Session 6: Cabernet Sauvignon and blends
Landmark Australia Tutorial 

Rob Mann, winemaker at Cape Mentelle, tutored this session. Rob has quite a winemaking pedigree. His grandfather, Jack Mann, was one of the famous winemakers of Western Australia, working at Haughtons from 1930–1970, and his great grandfather was the wine/brandy maker at Château Tanunda.

Cabernet is not widely regarded as one of Australia’s star varieties, living rather in the shadow of Shiraz, but it has more than 150 years of history here. Initially, it was planted in regions closest to state capitals. People looked for good soils for Cabernet close to markets, but it didn’t do all that well.

Cabernet performs best in two regions. It first really started to shine in Coonawarra (first established as a wine region in 1891, but which entered a rapid phase of growth in the early 1960s) and then really began to show its stuff when Margaret River in Western Australia was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was one of the first regions selected to grow grapes with climatic attributes suitable for growing Cabernet, as it was chosen because of its climatic similarities to the Bordeaux region.

‘I’ve learned that Cabernet is a variety that hates stress,’ says Rob. ‘The Sauvignon family can’t handle heat and water stress.’ If Cabernet experiences heat or water stress then the vines shut down, and the result is tough skins and tough tannins. This is, apparently, the reason why Aussie Cabernet tends to lack a mid-palate.

Blending in Shiraz, especially in South Australia, has been a solution to this mid-palate hole. Also, cross-regional blending has been tried with some success. An example is big heavy Cabernet from McLaren Vale without any elegance or mid-palate being blended with elegant, restrained Coonawarra Cabernet. There are very few Cabernet/Shiraz blends outside South Australia, but in Western Australia Merlot has been widely used to blend with Cabernet.

Rob firmly believes in Coonawarra and Margaret River as the two top regions for this variety in Australia: ‘You won’t get better.’ He thinks that of these two, Margaret River is the most consistent. McLaren Vale is starting to make more of a name for itself, and Great Southern can be great but shows inconsistency because of rain. ‘We haven’t made our best Cabernet yet,’ he says, saying that there are new possibilities of matching clones to different soil types, and using rootstocks to manage tannins, for example.


2005 Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets, Yarra Valley
Fine, fresh, minerally aromatics: quite precise with subtle gravelly notes, and more red fruit than black. The palate is medium bodied with focused fresh berry fruits and nice minerally complexity. An almost tight, Burgundian expression of Cabernet that’s light, sappy and full of appeal. 93/100

2005 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Great Southern/Margaret River
79% Great Southern, 21% Margaret River. Smoothly focused dark gravelly nose is refined with some subtle spicy oak notes. The palate has bright blackcurrant fruit with some fresher cherry notes, as well as spicy tannins. Sophisticated, tight wound and intense, this has great potential. A restrained style by Aussie standards. 93/100

2005 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
Single vineyard, 18 months in French oak, 60% new. Forward red berry and blackcurrant fruit with a subtly green, spicy, gravelly edge. Brooding and complex. The palate has lovely blackcurrant and gravel character, with some appealing greenness, along with firm tannins. Full flavoured. Perhaps a little firm on the finish. 92/100

2005 Woodlands ‘Colin’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
32 year old estate vineyard, aged for 22 months in new French oak. Full creamy blackcurrant fruit nose with nice definition. Very stylish with mineral complexity. Rich, smooth blackcurranty palate with nice focus and concentration. Very youthful still with appealing fruit character and a gravelly, mineral finish. 93/100

2005 Sandalford Prendiville Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
100% new oak for 18 months, 15% alcohol. Minty edge to the aromatic nose, which shows bright blackcurrant and red berry fruit. Hint of ginger. The palate is bright and smooth with sweet blackcurrant fruit. A fresh style with some elegance. 91/100

2005 Château Mouton Rothschild Cabernet/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot, Pauillac
Very chocolatey, coffee-ish, oaky nose. The oak dominates also on the palate, with ripe dense berry and blackcurrant fruit and firm tannins. Tannic and quite rich, this is hard to assess at the moment. It’s not a very enjoyable drink but you have to hope there is a great wine waiting to emerge from this oak-dominated, tightwound monster. 22 months in new oak. 91/100

2005 Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa First Growth, Cabernet/Merlot, Coonawarra
Pure, intense, sweet blackcurrant fruit on the nose. Brooding and subtly gravelly. The palate is dense, powerful and intense with super-concentrated dark fruit character and a fresh, spicy finish, as well as mouth-drying structure. This is a big wine that needs time to come together. 94/100

2005 Majella The Malleea Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Coonawarra
Creamy, subtly minty, ripe and intense blackcurrant fruit on the nose. The palate is intense and lush with concentrated sweet blackcurrant and berry fruit, as well as soft tannins, finishing with high acidity. 92/100

2005 Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet/Merlot, Eden Valley
Very smooth, sweet, lush nose of pure blackcurrant fruit with some creamy, chocolatey richness. Very sweet. The palate is soft, concentrated and smooth with ripe fruit and soft tannins. Velvety texture. A very user-friendly wine but concentrated and lovely. 93/100

2005 Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec, Clare Valley
13% alcohol. Iodine/chlorine edge to the nose, with some ferrous iron notes and subtle, taut red and black fruits. Rich, ripe yet restrained fruits on the palate underpinned by firm tannins and good acidity. Riper and fuller than many Wendourees, this is deliciously poised. 93/100

2005 Hardys Chateau Reynella Basket Press Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale
A bold, lush, ripe, chocolatey style with concentrated smooth, creamy blackcurrant fruit as well as soft, jammy blackberry notes. Rich and a little minty but shows lovely density. 91/100

2005 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
Minty, chocolatey nose with some sweet blackcurrant character and roasted notes. Rich and focused with sweet fruit backed up by grippy tannins and good acidity. Rich and full with firm structure, this will age really well. Strong Penfolds house style here. 91/100  

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09 
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