The May 2005 South
Australian Tour Diaries
Chapter Two – Saturday and Sunday - Coonawarra
the name Coonawarra is mentioned it evokes a warm glow and many positive
memories to wine lovers, especially those that appreciate good Cabernet
Sauvignon. If you knew nothing about Australian wine and ordered, for example a
$30 McLaren Vale Shiraz, there is a reasonably good chance the wine would be
good. However, if you ordered a $30 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, there is an
excellent chance the wine would be very good. It is this consistency, as well
as value for money that makes this area so attractive to wine lovers. It
certainly has nothing to do with the scenic geography (sic) of the area.
Although Coonawarra is a four to five-hour
drive from McLaren Vale along some of the most boring roads in the country, I
never mind the trip as the rewards are worth the effort. In order to make the
most of the day, we had decided to leave at around 6 a.m. At 4.50 am I staggered out of bed and went into the
lounge room with the intention of checking my e-mail. I recklessly turned on
the lounge room light and received a rather large shock (bad pun intended.) I
had totally forgotten that as the renovations had not been completed, the
lounge was being used as a bedroom; there was a body sleeping on a mattress on
the floor and it was not a pretty sight.
The muttered curses and assorted four
letter words that questioned the source of my parentage indicated that John was
not particularly impressed with my nocturnal habits.
I turned out the light and went back to my
bedroom to quietly read a book, then showered and woke his Pieship up at a more
appropriate time. When his Pieship finally crawled out of the cot, it was
blindingly evident he was in a "delicate state." The excuse given was
that he had to stay up until midnight so that you could pick up Hosanna after she had finished
her performance in the school musical. According to John, the fact that Sue
stayed up to keep him company, and did the driving because he had consumed the
odd glass of wine or seven, had nothing to do with the way he felt this
morning. Given his perilous and delicate state, it was decided that I should do
The first stage of the trip through the back
roads to the freeway is full of twists and windy turns and as John was sitting
next to me, I took those twists and turns at a very gentle pace; the colour of
his complexion resembled the light metallic green colour of his new car.
It was still dark when we left Blewitt Springs.
The first stop was at the service station at Mount Barker, not for petrol, John
demanded a pit stop so he could stock up on bottled water and Coca-Cola. Brian
decided that he needed a packet of Twisties for a pre-breakfast snack.
From there on it was an
easy run down the freeway until the sun poked its head above the horizon and
was inconsiderate enough to point straight into my face.
The first real stop was for breakfast at the
Shell service station at Tailem Bend and surprise surprise, John didn't
have a meat pie for breakfast; he really must be sick! Instead, he had a halfway
healthy sandwich (which tasted like crap, I had one too.). Speaking about being
sick, I am becoming increasingly concerned about Brian; he had a sausage roll
for breakfast (it was better than the sandwich!).
The coffee in this place was
undrinkable; even the cappuccino was dispensed from an automatic machine so we
weren't going to go there; I opted for bottled water, Brian got his hit of
caffeine from a Pepsi Max and John went for a Red Bull energy/caffeine drink.
Naracoorte Police Station is a work of
art – literally!
We made excellent time and reached Naracoorte
in time for play-lunch. The Pie King really must be in a bad way, at the local
bakery (where he thoroughly enjoyed a pie on our last trip,) he elected to have
a toasted ham cheese and tomato sandwich instead. Brian is proving to be even
more of a concern, he went for a meat pie; it looks like “Pie King Disease”
could be infectious. I opted for a muffin which was most enjoyable. The coffee
from this bakery was eminently drinkable so Brian and I walked out feeling
Clearly forty winks in the car and play-lunch
had worked its magic, John was in a much better frame of mind by this time and
even regaled us with some of his philosophy on the next leg of our journey.
John said, "Sue and I intend to write a book which will be called ‘The
Hands-off Approach to Parenting’ because something we did must have gone right.
