Last month marked my annual pilgrimage to Coonawarra in South Australia, one of the world’s best regions for cabernet sauvignon. It is impossible to describe all of the wonders of this region in one column so this week will be necessarily selective.
The Coonawarra is a cigar-shaped strip of land only 12km long and 2km wide. It is famous for its “terra rossa” (red soil) that is so distinctive when viewed from the air. [Photo attached]
About a metre of limestone sits under the red topsoil and this combination of rich minerals and terroir gives the region’s wines their distinct flavors. The name Coonawarra comes from the Aboriginal word for honeysuckle.
Interestingly, China is the top export destination for Coonawarra wines. Just over a quarter of the region’s output (26 per cent) arrived in these shores last year.
Grapes were first planted in 1890 and John Riddoch, the region’s founder, made the first vintages in 1895 and 1896.
Wynns (http://www.wynns.com.au) is the biggest producer in the region, with 900 hectares under vine. This represents about a third of the output from the terra rossa soils. Their flagship red is the John Riddoch cabernet sauvignon, to honor the region’s founder.
Coonawarra represents the essence of that famous statement about wine drinking bringing the rewards of patience. This is a magnificent cabernet that needs to be cellared for at least a decade. It is made only in years when grapes of extraordinarily high quality are available; less than one per cent of the best cabernet grapes are used to make it. The current release, the 2006, sells for about $90.
Less expensive but also excellent is the famous estate-based Black Label cabernet. Both wines display marvellous oak and tannin balance.
The black label is made in much larger volumes than the Riddoch and is excellent value. The currently available vintage, the 2008, can be purchased at discount outlets in Australia for about $23. It offers similar blackcurrant and blackberry fruit flavors as the Riddoch, though the impact is less intense. I am mostly consuming the 2001 edition, which is drinking beautifully.
Wines at the Parker Estate (http://www.parkercoonawarraestate.com.au) have developed a similar pedigree to those from Wynns. John Parker established the estate in 1985.
Top of the range is the Parker Terra Rossa First Growth, the name echoing Bordeaux’s approach to wine names. It is aged in 100 per cent new French oak, and only made in years when winemaker Peter Bissell believes the fruit is perfect. Wine guru Robert Parker has given every vintage of this wine at least 90 points. The current vintage (2006) retails for $110. It is medium-bodied and perfumed, with hints of dark chocolate, cassis and cedar.
The second wine is Parker’s Terra Rossa cabernet sauvignon. The current release of this wine, the 2007, is a bargain at $40, though you will need to be patient. It also receives French oak treatment. Winemaker Peter Bissell described the palate as “rich and dense” with a core of dark fruit running through the length of the palate. The 2006 edition received several accolades. The 2007 suffers a little by comparison because that year’s vintage was hit by severe frosts that reduced crop levels and delayed the vintage. But it will be a superb drink, again in a decade.
I purchased a bottle of the 2001 Parker cabernet sauvignon to drink for father’s day this month – one must reward oneself occasionally. It was still fresh and vibrant, with intense black cherry colors and an aroma of coffee, cassis, blackberries and cedar. It was a delightful experience that I will encounter again, but not until the younger wines I purchased reach maturity in another decade.
* “The wonders of Coonawarra” in China Daily, 17 September 2011, page 12. Find a link here.