The Next Best’s Thing

Wayne: The Shitty Beatles? Are they any good?
Tiny: They suck!
Wayne: Then it’s not just a clever name.

Call me odd, but that exchange sprang to mind years ago when I first drank a bottle that crammed the word’s “Best” and “Great” side by side on the label. As with the not-so-Fab Four from Wayne’s World, Best’s Great Western isn’t just a clever name. In my experience the wines merit just about any superlative you can throw at them.
Founded in 1867 in the Grampians region of Victoria, some 200km west of Melbourne, the winery is especially noted for its Shiraz. The wine it crafts from the world’s oldest Pinot Meunier vines is a treasure, while its Riesling also has its fans (you’re reading one).
But we’re here today to talk about Cabernet Sauvignon – yup, boring old Cab. I was discussing the recent Bonnezeaux Gonzo post on this prickly old character with a prickly old character I work with, who related the agony and ecstasy of polishing off his last remaining bottle of 2010 Best’s Cabernet. The logical conclusion to that conversation was to try to track down any surviving family members. It wasn’t easy but we managed to salvage a dozen to split between us.
Sure enough, the wine’s a beauty. But its main appeal as a blog subject was the way it drew attention to an underappreciated variety/region pairing at a non-threatening price point. If you can’t get hold of the bloody stuff, it kind of defeats the object. What’s more, the bloke who made the 2010 has since fled to the (Adelaide) hills. So it was that, in the name of research and fair access, I had to go get me more wine.
Adam Wadewitz, author of the ’10, is now penning a new chapter of his impressive winemaking journal at Shaw + Smith, leaving Justin Purser to plot the 2012. Purser sees a tendency in Australia to treat Cabernet like Shiraz, or else earmark it for blending. “My philosophy is that you’ve got to treat it differently from other varieties,” he says. “Cabernet has its own charms and off-putting points as well.”
To start with the negatives, flowering and fruit set can be troublesome and it ripens late in the season, which can make it a touch-and-go proposition in a cool region rising to 440m above sea level. Cabernet wines can be short on mid-palate fruit weight and long on tannin, so if you’re not careful you get something with a hole in the middle and a pile of grit around it. In any case it needs a fair bit of time in bottle to get its act together. But then Purser reels off the pluses: perfume, elegance, distinctive varietal character, neat expression of site and the promise of beauty with age.
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Best’s didn’t make this wine in 2011, a problematic vintage from which the winery still managed to crank out a Jimmy Watson-winning Shiraz. But thankfully the Cabernet grapes ripened well in both 2010 and 2012. Purser says his objective was an elegant, structured and generous medium- to full-bodied wine. This entailed a preference for hand-plunging whole berries in open-fermenters, then ageing the wine for 14 months in hogsheads (5% new oak).
“It has more tannin than Shiraz and that should be expressed in the wine. So it’s got real intensity to it without being too heavy,” he says. “As a style we’re looking for nicely balanced, lifted herbal and juicy berry characters with fine, silky, velvety, rolling flavours through the palate.”
Shiraz may be king round these parts. But watch out for this fair prince; it has a stronger claim to the throne than many realise.

Best’s Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Deep purple in colour. The nose is fairly pronounced, floral and fresh-fruited. Red, blue and blackberries, blackcurrants, roses, geranium, oak and a hint of fresh mint. Lovely, smooth entry with juicy mulberry, then generous, fresh, fleshy berries and some peppery spice follow on the mid-palate. It’s a touch more than medium bodied, with tannins that are firm, fruit-tinged and ripe. The back palate exhibits more cassis and leafy characters, as well as a graphite note, with good acidity carrying it fairly long.

Costs $25 from the winery website – Alcohol 14% – Tasted 06/04/14

Best’s Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Pretty ruby hue with a nose of rose petals, raspberries, blackcurrant, mint and a whiff of cedary oak. An attack of sweet red berries is followed by darker fruits that glide across the silky, supple, medium-bodied palate. A clear but soft acid line and fine sandy tannins guide it to a fairly long conclusion with typical notes of blackcurrant leafiness. There’s no shortage of flavour intensity in what is a lean, gentle, structured and very pretty Cabernet.

RRP $25 – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 30/03/14

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