When Hosanna was a baby, all our friends who had young children were reading
books; Doctor Spock and the like, but we believed that children don't come with
a manual. So ‘The Hands off Approach to Parenting’ would be a good book for
those who don't believe in using books for parenting.”
…… … Penola Pub Motel – John love it!
As we had had a very
good run and were ahead of time, Brian suggested we stop in at the Stonehaven
cellar door. Whilst it was a good idea, we arrived there about a quarter of an
hour before it opened, so continued to tootle on down the road. As we had spare
time before our first appointment, we decided to check John in at his motel.
For some perverse reason, his Pieship likes staying in pubs, the smokier, the
grottier and noisier the better so John lashed out and spent $43 for room at
the Penola pub. Brian and I had already pre-booked a couple of rooms at a brand
new motel called the Alexander Cameron Motel at the far end of the
Originally the plan was for Steve Norman (aka 707) to joining
us and we were going to eat dinner at Red Fingers, which is owned and operated by, to quote John,
“Steve’s main squeeze”. Unfortunately Steve had to cancel at the last moment so
we decided to eat in town. Steve's recommendation was to try Pipers of Penola. Although the sign
outside the restaurant said no BYO on Friday or Saturday night, when we made
the reservation and explained we had a few special bottles of wine, they were
prepared to let us BYO. So, with our motel rooms booked and dinner arranged, we
were ready for our 12 o'clock appointment at Balnaves.
It had taken a fair amount of negotiation to
line up this appointment as in theory this was meant to be their first weekend
off in ages, as everyone had been working seven days a week during vintage. So
a special vote of thanks is due to Doug Balnaves for agreeing to meet with us. I had tried a
number of their current releases at Wine Australia last November, but was keen
to try the rest.
Balnaves Sparkling Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $28 at cellar door. Whilst I
have tried this wine in the past, I can honestly say it's never been one of my
favourites; indeed it has not been a wine that I have particularly enjoyed. The
current wine (2005 release) is a blend of eight vintages going back to 1995.
The bouquet is dominated by ripe blackberry and mint which is expressed on the
palate as sweet blackberry, blackcurrant, aniseed, chocolate with an off-sweet
under layer. The wine is not overly sweet and is good value at the price point.
It finished with good persistence and is better than the previous efforts.
Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Balnaves 2002 The Blend sells for $19 at cellar door. Plum and musky
Merlot characters combine with leafy undertones and perfumed fruit; on the
palate the uptake is pleasant with sweet blackcurrant and ripe chocolate
leading to a sappy, tart mid palate and drying finish. Medium-weight with a
supple consistency, solid structure and an agreeable complexity; the previous
vintage was better. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value, the wine should
peak in about 2006 and beyond.
Balnaves 2001 Cabernet Merlot sells for $24 at cellar door. Although the
wine appears to be fruit driven, the fine tannins provide excellent backbone.
Whilst there is nothing simple about this wine, with its ripe black and blue
fruit flavours, it will please any crowd. It is a good wine, with excellent
palate intensity and great value. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and a
harmonious complexity, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Whilst we were tasting this wine, Doug Balnaves
came out with a classic line that is worth repeating. "A wine is mature
when the tastes better than it smells."
I have been fortunate enough to try The Tally
2001 on a couple of previous occasions and there is no doubting it is one of
the best wines to come out of Coonawarra for some time. On this occasion, we
were fortunate enough to be able to try the 2000 and 2001 side-by-side.
Balnaves 2000 The Tally is sold out but there are a few odd bottles
floating around various retailers. The wine had been opened the previous night
but it was still brooding; intense blackberry, blackcurrant, mint, and smoky
vanillin French oak characters were evident. Muscular-weight with a firm
consistency, and excellent complexity, this wine will be fantastic with time. A
classy wine with savoury blackberry, black chocolate and a minty finish which
is long and has excellent persistence; (it's softer than the 2001.) Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should start to peak around 2007
Balnaves 2001 The Tally sells for $80 at cellar door. The bouquet is
more intense than the 2000 wine and whilst it is stylistically similar, this
wine shows higher fruit quality. Fine, drying, dusty tannins provide a solid
backbone for this full-bodied, tightly structured, layered wine with a diverse
complexity. Sumptuous fruit and supremely balanced, it’s an impressive package.
