Seven Australian Cabernets from 2015


During the onslaught of 2020 Bordeaux samples, my beleaguered palate yearns for something …anything… but Bordeaux. With this in mind, I recently participated in a useful benchmark tasting of 2015 Australian Cabernet Sauvignons. Once upon a time I tasted a lot of wines from Down Under. I even acted as an international judge at Australian wine shows including Margaret River and Coonawarra. As my responsibilities toward Bordeaux and Burgundy deepened and consumed more and more time, Australia regrettably became sidelined. So I looked forward to reacquainting myself with half-dozen top-notch Cabernets from Margaret River, Yarra and Eden valleys and Coonawarra. I must admit, I approached these wines with modest expectations. How would they show after tasting First Growths and Grand Cru Classés?

Well, they acquitted themselves supremely well, offering a pertinent reminder of the pleasures derived from well-crafted Australian Cabernet. Exploring the Old World in such depth, you can occasionally get lost in the intellectual side and forget that wine should deliver as much sensory satisfaction and hedonism. These wines did exactly that. Even though we were limited to a septet, it neatly showcased the range of styles, from the drier Médoc-inspired examples that hail from the Yarra Valley to the menthol-tinged hedonic lovelies from the red iron soils of Coonawarra.

The 2015 Black Label from Wynns, which debuted way back in 1954 but only sported a black label from 1965, is aged for 18 months in 19% new oak. It has a ravishing bouquet of black cherries, menthol, lavender and pitted black olives, well defined and displaying just the right amount of plushness. The palate offers vibrant red fruit laced with white pepper and clove, plus touches of orange peel. There’s plenty of vibrancy here, and hints of cough candy toward the well-balanced, fresh finish. This is a delightful Cabernet Sauvignon that is à point but will have no problem aging for another 20 years. The 2015 The Tally from Balnaves comes from vines planted in 1990: Cabernet Sauvignon from the Dead Morris vineyard (95% of the blend) co-fermented with 5% Petit Verdot from Dunstan. It is aged in two-thirds new oak from the Sylvain and Taransaud cooperages. Its name actually derives from sheep shearing. You cannot help but fall in love with the bouquet here, gushing red cherries, crushed strawberry, orange blossom, eucalyptus and hints of licorice, all delivered with great purity and style. The palate is medium-bodied with succulent ripe tannins, fine acidity and ravishing red fruit mixed with marmalade and tangy orange zest, voluminous but not heavy toward the finish. What a wonderful Coonawarra – hedonistic but controlled. The 2015 Dry Red Wine No. 1 from Yarra Yering comes from vines planted in 1969 on gray silty loam. This is a more classically styled Australian red insofar as you can clearly tell the country of origin, but it has pretensions toward the Médoc. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins and pure red berry fruit (strawberry and cranberry) interlaced with mint and cedar. This has succinct control toward the silky finish, which is impressive in terms of length and delivers a satisfying freshness that urges you back for another sip. Superb.

The 2015 Quintet from Mount Mary in the Yarra Valley comes from vines planted in 1971; this vintage matured for 20 months in 35% new oak. This is not as cohesive on the nose as the Yarra Yering No. 1, coming across slightly earthier and more ferrous-tinged, with red berry fruit and hints of clove and bay leaf. There is plenty of freshness on the entry, and again, the palate is quite earthy, with a fine bead of acidity. Classic in style, this shares the same Old World slant as the Yarra Yering, slightly leafy and herbaceous. There is pleasing weight and gentle grip on the finish, and bay leaf and a subtle sprinkling of white pepper on the aftertaste. Excellent. The 2015 Diana Madeline from Cullens Wines comes from 50-year-old biodynamically grown vines cultivated on granite/sandy soils. Here the Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 11% Merlot, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc. The aromatics take a little while to coalesce, offering a mixture of red and black fruit, undergrowth and touches of white mint. I appreciate the pliancy of the tannins, the extremely well-judged acidity and the harmonious, understated finish. Hints of wild mint and thyme linger on the aftertaste. There is a serious intellectual aspect to this wonderful Cabernet that will give pleasure over the next 25–30 years.

The 2015 Tom Cullity from Vasse Felix comes from vines planted in 1967. The Cabernet Sauvignon here is seasoned with a little Malbec and matured in 51% new oak for 16 months. There is something airy on the nose, not diffuse, but it has wonderful lift. Red berry fruit, wild hedgerow, pinecones and thyme all intermingle. The palate is very well balanced with menthol-tinged red berry fruit, a fine bead of acidity and hints of licorice and black olive toward the harmonious finish. The tongue tingles on the aftertaste. Superb. Finally, the 2015 Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 18 months in 20% new oak, has a knockout bouquet that does not hold back with its irresistible, pure black cherries, menthol, cassis and just a very slight touch of boot polish, all beautifully defined. The medium-bodied palate offers white pepper and bay-leaf-tinged red fruit, lithe tannins and a fine bead of acidity. Compared to the nose, it feels quite understated, but it delivers an engaging pepperiness toward the finish. This is only just starting to open.

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