The blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz has been called the most Australian of wine styles. It’s been around for a long time and has been a hugely popular style. Indeed, according to wine critics Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, shiraz cabernet is ‘The Great Australian Red.’
So why is the style unique to Australia, especially when the French blend nearly all their reds? For one, it would be considered heresy to blend the noble grape of Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, with the noble grape of the Rhone, shiraz. Secondly it would be illegal anyway. However these strong held French traditions didn’t prevent Max Schubert, creator of legendary Penfolds Grange, from making the Penfolds Bin 60A – a blend of Coonawarra cabernet and Barossa shiraz. The inaugural 1962 vintage went on to become Penfolds’ most successful show wine of all time. The Bin 60A is considered the benchmark for the style, and many regard the 1962 as Australia’s greatest wine!
Blending the firm, classic tannin structure and texture of cabernet sauvignon with the rich sweet fruit and ripe tannins of shiraz certainly seems like a very good idea. The shiraz adds middle-palate velvety richness and savoury notes to the elegance and length of cabernet, creating a complex but balanced wine with great cellaring potential.
You may recognise some of Australia’s leading cabernet shiraz/shiraz cabernet blends, four of which are: Penfolds Bin 389, Wolf Blass Black Label, Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz and Jacob’s Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet.
A trend towards single variety wines has meant that many winemakers have overlooked the benefits of multi-variety blending. Nevertheless, a number of wines stand out as iconic expressions of the style, and new winemakers are starting to embrace a blend that is not bounded by region or ‘old world’ preconceptions.