Cabernets From Down Under Emphasize Elegance, Cost Less



A review of some Australian Cabernet Sauvignons.


By Louis Marmon


Gazette Newspapers  May 4, 2009


Rosewood Show Reserve Cabernet SauvignonAustralian Cabernets have more finesse than many of their California cousins and closely resemble Bordeaux in balance and structure. This reflects local climate variations and the longer hang time before harvest in California. While these differences are best appreciated with the higher priced Australian Cabernets, like Parker Terra Rossa and the single vineyard Clarendon Hills wines, many fine examples from Down Under cost much less.


It is not surprising that the varied Australian geography and diverse growing conditions are reflected in the particular region’s wines. The best come from the cooler regions of Coonawarra, Yarra Valley and Margaret River; even the warmer Barossa makes fine Cabernet Sauvignon. Growing Cabernet in cooler regions risks uneven or poor ripening, yet allows the grapes to maintain acidity, which contributes to their balance and makes them more food friendly.


Classically, the Coonawarra wines have characteristic mint notes, while dark fruit and black olive flavors predominate in Margaret River area wines. Barossa is known for big blackberry and chocolate flavors; the cooler Clare Valley, for concentrated red-fruit flavors, and Yarra Valley wines for their herbal red-fruit and almost Pinot-like characteristics.


Australian winemakers are struggling. Drought, wild-fires and the deteriorating world economy have taken their toll. It is gratifying to see that these adverse conditions haven’t changed their commitment to value and quality. The following wines are excellent examples.


Each of these Coonawarra Cabernets exhibits the expected minty, dark fruit flavors. The Penley Coonawarra Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($14) shows tobacco, cassis, currant and red berry flavors with a pleasant finish. Blackberry and olive notes accent the Wolf Blass Coonawarra Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($20), along with a bit of mocha at the end. The medium-bodied Rosemount Coonawarra Show Reserve 2005 ($18) has smoky and slightly peppery black fruit and soft tannins that make it a perfect match for something off the grill.


From the Barossa, the silky Peter Lehmann Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($13) has cocoa, oak, blackberry and cassis flavors. Other favorites include the Steve Hoff Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($24), with black fruit, cedar and hints of tobacco, and the earthy dark plum, currant and berry flavored Tait Barossa Basket Pressed Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($25). The medium-bodied Earthworks Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($12) is spicier with blackberry and cherry notes.


The McLaren Vale Cabernets are also full-bodied. The Tintara McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($16) has earthy, dark plum and cherry flavors and the currant and blueberry flavored Kangarilla Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($16) has a touch of spice in the long finish. Another worth trying is the blueberry and cherry flavored Wirra Wirra Church Block McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($20).


The delightful Howard Park Leston Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($24) needs a few years in the cellar to fully integrate its cedar, spicy black currant, tobacco and red berry flavors. Drinking well now is the currant and minty blackberry flavored Jim Barry The Cover Drive South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($15) as is the dark plum flavored Punt Road Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($25) that contains some tobacco and earthy notes. Also consider the rich Mollydooker The Maitre D’ South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($20) with currant, blackberry, mocha and a bit of licorice leading into a lingering finish.



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