Exploring an Australian Classic - Cabernet Shiraz

  • Howard Park

The virtues of blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Shiraz to make fine table wine in Australia have been championed for over a century by pioneers and visionaries of Australian wine history.  Fred Caley Smith from Yalumba in the Barossa Valley was exporting Cabernet Shiraz “claret” to the British Raj in India in the late nineteenth century, while the legendary Max Schubert, the grandfather of Grange, also created what is widely considered to be one of the very best Australian wines ever produced, the 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A, which is a blend of Cabernet from Coonawarra and Shiraz from the Barossa.

The beauty of this anti-establishment blend is not just that the synergy of both flavour and structure that can be found with the two varieties makes a highly satisfying wine that can be both immediately pleasurable and extremely cellar-worthy depending on style.  There is also great appeal in its very Australian-ness; while the varieties are of French origin, the combination of the two speaks to our willingness to explore the possibilities of fine wine beyond the constraints of convention and appellation that hold sway in the old world.  These flag-bearing reds of Bordeaux and the Rhone, a forbidden marriage under French wine law, can be mated and celebrated by Australian winemakers in their search for the best expressions of their vineyards and their craft.

Cabernet Grapes in Margaret River

Since 2006 wine critics Tyson Stelzer and Matthew Jukes have been curating a wine competition, The Great Australian Red, solely devoted to the Cabernet Shiraz blend, in an effort to promote and maintain its esteemed and unique niche in the Australian wine landscape.  In their mission statement they urge both wine lovers and trend influencers to appreciate that:

The Cabernet Shiraz blend is Australia’s definitive wine style, its only unique and ageworthy flagbearer to stand confidently alongside the benchmark red wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, Piedmont, Tuscany and California

As well as exhorting us to understand and heed the following:

The future of Australia’s wine industry depends on it just as much as has its past. Tapping into the strength of Australia’s history and framing it as the unique draw-card of the future, the Shiraz Cabernet blend is the secret weapon to take the Australian wine industry into its next era.

These are powerful words indeed, and seem to place a heavy burden on something that most of us may just prefer to admire and appreciate for the pure vinous thrill afforded by its best examples - a confident and complex perfume, an abundance of red, purple and black fruits that assail the palate, and a precise and layered structure that spreads and retains flavour across the mouth in all directions, leaving no pleasure receptors untouched. The blend is an immensely satisfying whole that both acknowledges and exceeds the sum of its parts and promotes this kind of gushing praise from its unabashed devotees; I stand accused!

From the examples of the progenitors and finest iterations of the blend mentioned in the first paragraph, it would be correct to conclude that South Australia is the bellwether for Australia’s affinity with this classic red blend.  In Western Australia, we have long been renowned for the extreme and consistent quality of our fine dry table wines, and while the varieties Cabernet and Shiraz are often sighted comfortably growing and ripening alongside each other in the vineyard, they do not often find themselves commingling in tanks or barrels in the winery.

When examining the history of its two premier cool-climate growing regions it does become abundantly clear that Margaret River has evolved and thrived in stylistic thrall to Bordeaux, where Cabernet relies on a supporting cast of Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc to make it a better version of itself.  The supreme quality of its Chardonnay cannot be denied and has helped the region to shake off the imitator tag and maintain a dual threat to tempt fine wine lovers. 

The Great Southern, with its vast area and disparate specialised subregions has found its greatest acclaim with its best examples of noble single varietal wines, such as Riesling from Porongurup and Mount Barker and Shiraz from Frankland River.

So not a huge amount of room for the Cabernet Shiraz blend in either of these narratives, which is borne out if one looks at the top 100 highest rated examples from the eminent Australian wine review website, The Wine Front, where only two wines from Western Australia are featured (one of which is the 2013 Howard Park Cellar Collection Cabernet Shiraz)

With over three decades of winemaking, fruit sourcing, and the planting and maturing of Estate vineyards to draw upon, and a strong and permanent presence in both Margaret River and the Great Southern, Howard Park Wines is perfectly placed to embrace the Cabernet Shiraz blend with all of its glorious history and to exploit our versatility to express its charms in various ways.  The two examples we currently have in our portfolio from the 2016 vintage already capture the abiding quality of the blend in different ways.

Our newest Howard Park icon red is the A.S.W Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz

Howard Park Icon ASW Cabernet Shiraz

A.S.W is a single vineyard wine sourced from our Leston Vineyard in Margaret River.  The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 29, planted in 2008 to the famous “Houghton” clone, and 30% Shiraz from Block 17, which was planted in the year 2000.  These vineyard blocks are adjacent to each other across the tree-lined driveway that leads to our cellar door from our southern entrance off Fifty One Road. 

The two varieties have been vinified and matured separately in French Oak for 18 months prior to blending.  The final blend was returned to American Oak barrels for a further 8 weeks prior to bottling.  The wine is elegant and bold, supple and generous, and combines the structural virtues of well-grown Margaret River Cabernet, with its powerful drive through the mid-palate, and Shiraz which displays a more lattice-like tannin structure that captures and preserves lingering flavour in the mouth.

Our other notable blend is part of our wine club exclusive range.  The Howard Park Cellar Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz speaks strongly to our history of exploring the possibilities of multi-regional blending, comprising 60% Margaret River Cabernet and 40% Frankland River Shiraz. The single-vineyard parcel from the Great Southern’s most inland sub-region brings a profound depth of fruit, ethereal perfume and subtle spice and amplifies the exciting drinkability of this wine.

Howard Park Cellar Collection Cabernet Shiraz

The wine is in its 3rd vintage with the 2015 vintage garnering high praise from James Halliday - “Cabernet wins the discussion, although the shiraz plays into cabernet’s hand with a spicy, black cherry profile. This is the second vintage released (the first in ’13) and one I strongly support.” - 95 points

To purchase from the exclusive Cellar Collection become a Wine Club member here.

With these emerging contributions we hope to not only create some enduring wines to complement our existing strengths and please the palates of adventurous wine lovers, but also to bring our unique “West Coast” perspective to engage with a tradition which speaks wonderfully to the past, present and exciting future of truly Australian fine red wine.