May 20, 2023

Shiraz Cabernet – The Art of Blending Bordeaux and Hermitage

Shiraz Cabernet – a great Australian classic!

Imagine two French vignerons, who happen to be best friends, meeting to discuss wine. One from Bordeaux and one from Hermitage. The winemaker from Bordeaux laments about how their hard the vintage has been so far. Sadly, they don’t think that the wines coming from this vintage are going to be up to par. The two then hatch a plan.

After their grapes have been harvested, they start making wine. The good friend from Hermitage then surreptitiously sends their friend a batch of their freshly made wine. They go to every effort to make sure that no-one will ever know that this vintage of claret has been bolstered up with wines not allowed under the edicts of the Appellation Controlee for that region. The result of their endeavour produced wines with better structure and weight than efforts from neighbouring estate’s despite a difficult year.

Now, of course I am not saying this ever happened and I am not saying that it never happened.

Shiraz Cabernet A respectable blend

I am also not saying that there are no cabernet shiraz blends made in France. Because there are some fine examples coming from the South in the form of IGP wines. Of course, neither can you overlook syrah’s love of a good blend. Not when you consider the likes of fine Chateauneuf du Pape and other Rhonish syrah blends.  I am, however, quite glad that there are some countries that treat these blends with the respect they deserve.

And in the case of Australia, they have become beloved.

However, in my past conversations with wine drinkers, I have recently found myself defending wine that are a blend of varieties. There seems to be this perception that 100% varietal wines are superior and that blending is only done at the less expensive end of the market or to rectify wines in poor vintages.

Having over 180 years to get to know the syrah grape, Australians have been known to be more likely to defy rather than abide by syrah tradition. Or any tradition for that matter. Calling it ‘shiraz’ is an obvious place to start. Subsequently, Australian winemakers, who have been known to historically add pinot noir to shiraz. So it is no surprise that there is a creative range of interesting shiraz blends from Australia. Not forgetting either the more traditional Rhone mixes.

The very old vines at Metala Vineyard, Langhorne Creek, Australia.

Not just Shiraz Cabernet …

Although sometimes, and I mean in rare instances, the more experimental side of blending says more about winemaker’s innovative streak than representing compelling drinking. I have recently tasted a wine with an addition of 20% riesling which I felt did not add anything of value. Notwithstanding this example, I have enjoyed reds with a vibrant, but much smaller, dose of riesling in the past. This includes wines such as Dandelion Vineyard’s ‘Lions Tooth of McLaren Vale’ . Lion’s Tooth bewitches with its lashings of pepper amongst the pure blackberry fruit and fine, fine tannins.

There are plenty of more traditional French blends from Bordeaux (red and white) and the Rhone regions coming out of new world wine producing countries. This includes the fragrant Cote Rotie of the blend of shiraz / viognier. It is, however, the meeting of generous hearts of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz grapes that the majority of drinkers of Australian red blends know and love.

The partnership is mutually beneficial and creates a wine that softer and more food friendly than the separate components.  The bold bright fleshy fruit of the shiraz grape takes a lesson from the often equally rich and ripe merlot and fills out the structure of cabernet sauvignon which has more tannin and often more acid.  The complexity of fine cabernet sauvignon with its herbal edge adds an extra layer of flavour to shiraz.  Shiraz also adds vibrant colour and some additional alcohol lift.

Some big names …

Famous blends of shiraz and cabernet from Australia include Penfolds Grange which has very often had a dose of cabernet sauvignon. Wolf Blass Black Label, Yalumba ‘The Signature’,and Lindemans Limestone Ridge are also well known blends. Plus, the Metala was traditionally a Shiraz Cabernet blend. Incidentally, Metala is now once again owned by the Adams family after Treasury Wine sold the brand back to them in 2022.

Not the lesser wine …

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum these big red grapes perform well in commercial blends where they produce a juicy, round style that is soft and approachable to drink in the now. As with the finest blends, these bulk wine blends use the synergies of these grapes to their advantage.

The pedigree of these wines prove that in many instances Australian shiraz/cabernet sauvignon blends are in no way, shape or form lesser wines than straight 100% varietal wines. Just as you could never say that about any fortune commanding first growth claret. The prestige blends are not simply thrown together as a means to improve a wine in a poor performing year but are made with judiciously chosen grapes that display exciting synergy.

Next time you are holding a bottle of red wondering if, as a blend, it is really going to deliver as much pleasure as its 100% varietal neighbour – the answer is; perhaps even more.

Here are some examples for any budget –

Majella Musician Cabernet Shiraz – A wine with generosity at heart. Cinnamon, plum, caramel backed with some Coonawarra cabernet mint.  Soft, long fine tannins are well integrated in a wine that is full of life and an elegant food wine. Drink it now and enjoy its cheerful freshness. (AU$20 | £18)

Bremerton Tamblyn

The Willson family estate ‘Bremerton’ is just one of the highlights from the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia. Bremerton Tamblyn is an Australian version on the standard Bordeaux blend with the added bonus of Shiraz. It fills the mouth and finishes with a spicy savouriness. It is bold but balanced. And great value. (AU$20 | £13)

Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz

A classic from the Barossa that is hard to resist. The cabernet contributes cigar nuances to the ripe black fruit spiced with cinnamon. This is a wine of supple tannin texture and finesse that will reward the patient cellarer. (AU$65 | £36)

And those other blends:

Dandelion Vineyards Shiraz

Dandelion Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale

Over the past decade, Dandelion has quickly established their reputation for quality and each wine is very more-ish indeed. This is a prettily perfumed shiraz with plenty of rich, chocolate amongst the blackberry and raspberry fruit. The fuller body shapes the palate with powdery tannins and it is long. Long and plush. (AU$40 | £17)

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier

Clonakilla, being one of the first vineyards planted, is an integral part of the modern era of Canberran vinous history. This particular blend became part of Clonakilla’s regular line up in 1992 after Tim Kirk was inspired by a trip through Cote Rotie the previous year. The fruit is vivacious and detailed and its fleshy weight wraps around some spicy oak that in no way dominates. However, this wine is not just about fruit. The tannin is shapely and very fine indeed.  This is a wine that is well worth keeping for a decade if you can. (AU$120 | £85)

Note: First published on enobtyes.com in 2013 & updated in 2023

See Majella for more information on the Musician

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