With both sweet and savoury nuances; rich, ripe chocolate, and blackberry
flavours finish with fantastic intensity, excellent length and persistence.
Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the wine needs ages to soften and
gain further complexity but that is not an issue as it should last for about 20
I'm glad to have some in the cellar, but I was
silly to only buy three. The next vintage of The Tally will be in 2004; a smart
move only producing it in the best vintages.
In summary, from top to bottom Balnaves
produces very drinkable wine. They are all well made, honest, reliable and
above all consistent. What more could you want? According to Doug, the winery
strives for three things; quality, quality and quality. And they are
The Balnaves family has been in Coonawarra for
a number of generations, originally starting out as farmers and grocers. From
the earliest days, they have been in "competition" with another local
family who've had a similar background. The rivalry between the Lynn family and the
Balnaves family is extremely good-natured. When Doug asked us where we were
going next, and we replied Majella, he said "I hope you enjoy their cask
(jug) wine.” When we got to Majella and told the Prof. “we were looking forward
to trying some of his cask wine” he replied, with a big smile on his face, “and
how is Doug?”
Majella is one of those
rare wineries that doesn't have customers, it has disciples. There are three
main reasons for this rarefied position. Firstly, they make bloody good wine.
Secondly, Brian Lynn aka The Prof., is a larger-than-life character that could
sell sewage to a sanitary worker when most people would have trouble giving it
away; and finally, the base wines represent value. That's a pretty hard
combination to beat.
When you walk into the cellar door, it's hard
to miss the electric organ which is tastefully displayed below bold, striking
artwork. But what is a keyboard doing in the foyer of a winery anyway? In this
case, in its own way, it is making a very poignant and significant statement.
We arrived at the appointed hour, 1 pm on Saturday and as the
Prof was munching on a mouthful of food when he greeted us; we had obviously
disturbed not only his weekend (which he was not pleased about) but his lunch
too. The Prof knows I am a red bigot and to get his own back for having to
meet us at such an inconvenient time, shoved a glass of Riesling under my nose,
and insisted on my prognosis.
About 18 months ago it was decided that the
winery was missing out on a golden opportunity. They were approached by an
Asian client who wanted Majella to make a wine they could pour by the glass. In
addition, the winery had frequently been approached by clients inquiring about
the possibility of a cheaper, entry-level wine which would be perfect for serving
at functions. The demand was there, which was a good starting point. In most
other wineries, the next obstacle to overcome would be sourcing the fruit, but
not in this case. As long time established growers, Majella has access to over
150 acres of it’s own fruit with the youngest vines being over 10 years old, (the
oldest were planted in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.) Even though they have
disciples, there is a limit to the amount of $30+ wine a winery can sell in a
year. Also, some of the fruit, whilst it is still very good quality, may not be
quite as good as the grapes going into their existing portfolio of wines; so
instead of the going into oak, the excess went into
stainless steel tanks and was sold off as bulk wine to other producers.
So, demand was there, the raw ingredients were
available, now all they had to do was to make the product that would make it
synergise. They decided the name should start with an M, and as a number of the
family who are involved in the business were musically inclined, the working
project name became Musician. Then, tragically in January, Brian's youngest son
Matthew was involved in a hit and run crash and passed away a couple of weeks
later. At 20 years of age, Matthew loved his music and was a talented
guitarist. It seemed that the Musician name, in honour of Matthew was meant to
be, and a new label was born.
