The world’s most widely planted premium red wine grape, cabernet sauvignon was once exclusively found in France, but over the centuries has travelled and found new homes across the globe.
From California in the United States to Stellenbosch in South Africa and Tuscany in Italy it has thrived under a range of climatic conditions and regional terroir.
Its versatility has been proven to the point that it even produces quality wines in places like Canada, Lebanon and Chile.
In Australia, the first Cabernet vines arrived with wine pioneer James Busby in 1832 but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that it was successfully grown.
Due to phylloxera wiping out most of Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century, Australia is now considered to have some of the oldest Cabernet rootstock in the world; I suspect that the Penfolds story really began with its Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet vines that were planted in 1886.
And there are many regions in Australia where cabernet has blossomed.
From the Margaret River in Western Australia, to the Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek and Clare Valley in South Australia, the grape has done well, but in an individual expression of the nuances of each region.
Normally cabernet does its best work in dry regions that are colloquially known as “Goldilocks” – neither too hot nor too cold.
And while it may not be a region that springs to mind as a cabernet producer, the Mudgee district in central New South Wales is coming of age as an exponent of the style.
With its elevated vineyards which range between around 400 and 1100 metres above sea level, the local cabernet can have starkly different body, texture and palate weight but are very pleasant expressions of the varietal.
I recently worked my way through half a dozen different cabernets from the Mudgee region; all crafted from local fruit and each unalike the others.
The Robert Stein Mudgee Cabernet 2017 was lighter than I expected and only opened up its red berries after being open for half an hour.
The Naked Lady 2016 Cabernet was more highly perfumed but very soft in style; with such soft tannins and sweetness of fruit, you’d swear it was a blend!
If a bigger style is your thing, the Guneemooroo 2016 has a delightful depth of colour in the glass and an intensity and sweetness of fruit that is surprising for what is made like a cooler climate wine; though the finish is a tad stalky for my palate.
On the other hand, the Vinifera 2016 is an organic wine which has bold fruit upfront and is rich and brambly through the middle. There are olive laced edges with ample acids through the conclusion which suggest that it would benefit from a few years in the cellar.
The Huntington Estate 2014 Cabernet ($45) was a standout – a more elegant style with depth of fruit, eucalyptus and violet notes, supple mouthfeel and well-balanced conclusion.
But for mine, the best value find was the LMB 2015 Cabernet ($25) which is vibrant, rich and shows layers of red fruit and chocolate before a lively, bright clean finale. I’d enjoy it in the short term and pair it with your favourite pizza!
You could fairly compare the Mudgee cabernet to those of the hotter regions in South Australia, but if a lighter style of cabernet tickles your fancy, one of these wines from the “Nest in the Hills”, might be worthy of your attention next Friday night!