Cabernet Shiraz Blends – An Iconic Australian Style
Over the years, the blending of shiraz and cabernet has become something of an artform amongst Australian winemakers. Our producers certainly weren’t the first to recognise the beauty of the blend, but the style has become as Aussie as lathering white zinc on your nose or layering vegemite on your toast. Domestically, the varietals are each oenological over-achievers in their own right, but as a duo, they can elevate their position to superstardom, in a Batman and Robin kind of way.
The most famous Australian shiraz and cabernet blend is undoubtedly the Penfolds Grange which is predominantly made from shiraz fruit with varying amounts of cabernet from vintage to vintage. So small is the amount of cabernet in most releases (anywhere from 0 – 13%) that its contribution is perhaps better described as a cameo rather than a supporting actor, but nonetheless the success of the iconic wine is undeniable. Max Schubert’s Grange experiment in the 1950s has seemingly inspired later winemakers to bravely use their premium fruit in making reserve level red blends rather than ear-marking their best barrels for a prima donna single varietal.
These days there is no shortage of shiraz/cabernet blends that have developed cult like followings. Penfolds themselves have been able to dramatically increase the asking price of their Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz to the lofty heights of over $200 a bottle, while their The Max Schubert Cabernet Shiraz is now collecting well over $550 a bottle for the 2019 vintage.
At the lower price points, the Rockford Rod and Spur Cabernet Shiraz is shooting the lights out with its premium Barossa Valley fruit but still retails at around $55 – $60 a bottle. When you consider that the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz regularly sells on the secondary market at over $150 a bottle, the Rod and Spur has to look like it’s pretty good value! On the topic of value, you’ll often find the St Hugo Cabernet Shiraz on special at the major retailers well below its recommended $50 retail price. It’s a clever blend of cabernet from the Coonawarra and shiraz from the Barossa so to the casual observer, the marriage of fruit from the region’s strength seems a rather obvious recipe for success.
But to my palate, when it comes to finding a top shelf cabernet shiraz at a sensible price point, it’s hard to go past Yalumba’s “The Signature”. It’s a blend that offers all the grace and harmony that has been its hallmark since the first vintage in 1962 yet pleases the palate with the ripeness of fruit that the Barossa is famous for. The current vintage is 2016 and is sitting on the shelves at around $60 – $65 a bottle. The luxurious nature of the wine is telegraphed somewhat by the depth and darkness of the wine in a glass. Given a swirl in a decanter and half an hour to open up, you’ll be greeted by cedar and perfumed redcurrants on the nose before the aromatics really hit you on the front palate. Once on the middle, the shiraz comes alive as cranberry and Ribena characters seemingly perform a merry dance with stewed plums and Crème de Cassis. On the finish, however, the dark chocolate develops a herbaceous edge and gives way to a savoury leafiness under the influence of a near perfect tannin structure. The velvety richness of the shiraz hums in harmony with the elegance of the cabernet making it easy to understand why the blending of shiraz and cabernet is considered a match made in heaven.
The dynamic duo of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon once made French clarets not just world famous but also one of the UK’s most sought after wines. I may be biased, but I reckon that these days, the Aussie blends of syrah and cabernet are even better than the Bordeaux natives because of the fruit forward and jammy nature of our Mediterranean climate shiraz which fills the mid-palate lull that is often seen in a straight cabernet. And in this great country, there’s plenty of great options to choose from!