Majella 2004 The Musician sells for around the
$17-$18 mark at retail. The wine is a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz which has been
designed for early drinking. Most of the wine has been matured in stainless
steel tanks but a proportion has seen oak; and it is sealed with screw caps. The
colour of the wine is fantastic. The bouquet is youthful, fruity and shows
reasonable complexity. Deep, obvious fruit drives the wine but there is enough
unobtrusive, smooth tannins to provide a soft consistency and hold the wine
together. Plum, black berry fruits,
mulberry, liquorice, chocolate and a minty/eucalyptus finish harmoniously fills
the mouth with lip-smacking flavours. It's not sophisticated, but it is very
drinkable, or to quote the Prof, “it’s the wine-drinkers drinking wine.” Rated
disagrees with my rating and thought it warranted a Recommended)
with ***** for value, you can't
go past it for a barbecue or a bistro wine. What ever way you look at it; its
In many premium wineries you visit today, you
are told how the grapes are lovingly hand harvested, basket pressed, gently
nurtured and made in an old-fashioned, traditional way. The Prof is bombastic
in his exuberance for the modern, no bovine-manure method of winemaking.
"We make standard, commercial three-tonne-to-the-acre wine. Machine-pruned,
machine-harvested, we make standard commercial Australian wine.”
At this point, the Prof’s son, Peter who had recently
joined us and was a chip off the old block; was not exactly backward in coming
forward with his comments. “Dad, that's a stupid way to describe it. There is
more to it than the pruning technique. Winemaking is all smoke and mirrors. What's important is
what works. We machine-prune but our vines are kept in perfect balance.”
- Peter Lynne…………
Brian then went on to
tell us that in the late 1970s, as most readers will know, you just about
couldn't give red wine away, especially Shiraz. Things were so bad that in one year, they
didn't prune half their vines simply because they could not afford to do so.
Mechanisation was seen as a salvation. According to the Prof, “It doesn't
matter whether you machine-pick or hand-pick; it doesn't matter whether you
machine-prune or hand-prune, the vines have to be kept in balance; and if they
are, I defy anyone to be able to tell which of these two methods have been used
when drinking the finished wine.”
To illustrate the "winemaking is all smoke
and mirrors” philosophy as espoused by his son, he told us a brilliant story,
but to protect the innocent, I will not name names.
An Australian wine maker was doing a stint in a
French winery. “From nine o'clock in the morning until four o'clock in the afternoon we
made wine in a very old-fashioned, traditional way. We used barrel
fermentation, there was hardly any running water; the cellars were very
traditional and tourists would flock through them. From five o'clock until ten o'clock at night and from very
early in the morning until nine o'clock, we made the real wine in a gleaming cellar with
loads of stainless steel, in a building over the hill behind the trees.” That
is probably also the case with a lot of the riddling in Champagne. During the tours,
there are little wizened old men furiously twisting bottles by hand but the
chances are once the tours are over, the majority of the bottles are riddled by
But the French are not the only ones to use
smoke and mirrors, how about when Ralph Fowler was at Leconfield! According to
the Prof, they use to hand pick and hand prune the vines near the road, because
that's what people wanted to see, but the rest of it was done by machine.
The 2003 vintage wines (except for the Malleea)
will all be sealed in Stelvin and the 2004 Sparkling Shiraz will be sealed with
a crown seal. To say that Brian is not a fan of cork and what it does to wine
is an understatement.
…You have to admire their sense of humour, Majella doesn’t
………have a TANK FARM, the sign says “HOBBY FARM”
We were lucky enough to
be able to try the 2002 and the unreleased 2003 Shiraz and Cabernet side-by-side.
Majella 2003 Shiraz will sell for about $28 at cellar door and will be released around July. Brian (Red Bigot)
said “oooh… the fruit leaps up your nose.” The first thing to strike me about
the wine was the excellent balance; it also has great power with lovely fruit
intensity. A glass-stainer, the fine powdery tannins are chewy; the spicy,
black fruit, plum, chocolate and aniseed flavours more-ish. Ample-weight with a
supple consistency, a solid and tight structure, the wine is already
harmonious. Substantially better than the 2002, anyone who thinks that
Coonawarra cannot make Shiraz needs to try this wine as it is certainly worth buying.
