South by south-west: Australia’s Top 25 Cabernet Sauvignons
Every country has its go-to wine grape – that for which that country is associated around the world and which is most enthusiastically embraced by its growers. Think malbec in Argentina, sauvignon blanc in NZ, German riesling, American chardonnay and so on.
In Australia, that grape is shiraz. And why not? The vine grows like a weed here. It relishes the hot sun and tolerates our poor soils just as it does on the “roasted” slopes of France’s northern Rhone valleys.
Shiraz has been responsible for much of Australia’s recent stature among overseas wine drinkers. That was largely thanks to the ascension of American critic Robert Parker. Parker not only popularised the 100 point scoring system as a global short-cut to wine appreciation but brought a strong preference for big, bold flavours to the tasting table. That triggered the rise and rise of the big, hot Aussie shiraz which local winemakers have, to some extent, lived off ever since.
But, for all the physical and metaphorical sunlight Australian shiraz has enjoyed, it actually is not the most critically acclaimed red grape in Australia. That grape would be cabernet sauvignon.
Cabernet is the principal grape of France’s south-western Bordeaux region that produces its most famous wines. Otherwise known as clarets, these wines are the aristocracy of the wine world and boast magnificent labels adorned with chateaux and double-barrelled names.
Cabernet’s dominance of the region, along with its hardiness and vinification qualities, has made it one of the world’s two most widely planted grapes. The other is chardonnay.
Cabernet is prized chiefly for its abundant phenolics – the chemical compounds that impart colour, flavour and structure to wine. Of these, it is cabernet’s tannins for which the grape is most famous. They offer structure and length to a wine’s palate and largely govern its ability to age.
It is perhaps for all these reasons that it is cabernet, not shiraz, which has dominated Australia’s premier wine trophy. In the 57 years the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards have presented the Jimmy Watson Trophy for Best Young Red Wine, cabernet sauvignon has lifted the cup 25 times compared with 15 times for the next best grape – shiraz.
Cabernet sauvignon’s expression in Australia has become a battleground between its historic roots in the Coonawarra in south-east South Australia and Margaret River in south-west Western Australia. Whereas nearly all of cabernet’s Jimmy Watson trophies were typically drawn from South Australian regions in the past Margaret River wines have accounted for the last three.
This trend was illustrated more amply in last year’s Australian Cabernet Challenge specialist wine show. Margaret River was the most highly awarded major region for cabernet in Australia with an average score of 89 points – one full point higher than Coonawarra. That’s impressive considering there were more than twice as many exhibits from Margaret River as Coonawarra which is dominated by a smaller number of larger, corporate producers.
As with last year’s Cabernet Challenge, a Margaret River label topped our list below. Australian and NZ wine show judges assessed nearly 4000 exhibits of 1375 different cabernet sauvignon labels last year. These are the top 25:
|1||Evans & Tate Redbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015|
|2||Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2015|
|3||Wolf Blass Gold Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|4||Evans & Tate Redbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014|
|5||Leconfield Richard Hamilton ‘Hut Block’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|6||Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|7||Blue Pyrenees Richardson Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|8||Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2017|
|9||Watershed Awakening Cabernet Sauvignon 2015|
|10||Cockfighters Ghost Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|11||Evans & Tate Redbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|12||Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|13||Redman Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|14||Shingleback Davey Estate Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017|
|15||Blue Pyrenees Richardson Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013|
|16||Ballinaclash Thomas Cabernet Sauvignon 2017|
|17||McWilliam’s McW 660 Reserve Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|18||Shingleback D Block Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|19||Moppity Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|20||Lake Breeze Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|21||Xanadu Stevens Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2015|
|22||Grove The Partners Cabernet Sauvignon 2017|
|23||St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015|
|24||Nugan Alcira Cabernet Sauvignon 2016|
|25||Blue Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2015|
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