It’s always frustrating that we seem so singularly focused on mono-varietal wines in Australia, as it often makes for less interesting drinks. So often I’ve tasted a flabby Shiraz and wondered how much tastier it would be with a dollop of Cabernet. Or a Mataro that is gruff and hard, aching for a little juicy Grenache vibrancy. Blends are like spice – they add extra flavour layers.
The great wines of the world are often blends (Bordeaux, Rioja, Chianti et al) so the question always arises about why we stick to single varieties. Sadly, the conventional wisdom is still that blends don’t sell as well in Australia (with exceptions for varieties like Pinot) so perhaps we’re all to blame.
What do you think?
Meanwhile, here is a compilation of the better red blends to pass the desk this month.
Passing Clouds Graeme’s Blend Shiraz Cabernet 2016
A label with some history that is enjoying a real revival in recent years – and this is easily the standout wine for Passing Clouds. I like the old blue cloud drawing label on The Angel, though this does look classy. This edition of Graeme’s blend was made by Cameron Leith, Graham’s son, and shows the opulence of ripe Bendigo fruit, but with structure and intrigue too. A sturdy red, there are a few black jelly beans in amongst the blackberry nose, complemented by some welcome varietal tomato leaf too. The palate is full, ripe and even a bit gruff with some excellent tannins, a hint of blood and bone and then a finish that just pulls back from being too warm. Ultimately, this feels like a substantial, hearty, yet not heavy, red that just looks better and better each time you look. High quality. Best drinking: I’d open this year with a decant and then drink over the next fifteen plus years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.9%, $34. Would I buy it? Worth a look at this price for sure.
Sunshine Creek Cabernets 2015
I’ve been critical in the past of the heavy-handed oak on some of the Sunshine Creek reds, but this ’15 Cabernet blend has turned in a best-on-ground performance. A blend of Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc it nails the ripe, yet not overly so, Yarra Cabernet mode. The nose is still a bit backward, with cedar, cassis, blackberry and a whisper of mint, but it’s the palate where the highlights are found. Driven by mid-palate richness, and complete with quite sturdy tannins, it’s a bigger wine for the Yarra, but it feels genuinely complete – you’re just waiting for more complexity to come with time in bottle. Smart and well balanced red. Best drinking: I’d wait a year or two and then drink over up to twenty years (cork dependant). 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $45. Would I buy it? I’d like some in the cellar but I’m not sure if I’d buy more than a bottle.
d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2013
Slightly off topic, but I found a quote from Chester Osborn from a few years back when he was talking about Mourvedre and I like it a lot. ‘Mourvedre make a fragrant, dried herb style, though sometimes it can smell like a kangaroo that has been caught in the bumper bar and its skin is burning on the bitumen’. Ha! Anyway, I like the ’13 d’Arenberg reds and I like this McLaren Vale red. Deep coloured, it still looks purple and youthful, the style inky and more about density of flavour than fragrance. But I guess that’s the style for top end GSM? Black fruited and savoury it tastes like there is more Mourvedre, again thanks to the dark savouriness, and capped off with real tannins. Ultimately the depth of flavour is the winner here and it goes on for a while too, even if it perhaps could do with just a bit more juiciness. Quality wine. Best drinking: Now or hold for as long as you like. It’ll be alive in twenty years. 18/20, 93/100. 14.3%, $65. Would I buy it? I’d go a few glasses.
Alkoomi Black Label Shiraz Viognier 2016
Standout value for money here, from a winery that continues delivering well-priced drinks. This red comes from all estate (Frankland River) fruit, and matured for 12 months in 20% new oak. It is a Shirognier (my Shirognier) where the Viognier actually works, giving a lift to a mid-weight wine that would have been quieter otherwise. Boysenberry, regional mint, plums and then a little black pepper. The joy here is the simple purity – the tannins are fine, the balance just great. It’s a little warm to finish but that’s my only quibble otherwise a good plump style cool climate Shiraz. Best drinking: Good now, better next year and will go for 8 years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $24. Would I buy it? A few glasses for sure.
d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2013
Inky red and still a purple fruit edge, much like the GSM. Again, great colour for it’s age. You wouldn’t immediately expect this to have much Viognier, as it is a deep red that is very much Shiraz first. Typical d’Arenberg mouth coating tannins, a thick and rippling red that still looks very youthful. It’s a fudgey and quite savoury wine, definitely softened thanks to the Viognier. Good, hearty Vale red if a little warm, with real intensity. Best drinking: Good now, and will be a 15 year wine for sure. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.6%, $29. Would I buy it? A glass or so.
