The blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz has been called the most Australian of wine styles. Indeed, according to wine critics Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, shiraz cabernet is ‘The Great Australian Red.’ They were so convinced of its importance to the Australian wine industry that in 2006 they launched the The Great Australian Red – a new wine competition exclusively limited to Australian examples of the blend.
So why is the style unique to Australia? Well, the French would probably regard it as taboo (and in any event French regulation forbids it) to blend the noble grape of Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, with the noble grape of the Rhone, shiraz. But French tradition didn’t prevent Max Schubert, creator of legendary Penfolds Grange, from making the Penfolds Bin 60A – a blend of Coonawarra cabernet and Barossa shiraz. The inaugural 1962 vintage went on to become Penfolds’ most successful show wine of all time. Together with its 2004 successor, the only other vintage of the wine ever made, the Bin 60A is considered the benchmark for the style, and many regard the 1962 as Australia’s greatest wine!
Blending the firm, classic tannin structure of cabernet sauvignon with the rich fruit and ripe tannins of shiraz certainly seems like a very good idea. The shiraz adds middle-palate velvety richness and savoury notes to the elegance and length of cabernet, creating a complex but balanced wine with great cellaring potential.
A trend towards single variety wines has meant that many winemakers have overlooked the benefits of multi-variety blending. Nevertheless, a number of wines stand out as iconic expressions of the style, and new winemakers are starting to embrace a blend that is not bounded by region or ‘old world’ preconceptions.
Over the course of this week, we’ll look at four of Australia’s leading cabernet shiraz/shiraz cabernet blends: Penfolds Bin 389, Wolf Blass Black Label, Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz and Jacob’s Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet.