Some Australian wine observers believe that blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are better than either varietal on its own. There’s even a wine competition exclusively for those wines, called The Great Australian Red, the brainchild of Tyson Stelzer (who contributes articles from Australia for Wine Spectator).
My take is a bit different. I have my problems with a lot of Australian Cabernets. Except for a few outstanding ones, they can be awfully weedy or green. Blending those with Shiraz often improves them by tilting the balance more toward fruit and enriching the texture. And a little bit of Cabernet can introduce some transparency of texture to Shiraz, which can sometimes get too thick. Penfolds usually adds a dollop of Cabernet to Grange, which ranges from from 90 to 100 percent Shiraz.
To toast the New Year with my wife, I veered away from my usual choice of sweet wines and reached for my single remaining bottle of Yalumba The Signature 1996, a Barossa blend of 52 percent Shiraz and 48 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from my favorite South Australian vintage of the 1990s. Carol likes big reds, and Yalumba’s polished style figured to be supple enough to please us both while we kicked back to watch a DVD.
When I pulled the cork to decant the wine, a mix of blue and black fruit aromas rose up from the cascading liquid, plus a telltale whiff of cedar to identify the Cabernet component. In my original note, written in 2000, I noted “luscious berry and anise flavors from the Shiraz to frame the distinct currant and cedar notes of the Cabernet.” I rated the wine 91 points and called it “stylish ... and worth cellaring.”
The years have made these elements less dense, more transparent, but still rich with flavor and remarkably fresh. This is what happens to good Aussie reds as they age in bottle. They keep their fruit, their youthfulness, and while they may not build up many layers of bottle bouquet, they seem to glue their component parts into something more subtle.
That’s certainly what happened to The Signature 1996, a gleaming, polished sphere of a wine that lacked nothing in power even while it flowed smoothly over the tongue. A slight buzz of tannin only added intrigue to the dark berry and currant fruit, and lovely grace notes of cedar, sage and spice. The difference today is that these elements fit together seamlessly instead of framing each other, as they did when the wine was young.
As such, it’s a better wine than it was. Today I would rate it 93 points, non blind. Not bad for a bottle for which the current vintage still carries a price tag of $50 (and rates 92 points).
Price is one reason to seek out blends like this. At the high end, I like Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard, Jacob’s Creek Johann, Wolf Blass Black Label and Penfolds Bin 389. In the under-$30 range, try Lake Breeze Bernoota, Mollydooker Two Left Feet, Yalumba The Scribbler and Some Young Punks Passion Has Red Lips. The less-expensive wines may not last 13 years, but they show how Cabernet and Shiraz can find common ground.
Todd Shreve — January 5, 2009 3:00pm ET
Glenn S Lucash — January 5, 2009 9:28pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — January 8, 2009 12:32pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — January 10, 2009 11:59am ET
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