Shiraz is the most popular red wine grape variety in Australia. It has the most plantings and is considered by many to be the finest example of Australian red wine. It is helped by its ability to ripen in a wide range of different climates, soils and altitudes, because it is grown in all major wine regions.
However, many people consider that Cabernet Sauvignon is the “King of Grapes”, and I would not disagree with that. But there are some areas of Australia where it is almost impossible to properly ripen this grape. In addition, some of the areas where it grows best have not always treated the grapes in the way they should, resulting in less than stellar wines. It is possible that as the climate warms, some areas will ripen Cabernet Sauvignon more completely. I have heard that sometimes it is the pips in the grapes that don’t ripen, and this is what gives wines made from these grapes the “greenness”. But I have no idea if that is true or not. What is known, is that Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, which pleases the Wine Club member who confused Cab Sav with Sav Blanc in the black glasses test some time back.
One of the better areas for Cabernet Sauvignon is Coonawarra, particularly the famed terra rossa soils area. The problem though is that the Coonawarra delineation covers areas that have terra rossa soils and areas that don’t have the valuable soils, so the wines produced from these latter areas, while correctly named Coonawarra, do not show the characteristic aromas and flavours of the terra rossa. The terra rossa is a thin band of red soil that is well drained and soils either side of this band through the middle of Coonawarra are of poorer quality. The red colour comes from iron leaching into the soil, and imparts a distinctive flavour to the grapes.
Another great area for Cab Sav is the Margaret River area of WA. What is not often recognised about the Margaret River is that it wouldn’t have come to be a wine area without the research of Robert Mondavi. It was this famous American wine maker that searched the World for areas with a similar climate to Bordeaux in France, and decided that the Margaret River was particularly suited to Bordeaux grapes and the wines that make them. He approached landowners in the area including Denis and Tricia Horgan, and on what was originally a cattle farm, helped them start Leeuwin Estate Winery in 1972. This has gone on to be one of the most prestigious wineries in Australia.
I was present at a dinner where the incomparable Len Evans made the statement that the greatest grape growing regions in Australia have yet to be found. A staggering comment, but it may very well be true.