Article: Terre à Terre turns to an Australian Classic


Huon Hooke has written a great article about Terre à Terre on The Real Review this week:
“Xavier Bizot has seen the light. This French-Australian member of the family that owns Champagne Bollinger, for whom Bordeaux is high on the list of benchmarks, has converted to an Australian classic. He’s decided the traditional Aussie red blend of cabernet and shiraz is the way forward.
With a twist. He likes to include some cabernet franc in the mix.

The latest releases from Terre à Terre, the wine company he owns with his wife Lucy, all involve the native Rhône Valley grape shiraz in blends with either or both cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

“We were making a cabernet sauvignon-cabernet franc blend, but I’m so happy we’ve made the move to cabernet shiraz,” he told me.

“Cabernet makes a blend finer and more elegant. It provides tannins, aromatics and length to a wine. Shiraz adds texture and fills out the middle palate with a sweet core of fruit. Shiraz can be one-dimensional but it’s amazing what it can add to a blend. It’s better than merlot. It’s brighter and sharper.”

He says the cabernet shiraz blend is as old as the Australian wine industry, and his own research has shed light on the history of such blends in Europe. In the days when most Bordeaux red wine was shipped to London in barrels, the English merchants would mature it in their own cellars and often blend in some syrah (shiraz) from France, if the wine needed some improvement. This was known as coupage, the French word for blending.

In a paper Bizot prepared for a recent tasting event, he outlines the history as he sees it.

“In early 18th century London, a market for fashionable ‘new French clarets’ emerged. The upper-class English palate preferred Medoc wines when they were coupés (literally meaning ‘cut’) with wines of higher alcohol and colour. The wines of the Medoc were shipped on lees in barriques to London, where English wine merchants would then age the wines, before blending in a portion of Hermitage (syrah) or Benicarló (Spanish garnacha tinta), to suit the English taste.

“In response, during the second half of the 18th century and first half of the 19th century, the Bordeaux chateaux started to practise the coupage in barrels before shipping, also using Benicarló or Hermitage, especially in the weaker vintages such as 1789 and 1810. The records of the first growth chateaux such as Laffite and Latour show that even the grands crus had to resort to blending in the leaner years. These coupages were requested by the brokers and the négociants, and were considered an improvement by the trade.

“However, the great Bordeaux chateaux did not have the same view, and considered coupage as an adulteration of their wines, only to be resorted to in the worst vintages. The practice was widely abandoned by the chateaux in the second half of the 19th century.

“Interestingly enough, the phasing out of coupage coincides with the first mentions of merlot in the Gironde. It is historically undeniable that cabernet shiraz blends not only pre-exist cabernet merlot blends, but were in a sense an invention of the trade, as a conduit between maker and market.”

Bizot records with regret that plantings of merlot in Coonawarra in the 1990s gradually replaced the well-established cabernet shiraz blends with cabernet merlots.

He perceives a trend back to cabernet shiraz blends across Australia, and approves of it.

The Bizots’ Terre à Terre Crayères Vineyard is in Wrattonbully, in the south-east of South Australia, just north of Coonawarra.

The latest wines from this vineyard are 2018 Cabernet Franc Shiraz (AUD $32), 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (AUD $50; a 62:37 blend with 1% cabernet franc) and 2016 Reserve (AUD $90; a blend of 68% cabernet sauvignon, 16% shiraz and 16% cabernet franc). All are good, but this last is a delicious wine which does indeed have a great deal of elegance and harmony.

Huon Hooke, July 2020

Read the full article here:

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