A shamefully over-blown and horribly tedious Australian Cabernet

Evening lads and lasses,

Tonight I was out at London’s best meat restaurant (Hawksmoor, if you are interested, amazing steaks). Our hosts were supposed to be providing wine, but somehow (I’m not quite sure how they managed this), they forgot to bring it along. So I popped into the local wine merchant and scored a couple of wines: a Burgundy I know to be good (and very good value) and a bottle of well-reviewed Australian Cabernet which I have never tried before. Oh how I wish that state of affairs had been maintained.

Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Blocks Road’ 2006 from Kilikanoon was a type instance of over-blown, over-ripe, far to alcoholic and far, far too boring example of the Australian wine idiom. Smelling this lighter-fluid just left you exhausted, there was just so much jammy, stewed fruit and burningly hot alcohol. Tasting was even more tiresome, there was no beauty, no harmony, no charm; it just left you feeling over-whelmed and generally shagged-out. This was a fighting wine which should only be used for hand-to-hand combat. If anyone claims this would be improved with age all I can say is that it was clearly a wine for laying down and avoiding. I dropped £17 on this (~$28) and I feel I threw my fun tokens away on an experience that was not in the slightest bit fun. Even though our hosts and us are generally heroes when it comes to wine with top drawer bits of meat we just found this wine far too much like hard work and finishing the bottle was a chore. Wine should never be a chore.

Certainly there is a place for big wines, but they have to have a spark of interest, some balance or stylishness which moves them beyond being mere rocket fuel. I think Zinfandel does these epic wines generally better than Cabernet, the fruit profile is better and they can have good acidity. I really hated this wine, the only message it presented was: Beware.

I’ll calm down now.


PS. If Mollydooker wines go up to 11 then was chasing up the rear with a 9.5 score on the overblown rankings. Mollydooker’s wines are much more horrible, but you don’t need to go to such extremes to experience and understand ‘horrible’. I don’t want to drink wines like this.

Hello again girls and boys,

I feel there is more to add to this. There has been much commenting on a recent post on my wine site about Australian wines (if you can be bothered to visit it is here). The general consensus appears to be that cheap Australian wines are well-made, clean and generally accessible with their shed-loads of fruit and alcohol. Indeed, the winemakers coming out of Australia have improved winemaking in most of the places they have visited; just think of all that woeful filth from the French regions 10-15 years ago. Well done those chaps (but these are still not wines for me [wink.gif] ).

However, whilst this fruit and alcohol-driven style is fine for people who want a cheap, well-made drink, it fails totally when it comes to making seriously fine wines. Wines made from crazily ripe (roasted and stewed) grapes from low yielding vines, which are extracted vigorously and treated to masses of new oak will not bring you a harmonious, beautiful, charm-filled end product. You cannot just ‘multiply up’ the cheap wine techniques and expect an ‘expensive wine experience’ to come out of it. You don’t get complexity, style or class, just one hell of a lot of wine squeezed into your bottle! These wines are also not for me. One chum commenting suggested that this style of wine is for the unsophisticated drinker who wants to get something to wow guests/friends/etc with a bit of flash for a bit of cash. If this is correct it is clearly a truly devious and cunning marketing ploy.

Comments have been made that the best wines to come out of Australia are the least Australian in style. Whilst one has to be careful of assigning a style to a whole (and really quite large) country’s output, it does seem that the ‘over-blown beast’ can be found pretty easily from most wine regions in Australia. I love the wines of Mac Forbes and By Farr. I’d be tempted to say they are not terribly Australian in style being more attractive, balanced and god-damned sexy than any super fighting wine power-up 15% rocket fuel monstrosity. There are other good Australian wines out there, but how many of them are really ‘Australian wines’ rather than cleaned up European styles?

Any views?


PS. Hasn’t a term been coined for this style of heavily-manipulated, headache-inducing booze monster? I forget what it was.

