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Wine

Cabernet: Custom-made for a change

In Europe, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered King of wines. In Australia it seems to sit in the shadow of Shiraz. But a greater understanding of the varietal by producers and key changes in the weather signal an exciting future for this regal wine.

Of all the great wine regions in the world, it is Bordeaux that commands the most respect. Home to esteemed names such as Château Montrose, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, the wines of Bordeaux have a sense of royalty about them. It is here where Cabernet reigns supreme – dark and brooding with flavours ranging from chocolate, cigar box and tobacco, its broad tannin structure allows it to age far more than any other wine. It is the stuff legend.

In Australia, the thick-skinned grape varietal has been planted in virtually every wine region across Australia, however, it doesn’t always produce the goods. It struggles when it’s too cold and gets too jammy when it is too hot.

Naturally, regions whose climes resemble the maritime climate of Bordeaux, with its warm days and cool nights, produce our best. Traditionally, that has been Coonawarra in South Australia and, more recently, the Western Australian wine regions of Margaret River and Great Southern.

Certainly, these were the regions that shone in our Cabernet tasting with more than half the wines in the Top 30 produced in these three regions. “The potential to make world class Cabernet from Margaret River and the Great Southern is amazing and it’s only just getting started,” says Richard Burch from Howard Park, whose Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 topped the tasting. “Western Australia is a relatively young wine region with vines only planted in the 1970s. But when you put together the benign weather and growing conditions, the gradual accumulation of vine age, and the continuing discovery of the best individual sites for Cabernet in Western Australia, the future looks exciting.”

The Bordeaux of South Australia

Before Western Australia came onto the wine scene, it was Coonawarra that held the mantle as Australia’s premier Cabernet region. For many, it still is. Remarkably similar to Bordeaux in its maritime climate, the region’s famous terra rossa soils were thought to be a hindrance to producing great Cabernet, but as Paul Gordon, senior winemaker at Leconfield points out, it has imparted Cabernet from this region with a unique flavour profile and the climate allows for consistently good vintages.

“That strip of terra rossa soil that sits thinly over limestone. The red soil, high in clay content, provides moisture-holding capacity to sustain the vines over the dry summer months while the porous limestone allows access to high quality water several metres below the surface, says Paul.

“The cold Antarctic waters unique to South East South Australia cool the night summer breezes, ameliorating the warmth of the day to produce a long growing season. In cooler years, the conditions allow for ripening through April and early May and produce fine, elegant styles of great longevity. In warmer seasons, harvest may occur in mid to late March and fuller styles result – but always the emphasis is on patience to allow the flavours and tannins to ripen.”

Care for the canopy

As this tasting shows, Coonawarra is not the only South Australia region to produce quality Cabernet. McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Eden Valley, Barossa Valley and Clare Valley can produce wines with strong varietal characters. “There is very strong potential to make great Cabernet in Clare,” says Sevenhill winemaker Liz Heidenreich.

“Cabernet vines thrive on the cool nights and warm days we see in the Clare ripening period. The best wines come from years when the crop level is not too high, the canopies are full and healthy, allowing grapes to ripen for longer into the season, and when we have long, even summers.

Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, also believes canopy management is paramount in the production of great Cabernet, while also highlighting the importance of winemaking nous.

“The vine canopy has to provide dappled light to the fruit, the window of picking for beautiful fragrant Cabernet is short, while handling through ferment and oak selection will expose some winemakers,” says Paul.

While experience has shown Paul that canopy management is important in producing great Cabernet, science is backing up the theory. One of the primary characters of Cabernet Sauvignon is the presence of herbaceous green flavours, particularly when the wine is young. Researchers have found the presence of methoxypyrazine (more commonly called pyrazine) is responsible. It is the compound that gives Cabernet aromas of capsicum, eucalypt and mint. It has been discovered that pyrazine can be altered through attentive vineyard management. By careful pruning of the leafy part of the vines, viticulturists can manage what sort of aromas result in the wine.

While work in the vineyard is becoming increasingly important, winemakers have softened the somewhat off-putting green, stalky flavours of Cabernet simply by allowing the wine to mature. Most of the wines in this tasting have some age, with some of the stars being from vintages such as 2010 and 2012.

