Australia’s reputation may ride on Shiraz’s back, but the trophy case for Cabernet Sauvignon is just as packed. It’s one of the country’s most planted varieties, grown from some of the world’s oldest producing vines. This powerful, ageworthy grape thrives in maritime-influenced, dry, moderate climates and it seems to soak up Australia’s various unique terroirs.
While it’s made throughout the country, three regions fly the Cab flag highest.
The red terra rossa soils of Coonawarra, on the southeast edge of South Australia’s border, between Adelaide and Melbourne, produce some of the country’s richest Cabs, with sturdy tannins, plush dark berry fruit, mint and dried herbs.
Offerings from Margaret River, in Western Australia, straddle a line between elegance and power. Their ultrafine tannins and complex, savory aromas evoke the nearby Indian Ocean and towering gum trees.
Around 30 miles northeast of Melbourne, the relatively cool climes of the Yarra Valley produce Australia’s most delicate Cabs. These offer medium body, with fresh fruit-and-floral expressions that are balanced by chalky tannins.
Australian Cabernet may be blended, sometimes with Shiraz or with other Bordeaux varieties like Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Try Cab by itself or blended, from all across Oz, ideally with a plate of protein at hand.
Australian Cabernet Sauvignons to look for
Château Tanunda 2016 Matthews Road Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa); $18, 92 points. This historic producer excels at Cabernet. It’s broody and savory in notes of graphite, dried herbs and flowers amid the red currant and spicy oak notes. It’s lifted by a focused line of acidity, which slices neatly through the savory tannins and grainy texture, making the fruit feel crunchy and tangy. There’s something rustic yet classy about this wine. Drink now–2026. AUSA Pacific. Editors’ Choice.
Chapel Hill 2017 The Parson Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale); $20, 91 points. This vintage of Chapel Hill’s Parson Cab is another solid and varietally expressive drop that delivers bang for the buck. Medium in weight, it offers up a mélange of aromas and flavors: cherries, plums, black olives, thyme, dried leaves and warm earth, all balanced by soft-edged chalky tannins, sandy texture and a lift of acidity. Drink beside a char-grilled steak or a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. American Estates Wines, Inc.
Yeringberg 2015 Red (Yarra Valley); $90, 91 points. This Bordeaux blend feels as traditional as the historic winery. Rustic and charming yet poised, it opens with brambly fruit—black cherries and wild black berries and raspberries—along with scrubby herbs, cracked black pepper and cola along a savory, leathery and dusty earthed spine. Those leathery, dusty characters morph into raspy tannins and there’s a bitter tonic finish reminiscent of many Italian reds. Drink now–2025. Old Bridge Cellars.
Heartland 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Langhorne Creek); $20, 90 points. This was a solid and relatively cool vintage for Cabernet in Langhorne Creek and this wine expresses the year beautifully. The upfront plum and currant fruit are there, but the oh-so-Aussie aromas of fresh eucalyptus and bay leaf are just as prominent, backed by mocha and vanilla-tinged oak and dusty, savory tannins that support rather an overpower. A full-bodied yet restrained wine. Vintus LLC.
Jim Barry 2016 Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra); $15, 90 points. This wine offers a lot of quality at an affordable price. Lovers of classic big reds will dig the ripe plum, berry, cola, vanilla and earthy, herbal aromas. The tannins are tightly wound and drying but are balanced by silky red fruit with herbal nuances. There’s power here, but also balance and restraint. Drink now with protein and until 2029. Loosen Bros. USA. Best Buy.
Penley Estate 2016 Tolmer Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra); $30, 90 points. This wine is a deep well of chocolate plum cake, vanilla and cassis, with a core of Cab’s trademark graphite characters. It’s lusciousness is balanced on the palate by a spine of powerful sinewy tannins. Drink now with protein and easily for the next 15 years. Old Bridge Cellars.
Vasse Felix 2016 Filius Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River); $28. This complex sipper, from one of Australia’s most renowned Cabernet producers, will carry you to the country’s western shores.