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The Bordeaux Blend in the New World

There is a reason why Bordeaux is so revered and much of the secret lies in the blend of grapes used. Cabernet Sauvignon may be the grape variety most famously associated and exported from its home on the left bank of the Gironde but Cabernet without the help of its friends (Merlot, Cabernet Franc etc) can feel hollow, edgy and overly herbaceous. Whilst at the Hong Kong wine fair last week I decided to avoid Bordeaux and taste my way through some examples from regions in the new world where Bordeaux blends thrive. It came as no surprise that many of the best were from the ‘cooler’ parts of their respective countries of origin. These wines offered a richness of fruit only found in Bordeaux in the warmest of years but the best were balanced by restraint, elegance, freshness and a textural sophistication that marked these out as fine by anybody’s standard. Cabernet Sauvignon frequently took the lead in these wines but as can be seen below the likes of Cabernet Franc or Merlot provided more than ample support.

When it comes to straight Cabernet Sauvignon I usually prefer wines from a warmer climate such as Napa Valley. This helps plump up the middle of the wine, softening some of the ‘square-ness’ from which this variety can suffer. Yarran, using fruit from Heathcote, produce wines with this added generosity.

So if there is a lesson in any of this it is not to ignore blends in the pursuit of a single varietal; skilful blending adds complexity. Don’t assume that Bordeaux is the only region capable of producing fine quality blended wine featuring the varieties discussed. And don’t dismiss varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from warmer, more Mediterranean climates. Below are two wines that express the sophistication and age-ability possible outside of Bordeaux and from Yarran, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is both plush and a pleasure to drink now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1, Yarra Valley, 2008, 13.5%
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 100% new oak
Note: Delicate and restrained nose of blackberry, smoke and some red fruit. A touch balsamic, spicy but not overly and there is a brightness on the palate that makes this both persistent and harmonious. This reminded me less of Bordeaux and more of top quality, classic Rioja from the likes of Rioja alta. Truly fine stuff. Anyone who thinks that Australia is all about full-bodied fruit bombs needs to try this.
Price: 2005 is 2970NT in Taiwan. Globally approx. $80USD
Score: 18.5/20, Magnificent
Available from: have the 2005 for 2970NT

Yarran Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Heathcote, 2013, 14.2%
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Some French oak
Note: Soft, spicy with chocolate and mocha, sweet licorice and dark fruit. Very nicely judged oak (much better than the 2012) and with a persistent finish. Brilliant value.
Price: In Australia this is priced at approx. $12USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

Groot Constantia, Gouverners Reserve, Constantia, 2011, 14%
54% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Matured for 18 months in predominantly new French oak
Note: Hailing from Constantia means that this is about as cool a climate as one can experience in South Africa. This provides a wine that is fresh and vibrant but also deep and satisfying. On the nose this could be from Bordeaux with pencil shavings, coffee grounds and both sweet and savoury fruit. Generous in body and again excellent persistence, a bargain that will reward cellaring for another ten years.
Price: Globally available at approximately $40USD
Score: 18/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

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