Stop beating around the bush, David - did you like the wine? neener

I get what you mean, but I’d also add that Torbreck Run Rig is one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted, from anywhere. Australia should get to count wines like that as part of its style as much as Yellow Tail, before we pigeonhole Australian to mean ‘not fine wine’. I suspect you wouldn’t like it though - just making the point that there are meritorious examples of even ripe Aussie styles. I suspect a producer like Rockford might be to your liking - if you come across their Basket Press with some age on it, give it a whirl just for laughs. I understand there are some cool climate pinot noirs of surprising quality coming out of Australia as well.

Hello Alan,

I used to purchase quite a lot of the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, it struck me as being bold but fruity in a fun way when young. However, the bottles I stuck in the cellar for 10 years really revolted me when I popped them. All the life the wines once had was well gone, leaving only soupy tannins and an over-mature, rotting jam character to the fruit.

The two producers I mentioned are cool climate Pinot growers, and their wines are completely delicious. Very much the kind of thing I enjoy drinking. Gary Farr (of By Farr) also makes a totally lovely Shiraz which is bigger and bolder than his beautiful Pinots, but has the balance and complexity to age rather well. I’ll admit to not having aged my bottles of his Shiraz for terribly long, they are so good when young that I just want to drink them! How Australian are these wines really, though?

Certainly I would agree that there is a place in the world for fighting wines of heroism, but they need more character than simply getting everyone in the room totally newscasted by the evaporating alcohol within seconds of the cork being pulled. As an example, I love Tim Adams Aberfeldy Shiraz. It is definitely an Australian 14.5% wine, but its tannic structure is rather rigorous and not soupy, there is a good streak of balancing acidity to it and the fruit is not the slightest bit stewed. I’ve aged a magnum of the 1992 for 12 years, and some single bottles of assorted vintages for 8-12 years, and they really had improved, no hint of them falling apart and turning into a mouth-filling horrors of ponderous booze action. This wine has more than just scale, it has balance and harmony as well as its alcohol and fruit characters, and so this is why I like it and why it ages well.

I’ve had Torbreck Run Rig a few times and I would say this is also a big wine with more character than simple largeness.


Interesting read.
Australia, if nothing else must have the highest percentage of ‘palate chasing away’ situation going on than any other wine producing region, period. People who filled thier cellars, then dumping.

It’s all been said before, but maybe they keep the best for themselves? [truce.gif]

I have been privy to some group tasting where amazing aussie wines were poured, some great enough to warrant me running out and purchasing: Brokenwood Graveyard comes to mind, as does Tyrrell’s Wines DB 24 and Parker Estate First Growth. What I can’t understand is why 95% of the stuff sold here is just way over-extracted and cloyingly nasty.


Oh, now this should be fun!

A few come to mind: “Spoofulated”; “Robitussin”; “Robitussin + Vodka”; “Parkerized”…

Don’t forget “cocktail”.

I second the Torbreck Run Rig comment, and I would add the Les Amis Grenache from that producer as well. It is big, but also stylish. I also like Ben Glaetzer’s Amon-Ra (especially the 2005) with a few years on it.

Beyond these I haven’t been drinking much Aussie wine. I need more from a wine than extracted fruit, oak and alcohol. I need to search out more of the producers who are getting away from this style to see what the country can offer.

Hello chaps and chapesses,

Tonight’s bottle of Australian Shiraz (Shiraz By Farr 2006, check out the minimalist label) also clocked in at 14.5%, but the wine could not be more different than last night’s overblown filth. It had plenty of acidity, a rigorous, masculine tannic structure, ripe but neither stewed nor jammy fruit and those highly laudable characteristics of being both complex and possessing impressive length. It may have been a reasonably large scale wine, but at no point did the neighbours or I feel it was a chore to drink. Indeed, many comments were made by my chums the neighbours about what a totally drinkable wine this was and how interesting it tasted. Good people, the neighbours.


I love the term cocktail wine. I don’t even view it as derogatory, to be honest. There are aperitifs, table wines, dessert wines, and cocktail wines. The major issue is that cocktail and dessert styles are considered superior by the American critical cabal.

Maybe Australia is like the bizarro Burgundy. One needs a guide to help you sort through the plonk and find the gems. It’s just the problems one is dodging are different.

