Wine fashion is a trap most people should avoid. Too many wine columns extol the virtues of wines that only their makers or a small handful of sommeliers or those whose minds dwell in wine’s experimental laboratory really enjoy. Most wine drinkers simply want to drink something that’s delicious and pay a fair to good price for it. They don’t need to know it was harvested in the dead of night by druids, fermented with 200% stalks and trodden over by goths. And most people, while they appreciate a good recommendation, trust their own judgement and are actually often quite proud of it.
Which is why cabernet sauvignon is struggling in today’s marketplace. Windswept and interesting winemakers with exotic names and edgy fashion sense are not making cabernet sauvignon. And neither are their disciples, either in the media or the trade, talking it up. I once co-hosted a cabernet tasting at Melbourne’s Food and Wine Festival with a sommelier whose name is Banjo who proudly stated during the event that there wasn’t a single cabernet on his list. I rest my case.
Red grapes like pinot noir, grenache, mataro and nebbiolo can lend themselves perfectly to some serious winemaking attitude, although only a few of them actually succeed on quality alone. There’s a host of wines made from these grapes with provocative names and labels which, for reasons that cannot seriously have to do with quality, get outrageous scores and reviews in the media thanks to the throng of writers, judges, sommeliers and the like that move mysteriously en masse through the media and wine show circuit promoting only the wines they think their mates might have made.
Young cabernet sauvignon, because it needs to relatively structured, ordered and free of the overt wildness, stalkiness and funkiness demanded by the in-crowd, entirely escapes this kind of attention, unless of course, it’s biodynamic – in which case it usually gets the same rapturous reaction but for all the wrong reasons.
All of this is good news for the average Australian wine drinker. There’s a host of cabernet out there, much of it made by companies that can’t begin to hide the fact that they’re too big for their wine to be made in a bathtub, that’s beautifully grown and made and delicious to drink. And because cabernet is a mile from the spotlight, some of these wines are exceptional value.
Here’s one. Xanadu’s Exmoor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 comes from one of Australia’s classic cabernet regions, Margaret River, which it shrieks out with pride to anyone smart enough to open one. At $20 retail, it massively over-delivers for its price. With a fragrance of violets, cassis, mulberries, dark plums and a hint of cherry dusted with suggestions of dried herbs and a whiff of cedary oak, it’s supple and elegant. Underpinned by a very fine backbone of powdery tannins, it marries mouthfilling fruit with chocolatey oak, finishing with polish and some firmness.
It’s delicious, it’s affordable and it’s exactly what most people want from really good Australian red. But don’t ever accuse it of being trendy!