“I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.” – Basil Fawlty, “Fawlty Towers”

Go on, be honest, when was the last time you picked a bottle of Australian Cabernet off the shelf? Cab Merlot or Cab Shiraz perhaps, but Cabernet on its own seems to have fallen out of favour with the public these days – but it’s such a shame as it really is the undisputed King of Australian wines.

It’s also one of Australia's oldest grape styles, with plantings dating back to the early reign of Queen Victoria, which is kind of strange when we still refer to it as the New World in the wine trade.

Cabernet’s spiritual home is, of course, Bordeaux but to the best of my knowledge, it's never produced a single varietal wine there, despite providing the backbone for some of the finest wines in the world. Personally, for me, it’s a dead heat between Australia and California these days for the world's best Cabernets but if you add price into the equation then the land down under takes the crown by a long mile.

Margaret River in the west produces a classy, cold fruit style, very similar in many ways to the top-end clarets, while the Coonawarra is like a posh red light district for the grape with nothing left to the imagination and plenty of sexy cassis flavours within easy tempting reach. If you want something in between then Victoria and McClaren Vale are the regions to aim for with silky fruits and soft tannins. I guess Im a tart when it comes to Cabernet, though, as I’ve no memory of tasting one I really didn’t like but perhaps my habit of avoiding three-for-a-tenner offers helps in that respect.

So, what should you look for in a decent Cabernet? Definitely blackcurrants, quite often chocolate and herbs, particularly mint, and of course in the really classy ones the holy grail of Cabernet, a cigar box aroma on the finish. Here's a couple to tempt the fussiest palates!


Tahbilk Cabernet, Australia: A classic Cabernet with cassis and tobacco leaf on the nose and masses of soft ripe blackcurrants on the finish. Richardson's of Whitehaven, £17.95.

Dandelion Vineyard Cabernet, Australia: Blueberries and cassis on the nose with chocolate, plums and vanilla on the palate and an almost sweet finish. Shills of Cockermouth, £14.50.