Rated as Highly Recommended
with **** for value, it should
become approachable in 2006 and beyond.
Majella 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for about $28 at cellar door and
will be released
The bouquet is attractive, showing dusty oak, but it is tight and closed.
Supremely-focused, pure fruit fills the mouth with minty but ripe chocolate,
blackcurrant, cigar box and leafy flavours that are perfectly interwoven with
finely-grained, long tannins that finish with excellent persistence.
Ample-weight with a solid, tight, almost seamless structure, the complexity is
harmonious and well-developed. A classy wine, this is the best Cabernet at this
price point that I can remember. Rated as Highly Recommended with ***** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2010
and beyond. According to the Prof, he only thinks “its sensational sex in a
bottle” but I think he is being modest.
Whilst the Prof is certainly larger-than-life
and his enthusiasm for his wines can obviously influence the taster, all BS and
influence aside, their 2003 wines are blindingly good for the price. Miss them
at your own peril. And I am certainly not going to tell you all about the 03
barrel samples of the Malleea; you are going to have to wait for the rave
reviews of that one when it’s bottled.
The winery is not aiming to set the world on
fire; however they do aim to produce consistently high quality wine and are in
the business for the long haul. My bet is that they will achieve their
Now THIS is a TANK FARM – Wynns Coonawarra Estate ………….
It was well past pie
o'clock but luckily the troops had been fortified with play-lunch, so for once,
they did not give me a hard time about making them wait for their midday victuals. We headed up
the road to try out Red Fingers which is located slap
bang in the middle of the Coonawarra “shopping centre.” According to my mate
707, who should know about these things, the Wagyu Beef Pie was the go.
Unfortunately they took about half an hour to make, and as time was of the
essence, we elected to go for something a little simpler that would be quicker
to prepare. Brian and I both had an open Moroccan Lamb sandwich which was
topped with a tomato, capsicum and yoghurt type dressing. John had his “healthy
lunch” which consisted of a bowl of wedgies, naturally enough served with sour
cream; I sampled a couple and they were cooked to perfection. Lunch was
excellent and we vowed to return the next day so that we could sample the house
speciality. We had also arranged to ring up and order them in advance so that
we wouldn't have to wait a half an hour for them to be prepared.
Our next appointment was set for 3.30 but as we
had about 20 minutes to spare, we decided to head to Brand’s
of Coonawarra which is owned by McWilliams. I have been to this winery a few times,
and I have tried their wines on a number of other occasions but have never
found anything to be particularly impressive. If anything, the visits have been
Brand’s 2001 Shiraz sells for $23 at cellar door. The bouquet shows a touch of
smoky oak, white pepper, blackberry and sweet fruit. Smooth, drying tannins and
fresh acid provide the backbone for this medium-weight wine with a supple
consistency, solid structure and agreeable complexity. Ripe fruit, spice, white
pepper and blackberry flavours will complement food and this is a “nice wine.”
Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Brand’s 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $23 at cellar door. The nose shows
light perfumed fruit, cassis and leafy notes. Smooth tannins, youthful acid and
delicate fruit produced a lean wine with a supple consistency and an agreeable
complexity. Well-balanced with black olive, blackcurrant, chocolate and mint,
it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Brand’s 2000 Stentiford’s Reserve Shiraz sells for about $60 a
bottle. Lifted blackberry, char and mint are found on the bouquet. Ultra-fine,
smooth tannins combine with pure fruit to form a clean wine that would be
well-balanced if the lively acid didn't stick out. Blackberry, coffee, and rich
chocolate flavours are found in this medium-weight, elegant wine with an
agreeable complexity. Rated as
with ** for value, there are far better
wines around for the price.
