Since its establishment nearly 20 years ago, Monolithos has been making 100% Shiraz and 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines. During 2017, it was decided to try something new – a 70%/30% Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. The firm, classic tannin structure of Cabernet Sauvignon, coupled with the rich fruit and ripe tannins of Shiraz, seemed like a very good idea. After all, these two partners have been popular in most regions, and some of the greatest Australian wines ever made are blends of these two varieties.
There is a lot of history behind the mix, and in order to understand what makes the perfect bottle of Cabernet and Shiraz, it is important to know a little about its origins and the reason the combination works so well.
Historically, these two well-known French varieties owe their blending to the French scientist Dr Jules Guyot who was influential in their marriage in Provence during the 1860s. Cabernet Sauvignon is best known for its role in Bordeaux, while Shiraz occupies the steep slopes of the Rhone Valley.
According to DNA typing conducted as recently as 1998, Shiraz originated in France as the offspring of two relatively obscure varieties: Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.
Similarly, Cabernet Sauvignon’s true origins were discovered in 1996 with the use of DNA typing. According to the DNA evidence, Cabernet Sauvignon was the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and was most likely the result of an accidental crossing that occurred back in the 17th century.
Shiraz vines are adaptable and are able to grow almost anywhere. It is the most planted red grape in Australia and accounts for 40% of all red wine production in that country. It is also the most widely planted Rhône varietal in California and in recent years, its planting is increasing in South Africa, Argentina, Spain, Italy and Chile. In Cyprus, the Shiraz grape is a relatively new addition to the expanding range of international varieties cultivated here.
Shiraz is undoubtedly one of the top-quality red grape varieties in the whole world. It has the amazing capacity to produce dense red wines, very dark in colour with intense, refined and complex aromas (reminiscent of forest fruits, violets, ink, black pepper and leather) and a thick, balanced taste, full of good quality tannins.
Wines produced by varietal Shiraz vary widely according to the climate and terroir of the particular geographic location and vineyard. Shiraz tends to do best in warm climates and well-drained soils, and produces a wide range of flavours depending on climate, soil and viticulture practices. In warm climate regions such as Cyprus, characteristic Shiraz flavours tend toward dark fruits, cherry, white pepper and earthy notes. Cooler regions bring out black pepper, meaty (bacon) flavours, green olive, leather and spice. The Shiraz variety has fully adapted to the terrain and climatic features of Pachna’s microclimate and provides dark-coloured, fragrant and intensely flavoured full-bodied red wines, particularly when maturing in oak barrels for several months before bottling.
Cabernet Sauvignon is considered to be a relatively easy-to-grow vine. While it can grow in a variety of climates, its suitability as a varietal wine or as a blend component is strongly influenced by the warmth of the climate. Some water stress is required for this grape to produce a fine quality wine. Cabernet can handle the stress and tends to tolerate the low water status levels without signs of stress or physiological “shut down”.
In regions where the grape is exposed to excessive warmth and over-ripening, there is a propensity for the wine to develop flavours of cooked or stewed blackcurrants.
Cabernet satisfies the need for flavourful wines, ranging in bottle price from a few euro to a few hundred and even thousands. Cabernet’s versatility, its lush and complex varietal character, its flexibility in adapting to local cultivation conditions, and its wide acceptance and recognition as the star of high-end wines have led it to be the most crushed red variety in a number of regions. It produces a red wine superior to most other varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is considered to be a French variety, and is acknowledged worldwide as the king of wines.
In Cyprus, and particularly the area of Pachna, the vine is exposed to an abundance of sunshine with no problems in ripening fully. This grape has been particularly successful where the site has some elevation and slope to it. The local soil is less fertile, which promotes less vigour in the vine, resulting in low yields. Like most “terroirs”, local soil type, elevation and climate as well as the culture and traditions surrounding the vineyards have a lot to do with determining the finished wine in a bottle. Equally important are the decisions made and the techniques used by the winemakers to turn the grapes into wine.
Some of the best red wines in Cyprus are now produced from Shiraz as well as Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Shiraz and Cabernet wines are complex and robust with incredible ageing potential. The trend towards single variety wines that prevailed in the New World has meant that many winemakers have overlooked the benefits of multi-variety blending. Nevertheless, wonderful things happen when great varieties collide. Like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
The two grapes are quite well matched. It is about the marriage of two varieties that creates a whole new wine. Cabernet Sauvignon’s structure and depth is ameliorated in this instance by the addition of the ripe and velvety structure of Shiraz, which is famously good at providing juicy, dry dark fruit flavours. There are no predefined blend proportions, and so the wines can be Shiraz-predominant, Cabernet-predominant, or an even mix of the two. Oak maturation is often employed to add extra spice and complexity to the wines, as well as softening some of its harder edges.
Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blended wines are a particular specialty of Australia. The Australian Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blend came about in the mid-20th century. Initial successes saw the blend become global in the 1970s, and has been called the most Australian of wine styles.
Wines made from Cabernet and Shiraz range in quality from low-cost commercial wines made for immediate consumption, to some of the most collectable and cellar-worthy wines.
The aim of blending is to make a whole wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. When we blended Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz – as we very happily did – we obtained a dry red with a firm finish. It is silky all the way through with beautiful viscosity, seamless from beginning to end and has great balance and length. The wine is characterized by intense colour, velvety textures, heavy extraction and soft tannins.
The Monolithos 2017 Shiraz and Cabernet grapes were crushed and de-stemmed separately and went through a four-day cold soak with a daily pump-over for colour extraction. Fermentation took place in small, open, stainless steel temperature-controlled tanks for about three weeks. The wines were subsequently pressed and finished their secondary fermentation (ML) before blending and transferring into French oak barrels. From there on, the 70%/30% Shiraz-Cabernet blend was left to age for an additional ten-month period before cold stabilization, light filtering and bottling.
We have been trying to create a Shiraz-Cabernet that is uniquely local in style. The resultant wine has an apparent oak flavour, but it has integrated well with dried fruit aromas and is not too heavy. An elegant rich blend with sumptuous blackberry fruits shielding the Shiraz spice, it is juicy with intense ripe plum fruit and well-balanced wood integration all round.
This spicy wine is great with grilled steak, pizza or rich pasta dishes. It will accompany a wide range of fuller flavoured and spicy meals, roast beef, roast chicken, stews and lamb. The wine is scheduled to reach the local market just in time for Christmas 2018.