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Coonawarra - The Coming of Age

Coonawarra has long been recognised as one of Australia’s premium wine producing regions, releasing world class red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.  Over time international authorities have applauded the history and tradition from a region that was founded by John Riddoch back in 1852.  Ever since then there has been the highs and lows of success for the region, but today Coonawarra stands embracing the world’s most planted grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.

The region is and will always be a tightly defined viticultural area. Terra rossa soil defines the boundaries that run north to south, around 12km long and 2km wide with 3,440 ha under vine.  Red varieties represent 90% of plantings and until the 1950’s, Shiraz was the number one red grape but today Cabernet is king.  A typical tasting profile of wine made from this variety is medium to full-bodied with cassis, blackberry, plum and dark cherry.  The wine structure shows firm tannins when young that will mellow over time and the ability to age gracefully over decades.   

I have recently been delving into the history of the Coonawarra and had the opportunity to travel with the Coonawarra Road Show, an annual event that visits each capital city in August to promote the region and portfolio of wines.  The more time I have spent on research and sampling wine from this region, the further I fall in love with the Coonawarra and the wines on offer.

Let’s start with the string of super Cabernet vintages from 2000, 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2013.  It is only fair to focus on what is readily available on the market now, so I will give attention to the 2010 vintage.  In setting the scene, the vintage began with above average soil moisture and summer temperatures, ideal growing conditions and minimal disease issues.  The end result has shown ripe fruit matched by supple tannins and generous mouth feel.  Cabernet from this vintage is more forward than one would expect, but has the structure to carry the wine throughout the next decade.

A recent blind tasting event in Melbourne showcased 12 Cabernet from the 2010 vintage.  If scores were to be awarded each and every wine would have received high silvers to gold medals.  However this was not the point of the exercise, rather it was to provide a vintage overview.   The tasting certainly achieved that, displaying wines of power yet restraint, approachability yet longevity.  It should give consumers confidence to buy now and enjoy or cellar to experience the developing characteristics of Cabernet over time.  The list of wines in this tasting was later revealed and is provided below in alphabetical order.

  • Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $35 rrp
  • Brand’s Laira Blockers Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $30 rrp
  • DiGiorgio Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $23 rrp
  • Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $36 rrp
  • Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $40 rrp
  • Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $35 rrp
  • Parker Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $34 rrp
  • Patrick of Coonawarra Home Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $45 rrp
  • Raidis Estate ‘Billy’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $28 rrp
  • Redman Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $27 rrp
  • Rymill Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $30 rrp
  • Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $25 rrp

Some really exciting developments in the Coonawarra are coming from the ‘young guns’ behind labels such as Kidman Wines, Patrick of Coonawarra, Raidis Estate, Redmans and Rymills as they forge ahead with technology, social media and the production of vibrant and fresh wines from varieties such as Barbera, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Tempranillo.

Let’s start with Luke Skeer one of the winemakers at Wynns, awarded The Wine Society Young Winemaker of the Year in 2013.  Impressive! Then there’s Luke Tocaciu, second generation winemaker at the helm of Patrick of Coonawarra.  He’s super passionate about Riesling and has every reason to be with both his young and aged Rieslings winning accolades on a regular basis.  Their aged 2006 Riesling at $39 rrp is worth every cent and I am delighted to have some in my cellar.

Fourth generation Daniel Redman works alongside his father and uncle.  His Shiraz pays homage to the history of the region but with a modern profile; it’s vibrant with lovely white pepper, oak spice and a savoury finish.  I sampled the 2010 recently, a bargain at $20 rrp.

Steven & Emma Raidis of Raidis Estate, a first generation winery, with long association in the region (the family have been growers for over 25 years).  To date they are the only growers and producers of Pinot Gris in the region. The style is dry, with a slight blush hue that is crisp and clean on the finish.  The current vintage is 2013 ($20 rrp).

Sixth generation John Rymill is the great-great-grandson of John Riddoch, and is currently overseeing a large and varied portfolio of wine.  A ‘Late Harvest Traminer’ can be seen from time to time as natural botrytis sets into the vineyard and his 2013 Gewurztraminer shines true to the variety with a textural palate, lovely spice and surprisingly clean finish ($22 rrp).

The mate-ship between the ‘young guns’ is very Australian, honest and engaging.  The willingness to endorse and recommend each other’s wine speaks volumes about the mindset and confidence in the region.  The sharing of knowledge and experience is commendable.  The energy and enthusiasm is contagious.  So considering all this coupled with a greater range of wines on offer, Cabernet becoming more approachable at a younger age and the camaraderie energy and enthusiasm in the region, I believe the Coonawarra is coming of age.

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Selador Wines Pty Ltd    ABN 76 109 676 164    Liquor Licence # 36104810