The top 10 Cabernet trends of 2021By Patrick Schmitt
Following an extensive blind tasting for this year’s Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters, we count down the top 10 Cab-related trends of 2021.
The conclusions drawn below are based on the results of the UK’s only blind tasting competition just for Cabernet, which takes in wines from all parts of the world, and sees them judged for quality alone.
You can see the results in full from this year’s Global Cabernet Masters by clicking here, while below we reveal our top 10 findings about the Cabernet being made today.
- Cabernet can produce outstanding wines on its own, but it is a grape that does benefit from blending. Even small additions can boost its appeal, adding softness to complement Cabernet’s somewhat firm structure. While the competition was focused on varietal Cabernets, we did have a fair number of blends that took home very high scores. Among these, the most successful contained other ‘Bordeaux grapes’: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carmenère, while we also saw some great results when Cabernet was mixed with Syrah/Shiraz – a successful specialism of top Australian reds.
- Truly fine Cabernet can be yours for under £50. That may sound like a high price to pay, but Cabernet is associated with great reds that run into the hundreds, even thousands of pounds, and yet, the wines sampled this year between £30 and £50 delivered a fine experience, for the most part. This means a wine with enough layers of harmonious flavours to elicit an excited response from the judges, and a depth and structure to suggest these were wines built to not only last, but improve with time in the cellar (we weren’t tasting bottle-matured wines, but current commercial releases).
- Chile, Australia and California were the source of the majority of our star buys. These were those wines to achieve a Gold medal for £15 or under. We als had one exciting find from Turkey – a balsamic, blackcurrant and cedar tasting drop from Izmir’s Pasaeli winery. However, to highlight our best sample under £15 in 2021, it was Casillero de Diablo’s Reserva Privada, which represents a beautiful taste of barrel-fermented Cabernet from some of Chile’s best sites for the grape in the Alto Maipo, blended with a touch of Syrah and Cabernet Franc to add spice and red fruit respectively.
- Argentina is producing some distinctive and delicious wines with Cabernet. Although best-known for its Malbecs, this Latin American nation is a great place for Cabernet, producing wines with power and appeal. In the same way Argentine Malbecs are loaded with juicy fruit and plenty of fine dry tannins, its Cabernets have a fleshy, bold concentration, and masses of dense, fully ripe, tannins. The combination is something of power, and purity, with a fruit intensity rarely seen elsewhere. Trapiche delivers all this at a keen price. But if you are willing to pay big sums, then Terrazas de los Andes will certainly wow you.
- Chile proved why it has become world famous for Cabernet. Be it entry-point expressions or fine wines from Alto Maipo, its clear that Chile has mastered wines from Cabernet, and has found a particularly appealing style that marries ripe fleshy fruit with a touch of dried mint and cedar wood. In many cases, the wines have a new-found brightness – Floresta in particular – and a structure that suggests that cellaring will be rewarding; so keep your Casa Real. The blended offerings are great too: Vina Aresti, Vik and Los Vascos all impressing for the completeness of their Cabdominant offers.
- Australia is a source of Cabernet-based excellence and restraint. Be it Coonawarra or Clare Valley, as well as Margaret River, we tasted outstanding wines in this year’s Masters, with a notable absence of harsh tannin or hot alcohol, but nonetheless plenty of ripe fruit. The wines had an elegance that made them a pleasure to taste, with minimal oak-sourced flavours, classic blackcurrant Cabernet fruit, and a touch of peppermint too, proving a distinctive taste of this grape when grown Down Under. Among the excellent wines, there were a couple that weren’t from the aforementioned famous Cabernet-growing regions. One was a brilliant blend from Wrattonbully with a bit of bottle age (Terre à Terre) and the other a dense, chocolate-scented Cab from Hickinbotham in McLaren Vale.
- California is a consistently fine source of particularly creamy Cabernet. Be it Napa or Sonoma – and the brilliant Daou Family Estates from Paso Robles – the wines from California repeatedly hit the high points in this year’s Masters, impressing for their fully ripe red and dark berry flavours, soft, dense texture, dry finely tannic finish, and indulgent vanilla-tasting oak influence. Value-formoney was found especially with the Cabernets from Trefethen and Kendall-Jackson, along with Stonestreet. At the top end, Freemark Abbey reliably delivers the delicious appeal of finely-crafted Cabernet from a warm climate.
- Don’t forget Washington State when it comes to Cabernet, particularly if you prefer a lighter style. This underrated source of Cabernet can yield an attractive take on this noble grape, with more red and blue fruit flavours than pure blackcurrant, and sometimes a bright, peppery, even gently leafy edge that ensures this is a refreshing type of Cabernet. But that doesn’t mean lesser quality, as found with the outstanding L’Ecole no.41, with its plum and cherry fuit core, and dry cedar wood finish.
- You can find great Cabernet from the Eastern Mediterranean. Among the highest-scoring wines of this year’s Masters was an exceptional sample from Israel’s Barkan Wine Cellars, which took home a Master for its Cabernet blended with some Merlot and a touch of Petit Verdot. Also gaining a Master in the competition was Turkey’s Chamlija, for its brilliant pure Cabernet Teruar Serisi Sütlüce 5, with its soft fleshy black cherry and currant fruit, complemented by toast, tobacco and cinnamon notes, in this big but finely structured red.
- Finally, Italy and Spain impressed with their Cabernet-making prowess. Among the great samples of the 2021 tasting was a dense and delicious, strongly tannic Cabernet from Finca Albret in Navarra, which wowed now but could be cellared for many years to deliver greater softness and complexity too. Representing Italy, was a wonderful Tuscan sample from Conti di San Bonifacio, and then, more surprising, another from Abruzzo, made by the brilliant Montepulciano maker Masciarelli. Both brought plenty of Cabernet’s black fruit flavours, but also a combination of bright acidity and firm tannin that’s so distinctly Italian.