Once again, I walked out of this winery
scratching my head wondering how they managed to survive in such a competitive
Going back some years, since about the 1996 vintage,
I have been openly critical of Wynns (and other SC Coonawarra wines)
consistently stating that the quality was dropping. When I interviewed Brian
Finn, (the then Chairman of Southcorp,) about two years ago, he agreed with my
comments and stated the reasons for the decline were directly related to
viticultural issues in the vineyards. Specifically, the vineyards had not been
managed as well as they should have been, Southcorp had recognised the problem
and were spending millions of dollars in redeveloping and reinvigorating their
vineyards in the region. Brian suggested the next time I went to Coonawarra, I
should have a close look at what they were doing, so our next appointment was
with Allen Jenkins, the Regional Vineyard Manager for the Limestone Coast area. We spent almost
two hours crawling through the vineyards and the tour was so interesting and
informative that it will be included in a special feature story at the
conclusion of the tour diaries.
After a fascinating vineyard tour that was
seriously impressive, we were meant to meet with Sue Hodder to taste the Wynns
range, but unfortunately at the last minute she became unavailable and we were
“stuck” with Greg
instead. For those that don't know, Greg is the wine maker for Lindemans in Coonawarra.
Interestingly enough, on both Allen and Greg's business cards the logos and tag
lines for the three regional brands in the group are listed. Penfolds tag line
is “Australia's Most Famous Wine”,
Rosemount is "The prestige wine of Australia” and Lindemans is "making life more
enjoyable.” After having spent time with Greg, one could be excused for
thinking that he was personally responsible for the Lindemans tagline; he is a
real character that looks like he knows how to well and truly enjoy life.
I will say one thing
about Southcorp, when they do something, they do it with complete
professionalism. We were taken upstairs into the lab/tasting room where the
glasses had been laid out for us and the wines had had time to breathe. Now if
you think the standard of glasses provided was a nice touch, the place mats in
front of us not only had the names of each wine, but a welcoming message as
well. A touch of class! Side-by-side with that touch of class, on a bench
behind us, nonchalantly sitting there like they were as important as bottles of
Cold Duck were magnums of Wynns 1991 Centenary as well as bottles of the 1955 Michael Hermitage and 1960 Wynns Claret (which has the word
Hermitage in small print on the bottom of the label.) Pity they didn’t open these
for us too.
However what they did
open for us was pretty special in its own way.
Although we were there to taste the Wynns
range, at one stage I was silly enough to ask Greg a questioned about the
Lindemans trio; it is never a good move to offer a brand champion an
opportunity to extol the virtues of his product. "He just happened to
have” some unreleased bottles of his wines sitting on the back counter and as
quick as a greased lightning, he had them open and glasses of his wines plonked
(bad pun intended ‘cause they weren’t) in front of us.
Wynns 2003 Shiraz can be found on the street for between $14-17. I must
admit, I didn't expect terribly much from this wine but was pleasantly
surprised. Bright, vibrant floral fruit which is rich and spicy on the nose
comes across the palate as red cherry, pepper, plum, and chocolate. Fine,
powdery, drying tannins combine with deep, pure, strong fruit to form an
ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and complexity is
well developed for the price point. Whilst it is a rich, fruit driven and easy
drinking, it is well-balanced, attractive and has an excellent tannin structure
as its foundation. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating
may improve as the wine matures around 2007 and beyond.
Wynns 2002 Cabernet Shiraz Merlot can be found on the street for about
$15. The bouquet exhibits dusty oak, mint, ripe fruit and loads of char which
is replicated on the palate with the addition of blackcurrant, blackberry, and
chocolate. There seems to be a green edge to the wine and it is firm, on the
point of being hard. Rated as
with *** for value.
Not something you normally see everyday ……….
