Taylors The Visionary: The World’s Best Cabernet Sauvignon Is Australian, And That’s According To The French
by Ken Gargett
For the third time in five years, an Australian Cabernet was crowned the World’s Best Cabernet Sauvignon at the International Competition of Cabernets, held bang smack in the middle of France. And, worse, they have no one to blame but themselves as the award is decided by a panel of top sommeliers from – you guessed it – France.
No doubt our French friends would have handled the competition results with their usual flair and refinement, but it is hard to believe that behind the scenes, there might not have been just the slightest gritting of teeth and furrowed brows.
Fermoy Estate was the first Aussie winery to collect this gong, in 2015, followed by Penny’s Hill in 2016. The latest, Taylors from Clare Valley, in 2018 with its Clare Valley Cabernet, The Visionary 2014.
Taylors is a family business in South Australia’s Clare Valley. It uses the family name in Australia and other markets, but is restricted from doing so in some others, like the UK and US markets, understandably so as Taylor’s Port has been around for quite a while longer.
Elsewhere, the Australian Taylors goes under Wakefield (some of its oldest vines are on the Wakefield River Flats).
The International Cabernet Competition is held in Lyon in conjunction with the Union de la Sommellerie Française. Twenty leading French sommeliers are assembled to work through more than 250 Cabernets.
The president of the Association des Sommeliers Lyonnais et Rhône-Alpes, Laurent Derhé (himself named Best Sommelier in France, 2007), described the wine as, “a Cabernet with a superb, sparkling garnet robe. A nose both complex and open and should please everyone. This is a flawless, modern Cabernet that will please immediately.”
Naturally, Mitchell Taylor, third-generation winemaker and the firm’s managing director, was delighted. “It’s an incredible honor for my family and our winemaking team to receive this massive title.”
Taylors and the Clare Valley
Interestingly, Cabernet is far from the first thing one thinks of when discussing the Clare Valley. Clare Shiraz has established a strong reputation, though of course going up against regions like McLaren Vale, the Barossa, the Hunter, and more make things tough. For me, the stellar variety grown here is Riesling.
But Taylors has always been a Cabernet family. Mitchell’s father and grandfather, both called Bill even if that was not strictly their names, made the decision to move from Sydney pubs and buy a winery in the far-distant region of the Clare. This was in 1969. At the time, fortifieds dominated the Australian wine industry, so this was what politicians might deem a courageous move.
It seems extraordinary to think that up until the mid-1970s, Australians drank more fortified wine than table wine. Things have changed dramatically, but purchasing a 440-acre dairy farm and planting it to some 320 acres of Cabernet (and another 80 of Shiraz) seemed like lunacy to almost everyone. The first general manager was a famous name in the Australian wine industry, Jim Barry. Jim Barry Wines is now another leading estate in the region.
The gamble paid off. The tide turned to table wines, and Taylors was well positioned. At one stage, it seemed like every table in every restaurant had a bottle of Taylors Cabernet on it.
The Riesling came a little later, thanks, according to Mitchell, to medical advice. He reckons that the doctors of the time decided red wine was bad for you and so a large chunk of the Taylors’ precious Cabernet was grafted across to Riesling. As painful as that was, the rewards are in the bottle these days.
Taylors St. Andrews
The family’s top Riesling is the St. Andrew’s Riesling 2018 (AUD$40). Part of the problem is that a forty-buck wine, while not necessarily an everyday drinker, is rarely considered elite.
But that is actually rather hefty for a Riesling (a Clare Riesling, at least – our German friends manage to pull in a slightly higher price for their best in Australia). Good Clare Riesling is simply one of the greatest wine bargains on the planet. And this is a good Clare Riesling.
Youthful and intense, notes of citrus, especially lemons and orange rind. Spices. The flavors move to a crystalline lemon. Bath salts. This is fragrant and finely balanced. Bright, clean acidity, this is a refreshing style. One of the world’s great wines for a plate of oysters or the local delicacy, King George whiting. Has both complexity and length.
If I had to find a fault, it is that it is simply so young at the moment. This wine will age well, and improve, for 20 years. 96. Love it.
If I may be allowed a personal thought, what on earth possesses so many to guzzle Kiwi Sauv Blanc when wines like this are available for similar money?
Even in Australia, Riesling has a tough job as many drinkers have decided it is not a wine for them, often without giving it a fair go. A family member who shall remain nameless tells me time and time again that she won’t drink Riesling because she does not like sweet wines. It does not matter how many times I tell her these are bone dry — even if I give her a glass, nothing changes. Many feel the same way.
Part of the problem is that back in the days when labels were perhaps policed without quite the same rigor as today, the cask industry here (bag-in-a-box wines) sold truckloads of Riesling. Sadly, almost none of it was actually Riesling, but rather a combination of things like Muscat, Crouchen, Trebbiano, and whatever else they could find, all sweetened up!
If you wanted a bottle of Riesling, you had to find one labeled “Rhine Riesling.” Then the regulators entered agreements with Europe, and everything changed. The name “Rhine Riesling” was consigned to the dustbin, and Riesling became Riesling. But the damage was done.
Taylors winning Cabernet: The Visionary
It is, naturally, the two elite reds that will attract the attention. Both are AUD$200. My pick was the Cabernet.
Taylor’s winning Cabernet is called The Visionary, a tribute to Mitchell’s grandfather. This is the fifth release. Usually, around 250 dozen are made.
The intention is to make it every year, though Taylors skipped 2011, a dire vintage. While it usually comes from the same patches of old vines, this is not set in stone and has varied if and when younger vines step up.
The wine will see 30 to 40 percent of new oak – the family works closely with the Vicard Coopers. A barrel selection is made and those chosen are returned to oak for a further stint.
It is a superb Cabernet, still very youthful. Cedary, black fruits, chocolate, tobacco leaf. It does have a hint of the herbal, but it is nicely balanced. Silky tannins. There is real power and concentration here and great length. The wine maintains its intensity throughout the length, and it is this impressive structure that provides its edge. A wine with a good 10 to 15 years ahead. 96.
The Pioneer Shiraz 2014, a tribute to Mitchell’s father, is the third release of Taylors’ elite Shiraz. It is treated in much the same way as the Cabernet although the oak is American, not French. Production is also usually around the 250-case mark.
Cloves, spices. Dry herbs, old leather. It has a lovely maturity but comes alive on the palate. Fine tannins. Some smoked meat notes come in towards the finish. Good length with a slow fade. For me, 94. As good as this is, the structure of the Cabernet with its greater intensity and more youthful palate were the determining factors for me.
For more information, please visit www.taylorswines.com.au.