[quote="G. D y e r]

I love the term cocktail wine. I don’t even view it as derogatory, to be honest. [/quote]

I understand, but I said “cocktail” (as in mixed drink), not “cocktail wine”.

Cocktail wines seem like a very good descriptor for a particular style of wine. Years ago I foolishly purchased, having been lead by glowing reviews, some Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues 1998 from Domaine Santa Duc; I hadn’t tried it first. Back then it was a massive confection of stewed fruit and booze-tastic alcohol levels. I could happily describe this as a cocktail wine, even before I topped up my glass of it with soda water and added a cocktail cherry in a vain attempt to make the stuff easier to drink. I popped my last bottle of it at the age of ten and must admit to being quite pleased with how badly it had aged. With this bottle I used soda water and a dash of cranberry juice to assist with finishing the bottle off: Gigondas breeze cocktails.


Although I’m a huge fan of Australia, I have stopped buying most of the ooze-monsters - although Henschke Edelstone and Rockford BP are a guilty pleasure.

Have you tried non-oozy shiraz/syrah like Castagna Genesis, Battely, Clonakilla Shiraz-Viogier, Giaconnda and Seppelt St. Peters - or out of interest a well=aged Penfolds St. Henri. You might like some of the top Hunter reds … Brokenwood Graveyard or perhaps Meerea Park Hell Hole?

Most of these (Seppelt apart) are obtainable in the UK, although for some reason not in the US.

Cheers - Jay

Hello Jay,

Out of those you’ve listed I’ve tried the Clonakilla, Giaconda, Seppelt, Brokenwood Graveyard and far too much stuff from Penfolds. None of them really stand out in my mind as being models of harmonious beauty. For sure, nice to drink, but I want a bit more interest from my wines in this sort of price range. I’d also like to be more convinced about their ability to age. Perhaps I’m just a jaded old cynic…


Because that’s what the most influential American critics recommend? Beside France and Italy, Australia’s wine production is very small. I’d be surprised if the best Australian wines make up a much greater % of total production that do the best wines of France or Italy or Spain. Obviously, then, there are fewer of them (in label and bottle number). With millions of Americans buying swill recommended by WS & WA, who’s going to fight the general perceptions and try to sell Hunter semillon and Coonawarra cabernet to the few tens of thousands who might buy them if they weren’t put off by the thought they were just upmarket yellow-tails?

And so the whole nation is imagined to be an extension of its most undemanding wines. Doesn’t happen for France or Italy (as someone said in David’s blog - no one claims Lafite is ‘un-French’ because it doesn’t taste like Mouton Cadet). And yet we find this:

So if it doesn’t conform to a preset judgement based on the lowest common denominator it’s not Australian? Of course it’s bloody Australian! It’s the soupy joke wines that are the outliers*. Yes, I’m sorry that you can’t always tell ‘real wine’ from swill just from the price (don’t trying buying Burgundy either), but you’ve gotta stop paying attention to critics who don’t know they’re talking about, or who seem more concerned with their ability to ‘discover’ the ‘true classics’ of a nation and make a particular market segment their own.
Producer, producer, producer. And context.

*One of the early Parker 100-point wines was Duck Muck. A wine made as a joke, and largely given away in the early vintages. Maker Dave Anderson was told Robert Parker had scored it 100 points, and responded, “Who’s Robert Parker?” As he told a friend of mine at a dinner a few years ago “I soon found out.”


I will respectfully disagree. Here are two notes I wrote on the 2004:

  • 2004 Kilikanoon Cabernet Sauvignon Blocks Road - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley (10/12/2007)
    Dark color, wonderful mouth feel. The nose was a bit subdued but might have been helped by a decant. Coffee and chocolate with some roasted meat on the palate and blue or black fruit. No wood. Fruit predominates over spice and minerals. Reflects what I am coming to conclude is an Aussie red winemaking style with Aussie terroir, thus creating similarities with the better Aussie shirazes. Very smooth tannins with no stringency. More drinkable than you might expect for a wine this young. Someone will complain that this is another down under version of pancake syrup, but if I compare it to the shirazes that get that criticism (Mollydooker The Boxer, for example, which I happen to like), this has less viscosity feel in the mouth than those wines, although there is still a silky smoothness. Popped and poured at Morton’s last night after a meeting when we stopped in for Bar Bites. The bottle had been sitting in the back of my car for two hours and was just the right temperature, but it was “all shook up.” We gave some to the waitress and the sommelier and they both liked it. The waitress, who was obviously used to cheap harsh stuff plus all those goodies on the Mortons list (Silver Oak, Kunde, Jordan and Far Niente), kept remarking how smooth and enjoyable the wine was. (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Kilikanoon Cabernet Sauvignon Blocks Road - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley (4/24/2007)
    Popped and poured today. This wine is a cross between an Aussie Shiraz and a normal cabernet. I drank it with a lot of other wines, notably including the Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz. There were similarities in smooth rounded and fruit forward mouth feel. Oozing blueberries were also there and maybe a bit of plum. But there was also chocolate and coffee. Reasonable balance for something this young but I still got a bit more woodiness than I like, but prbably needs to integrate with a bit more age. There was even a tad of vanilla in the background. The nose was a bit lighther than I expected but the finish was quite long. Color on the dark side of average for a cab. If the oak integrates, this gets another point. (91 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

I also had a 2005 Kilikanoon shiraz/grenache blend two days ago and it was quite nice. Count me as a fan of wines with flavor.

Fair point, Graeme. However, I still feel it is reasonable to identify some Australian wines (like Pinot Noirs from Mac Forbes and By Farr) as being stylistically closer to Europe rather than the wines made by their neighbours in Australia. I can see your point that they are bloody Australian, but they are expressions of a different viticultural and winemaking idiom than those that generally prevail in Australia.

Jay, when it comes to this wine (and Mollydooker The Boxer) we shall have to agree to disagree; we’ve reached that “De gustibus non est disputandum”-stage. No matter what anyone else says, if you enjoy a wine enough to write such long and articulate notes describing them then keep drinking and extracting pleasure from those big wines! [dance-clap.gif]


No sweat. I think your palate has simply matured much faster than most of us and in Monopoly terms has “gone straight to Burgundy and N. Rhone, do not pass Go”. I’m also buying more wines like Jamet, Clusel-Roch, Gaillard, Bonnefond (loved his 2007 wines) and exploring the traditional vs modernist schools. I’ll have to take some Clonakilla SV, stick it in a Cote Rotie bottle and get your verdict over lunch … except I suspect you’d rather I take some Jamet '99 and stick it in a Clonakilla bottle!

However, in answer to “There are other good Australian wines out there, but how many of them are really ‘Australian wines’ rather than cleaned up European styles?” I’d argue that Australian Clare and Eden Valley riesling is very much it’s own style, can age, and at very best can be world class. I can see similarities to Austrian styles but I don’t think there is any even unconscious aping going on. Grosset, Leo Buring, Jim Barry Florita. Jacobs Creek Steingarten Riesling is amazing value, try the 2007 which is at £9.50 from time to time at Sainsburies. Thoughts?

Cheers- Jay

The further from vintage Aussie shiraz gets, the worse it seems to get for me. I’ve had better luck with Aussie cabs with age than aged Aussie shiraz(ie, port). Take jay Miller’s score and deduct 4-7 points and you arrive at a reasonable Aussie score. Or better yet, find the rare wines that Raynolds scores moderately higher than Miller and buy them b/c they probably have more structure and ageability and balance. Works for Spain especially.

That was my point. A chacun son gout, as they say. Although I must admit that I have had a few Boxers since I wrote that note and I am less thrilled with them. I have a lot of the 2004 Killikanoon Blocks Road because I got a case of it very cheap from Posner 3 years ago - I think it was less than $15 a bottle, perhaps $12-ish. I do not know if he would publicly admit to having sold it. I will have to open another bottle and see how it is doing.

I would also keep in mind the vintage. I know it’s a big continent, and you can’t generalize across all of Australia, but overall, I’ve liked the 2004 vintage more than any of the later vintages.