1955 Michael Hermitage and 1960 Wynns
Wynns 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon was being dumped by Southcorp during the
Foster's takeover for about $17 a bottle. A typical Cabernet nose with dark
fruit, it was reasonably dumb but also showed aniseed. Dusty, puckering tannins
currently submerge the deeply seated fruit flavours of blackberry, aniseed,
chocolate and mint but considering the persistence, in time the fruit should
emerge. Muscular-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and an
agreeable complexity, the wine needs time to show its best and is rated as Recommended with *** for value (based on its RRP) or ****
for value based on its current discounted price.
Wynns 2001 Harold Cabernet Sauvignon was still available (limited quantities)
at $33 a bottle. This is a single vineyard wine and a one-off. Whilst we were
driving around having our vineyard/viticultural tour, we passed the Harold
vineyard and it had just been completely renovated; however prior to
renovation, the team wanted to make a single vineyard wine from the old vines
before it all changed. The bouquet was attractive; ripe blackberry and coffee
showed with perfumed fruit. Muscular-weight, the palate is tight but still
shows rich and ripe red cherry, chocolate, blackberry, blackcurrant and
liquorice that finishes long with good intensity. Dusty, drying tannins combine
with pure fruit to produce a firm consistency, solid structure and
well-developed complexity; it's a bloody nice wine! Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should
hit straps around 2010. We went back the next day and bought a dozen to split
between the three of us.
Wynns 2003 John Riddoch is unlikely to be released for quite some time. The current vintage is
1999 and it looks like the 2003 will be the next release of this icon label.
Southcorp has wisely decided the wines from the intervening vintages were not
up to scratch, but this sample proved the vineyard regeneration programme
yields results. The bouquet screams quality; the fruit is perfumed and
varietally correct but it is tight as a drum and still in nappies. Beautifully
balanced and constructed, it is more elegant than previous vintages with dominant
red and blue berry fruit flavours; it will be more approachable in its youth.
Muscular-weight, the tannins are drying, fine and smooth and it should come
together beautifully as it becomes a very drinkable around 2007 and beyond. A
seriously good wine, I can't wait till this is released. Rated as Highly Recommended now, the rating should
go up as the wine matures.
Wynns 2003 Johnson’s Block has not been released yet. The wine is a single
vineyard blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon and should sell for approximately $33 at cellar
door. The lifted perfumed floral nuances were very sexy. Impeccably balanced
with sensational fruit, the silky tannins provide a sensuous mouth feel; it might
be a “show pony” but it’s damned attractive. Loads of blackberry, blackcurrant,
coffee and aniseed flavours already show wonderful harmony. Ample-weight with a
supple consistency, the structure is tight and elegant. I had a great deal of
difficulty spitting this wine, it certainly is slurpable. Rated as Highly Recommended with
Saturday Afternoon Mass being blessed by Brother
John, with Father Greg presiding over the service
Clearly, Wynns is
certainly back on track but to some extent, there has been a slight stylistic
change in direction. Judging by the look of the Johnson's Block and the 2003
John Riddoch, the wines are being designed to be more approachable in their
youth. Having a John Riddoch being very drinkable at four years of age will
take some getting used to, but no doubt it will please the majority of wine
drinkers who don't have the patience to cellar their wine. The results of the
vineyard reconstruction work is already evident and should become more so this
We were also fortunate enough to be able to try
the 2001 vintage of the Lindemans trio. In the past, the trio has always been
released at the same time but that philosophy has changed. Each wine will be
released when the previous vintage has sold out. The Trio has had a chequered
history. In the 1990s when the group was formed; Bin 707, John Riddoch and the
Lindemans trio were all about the same price, $32. It was decided that the trio
should be wound back in price and they were reduced to about $20, but could be
found for as low as $14 on special. Over the intervening years, the price of
Bin 707 has gone up to about $150. The price of the John Riddoch hit $90 and
based on the then current sale rate, it would have taken 12 years to clear the
1998 inventory, so the price was dropped to a more realistic $55, although many
retailers were selling at for as low as $45. The pricing history of the
Lindemans trio has been as chequered. After having fallen to $20 just over a
decade ago, the theoretical recommended price has been ratcheted back up to
close to $50. However, the market obviously doesn't think they are worth that
much, they are regularly on special, and the last time I purchased the Pyrus,
it cost $29.
