Wine column for week of 4 November 2013

Jetlag and wine sometimes make for strange bedfellows. I’m in Australia for the month of November, catching up with family and friends.
The visit has given me the chance to taste some of the wine I left in my cellar several years ago. The wine has been marvellous, but the time difference from Europe has created havoc with my sleeping patterns.
Wine has been a constant solace on the occasions when I have been awake at strange hours because of jetlag. Hence the attempted pun of the opening line of this article.
This week I opened three bottles of the 2005 Zema Estate family selection cabernet sauvignon. The family selection wines are the flagship of the Zema family in Coonawarra and are only made in the best years.
The Coonawarra is a cigar-shaped strip of land only 12km long and 2km wide. It is famous for its “terra rossa” or red soil that is so distinctive when viewed from the air.
About a metre of limestone sits under the red topsoil and the combination of rich minerals from the limestone plus the unique climate gives wines from this region very distinctive flavours. The name Coonawarra, incidentally, comes from the Aboriginal word for honeysuckle.
Interestingly, China is the top export destination for Coonawarra wines. About a quarter of the region’s output goes there each year.
Grapes were first planted in Coonawarra in 1890. John Riddoch, the region’s founder, made the first vintage in 1895.
Wynns is the biggest producer in the region, with about 900 hectares under vine. Their flagship red is the John Riddoch cabernet sauvignon, created to honour the region’s founder.
The Zema family have been involved in grape growing and winemaking since the 1800s in their home country, Italy.
The history of the Zema family in Australia offers a story of love and hard work. Demetrio and Francesca Zema fell in love in Italy in the aftermath of World War II. Soon after becoming engaged, the couple were separated when Francesca moved with her family to a new life in Australia.
In 1953 Francesca’s father Nicola started working for Wynns and remained there as a viticulturist until he retired in 1975.
Back in Italy, Demetrio decided to travel to Australia to marry Francesca and to bring her home to Italy. The couple married in June 1959 in Penola, the main town of Coonawarra. Francesca convinced Demetrio to stay and the couple settled in Penola.
Demetrio established his own painting business but maintained a passion for wine. He and his family bought a small parcel of land in the best part of Coonawarra in 1982 and made their first vintage the next year.
The current winemaker is Greg Clayfield, helped by members of the Zema family. Nick Zema, the son of Francesca and Demetrio, is based at the winery. His brother Matt represents the company in Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria.
The family believes in producing wines made from estate-grown grapes that are hand-pruned. Irrigation is kept to a minimum to concentrate flavours, and the best-quality oak is used for the flagship reds.
Andrew Caillard MW wrote that the flagship family estate wines deserved wider recognition as one of Coonawarra’s best.
The 2005 vintage offers intense aromas of peppermint, blackcurrant and dark cherry, along with fine tannins and savoury oak flavours. This is a wine designed to show its best after a decade in the cellar. The 2005 vintage was just beginning to open.
The Zema family selection has all the characteristics of a classic Coonawarra cabernet, with concentrated fruit flavours, a rich palate and excellent balance. It could be cellared for three decades because its firm structure, based around the tannins produced from two years in oak, means the wine will blossom with age.
The 2005 version was delightful, and just beginning to show it majesty, though some people might be put off by the high alcohol, at 15.5 per cent. I look forward to trying this wine in years to come. It has been worth the sleep deprivation to enjoy this wine.
Words: 663

Categories: Not home, wine

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