Special tasting: Let’s hear it for cabernet

The maritime climate of Australia's Margaret River makes it possible to produce classic cabernet
The maritime climate of Australia's Margaret River makes it possible to produce classic cabernet

Helen Coburn provides a selection of examples that aptly illustrate why wine producers find cabernet one of the most rewarding of grapes



14 May 2012

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Wine producers find cabernet one of the most rewarding of grapes. Ripeness varies with climate, but the intrinsic quality always comes through and it is always consistent in its firm blackcurrant flavours. Even in warm situations, it’s not a grape that really runs to alcohol in the manner of, say, shiraz or grenache. Where wines do hit that 14.5%, late harvesting, low yield and tight temperature control during fermentation are usually involved. Site wise, the grape is very tolerant and can prosper in almost every wine region except the very cool and the very warm and it retains reasonable concentration even when yields are high. Unlike pinot noir, for example, quality doesn’t drop off suddenly when yields are pushed to a certain point; cabernet will generally try to give you something. This means that acceptable wines can be produced even at virtual entry point prices.

Just at the moment, pinot is riding high in the fashion stakes. Cabernet, however, is unlikely ever to suffer that “anything but” syndrome endured by chardonnay for a while. It’s just too good for that, while its combination of rich fruit with fine structure and ageability means it’s always going to appeal to a huge range of consumers. In Bordeaux, merlot was traditionally combined with cabernet to give it some added fleshiness in cooler situations and vintages. Nowadays, even in warm regions, some merlot is often added just to add a soupcon of pluminess to the flavour profile. 

As a food wine, cabernet is enormously versatile and there’s a wine to go with almost every food, even fish.  Here are some we’ve tasted recently, along with some food matches. Prices approximately retail.  

Terra Andina Cabernet Chile 2007 (Gilbey Gleeson €8). Demonstrates perfectly what can be done with cabernet at entry point; tasty, fruity with decent structure and great with chops, grilled pork and shepherd’s pie.  

Lapostelle Casa Cabernet Chile 2007 (Comans €8.99). In much richer style, with ripe, almost jammy, fruit. Good with duck and venison.  

Heartland Langhorne and Limestone Coast Cabernet Australia 2009 (Searson €19). Opulent style with alcohol to match at 14.5%; dinner party wine for beef and rich casseroles. 

Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Australia 2008 (Findlater €13). Wakefield’s alcohol can sometimes run past the 14.5% mark so you may need a crowd for this. But it’s got decent concentration and juicy, well defined blackcurrant. Always works well with beef and good with hard cheeses as well.  

Clairault Cabernet Merlot Margaret River 2006 (Febvre €18). From one of Australia’s classic cabernet regions, this Bordeaux blend delivers lots of style for the money. Try with simply cooked meats, richer fish dishes and hard cheeses. 

Chateau Villa Bel Air Bordeaux 2008 (Barry Fitzwilliam €18). Not a budget buy but this cabernet merlot is good value for what you get. Very elegantly evolving plum and blackcurrant fruit make this good with roast turkey, chicken and richer fish such as monkfish and herbed cod.  

Chateau Les Ormes de Pez St Estephe 2008 (Findlater €35). St Estephe is one of the best communes in Bordeaux for interesting expressions of cabernet – but you’ll pay your money. Be prepared for some austerity, too, in cooler vintages. Ormes de Pez is elegant but avoid the 2007 which was rather thin of fruit; 2008 is good and 2006 is drinking well if you can find some.   

Big Yellow Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Febvre €19). Exuberant Californian which is perfect for grilled and barbequed meats, but also works well with spicy dishes, including chilli con carne.  

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon South Africa 2006 (Findlater €20). South African cabernet can be a little soft and burnt in style but this is elegant and lovely with lamb. If you’re on a budget, Kanonkop Kadette is half the price and great value; it’s at least 50% pinotage and there’s some merlot as well, with the balancing cabernet giving it firm structure and tasty blackcurrant notes. Try with steak and kidney pie.



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