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The sommelier suggests… Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec blends by Stefan Neumann MS

We invite a leading sommelier to pick a go-to, favourite grape variety or wine style.

Stefan Neumann MS has spent almost two decades in the world of Michelin-starred restaurants, most recently as director of wine at two Michelin star Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, in London. He started his own wine consultancy in 2021 connecting the right wine with the right people; often to assist with cellar management and wine investment. Stefan also consults for Fells, UK importer for prestigious family-owned wineries such as Symington Family Estates.

What if you could travel back in time? Would you dare to try wines made in Bordeaux before the 1855 Classification came into place? Actually you can get a taste of this historical style without seeking out your nearest time machine as, back in the day, claret was often based on Malbec, or had a high percentage in the final blend.

I first learned this on a trip to Mendoza, many moons ago. It needed a second push, but when I visited Margaret River in Western Australia earlier this year it became evident to me that Cabernet-Malbec blends represent the perfect ‘marriage’ of two grape varieties.

Margaret River and Mendoza boast a unique heritage of both varieties, each region with its own story to tell. In the case of Mendoza, the vines are often ungrafted and grown in extreme conditions. An altitude of 1,000 metres above sea level in poor soils with a high sunlight intensity and a scarcity of water is no walk in the park; but the strongest steel is made in the hottest fire.

Maritime in climate, Margaret River enjoys close-to-perfect growing conditions – the biggest challenge is often the population of local birds, which like to snack on the grapes at harvest time.

Popular double act

So why my love for this blend? Why do I believe they are the King and Queen of the wine world. Cabernet provides a wonderful structure and framework, giving plenty of dark fruit with a lifted, spicy note. Malbec enters the stage differently, complementing the blend with a floral character, often violet, and has a persistent, subtle drive and energy. I find Cabernet more upfront on the palate, whereas Malbec is the gentle giant, appearing more on the mid-palate and finish.

It’s the harmony in a wine when these two varieties meet that I find irresistible. Somehow these wines manage to get this balancing act of power, finesse and utter deliciousness just right, vintage after vintage.

Unsurprisingly, I find great joy in opening these to accompany red meat, yet you can experiment with equally exciting food pairings. From your very own best version of a ratatouille to stuffed peppers and aubergines, these blends can easily deal with a bit of spice, too. Pour a glass with lamb samosas or stews like a Brazilian feijoada.

Now it’s up to you to seek out a taste of history, and what better way to do this than with a glass of wine. Seek out a Cabernet-Malbec blend – perhaps one of those recommended below – and discover a style that’s robust, harmonious and perfect for these winter months.

Neumann’s pick: Cabernet-Malbec blends

Vasse Felix, Tom Cullity, Margaret River 2018 (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot; the 2017 vintage is slightly higher in Cabernet, £109 Australian Wines Online) is perfumed and truly inviting, loaded with blue and red fruits and a subtle bergamot note. Carefully crafted by Virginia Willcock and her team since 2013 from some of the oldest and most precious plots on this beautiful Western Australian estate.

The Nicolás Catena Zapata, Mendoza 2017 from Argentina (59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Franc; £67 Berry Bros & Rudd) has a darker fruit scent, and I love the sweet, spicy, slightly earthy nose. Like a world-class ballerina: power and grace, with an ethereal quality. This is Dr Laura Catena’s favourite vintage of this wine since 1995, and I couldn’t agree more!

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