While I don’t always share his point of view (he fired some cheap shots at me years ago and wouldn’t print the replies. But that’s another story), I read with interest Tony Keys’ investigation of Cabernet Sauvignon completed this week. Of note is the perception of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia, which I similarly thought was on the consumption decline. Turns out that the Cabernet drinkers are getting older, but they’re not drinking less (or indeed cheaper).
That’s a good segue to this lineup of Cabernet Sauvignon and blends (with a few Shiraz Cabs) that I’ve just worked through. Worked is an apt term, because plenty of these were workmanlike and serious, missing out on the seduction to make you want to buy them. Young Cabernet tastings are normally just self-flagellation sessions though, and particularly if its Coonawarra. Nothing new there.
A shout out, again, to the ’11 Voyager Cabernet below. The price has increased, but the quality makes it entirely worth it. Voyager I dip my lid.
Voyager Estate Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2011
I loved the Project Series wines and this is fine gear too. This has a quite juicy nose this vintage – definitely a dash of blackberry in there ( I wonder if its from the North Block fruit). otherwise it’s a classic, sophisticated, clearly defined Margaret River Cab, complete with a hint of leaf, mulch and cedar. What wins you over is the dusty. long, stout, elegant tannins that immediately mark this out as fine wine, the length also a solid reminder that we’re in the top echelon of Aussie Cabernet. I think the only gripe could be a hint of warmth this vintage. High quality regardless. Best drinking: 2018-2030. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $70. Would I buy it? Yes.
Houghton Gladstones Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
From the 27yo Batley Vineyard in Wilyabrup, this spend 13 months in barrel. I’ve had this twice now in the past month or so with similar notes. Dark red coloured with a hint of purple, the only hurdle here is that it’s just a little too much – the oak particularly heavy and sweet, the fruit forceful and bold and overt, the tannins raw. But the longer this sits in the glass, the more sophisticated it looks. It’s a sledgehammer Cabernet, but the future is very bright. Score should go up dramatically with time, if and when it all integrates (which will probably be in about five years based on past experience). Best drinking: 2021-2032. 18/20, 93/100+. 13.5%, $85. Would I buy it? I’m not enamoured enough yet to buy.
Mudgee Gold Shiraz Cabernet 2013
An unusual wine this, it is a blend of the gold medal winning Shiraz and Cabernet from the Mudgee Wine Show. Just ‘one precious barrels worth’ according to the back label, and my bottle was 472 of 1000. Mid red, there’s a real soul-of-Mudgee about this, though the barrel character is one of the main things that pops out. The dry and firm palate is both plump and dry all at once, a tug of war of flavour, If you’re a fan of that deeply earthen dry Mudgee style this would be a standout – if unapproachable. Much to be said about the quality here. Best drinking: 2018-2030+. 18/20, 93/100+. 14%, $60. Would I buy it? Maybe not. But I’d like some in the cellar, just to see what happens in about six years time.
Redman Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010
Old school in every way, kicking off with a long, good-looking cork. Good colour for a six year-old too, the nose classical dominated by dusty, red fruit and gumleaf. Again, you could reach in and touch the Coonawarra soul in there, all rough hands and tinnies after work, all those Redman open fermenters and hand plungers. Good, hearty palate is not flashy, not extravagant, just dark, thick through the middle and dry to finish (maybe a little warm). It will live for 30 years, and pleasure it will give, though never destined to win a trophy. Best drinking: 2018-2030. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $29. Would I buy it? I’d like some of this in the cellar for drinking in a decade.
Grace Farm Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
From the old to the new school of Aussie Cabernet, and from oxidative to protective winemaking. Dark red, this smells and tastes like a barrel sample. So young! All blue fruits and mint, the dry, berrylicious palate cast in a quite approachable, mid weight modern Margs Cabernet style. At first I thought this was a bit too simple and jubey, but there is substance here. Best drinking 2019-2028. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $30. Would I buy it? I’d drink a glass. That’s enough for now.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Back to the old school again! A ruddy, dark red colour, this looks much older than the Voyager equivalent, the nose laid showing meat, earth and more earth with a dustiness that suggests old barrels. There’s old school Bordeaux drunk (while sitting on old Chesterfield) feel to this, just with a smidgen of Margs eucalypt and some red gravelly dust. Secondary and even a bit rustic, it has a languid charm to this wine even though it’s more of a leathery drink than something earth shattering. Will make good old bones though. Best drinking: 2016-2030. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $63. Would I buy it? I’d drink a glass or two.
