A Wine for the True Believers: Australia’s best cabernet shiraz

Posted on May 22, 2019

If Australia can lay a claim to any wine style it is cabernet shiraz.

The style popularised by Penfolds Bin 389 blended two grapes previously considered incompatible by traditionalists – although history does record some French examples of the blend that predate Australia’s efforts.

The blend has become so synonymous with Australia that many big producers consider cabernet shiraz to be their flagship style. Perhaps the point was proven in 1962 when the style won the inaugural Jimmy Watson Trophy for Young Reds – regarded as Australia’s premier wine award – for Saltram’s Metala label.

For all its storied history, however, cabernet shiraz seems to have lost its sense of place in the Australian wine pantheon. Famous labels such as Bin 389 still command popular support – and underwrite their producers’ relentless price increases. But the style is no longer the powerhouse it was when iconic Australian critic Len Evans declared good examples to be the epitome of Australian winemaking.

For one thing, a cabernet shiraz hasn’t won the Jimmy Watson for more than 30 years. Indeed, it has laid claim to only half the number of trophies as the competition’s most dominant entry – straight cabernet sauvignon.

Cabernet shiraz’ woes are illustrated by Penfold’s Bin 389 itself. The label is a perennial underperformer at wine competitions and rarely wins more than a silver or bronze medal.

Critic Tyson Stelzer, who convenes the Great Australian Red competition that specialises in the style, speculates that Bin 389’s best days might follow its show appearances by some margin.

However changing tastes might also be to blame. Other winemakers are leaning towards a more fruit-forward style that downplays its traditional reliance on American oak. Bleasdale’s Paul Hotker rejects the use of American oak for the more subtle influences of French oak and employs winemaking techniques that emphasise the fruit over the wood.

Other winemakers seem to agree. Each of the top three shiraz cabernets this year all either use French oak largely or exclusively or bottle their wines early to capture the style’s fruit characteristics more faithfully. That compares with more traditional styles where critics mark exhibits down for “drying” tannins or more heavy-handed winemaking techniques.

Perhaps these new directions point to a renaissance for cabernet shiraz. Here are the top 25 best examples as judged by Australian wine show judges last year:


1 Jim Barry The Barry Bros Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
2 Lindemans Coonawarra Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet 2015
3 Majella the Musician Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz 2017
4 Jacob’s Creek Expedition Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2015
5 Annie’s Lane Quelltaler Shiraz Cabernet 2016
6 Pepperjack Barossa Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
7 Bleasdale Wellington Road Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
8 Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Shiraz 2016
9 Bleasdale Wellington Road Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
10 Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz 2016
11 St Hugo Coonawarra/ Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2014
12 Majella the Musician Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz 2016
13 De Bortoli Sacred Hill Shiraz Cabernet 2017
14 Lake Breeze Bernoota Shiraz Cabernet 2016
15 Pinnacle Drinks Langhorne Creek Area Red Blend Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
16 Passing Clouds Graeme’s Shiraz Cabernet 2016
17 Taltarni Reserve Shiraz Cabernet 2017
18 Tyrrell’s Vat 8 Shiraz Cabernet 2017
19 Stormflower Cabernet Shiraz 2016
20 Tahbilk Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz 2015
21 Jacob’s Creek Expedition Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2014
22 Wyndham I Am George Shiraz Cabernet 2016
23 Pepperjack Premium Cut Cabernet Shiraz 2016
24 Sieber Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
25 Tahbilk Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz 2016

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