A Key Change

One of the surprising findings from this tasting was that cooler wine regions such as the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and even the Hilltops have been able to produce top shelf Cabernet. “The Yarra Valley has a proven track record of producing high quality Cabernet, lets not forget names like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg,” says Ben Portet from Dominque Portet Wines in the Yarra Valley.

“In saying that, the potential to make even greater, and more importantly, more consistent Cabernet is strong, especially with the increase in our growing season average temperature and in turn our drier climatic conditions.” Vic Peos from Peos Estate in the cool climate region of Manjimup of Western Australia also agrees that climate change has had a positive effect on the potential for cooler regions such as his to produce great Cabernet. “The last decade the weather has really changed, the last six years, apart from 2010, have been spectacular for producing Cabernet,” says Vic. “We still have the cold nights and early rainfall in late winter and early spring, so the canopy is lush and the berry is great. But during the summer, it is not as wet anymore, so we can really hang our Cabernet a lot longer on the vines, and we can get skin and tannin ripeness. We are thinking that Cabernet can be one of our real stars. The future is exciting.”

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Better than Burgundy?
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
Thank you, Bill Downie, I now respect Australian Pinot . Bill said something to me about Pinot Noir that triggered an understanding and ultimately made me want to seek out a great Australian Pinot and savour its every drop. I am hoping by the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll feel the same way. As winemakers go, Bill is a bit of a legend in the Pinot world, but an anomaly in the wine universe. You see, he only makes Pinot. That’s it. His entire focus is Pinot Noir. He is an unashamed Pinotphile. Bill admits he has always been enraptured by Pinot’s romantic charm, but he really fell in love with the varietal when he was sent by his then employers, De Bortoli , to spend some time in Burgundy learning about Pinot. Five vintages later his love had become a marriage, a blessed union between a winemaker and a grape. He came back all smitten and doe-eyed and intent on making great Australian Pinot. Victoria is where he focused his attention, and in addition to his own vineyard in Gippsland, Bill now makes Pinot from vineyards in the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula . As Bill, Jeremy Dineen from Josef Chromy Wines and I were getting ready to sip, swirl and spit our way through a bunch Pinot Noirs, Bill was regaling me with his adventures in Burgundy and he said something that resonated deep within my wine scribe soul, as well as my tastebuds. “My time in Burgundy taught me to have a true and meaningful respect for the place you are in, wherever that might be,” he said, before nonchalantly adding, “Before I went to Burgundy I was in Australia trying to make wine that tasted like Red Burgundy. But after I had been there I no longer wanted to do that, I wanted to come home and make wine that tasted like the place I was, be it Gippsland, the Yarra or Mornington Peninsula". All of a Suddent it Made Sense When I first entered into this wonderful world of wine, I had bought into all the hype and hoopla about how amazing this Pinot Noir varietal was. But I had tasted enough bad home-grown Pinot that it had sullied my respect for the varietal, and as I had explored more with Old World wines, the Australian Pinots I consumed seemed too big and boisterous compared to the elegant Red Burgundy I’d savoured. But Bill’s words had made me see the error of my ways. I had tasted Aussie Pinot wanting it to be the best of Burgundy, when I should have been rating it for what it was – Australian Pinot. Bill explained to me that we would never make a Pinot Noir that tasted exactly like Red Burgundy; however with the right ingredients we can make top quality Pinot that is uniquely Australian and far more expressive. So what are those magical ingredients needed to make great Pinot Noir? The most important are climate, site and vineyard management, not to mention the gentle caress of the knowledgeable winemaker. Climate Pinot Noir prefers cool conditions but not those with a major temperature drop at night. It simply detests the heat so it seems pointless to grow Pinot anywhere that is warm, such as places like the Hunter or Barossa. Maybe as a component of sparkling wine, or as a Rosé, yes. But even if you are the world’s best winemaker, don’t try to make a straight-out Pinot Noir in a warm region. You just can’t do it. Many have tried and failed. Even the revered wine critic and Burgundian lover, James Halliday, toiled fruitlessly to make Pinot in the Hunter. Perfect cool climate environments for Pinot exist in Australia in just a few regions, notably in Victoria’s Yarra Valley with its cool, crisp slopes and average humidity, and the Mornington Peninsula with its maritime cooling nights. But perhaps the region that is causing the most excitement is Tasmania . The Apple Isle is already earning a reputation as a producer of world-class Sparkling wine, so Pinot Noir, a key component of