Cam Haskell, wine manager at Arimia, celebrates International Cabernet Day by taking us through some of the region’s most exciting cabernet sauvignon.
Across the region, vine leaves have dropped and pruning is well under way or just about finished, vines cut back and retrained for the flush of growth September will bring. The fervoured fever dream of vintage has long passed, and it’s a really terrific time to visit cellar doors throughout the Capes. Less crowded and pressured, it’s often a chance to chat and fully engage with a cellar door’s staff and their wines at a leisurely, thoughtful pace. And perhaps best of all, the cooler temperatures bring into prime drinking context some of Margaret River’s very best wines: its Cabernet Sauvignons.
Photo below: Cam Haskell welcomes guests at Arimia
Cabernet Sauvignon is, above all, the grape that put Margaret River on the map – in the 1960’s UWA academic Dr. John Gladstones encouraged planting in the area, and from there grapegrowing in the region took off, most spectacularly with Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon’s consecutive 1984 and 1985 wins of the Jimmy Watson Trophy – Australia’s most important wine show award. If you’re lucky enough to drink one today, it’s a sturdy, assured wine that is still in fantastic form.
Photo below: Cape Mentelle
A great deal of Cabernet Sauvignon’s charm is its ageworthiness -the flipside being it doesn’t necessarily offer immediacy or much in the way of hedonism in its youth. But after 5-10 years it turns into a delicious, different thing – usually still loaded up with blackcurrant, but softer, more brambly and the oak has digested. Black olive tapenade shows up, woody tannin frames it all, it’s grip loosened and alongside acidity and fruit pushes the length on and on and on. Sometimes it’ll show a judicious dash of herbal influence, along with sage and bay leaf – but ideally these should be supporting actors rather than leads. It’s regal and refined, rather than juicy, slippery or founded on simple pleasure.
Photo below: Fraser Gallop Estate
Cabernet Sauvignon and its traditional blending partners (also Bordelaise in origin) Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec are widely planted throughout the region and are frequently paired with it, often to add a touch of generosity, and to build a touch more complexity than a lone hand might hold.
Photo: Cape Mentelle
Cabernet Sauvignon is often one of the pricier wines on offer in the region, and not for nothing– it’s more expensive viticulturally (and for lower yield than a number of other varieties); it’s pickier in terms of planting conditions; and, much like Chardonnay, it’s a grape that really needs some quality oak to support it – and good oak rarely comes cheap. Much has been made of late of some higher priced MR releases over the past year, in particular Cullen’s The Vanya, and to a lesser extent, the Deep Woods Yallingup and Wilyabrup special releases. But I’ve raced to the defence of these wines – not only do I think they’re genuinely, truly excellent, but they’re vastly cheaper than, say, Penfolds Grange or Torbreck’s The Laird – and maybe I’m parochial, but I’d rather drink these Margs wines every day of the week. And if you were to compare the cost of the Margs wines internationally, the prices still pale in comparison to a great many American or Bordelaise wines.
Photo below: Fraser Gallop Estate
So what do I think is literally the best way to spend a winter holiday day in Margs? Taste your way around the place, find some of what you like, buy a bit of it and put it away in decent storage and forget about it for 5-10 years at a minimum. Collect some bottles to test now. Pick up some Leeuwin Grassfed Beef at the markets, cook it no more than medium, and enjoy two of the region’s greatest pleasures.
Photo below: McHenry Hohnen