Sherrah Grenache Shiraz Nero d’Avola 2017
There’s no shortage of liveliness in these Sherrah releases and this is a bright and energetic McLaren Vale red. Grenache is the star here, in what is a light and easy drink of cranberry and currrant fruit that gets more bitter as you go along. Real energy and lift, that initially seems a bit simple but builds some life as it goes along. Good drink, with deceptively more layers than you’d first think. Best drinking: Over the next 7 years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $30. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Sunshine Creek Cabernets 2014
An entirely different beast compared to the ’15. More classical Yarra red than that wine too. A splash of blackcurrant, a swathe of cedar. It’s not an obvious wine, the nose gently ripe and with a leafiness too. Interestingly the palate is oakier than expected, which doesn’t seem to fit with the mid weight claret mode, the oak smoothing out the edges. It’s a little sweet and sour but classy too, in a proper Yarra mode. Ultimately, the oak should settle down in time, and the shape underneath is well handy enough. Best drinking: I’d wait 3 years and then drink over 15 years. 17.7/20. 92/100+. 13.5%, $45. Would I buy it? A glass now, more later.
All Saints Estate Rosa 2017
Yes, I know it’s a rosé, but it’s also a nice wine that deserves to make the list. A blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherglen fruit. Very pale blush pink in the Provence mode (and in a very stylish bottle). Bone dry and ripe, the flavours while understated are sharply defined. Perhaps a little too firm and dry on the acid front but has some real length and power. Good. Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $32. Would I buy it? I’d drink a bottle, though not cheap.
Bremerton Battonage Shiraz Malbec 2015
A typically lavish style from this Langhorne stalwart. Has that smooth edged texture that Bremerton do well thanks to 14 months in toasty French oak. The wood is a major component on nose and palate, with cola and sarsaparilla coconut, the oak a bitterness through the palate and giving tannin punctuation to finish. It’s handsomely rich wine and with enough savouriness to make an ok (or should that be an oak drink?). Less wood and it could be much more convincing, particularly on the finish. Best drinking: I’d wait a year or so for starters. It will live and perhaps even get better. 17/20, 90/100+. 14.5%, $32. Would I buy it? No.
Hither & Yon Old Jarvie The Even Hand GSM 2016
Soft and syrupy McLaren Vale GSM with cooked plum red fruit, the fruit luscious even if it’s just a bit broad and warm. Has a lovely enveloping warmth to it this red. Easy generous appeal. Best drinking: Drink over the next eight years. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $30. Would I buy it? I’d drink a glass or two.
Redman Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2014
Eucalyptus aplenty! But underneath this is quite classic Coonawarra wine. It’s too firm by half but the power is clearly here, the tannin a drying wall that is slightly green and raw as is the acidity. This will live for 30yrs+ and hence the score, though it’s a tricky drink now. Best drinking: Maybe in a decade. 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? No.
Redman The Redman Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2006
The super premium Redman release and very much an old school red. Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz + Merlot that spends two years in French oak and kept back for a solid decade. I looked at this over the space of a few days and it wasn’t until the second or third day that I started liking it. Brick dust aged Cabernet aplenty and the fruit at first looks gone. But the longer you look, the more the power and initially presents as more progressed than it really is. Just a fraction drying, but there’s this core of vaguely coffeed, caramel edged old red appeal to it. It tastes older than 2006 in many ways, but not unappealing either. Best drinking: It may get better, though I’m not sure if it will ever be balanced (too much tannin and the fruit is going). 14%, $70. 17/20, 90/100. Would I buy it? No.
Shaw Vineyard Estate Cabernet Shiraz 2015
Canberra is not known for it’s Cab blends but hey. A sweet fruited style with surprisingly cool climate Cab elements offset by a rather plump and slick palate. Slightly innocuous – you’d hardly call it Canberran – but polished and drinkable though. Best drinking: Up to ten years easy. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $35. Would I buy it? It’s about $10 more expensive than the quality suggests.