Jim Barry Veto Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
The Veto range is Tom and Sam Barry’s project, the wines made in a style that is lighter and with a ‘vibrancy of fruit’, spending just 9 months in oak. Dark red with a little purple, the nose is quite sweet berried with some Oreo oak – a really ‘fruity’ nose, though with dusty Cabernet characters. Light and easy. It tastes much more like Cabernet, with dark berry, choc mint and a little cassis, the oak clever, the fruit surprisingly fudgy, the tannins fine. There is good form here – it’s definitely less drying than some Coonawarra Cabs and seems fun. Best drinking: 2016-2026. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 14%, %30. Would I buy it? I’m not totally convinced, but I’d drink a glass or so.
Tower Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Tower continue to source fruit from all over the land, with everything from Hunter Semillon to Macedon Ranges Malbec in the mix. This quite conventional, dark red coloured Coonawarra Cab has a liberal splash of dark chocolate oak on the nose, backed by dark earthand tobacco. The palate is just a bit dry and severe, but has good tannic length – real Coonawarra. Just a little green edge here, but a long tobacco and cassis finish. Definite intensity, if a little raw. Best drinking: 2018-2028. 17/20, 90/100. 13%, $35. Would I buy it? No. If it was $10 cheaper then maybe more inclined.
Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Limestone Coast Shiraz Cabernet 2012
I’m not sure where this popped up given I reviewed the rest of the Double Barrel range almost two years ago, but interesting nonetheless. I’ve always said that the best Jacobs Creek wines are all Shiraz Cab and this looks the best under the line yet. Surpisingly good. Crucially, the oak looks much better integrated this year – less obvious cherry wood. There’s still an indelible stamp of coconut vanilla, but the fruit generosity has really lapped up it. Long and quite silky tannins too. Medium weight, it punches well above its $25 price tag, even though it finishes a little warm and with an (added) acid punch. Will live for 5-8 years too. A better wine than many for more dollars, if hardly classy – and that sweet oak is an acquired taste. Best drinking: 2016-2026. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $24.99. Would I buy it? No, but I’d recommend.
Longhop Mt Lofty Ranges Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
You could do much worse than Dom Torzi’s budget busting Longhop wines. Sourced from the large, overarching Mt Lofty Ranges (which covers McLaren Vale and more), this comes from old vines, is hand plunged, basket press and matured in old oak. As usual, it tastes much better than the meagre price point. Dark ruby, the nose has mint, dark berries, a little vanilla milkshake oak and chunky tannins. Concentrated and rich, it’s not polished or silky, but gee there is a lot of authentic South Aussie richness about this. Solid tannins for a budget wine too. The only let down is it’s a little light (compared to some vintages). Solid red wine for the dollars. Best drinking: 2016-2021. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.5%, $18. Would I buy it? A glass. Solid recommendation though.
Willow Bridge Dragonfly Geographe Cabernet Merlot 2014
Shiraz is the star at Willow Bridge but this goes ok. Medium red with a little purple. Nice to see some clear varietal fruit! Dark berry and a little eucalypt, the dry and firm palate is long and awfully serious, if too much for a light cheapie – it’s a fraction too dry and a little bitter on the finish with a little heat. Still, so serious! Long and drying with clear cab structure. Value pick and nicely varietal. Best drinking: 2016-2022. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.5%, $20. Would I buy it? Not quite, but close.
Alkoomi White Label Frankland River Cabernet Merlot 2013
Still all Frankland River fruit – amazing for the price. Mid red, the nose carrying a little undergrowth and ferns and sausage, the fruit bright and initially juicy but then gets more perhaps a little bittersweet and lean. If it wasn’t so sour this would be a winner, the skinniness not helping either. Proper cool climate wine though. Best drinking: 2016-2019. 16/20, 87/100. 14.5%, $15. Would I buy it? No.