Western Australia’s Best Cabernet Region?

Reviewed: 20th July 2012

Everyone knows that Margaret River makes Western Australia’s (and possibly Australia’s) best cabernet based wines.  Right?  They certainly make the most high quality cabernets of any region in Australia.  The region also produces the highest number of quality wines as a percentage of the total volume produced.

But what about the Great Southern region centred around Frankland River?  Cabernet, after all, is not the main focus here.  The focus in the region is primarily on riesling and shiraz.  Cabernet plays a much smaller role in the region’s output.

The question of where the best WA cabernets come from was brought into sharp focus with the current tasting, courtesy of the new release wines of Larry Cherubino.  Here is a producer that has access to some of the best fruit in the state.  Submitted for the tasting were both the Margaret River and Frankland River cabernets under the Cherubino label as well as Frankland River cabernets under the Yard and Ad Hoc labels.

The Frankland River Cherubino was the star of the tasting and, at $110/bottle, was also significantly more expensive than the Margaret River version of the same wine.  In fact, when compared to the Margaret River wine, The Yard and Ad Hoc (Frankland) wines from the same producer represents excellent value for the quality on offer.

So Cherubino’s best (and most expensive) cabernet comes from Frankland River, but what about other producers?  Well, Houghton produces a number of very high quality wines from Margaret River, but their most expensive wine is the Jack Mann from Frankland River.  Separately, in a recent tasting of some of Margaret River’s finest cabernets, it was the 2010 Abercrombie from Howard Park (18.5 – 19pts) that stole the show.  The only problem was that this wine is also from Frankland!

So, in summary, three of Western Australia’s finest cabernet producers each source the fruit for their top wines from Frankland River and, in the case of Howard Park, this is my equal highest pointed cabernet of the year.

So to the rest of the tasting….

The wines from Xanadu are in top form and their current release cabernets are outstanding.  The standard release 2010 cabernet is an absolute steal at around $35, whilst their special release wines are stylish and very age-worthy.

This was a very high quality tasting with a number of excellent wines.


Cherubino – Cabernet Sauvignon – Frankland River – 2011 (18.5).  An excellent wine that has a Jeckle and Hyde character.  Initially, this is very structured, with lean, precise fruit and a very long and drying finish.  This really builds in the glass to show full, ripe and dense fruit of the highest quality.  Flavour characters include mint, eucalypt and a touch of menthol.  An excellent, no-compromise wine that demands time in the cellar (or at least an hour or two in the decanter) if you are going to drink it now.

Xanadu – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2010 (18/18.5+).  Very complex nose that has savoury characters balanced by fresh fruit aromas.  Think cedar, brambly blackcurrant, licorice, pepper and black fruits with earthy, forest floor highlights.  The palate is taut and austere, the acid, tannins and quality oak subduing the fruit.  Opens to show really dense, bright fruit with superb mouth-feel and structure. This wine is a star and is destined for a very long future.

Xanadu – Cabernet Sauvignon – Stephens Road – 2010 (18.3).  Precise nose. Precise palate.  This is a superb wine, where the quality fruit has been carefully crafted in the winery.  Restrained mint and eucalyptus are present on both the nose and palate.  The oak is very fine and silky, though in combination with the tannins, serves to shut down the fruit.  Elegant and age-worthy.  (Made in tiny quantities).

Flametree – Cabernet Sauvignon – SRS – Wilyabrup – 2011 (18+).  Touch of sweet and sour here.  This is a much bigger, more textured wine than some here, with dense, chocolaty fruit.  Very long and persistent, with a somewhat chewy finish, though the balance is spot-on.  This demands time, or a big steak now.

Killerby – Cabernet Sauvignon – Margaret River – 2011 (18).  Lovely minty cabernet fruit to open on the nose, with slightly dusty, cedary oak and a touch of herbs.  The palate has bright redcurrant, cedar and spice.  The oak is well married to the high quality fruit and the tannins, whilst firm, are not aggressive.  Quite a pretty wine now, but the best is yet to come, as the texture and mouth-feel build and replace the overt fruit characters.  Although it lacks a bit of joy now, give it time to open and I am sure the marks will get even higher.

The Yard – Cabernet Sauvignon – Riversdale Vineyard – Frankland River – 2011 (18).  Whilst there is no doubting the quality of fruit that has gone into this wine, it is a touch disjointed at present, with the fruit at odds with the oak and tannins now.  Chewy, textured and dense, this is a powerful wine.  Like a jigsaw, the pieces will come together over time allowing the full picture to be seen.

Ad Hoc – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Avant Gardening – 2012 (17.9).  Smart wine here.  This has lean fruit, courtesy of the cooler region, though the fruit is fully ripe.  The palate is powerful, taut and full of nervous energy.  The finish is more about the structure, as the oak and fruit tannins shut down the fruit characters.  Whilst this is quite user friendly, I would still recommend decanting now to drink with a steak, or give it a few years to hit its straps.

Victory Point – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2008 (17.8).  Cedar and spice on the nose, with a core of ripe fruit and regional mintiness.  The palate is dense, thick and textured, a wine with plump, ripe fruit.  Opens with air to show lovely minty fruit, good texture and fine tannins.  The oak is present, but not overt and carries the finish well.  Quite a big wine that could be drunk now or in 10 years.

Thompson Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2010 (17.5-18+).  Quite subdued nose that merely hints at the potential of this wine.  The palate is drying, long, savoury, restrained, fine and elegant, with dusty tannins framing the finish.  Beneath it all is serious, opulent fruit and good line and length in the mouth.  Just needs time to show its best.

Bussell – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – JG – 2011 (17.9).  A lovely wine that has ripe cabernet fruit as the focus.  The winemaking has been very sympathetic to the high quality, refined fruit, with the oak providing a framework in which the fruit sits.  Hints of mint and eucalyptus to close on a long, lingering finish.  Real potential here.

Castelli – Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot – Il Cavaliere – 2010 (17.5).   Aromas of redcurrant and cedar to open.  Thick, dense fruit up front in the mouth, but the middle palate is quite subdued at first, with the tannins really closing this down.  Genuine Bordeaux style.

Yalumba – Cabernet Sauvignon – Y series – 2011 (17.3).  Blackcurrant, cedar and cool climate fruit on the nose, with redcurrant fruit to close.  This is very persistent and elegant, the precise fruit well matched to the oak.  Good length, but needs 5 years to hit its straps.  Good value.

Brookland Valley – Cabernet Sauvignon – Unison – 2011 (17).  A solid wine that has lovely, cool climate, cabernet characters.  Mint, eucalypt and herbal notes to the fore on the nose, and these flow through to the palate.  The oak sits well with the ripe fruit and there is enough structure to take some aging.