There are moments in winemaking when a certain synergy happens. When the blended whole shines more brightly than the sum of its parts. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, often considered the quintessential Australian red, is one such case.
Blending different varieties to create a wine that is more complete, more complex, and therefore arguably better, is a time-honoured tradition in winemaking history. Bordeaux winemakers have been doing it for centuries. In fact, almost all Bordeaux wines consist of various, often signature, combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. But back in the 1800s, the Bordelaise also brought in Syrah (Shiraz) from the Rhone Valley to blend with their Cabernet Sauvignon, finding it an equally good, if not better, addition to their blends. But with the introduction of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system in 1919, French regional laws put a stop to the Bordeaux-Rhone blend. To be labelled AOC, a perceived mark of quality, restrictions were enforced to regulate where grapes were to be sourced and how wine was to be made. Cabernet Sauvignon was confined to Bordeaux, and Shiraz was confined to the Rhone, and never again the twain should meet.
In Australia, however, we are free from such regulations. We have the freedom to make the very best wine possible, regardless of region or variety. And as such, the synergistic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz has flourished, becoming an iconic Australian style. And with good reason. So what is it that makes the blend of these two varieties such a happy, balanced marriage?
When we take a sip of wine, there is more going on than just the flavour. Wine also has mouthfeel, which is just as important to our enjoyment of the wine. Mouthfeel includes the sensations we perceive in our mouths such as texture, structure, shape, volume, length and consistency. We quite commonly hear the terms ‘round’, or ‘long’ to describe a wine. Similarly, terms such as ‘structure’ and ‘body’ are often used. We can liken structure to the wine’s skeleton or framework, and body to the flesh, or how the wine fills the mouth.
Cabernet Sauvignon provides great structure and backbone, offering intensity of flavour and fine, long tannins. It’s often referred to, though, as a ‘doughnut’ wine, having plenty of upfront and lingering fruit, but a bit of a ‘hole in the middle’. Shiraz, on the other hand, fills out the mid-palate with rich, mouth-filling fruit and a supple, velvety texture, balancing the line of Cabernet to create a wonderfully harmonious blend.
Purists may argue that these two noble varieties should always stand alone. And of course, there are examples where the singular varieties shine. Platinum Label Shiraz, for example, shows Shiraz in its optimal form, with both opulence of fruit and elegance of structure. Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of perfectly blended Cabernet Sauvignon that offers both length of flavour and mid-palate richness.
But there are times when a vineyard will produce exceptional structure in Cabernet, without necessarily providing the middle palate depth, or rich, plush, round Shiraz that needs a little reigning in with a tighter structure. These are the perfect components to create the ideal Cabernet Shiraz blend, fitting the two together like a lock and key, and resulting in beautifully complete wines of harmony, complexity, balance and grace.
CABERNET SHIRAZ AND WOLF BLASS
The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz honours our roots, returning to that used by our founder, Wolfgang Blass, to create his very first wine under the Wolf Blass label back in 1967; Grey Label Cabernet Shiraz, which was sourced exclusively from the Langhorne Creek region. From 1973, Wolf went on to create Black Label, the flagship blend of the Wolf Blass portfolio. Based predominantly on Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and often also incorporating a touch of Malbec or Merlot, Black Label takes the art of blending one step further, bringing in a selection of fruit from the most outstanding regions of the vintage. Recognised on the world wine stage as a wine of distinction, heritage and pedigree, Black Label has an unparalleled reputation as a benchmark example of this classic Australian blend.
In 2018, Wolf Blass was awarded three Trophies, two Gold Medals and three Silver Medals at the 2018 Lipman Karas Great Australian Red competition, including the coveted Riedel Trophy for the Best Winery of Show. The competition was created by Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer to recognise and celebrate the blend that defines Australia: Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.