30)
This is the classic Aussie blend. Yalumba has made a feature of it and markets cab shirazes under several labels at various price-ranges. The oak and tannin have been throttled back over the years and the fruit now does most of the talking. This has deep, youthful colour and ripe blackberry aromas which express more cabernet than shiraz at this stage of its life. Shiraz helps complete the mid-palate and adds soft tannins, chocolaty richness and fruit-sweetness. A stylish wine which will live for 30 years. (AUD $60)
If complexity is the aim, this famous wine achieves it in spades. It’s simply labelled Yeringberg. That’s all. Like Chateau Latour. But the blend is cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec. The vineyard and region supply the elegance, and the mix of five grape varieties supplies the charm and complexity. There are floral and red fruit aromas to go with the herbal and rose-petal traces, and the tannins are superfine and gentle. It’s medium-bodied and just 13.5% alcohol and the palate has great purity and harmony. Comparisons are invidious, but it’s more Bordeaux-like than most Australian cabernet blends. (AUD $98)