Life is a Cabernet
Who’da thought? The best cabernet sauvignon in the world is from Australia. OK, so it’s not from the Hunter – France’s International Competition of Cabernets chose a wine from Taylors in the Clare Valley – but it signals a resurgence of interest in this most noble of grapes, best expressed as the vins rouges of Bordeaux.
Despite the domination of shiraz in our region, ironically one of the Hunter’s most famous reds is Lake’s Folly Cabernets, a historic blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, petit verdot and, oddly, chardonnay, from Australia’s original boutique winery. While it is true that the Hunter is not the perfect place to grow this somewhat temperamental variety, several local producers make fine examples that sing with regional appeal.
Margan White Label Saxonvale Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
This is an estate-grown wine of some distinction sourced from the famous Saxonvale vineyard on the slopes of the Fordwich Sill near Broke. It is only made in the best vintages from small vineyard blocks, and has all the rich blackcurrant and cigar box depth that one looks for in a premium cabernet. The 2018 vintage treated this variety well, with warm, dry days and cool nights resulting in perfectly ripe fruit. Tannins are perhaps a tad chewier here than in other examples, though this intersects with nice fresh acidity and fruit sweetness to suggest this wine has excellent potential for cellaring. Rich, dark and intense, it’s a keeper from a skilled winemaker.
RRP $50 | www.margan.com.au
Two Rivers Rocky Crossing Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
I hate to use the word bargain but it’s rather hard to avoid in this instance. The ever-generous Keeping family sell this classy wine for less than $20. The Two Rivers vineyards in the Upper Hunter are perhaps better suited to this variety than some in central Pokolbin, so don’t let the price give you the wrong impression. It is a lighter, more medium-bodied style, which will please a lot of people. It charms with lashings of fragrant, juicy black fruit. A gentle hand with the oak maturation has given it a sophisticated edge. At this price you can afford to load up your shopping cart.
RRP $18 | www.tworivers.com.au
Draytons Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
This historic family company founded more than 150 years ago is now in the hands of brothers John and Greg. This wine abounds with heritage and tradition. The grapes were grown in the Bull Paddock in Pokolbin, and it is very much a Hunter wine. Masculine leather and spice characters overlay the ripe fruit, with a touch of green leaf, tobacco and chocolate creeping in. It’s a bit of a bruiser at 15% alcohol, but will suit those who love a meaty Coonawarra red. It’s wonderful to see this great old local family still making fine Hunter wine.
RRP $35 | www.draytonswines.com.au
Sweetwater Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Sweetwater Estate is the location of one of the oldest known vineyard sites in the state, having been first planted in 1829 by the pastoralist Richard Jones. It sits high on a hilltop in Belford, just north of Pokolbin. As part of the Hungerford Hill group, which also owns Dalwood Estate, Sweetwater’s wines are made by the talented and experienced Bryan Currie. Another warm, dry vintage, 2017 produced beautifully ripened, healthy cabernet grapes. This is an elegant wine, with fine tannins and herbal edges adding to the ripe complexity of its bright, cassis fruit.
RRP $65 | www.hungerfordhill.com.au
Ernest Hill CEO Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Many will have noticed the Ernest Hill signage on the left as they drive into Pokolbin, but perhaps are unfamiliar with the extent of the Wilson family’s portfolio. The vineyard was originally planted in the late 1960s by Harry Tulloch for Seppelts Wines and later named Pokolbin Creek. The Wilsons purchased part of the vineyard in 1999. While many of their wines are estate-grown, their CEO range is made from parcels grown elsewhere in the Valley, specially selected by Ernest Hill CEO and chief bottle washer Ross Wilson. This is a leaner, more restrained style of cabernet, with classic black fruit and delicate, toasty vanillin oak sitting happily alongside familiar Hunter characters.
RRP $40 | www.ernesthillwines.com