Champagne, along with its Burgundian sister Chardonnay, has been planted here for some time. It makes up half of all the vines in Tasmania and 95 per cent of red wine. More recently, straight Pinot is starting to find its feet here. Jeremy Dineen, who is also regarded as a maker of great Pinot after 10 years working with it at Josef Chromy in Northern Tasmania, says that climate is key to attaining the elegance for which great Pinot is renowned. “You are talking about a wine that has very fine tannins, where texture is one of the most important things, so if you can get a balance of ripe but fine tannins and fresh natural acidity, with those bright fruit flavours, it is the perfect Pinot and that is only going to come in the cooler climates,” he says. “If you look at the flavours you can only get that same perfume, subtleties, complexities and balance of natural acidity from cool climates and that is a really important part of Pinot.”
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Whites of delight
Words by Mark Hughes on 6 Aug 2015
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Blend these two varieties together, however, and its like Harry Potter has grown up to become a winemaker and put a spell on all the bottles of SSB to make them insanely appealing to the drinking public. Bubble bubble, little toil, no trouble Technically speaking, I can understand why you would blend these two varieties. You take the lazy grassy aromas and tropical flavour of Sauvignon Blanc and smarten it up with the structure and mouthfeel of Semillon. It’s like an overweight teenager with nice skin making use of a season pass to the gym. Conversely, and this is perhaps a reason given by those who can’t take to the super zingy freshness of young Semillon, it softens the acidic nature of Sem and endows it with a subtle fruit-punch appeal. Value-wise, it is also very appealing. Most SSBs on the market are somewhere between $15 and $25. And while it is not the first choice match for most dishes, it goes pretty well with a range foods, especially summery fare such as seafood, salads and mezze plates. Add all that up, and SSBs seem like a pretty handsome proposition. Must be those hours in the gym! A bit of history While Australia has taken SSBs to its vinous heart since the 1980s, this classic white blend has actually been produced for donkeys in the south-west of France, namely Bordeaux and Bergerac. More often than not it is as the crisp, dry white that we are familiar with, but the French also blend Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc to make the sweet dessert wine, Sauternes. Western Australia’s Margaret River virtually owns the Classic Dry White category in this country, which again, is a bit strange seeing the region isn’t really noted for producing either Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc in their own right. But, as you probably know by now, when talking about wine in this country, two plus two doesn’t always equal four. So what gives here? Well, two things (or more if you adhere to my mathematics from above). The Margaret River region was the first to really latch onto the SSB blend. It became popular at cellar door and other producers in the region saw it as their ‘bread and butter’ wine, and jumped on board. When the region started selling their wine to the rest of the country, Margs had already established a reputation for producing refreshing and attractively priced Classic Dry White. They have been running with it ever since. But as we found out in this tasting, there are other regions starting to cotton on. The magic of Margaret The second reason is best answered by Kim Horton, senior winemaker at Willow Bridge Estate in Margaret River. “You would think that by looking at the Semillons from the eastern seaboard, that as a variety it would be the least likely to sit with Sauvignon Blanc in a blend,” levels Kim. “However the weather conditions in Western Australia’s south allow clean and longer ripening of Semillon. The Semillon aromatics are very herbaceous and grassy, but also, depending on the climate, quite lemon dominant or veering towards watermelon and guava. In short, what one variety lacks, the other can assist.” The Tasting and the results For this State of Play tasting we looked at SSBs from across the country. Naturally, the majority of the wines entered were from the Margaret River region, and they dominated the Top 30, with 19 wines. Five of the other top scorers were from other Western Australian regions, namely Great Southern and Frankland River. Of these WA wines, most have Sauvignon Blanc as the dominant partner in the blend. An interesting observation from this tasting was the subtle use of oak which brings a bit of structure to the mid-palate, particularly of the Sauv Blanc dominant wines. This added complexity broadens SSB’s food matching abilities and shows the blend has an exciting future away from its ‘simplistic’ label. The most surprising result was that two of the three top scoring wines were not from WA! The Drayton’s 2013 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc was top of the pops, wowing the judges with its savoury nose and fantastic mouthfeel. While the Grosset 2015 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc earned its spot on the podium with its thrillingly elegant purity and ripe fruit characters. The most notable feature of these wines, as with most of the other standouts from the eastern seaboard, was the fact that the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc were sourced from different regions. For instance, for the Grosset, the Sem was Clare Valley , the Sauv Blanc from the Adelaide Hills . “For me, the perfect SSB blend must be from two regions,” says Clare Valley winemaker Jeffrey Grosset. “Semillon from a mild climate with plenty of sunshine to achieve a generous citrus and structured palate, and Sauvignon Blanc from a cooler climate, such as the Adelaide Hills, where it can achieve tropical gooseberry-like flavours. To produce a blend from one region alone is unlikely to achieve the depth of flavour and balance.” The sentiment is shared by Edgar Vales, winemaker at Drayton’s, who sees a real future for SSB in the Hunter. “There is a synergy that exists between the two varieties,” says Edgar. “Particularly with Hunter Sem blended with Sauv Blanc from cooler regions such as Orange , Adelaide Hills or Tasmania .” While you can expect to see the emergence of new names in the SSB category, the Margaret River region will continue to shine. And that’s music, a classic (dry white) hit, to the ears of winemakers like Kim, and the drinking public. “The fact most parts of Australia enjoy six months of sunshine, a high percentage live near the coast and with our general love of fresh seafood, the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend is a perfect accompaniment to our everyday life.”   The Top 30 Classic Dry Whites (November 2015) Drayton’s Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20) Howard Park ‘Miamup’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013   (Margaret River, $28) Grosset Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills, $35)   Happs Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $24) Redgate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $22.50) Vasse Felix Classic Dry White Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River,   $19) Willow Bridge Estate Dragonfly Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Geographe, $20) Rob Dolan Trye Colours Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013 (Yarra Valley, $24) Fermoy Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River, $22) Miles From Nowhere Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 (Margaret River $15) Millbrook Winery Barking Owl Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River,   $17.95) Moss Brothers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River $25) Forester Estate Block Splitter Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $20). Trevelen Farm Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Great Southern, $20) Serafino Goose Island Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (McLaren Vale, $18) Deep Woods Estate Ivory Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 (Margaret River, $14.95) The Lane Vineyard Gathering Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35) Alkoomi Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Frankland River, $15) Juniper Estate Crossing Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $20) Rockcliffe Quarram Rocks Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Great Southern, $21) Killerby Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $26) Driftwood Estate Artifacts Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $25) Churchview Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $20) Glandore Estate Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley/Orange, $23) Hay Shed Hill Block 1 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $30) Evans & Tate Classic Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $14) Pepper Tree Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley/Tasmania, $19) Forest Hill Vineyard The Broker Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Western Australia, $22) Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $25) McWilliam’s Wines Catching Thieves Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Margaret River, $18) See Wine Selectors complete range of Classic Dry Whites
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All Pizzazz - South Australian Shiraz
Words by Nick Ryan on 18 Aug 2015
It's a good and appropriate time to undertake a tasting of good ol’ South Australian Shiraz. While Pinot Noir is strapped tight to the rocket of rapidly ascending popularity and wine lists across Australia overflow with so-called ‘alternative’ varieties, the fact remains more bottles of Shiraz are consumed across the country than any other red variety and of those bottles the majority trace their origins to South Australian dirt. A good reason for the variety’s ubiquity is its ability to grow well in just about every wine region in the country and to present a different angle on its varietal character in each of those places. It really is our national barometer of terroir, the control that gives our experiments in regionality their context. When it gives us medium-bodied savouriness we’re in the Hunter, when it’s exuberantly spiced we’re in Canberra or central Victoria. When it’s all that and more we’re in South Australia. The results of a large tasting of South Australian Shiraz throwing up 30-odd top pointed wines offers a great opportunity to assess where the variety is at – they don’t call them State of