Sixty Second Swirl by Brent Lello, Yass Valley Times Wine Columnist

“Canberra’s too cold for good Cabernet” was until recently a widely held view amongst many “learned” commentators in the wine industry. Such handwringing and teeth-gnashing are not so apparent anymore. It might well be true that the tricks and techniques for good Cabernet have evolved over time, to the point that there are now many excellent producers of this regal red grape variety in the Yass Valley region. More often than not, they are refined and elegant styles with varietal fruit purity and quality expressions of cool-climate wine production. This week’s “swirl” – the Yarrh Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 – is one of the best examples of classical cool climate Cabernet that I have come across in recent times.

This Cabernet is opaque in the glass with an almost squid ink darkness with a bright purple hue. A swirl reveals aromas of crushed blackcurrants, blueberries and ripe blood plums with a shake of white pepper and star anise. The palate is rich and luscious with juicy black fruit flavours with a tongue-tingling touch of fine tannins and a lovely lick of acidity. This is a rippingly good Cabernet.

Fiona, hard at work in the Yarrh Winery – Beth Jennings Photography

I normally reserve the Cabernet for a fine cut of steak, but this went superbly with butter-fried gnocchi in a blue cheese sauce with roasted pepita seeds and pumpkin. The salty tang of the gnocchi ringing the bell with the fruity liveliness of the Cabernet. But it would go really well with a chargrilled rib-eye on the bone. I sourced my bottle direct from Neil and Fiona at their Cellar Door but you can buy for $35 online here:

Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannins

 The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is very small compared to other wine grapes.  It has a thick skin and a high skin-to-juice ratio.  This helps explain why the colour is so opaque and deep – there’s a lot of colour in the skin going into not much juice.  The same goes for the tannin in the skin.  It’s these features that give Cabernet Sauvignon its unique and identifiable intensities and ability to age so well.

When I studied winemaking, it was taught that tannins started out as small molecules in the wine and as the wine aged, they would join together (polymerise), becoming bigger and heavier and thus settle out of the wine, making it smoother and more mellow. Sounded logical and explained the ‘crust’ or sediment found in older wines.

Yarrh Cellar door in the afternoon sunshine

 Now researchers don’t think that’s the case. Recent analysis of the same wine from 1954 to 2004 vintages showed tannin concentrations of similar levels. For instance, wines from the 1950’s and 1990’s have the same level of tannin, while wines from around 1980 have slightly less.  Overall, however, the levels are only in a small range, showing that the amount of tannin in wine is not related to wine age. So, what is happening to the tannins?  One promising theory is that the shape of the tannin changes. It might be that young wine tannins are long and thin with lots of receptors along it and these are what react and give the astringent, drying sensation in the mouth.

 Neil, Fiona and Rosie the LBD, Simon Thorp Photography

As the tannins age in the wine, they become more compact and rounded, so there are less receptors and thus less astringency. Again, sounds logical, but only more research will tell us if this is really the case, so don’t go quoting me just yet.  Something to ponder when next you savour a glass of Cabernet! 


Fiona Wholohan, Winemaker.