As close followers would have noticed, I’ve been on a mission this month, trying to get the sample pile back into shape.
Now we’re nearing the end of April and I’m still behind, so it’s time to go next level. There’s still so much wine to get through, and my spare room is overflowing…
To be honest, the notes that end up on site here are a smidgen of what I’ve tasted this month. With my other hats on it’s not unusual to try 200+ wines a week, but it all starts to get messy (and unethical) to mix in reviews for things that I’m paid to taste.
Instead, what gets published on Australian Wine Review are wines that I get a closer look at (usually at home), rather than something I sighted for 2 minutes (in a bracket of 60 wines) on a retail ‘prospects’ tasting panel.
Here then is 15 of the better straight Cabernet Sauvignon wines that have passed the home bench this month:
Grace Farm Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
A Wilyabrup-based producer with a quiet profile but with genuinely impressive wines. This slides into the richer, thicker end of Margaret River Cabernet but is well held together – slick and very ripe, it’s an inky style that aims for the stratosphere. Black licorice and blackberry flavour density here, the palate lifted by mocha oak richness, and then grainy tannins. In some ways, it’s too lush to be classic, but the intensity makes this a winner. Best drinking: Now to ten years easy. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.5%, $50. Would I buy it? I would. Fair price for this quality.
Terre à Terre Crayéres Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
As ever with the Terre à Terre wines, you just need time, and this will continue to grow in the bottle. As with the ’15, this includes 5% Cab Franc and spends 18 months in one year old oak. Bright maroon coloured, there’s a real correct Cabernet character here, with pencil shaving varietal character woven in amongst milk chocolate oak. The palate is initially fresh and faintly leafy but it gets darker, with bitter dark fruit and quality tannins. Those tannins are so shapely and come from a seriously long time on skins. A delight. My only quibble – and it is something of a constant with the Terre à Terre reds – lies with the warm finish. It’s just a bit boozier than I’d like, though not enough to derail a classic Wrattonbully Cabernet. Best drinking: Keep it for another 3-5yrs and then for as long as you want. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.5%, $55. Would I buy it? I would, but then lock it in the cellar for a while.
Redman Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
By contrast, this is a real old-school Coonawarra Cabernet from a gloriously old school producer. It’s a red built on tannins, the fruit a ball of dusty dark red flavours and then the tannins tucking everything back in. Redman lost its way for a bit there and pushed the ripeness too far, but this looks much better balanced, even though it’s such a firm wine (that will live forever). Best drinking: Will no doubt be in a good place in a decade. 18/20, 93/100+. 14.2%, $33. Would I buy it? Worth the cellaring investment.
Rosabrook Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
The Rosabrook name I’ve always associated with Evans & Tate, though the Rosabrook Wines label is owned by the Calneggia family, with this Cab made by ex-Evans & Tate winemaker Brian Fletcher. I still haven’t worked out how it all fits together, but this is quality Margaret River Cab. Again, it’s a lush style, with quality French oak giving some vanilla bean oak. The generous palate is a fraction oak framed, but the concentration is excellent – long and has a real minty stamp, with smart, well-handled tannins. Quality wine and ambitious style. Best drinking: I’d wait 2-3yrs for the oak to integrate more, then 10 years easy. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $45. Would I buy it? I’d buy a bottle.
d’Arenberg Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Don’t tell anyone, but some of the best reds from d’Arenberg are Cabernet. This Cabernet has the classic d’Arenberg grainy tannins and tilled earth edge, with a style that is more d’Arenberg McLaren Vale red than just Cabernet, backed by a fleshy black plum middle to match what are rather formidable tannins. Lots of heart, it’s a wine with lots of savoury black and red fruit. Has real flow through the finish too, even though it’s not a perfectly even or polished wine. Character plus. Best drinking: Hold for another year or so and then it will go for twenty if you want. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 14.1%, $60. Would I buy it? Don’t know I’d buy it, but would like some in the cellar.
Mitchell Harris Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Classy, mid-weight Cabernet for the future. Sourced from the Peerick Vineyard in the Pyrenees, it includes 10% whole bunches and spends 15 months in French oak hogshead (20% new). There’s a dash of Pyrenees mint, but it’s not overpowering, indeed you can just see it as a regional stamp. The acid feels well integrated and natural, the finessed tannins just contributing to the impression of a well-handled cool climate Cab, like how Taltarni used to be (see below – though with less heroic tannins). In a decade this will be gold medal stuff and I like the balance. Best drinking: I’d wait for a good 3-4 years. Then it will live and live. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 13.5%, $30. Would I buy it? I’d go one for the cellar absolutely.
Rymill Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
There’s been a push towards slightly riper wines at Rymill in recent times, and while it probably makes for more commercial appeal, I do miss the more elegant style. This purple edged red almost falls over into overripeness in a bid to avoid the Coonawarra mint, but it is all held back by enough tannins, and it doesn’t look forced. More delicacy would make this even better, but still a quality Coonawarra Cabernet. Best drinking: Now to fifteen years easy. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $32. Would I buy it? I’d have a few glasses.