Play tastings for nothing – and the results have presented some juicy food for thought. Some key observations follow. The Barossa is still king If we include the higher, cooler and bonier vineyards of the Eden Valley along with those down on the Valley floor, then the Barossa has produced almost half of the top pointed wines in the tasting. That shouldn’t really surprise us, after all the Barossa has always been South Australia’s Shiraz heartland. But what’s really exciting is the diversity of styles across the wines that performed well. “Ten years ago you could be forgiven for thinking Barossa Shiraz was pretty much all the same,” says senior Red Winemaker at Yalumba, Kevin Glastonbury. “A lot of the Barossa’s best wines were blended from across the region and made to a certain style, but now there’s a much greater focus on capturing what’s special about great single vineyards.” That’s got to be a good thing considering the Barossa has some of the greatest viticultural resources on the planet, including some wizened, deep-rooted old vineyards that date back to the early days of the South Australian colony. Zooming in closer on the Barossa’s viticultural map has also given a deeper understanding of sub-regionality across the Barossa. Glastonbury is well placed to comment on this development, having had a significant hand in two high-pointed wines in the tasting, each one representing a different approach to Barossa Shiraz Yalumba’s 2010 Paradox Shiraz is an outstanding example of this new way of thinking about Barossa Shiraz. Its vineyard sourcing is drawn from a narrow band across the northern Barossa, primarily around Kalimna, Ebenezer and up towards Moppa Springs, and the winemaking is carefully controlled to express the character of this corner of the region. “We want something that’s really savoury and supple rather than hefty and sweet fruited,” he explains. “We also back right off on the new oak and use old French puncheons.” Glastonbury is also a big fan of the distinctly different fruit that comes of vineyards up in the Eden Valley. “The nature of the place allows us to apply a few winemaking techniques that work well with that finer fruit. We’ve started to do things like a bit of whole bunch fermentation in some Octavius parcels and it really adds an extra dimension to the style.” The Barossa is clearly in a golden age South Australian Shiraz is becoming cool and getting high. Anyone labouring under the out-dated impression that South Australian Shiraz is all big flesh and brute power should look to the impressive number of top pointed wines in the tasting coming from the Limestone Coast and Adelaide Hills. Wines from Zema, Wynns and Brands help us realise there’s more to Coonawarra than just Cabernet Sauvignon and remind us that the famous terra rossa soils can produce outstanding, fine framed and elegant Shiraz. It’s particularly exciting to see a wine from Wrattonbully – Coonawarra’s near neighbour to the north – a region that really has the capacity to produce a fragrantly spicy Shiraz style. If this tasting took place a decade ago, we’d be surprised to see a single entrant from the cool, elevated vineyards of the Adelaide Hills, but in 2015 we have five breaking into the Top 30. Where many saw Pinot Noir as the future star when vineyards began to take root in the Adelaide Hills, it’s been Shiraz that has performed best. The Hills offers a huge diversity of sites for growing Shiraz and canny winemakers have harnessed this diversity to produce some of the most impressive cool climate Shiraz in the country.  Clare is the real dark horse One of the really significant elements of this tasting has been the strong performance of the Clare Valley. Clare attracts most attention for its Riesling, and while Shiraz lovers might look closer to Adelaide for their red wine thrills, it’s clear that the distinctive, consistent and exceedingly delicious Clare Shiraz style is something very special. Andrew Mitchell has been making Shiraz in Clare for four decades and his Mitchell Wines ‘McNicol’ Shiraz 2005 was the highest pointed wine of the tasting. “When we first started this place most people in Clare used Shiraz for making port,” he says. “ Even when table wines started taking off in the 70s, the market really wanted Cabernet, but I’ve always known Clare Shiraz was something pretty special. “Clare Shiraz can give you power, intensity, depth and length, but does it all with great balance and a kind of elegance that I think defines the regional style. “And it ages really well too. That’s why we release the McNicol with bottle age. I want people to experience just how beautiful these wines can be when mature.” There is such a wide range of Shiraz styles scattered throughout the top wines in this tasting that we can safely say there’s a South Australian Shiraz to suit just about any palate. The key word in discussing these results is ‘diversity’. The one obvious conclusion to be drawn from these results is that to talk of South Australian Shiraz as one homogenous thing is unjust. There is such a wide range of Shiraz styles scattered throughout the top wines in this tasting that we can safely say there’s a South Australian Shiraz to suit just about any palate. Click here see the Wine Selectors range of Shiraz
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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