Bordeaux red wine is probably the most recognised wine in the world. The six grape varieties permitted in Bordeaux blends are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère, although most are a blend of the first three grape varieties.
Because of its popularity, most New World wine countries plant at least two or three of the Bordeaux varieties and make their own expressions of Bordeaux red blends. Even in Italy, some producers have decided to plant these varieties on the western coast of Tuscany, calling these wines “Super Tuscan”, meaning that they are not made using traditional Tuscan grape varieties.
Blending is a synergy to create something more than the sum of the individual components. In the cooler climate of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon has a firm structure and black fruits aroma but a hollow mid-palate that can be filled by the richness of Merlot. Cabernet Franc lifts up the wine with its red fruits and spice aromas. In the warmer New World wine regions, Cabernet Sauvignon is more fruit-forward, with a richer palate, so it can also be made into a single-varietal wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon is considered a noble variety because of its long ageing potential. The variety has been growing in Australia since the mid-1800s and is made in both single-varietal wine and as Bordeaux blends.
Wine Australia recently conducted a global comparative tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and blends from around the world. All the wines featured were international benchmarks including from Stellenbosch in South Africa, Maipo in Chile, Napa in the USA, Super Tuscan in Italy and, of course, Bordeaux in France. These wines were tasted alongside their six counterparts from Coonawarra, Yarra Valley, Margaret River and Eden Valley in Australia.
One thing I like about this tasting is that it was not trying to demote other wines, but rather to demonstrate that Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends have a place in the global fine wine world and, at the same time, to explore the regional characteristics of these wines.
Each wine has its own merit, and the differences can be attributed to the grape-growing conditions and winemaking techniques used. The Chilean blend has the unmistaken herbal and minty aromas that are typical of Maipo, while the Stellenbosch and Napa blends showcase more of the winemakers’ footprints.
Henschke Cyril Henschke 2015 (99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc) from Eden Valley is a big but not heavy wine because of its firm acidity and structured tannin. This wine drinks well now, but its ample fruit concentration will give it at least another 10–15 years cellaring potential.
Margaret River’s Cullen Wines Diana Madeline 2015 is another outstanding wine. Located in Western Australia, Margaret River is a young wine region with a mild maritime climate that was established on the potential of Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of four Bordeaux varieties including 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 1% each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. It has good complexity and layers of fruit, supported by a firm structure. Again, it has many years of life ahead of it.
Another equally impressive wine is Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No. 1 2015 from Yarra Valley to the east of Melbourne, which is influenced by the cooling air from Melbourne Hill. This wine has the same depth as the previous two, so it also has excellent ageing potential. It shares a similar fruit profile, but the 4% Petit Verdot in the blend adds extra herbal and floral aromas.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Wine Australia in organising this Zoom tasting, with miniature bottles included.
The next time you crave a Bordeaux red wine, remember that you have the whole world to choose from. The three wines mentioned above are available here in Hong Kong from Watson’s Wine.
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