Campbell Mattinson, the well respected wine critic and a principal author of the popular wine blog The Wine Front, remarked in a recent post, Notes from a cabernet masterclass Tuesday, Aug 10 2010, that “when we talk of what Australian wine does best we invariably mention shiraz first, semillon second, chardonnay or riesling third and then cabernet or pinot noir.” In his opinion, a recent Dan Murphy’s cabernet masterclass, which included stars such as Mount Mary, Cullen, Yeringberg, Balnaves, Wantirna Estate, Petaluma, Yarra Yering, Voyager Estate and Moss Wood, would have equaled, if not surpassed, a similar tasting of twenty or so Australian top-flight shiraz or chardonnay.
So why isn’t Australian cabernet getting the attention it deserves? In James Halliday’s list of the 100 Top Wines of 2009 and 100 Tops Wines of 2008, the two varieties, shiraz and cabernet, are fairly evenly represented, so you probably can’t argue that top Australian wine critics are biased towards shiraz-based wines. Of course, Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace have set the bar pretty high for aspiring makers of fine Australian shiraz, and the international profile of Australian shiraz has certainly been lifted by influential American wine critic Robert Parker’s great enthusiasm for the variety. But could fashion also have something to do with it?
In a fascinating article Eric Asimov of The New York Times observes that younger Americans have lost enthusiasm for French Bordeaux, Bordeaux Loses Prestige Among Younger Wine Lovers, 18 May 2010: “Not so long ago, young wine-loving Americans were practically weaned on Bordeaux, just as would-be connoisseurs had been for generations. It was the gateway to all that is wonderful about wine. Now that excitement has gone elsewhere, to Burgundy and the Loire, to Italy and Spain. Bordeaux, some young wine enthusiasts say, is stodgy and unattractive. They see it as an expensive wine for wealthy collectors, investors and point-chasers, people who seek critically approved wines for the luxury and status they convey rather than for excitement in a glass.”
Asimov gives a number of other reasons for the shift, including limited Bordeaux listings on restaurant and wine bar menus, and the dominance of big corporations as owners of the major Bordeaux houses and the distribution chains, which make it harder for boutique wine importers to connect with grower-producers. Most interestingly perhaps, he cites “the absence of a charismatic advocate for the wines,” arguing that “the audience for Mr. Parker and the other leading wine critics tends to be older and more established.”
Is Australian cabernet also in need of a young charismatic advocate?