Red Wine Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon’s origins can be traced back to France’s Bordeaux region. It reaches its pinnacle on the gravel soils of the Medoc, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary where it is widely blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and to a lesser degree Malbec and Carmenere. Within the Medoc are famous communes, which produce some of the world’s finest red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively low yielding variety, with small berries and thick skins, which impart high colour, flavour and tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late, and has firm tannin structure that ensures it’s capable of producing wines with good potential to improve with cellaring.
Cabernet Sauvignon came to Australia with James Busby, and it soon became apparent that this red grape was ideally suited to Australian conditions. Early records show that by the end of the 19th century it had spread to South Australia’s Clare, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra regions as well as Great Western and the Goulburn Valley in Victoria. In the 21st century Cabernet Sauvignon is considered one of Australia’s great red wines and is widely grown all over the country, from the cool climate of Tasmania to some ideally sited vineyards in Western Australia. There is a wide range of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon styles and regional characters, from elegant, medium-bodied examples through to full-bodied reds full of intense black fruit flavours, with oak to match and firm tannins.
Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
The narrow strip of red ‘terra rossa’ soil over a limestone base produces Cabernet Sauvignon of distinction and refined structure, with the best wines combining elegance and power.
Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The Barossa Valley has been an important source of Cabernet Sauvignon, largely as a blending partner with Shiraz. Plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon in the neighbouring Eden Valley are small, but marry well with the warm Barossa material.
Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon
Margaret River has produced some of Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons over the past 40 years and is a worthy challenger to Coonawarra. The finest examples are rarely green, and have blackcurrant, earth and spicy characters. Most Margaret River and Western Australian Cabernet Sauvignons, benefit from the addition of Merlot.
Mt Barker Cabernet Sauvignon
This West Australian region is known for some striking red wines. The climate is moderate enough to nurture Cabernet Sauvignon to full ripeness with ample structure and the capacity to develop well.
Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Some of Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds come from the Yarra Valley, from well-sited vineyards. These wines are low in extract, supple in texture with clean blackcurrant flavours backed by touches of olive and mint.
Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the workhorses for many years, there are some old vines and patches of superior soil in Langhorne Creek that make rich, generous and earthy Cabernet Sauvignon.
Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Often underrated, the Clare produces deep, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon of power and elegance. These wines are medium to longterm propositions.
The above regions are the prime areas that produce Cabernet of renowned quality. Other notable Cabernet Sauvignon regions include Central Victoria, which produces some great examples, as does South Australia’s McLaren Vale region and Mudgee and the Hilltops in New South Wales. These Cabernet Sauvignons are rich and well structured, and usually benefit from further age in bottle, so it’s also well worth cellaring them for a year or two.