Terre à Terre Crayères Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
This is the little brother to the Reserve, though it’s not much of a step in the production stakes. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. 29 day on skins, then 8 months in small oak (35% new) and racked to a single foudre for 14 months. 800 cases produced. Again, this is quite a lavish nose, with a little chocolate sauce and a hint of dried fruit. The palate is lavish too, the cocoa powder oak smoothness counterpoints to brandied berries. Great tannins and length, though the question mark is around the alcohol – and it looks warmer, broader and rounder than the big brother. Still v. enjoyable Cabernet. Best drinking: HOLD! I’d wait until 2025 ideally. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 14.5%, $40. Would I buy it? I’d buy a bottle for the cellar for sure.
Warramate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Classic Yarra Cab. I love the easy gentle nature to this – a top drink. Dusty blackberries, pencil shavings, a slight hint of herbs, the tannins fine and the lack of alcohol warmth more than welcome. Lots of charm and in this warm year Yarra Aussie luncheon Claret style and a charming medium bodied red, if maybe lacking the concentration for higher points. Best drinking: This will live if you want but great now too. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13%, $28. Would I buy it? Absolutely!
Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Eight years (six odd in bottle) seems an age to be keeping back a Barossa Cabernet these days, though would help the prestige factor (and sell more wine no doubt). This comes from the Burge vineyards on the Valley floor and at Corryton Park near Mount Crawford on the edge of the Eden Valley. Indeed, The eight years of age has softened the edges of this full bodied red, but at its core it is less full than other Burge reds (ie Meshach). There’s hints of cedar and menthol, wafts of volatility before a palate of black coffee oak and plum fruit. Menthol and cedar meets ripe blackberry juice. I picked this as having more alcohol than 13.5%, but that’s just perception. The cedary layers of complexity are welcome, but this isn’t quite the slam dunk wine, the palate somewhat disjointed and the finish faintly pruney. There’s some Barossa Cabernet charm here still, and the longer I looked at it the more it improved though. Hmm. Best drinking: Honestly, leave it for another few years. Five would be good then drink in ten. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $92. Would I buy it? I can’t justify the price.
Rymill The Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Well priced Coonawarra Cabernet. Dark, deep mulberry red coloured, it has a distinct Coonawarra nose – cedar, eucalyptus and dark berries. Drying, surprisingly serious palate has an even flow of ripe blackberry and cassis fruit and proper tannins. Serious! The slightly raw acid sticks out on the finish, as does the alcohol, but an awful lot of Coonawarra flavour for the dollars. The big brother will impress more with time, but this is likeable for the price. Best drinking: Now to ten years easy. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $23. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Wirra Wirra The Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
A ripe year Wirra Angelus and it looks raw, pulpy and embryonic. The purple fruit is notably ripe and very juicy, but the acid seems a little raised and with some stressed fruit. It’s all arms and legs for now, with a raw edge. It will no doubt get better, and there’s heritage here, but something of an assault for now. Lots of impact though. Best drinking: Wait for at least four years, but it will no doubt be drinking nicely as a fifteen year old. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 13.5%, $70. Would I buy it? Not yet.
Cockfighter’s Ghost Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Cabernet from the ‘Chairmans Vineyard’ in Blewitt Springs. Dark mulberry/bright purple coloured, this is more McLaren Vale than it is Cabernet, with just a hint spearmint, the palate a plump fruited, affable and driven by a round middle. Simple, polished, a tad too oaky, and very plump, it’s going to make friends but doesn’t have the composure beyond that. Best drinking: Drink within eight years. 17/20, 90/100. 14.1%, $25. Would I buy it? Not really, but it’s lots of wine for $25.
I am George The Wizard Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
This the pick of Pernod’s ‘I am George’ range, which was largely a trash fire of overripe wines. But this is solid drinking. A flash of oroper Coonawarra spearmint on the nose, the long and drying palate is just a little too firm and dark but this has a genuine Coonawarra savouriness. Slight desiccation to the tannins here but otherwise the medium weight form is quite appealing. Handy drinking for the price. Best drinking: Now to ten years. 17/20, 90/100. 14.4%, $24.99. Would I buy it? Not personally, but I would recommend.
Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
I long for the days when Taltarni Cabernets were 13%, fully ripe and tannic as hell, rather than the dried out, boozy modern iteration. Dark purple maroon coloured and looking very youthful, this is a big, minty wine with a wall of powdery tannins competing with heavy ripe fruit. As ever, this will make old bones, but the dried fruit, the firm acidity and the alcohol make this less appealing than it should be. Long term it will be more impressive, but it would be a more satisfying wine if it was picked earlier. Best drinking: Wait for 2026 onwards. Seriously. 17/20, 90/100+. 14.5%, $40. Would I buy it? No.