Are Australia’s Top Cabernets Undervalued?
In its promotional material for its Bin 707, Penfolds states that “Bin 707 is Penfolds’ Cabernet Sauvignon version of Grange: ripe, intensely-flavoured fruit; completing fermentation and maturation in new oak; fully expressing a Penfolds understanding of multi-vineyard, multi-region fruit sourcing.”
No-one can doubt the pedigree of Bin 707 or its status as one of the Australia’s benchmark wines. It is up there with Grange in the pantheon of Australia’s 17 most exceptional wines, as ranked by the Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V – the form guide of Australia’s best performing and most prized wines.
But current prices of more recent vintages of Bin 707 are less than half the price of comparable vintages of Penfolds Grange. Current prices for other iconic cabernets like the Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon and the Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Cabernets, for example, are all in the $100 to $200 price range, even though most of these wines are made in vastly smaller quantities than Grange and have almost equally impressive reputations for longevity.
But is the price discrepancy between top Australian cabernets and and their shiraz counterparts, which would also include acclaimed drops like Henschke Hill of Grace and Torbreck’s The Laird, warranted?
Certainly Australian cabernets are up against some stiff competition from overseas. Great Bordeaux cabernets like Château Margaux and Château Lafite Rothschild are widely considered the greatest wines in the world. And in the New World, California’s reputation has largely been forged by international acclaim for a stellar line-up of cabernets from great producers like Harlan Estate, Bryant Family Vineyard and Shafer to name but a few. The top wines from all of these producers typically trade at much higher prices than comparable Australian cabernets.
For Australian shiraz the international competition is not so fierce. Fortunately, Australia lays claim to some of the oldest shiraz vines in the world, and over the past 40 years these magnificent old vineyards have been brilliantly revived and nurtured by an exceptionally talented group of winemakers, which includes the likes of Rockford’s Robert O’Callaghan, Torbreck’s Dave Powell and Chris Ringland.
Influential wine publications like Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate have also regularly singled out Australian shiraz as among the best expressions in the world. Of the 2004 Chis Ringland Shiraz, for example, Jay Miller remarked that Ringland “now has 21 vintages under his belt, the results of which place him with Marcel Guigal, Gerard Chave, Christophe Baron, Manfred Krankl, and Michel Chapoutier as the international grandmasters of Syrah/Shiraz.” (Wine Advocate #186 Dec 2009)
The fact that the spotlight has been on Australian shiraz is perhaps not a bad thing for lovers of Australian cabernet. For the moment at least you can still pick up some brilliant examples at a fraction of the price of premium examples of French cabernet. To quote the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin, “recent successes such as the outstanding Diana Madeline Cabernet 2004 and 2007…make the silly prices charged by Bordeaux even more ridiculous.” (The Matriach of Margaret: Cullen Wines by Neal Martin, eRobertParker.com May 2010)