Cabernet Sauvignon: the food-friendly varietal

It was not that long ago that cabernet sauvignon was Australia’s star grape variety. Even though there have always been oodles of shiraz to choose from, cabernet was infinitely fashionable when the all-too common shiraz was a little on the nose.

And you can see why, with its many layers of blackcurrant-scented fruit and elegant herbal edge that can be matched by dense, long-lived tannins. Today shiraz is the star and cabernet sauvignon is often the bridesmaid in this country, while around the world cabernet, and particularly the wines of Bordeaux, is more popular than ever, revered by our neighbours to the north as the basis for some of the best wines in the world.

Australia has always had a strong history of growing high quality cabernet. Some of the oldest cabernet vines in the world are still found in the Barossa Valley – part of which make up Penfolds iconic Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet, although vines were also planted in the Yarra almost 200 years ago.

The Yarra Valley and Coonawarra have long been the homes to exceptional cabernet in Australia – although in very different styles. The angular structural Coonawarra is almost the antithesis of the elegant and silky Yarra style.

In the ’90s, these classic regions were hit by a hurricane – Margaret River, located three hours south of Perth. Long touted as a world-class surfing destination, Margaret River also quickly proved itself to be home to top-notch cabernet showing both elegance and power, easily appreciable fleshy fruit and silky tannins. It quickly became widely recognised as Australia’s premier cabernet region and has not looked back.

Cabernet sauvignon is generally hard to miss in a line-up. Deeply coloured, it is aromatic with layers of sweet blackcurrant fruit often supplemented by a herbal edge that ranges from cedar and dried herbs all the way through to capsicum.

But it is on the palate that cabernet sauvignon comes into its own – immense power of dark fruits in a full-bodied package backed by significant tannins, which provide, in the best cases, fantastic ageing potential.

It is also a great wine for food matching. The classic cabernet sauvignon match is roast lamb with mint or rosemary, which makes a delicious combination with cabernet’s subtle herbal elements.

However, any white and red meat can also work well, with cabernet’s tannins turning silky with a choice cut of meat. Indeed, for a hearty winter dish – there are few reds better matched than a great Australian cabernet sauvignon.

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