Our newest contributor and winemaker Alex Mackenzie gets us up to speed on all things Shiraz and Cabernet…
Shiraz or Cabernet?
Australia’s flagship red variety is Shiraz and we have been recognised on the world stage for our wines. Outside of the Rhone Valley in France, Australia produces some of the greatest Shiraz in the world. Penfolds, Henschke, Saltram, Bests, Seppelt and Wendouree to name a few, all have a proud history when it comes to Shiraz wines. Shiraz is widely planted across Australia, and offers varying styles depending on the region from where it is sourced. It is a forgiving and versatile variety that is well suited to our environment. Following Shiraz is Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety that has also gained a fine reputation, especially from regions such as Coonawarra and Margaret River. These wines compete on the world stage against the likes of Bordeaux in France, and Napa Valley in America and therefore the competition is mightier, however we hold our place and do it well.
Then there are the blends…
Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are often blended with other varieties. This may not always be evident on the label, and in many circumstances, only the producer and region are shown. The reasons that other varieties are blended in, apart from house style, is to make the final wine more balanced. Fortunately in Australia we have no major regulations preventing blends, so each producer makes the wine that best suits their style, from what they have planted and what they can source. Consequently, you can get a whole range of interesting concoctions, which you may have seen described as GSM (Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre), SGM, SCM, CSM, SC, and so on.
In the case of Shiraz blends, Grenache and Mourvèdre are the main components and are known as the Rhone blends while with Cabernet Sauvignon blends, known more widely as Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot are used. Other blends also exist, for example Super Tuscans, where Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and to a certain extent Merlot is blended. In Australia, we have the Great Australian red, a unique and totally Australian creation of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blends. Australia makes some great examples of these blends, and in some instances the wines are a blend across varieties and regions (this is an Australian concept to blend across regions – Wolf Blass Black Label is one of the greatest examples).
So which blend is the best?
Vintage conditions differ depending on many factors including rainfall, temperature, and crop load. All grape varieties have unique characters, and when they are blended, add extra dimensions and characters to the final wine. It’s a bit like cooking; some flavours work extremely well together. This is not to say that single varieties are simpler, as they are not, blends just add a different layer (spice to life).
Clare Valley (where I’m based) is fortunate to have an environment where both Shiraz and Cabernet Blends can be made, so I find blending these styles, Rhone, Bordeaux, and Australian blends a great challenge, and an enjoyable experience. There is no favourite or “best” blend, as they all have their place, depending on the circumstances, however at the moment, I am partial to the Rhone Blends and there are plenty of great blends out there. I love the raspberry lift and lightness of the Grenache, the spice of Mourvedre and the plushness of Shiraz – it’s easy to see why we say that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual components. It just works!! Check out the 2009 Annie’s Lane Winemaker’s Selection GSM (about $25.00 AUD), decant if possible, and enjoy with roast chicken, chorizo, paprika, garlic and potato – Greg Malouf has a great cooking blend (from $12.95 AUD)!