The great Aussie blend has drifted off the radar for me over the last five or ten years. I don't seem to find many good ones, and I don't think I'm the only one. It seems to be a blend the big boys continue to do well, probably because they have so much more opportunity to source the right fruit. Some smaller wineries still do the blend, and although there are exceptions like Lake Breeze's Bernoota, it often it wasn't really as good as their straight varietals. The result being the Cab was apparently better off going Bordeaux on us and marrying a Merlot or Malbec.
That's all a shame really, wines such as Bin389 and Limestone Ridge clearly show how well the blend should work. The other sad thing is many people would not be aware that McLaren Vale makes some stunningly good Cab Savs, but there are quite a few mediocre ones too, and I reckon most people wouldn't think of the Vale as a great Cab area.
You should never generalize about wine regions though. There is an enormous variety of micro climates, soil composition and geographical vineyard aspects in a very small area in the Vale. There's the old joke about the experienced wine taster being able to tell which side of the hill the wine grapes were grown on. Thing is, it's not completely a joke. A hill facing south west in the vale may get less sun and more cooling sea breezes, and that will affect the grapes at least as much as the regions air temperature will. These vines actually face north, but due to the Sellicks Hill Ranges wind-tunnel effect they also get strong sea breezes, see why I told you that you can't generalize?
I bought this bottle at 'cellar door', which requires an appointment at this stage. The advantage to me was I was given tastings of some of the barrels about to be blended in the near future, mostly 2011s. The Cradle of Hills vineyard is not all that big, I reckon about two footy fields in size, but the variety in the Shiraz alone was quite amazing. There was the area grown mainly to provide natural acidity, the area called the Project which is lower yielding and thus higher fruit intensity, the mortgage block which produces great fruit every vintage. Each one of those barrels was quite different in style, and whilst they are designed to be blended, they were still quite drinkable on their own. We're talking nano-climates really. They aren't what's in this wine, but my point being that micro terroirs and attention to every detail is actually very important to the final result.
I got curious about which vineyard areas were actually in this wine, and since it was all CoH Estate fruit I asked Paul for a bit more info. So he cracked a bottle and wrote me a huge email. He is clearly, and rightly, very proud of it;
Cabernet comes form the western end of the Cabernet block; Rows 40 to 42.
In the western end of the vineyard the soil is more austere/stony and free
draining and the vines struggle a bit more than the eastern side. Hence
the bunches / berries are smaller, & the flavours are more intense.
The average bunch size was 65 g (which is small as most bunches are generally around
90 - 100g at harvest) and the yield was low 2T / acre. Tracy produced the small bunches during
veraison by maintaining a light canopy ( full sunlight for ripening cabernet –
no green tannins) and limited irrigation.
Shiraz for the blend
came from the short (southern) rows in the Eastern block ( behind the house).
As this is most exposed part of the vineyard (to the SE/SW winds), the vines
struggle here also (again a low yield of 2T / acre) and produce great
flavour intensity from small bunches/berries.
I've waffled a fair bit, sorry about that, here's the actual review.
Powerful nose, a veritable farmer's market of aromatics, mostly dominated by the earthy herbal Cab and tweaked with a good lick of MV Shiraz plums and chocolate. There's also a very faint hint of that quintessential CoH flower garden, I always thought it was from the Grenache they make, but maybe it's from Tracy's perfume. Or Pauls?
Superb tannins, nutty and chewy, with enough substance for a longer road. Acid judged perfectly with aforementioned attention to detail, it's happily staying in the wings keeping the show running and not stealing the limelight. Length is important here, and nobody will be left disappointed.
Hand picked and sorted, hands on traditional winemaking, a slow two week
ferment with ab bruising four-a-day hand plunging, another 2 weeks
maceration on skins for more texture, a light basket press then into barrels for two years on lees
with periodic stirring, then racked back into those fine grain French and
American hogsheads for another year's rest. Bottled in Jan 2013. The devil might be in the details, but so is the delight, so let's call it wickedly good.
Drinking well now, particularly with food at this youthful stage, but squirrel a few away too, you will be rewarded. Oh, and I almost forgot why I waffled at the start; this is exactly the kind of synergistic Cab Shiraz that made the blend a success. Bloody Bonza, a Cracker Claret again, and affordable! Cabernet 80% Shiraz 20%