Greg admitted the vineyards used for the
Lindemans trio, which were planted about 35 years ago, were subject to some of
the same problems as those suffered by Wynns; although they were not affected
as badly, they were now being renovated too.
Lindemans 2001 St George will be released later this year. The bouquet was
attractive but brooding; the quality of the fruit is there and no doubt it will
improve with time. The wine is stylistically consistent with the previous
vintages and whilst everything is in balance, drinking the wine at this stage
of its life is hard work. Varnished, leathery oak dominates the palate but
there is enough blackberry, chocolate and liquorice fruit flavours to absorb it.
Muscular-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and well-developed
complexity it needs time to settle down and come together. It is the worst
possible case of vininfanticide and is currently rated as Recommended with ** for value; in
reality, that rating is unfair as the wine has a mile of potential to improve.
When it is released, if you can find it on special, it will be worth buying to
cellar. Look at it again in 2010.
Lindemans 2001 Limestone Ridge will probably not be released until 2006. The wine appears soft
on the mid-palate; there is a heap of pure, deeply-seated ripe fruit delivering
blackberry, rich chocolate and plum; but this is deceptive as the dusty tannins
slowly build and finish chewy. Muscular-weight with a firm but supple
consistency, the structure is both solid and layered; and the complexity is
well developed and harmonious. According to John, "it would make a great
communion wine and if they served it in church, he would go regularly." It
is eminently drinkable, and rated as Highly
Recommended with *** for value, the rating may go up as the wine matures in
2008 and beyond.
Lindemans 2001 Pyrus will probably not be released until 2006. Now this is a seriously
big old-fashioned wine, and I say that with the greatest respect. Dark berries,
liquorice, chocolate, mint and blueberry flavours finish with excellent length
and persistence. A full-bodied wine well-backed by dusty, drying tannins; the
complexity is well developed and will improve with time. A real long-term
cellaring proposition, it needs time to soften and will be best approached in
2011 and beyond. Rated as Highly Recommended with
value, the rating should improve as the wine peaks at 12 to 15 years of age.
The Lindemans range is consistent within its
group, although the Limestone Ridge is the most approachable of the three. All
are reasonably stylistically old-fashioned and will appeal to those that enjoy
the rewards of well cellared wine.
Our appointments started at about 3.30 with the
vineyard tour and finished at about 6.30 after tasting our way through some
impressive wines. Indeed, everything about this visit was impressive and with
time, the investment Southcorp has been making in their vineyards will show
dividends as the fruits of their labours become evident in the wine. Tasting
wine with Greg Clayfield as your host is an enjoyable experience that everyone
should have at least once in their life.
Alexander Cameron Motel ……………………
That was the end of the
day’s formal wine tasting activity, but the fun was far from over as we had a
good dinner to look forward to, but first it was time for a quick shower at our
motels. The rooms in the Alexander Cameron Motel are certainly huge, big enough to throw a good party.
Being brand-new, everything works and the rooms are well appointed. The rate
was also reasonable at less than $100 for the night.
The camaraderie between Brian and John meant
that they were very easy travelling companions, and as a group we got on
famously. The one downside was John's bad influence on Brian; specifically in
the pie department. It's bad enough having to travel with the Pie King of South
Australia, but having to travel with his willing, and as it turns out highly
skilled apprentice, certainly does create its moments.
After two days, I am being bored witless by
John's latest favourite saying, "don't you worry about that!” I am
beginning to think that his mother may have had an affair with Sir Jo Bjelke
We had booked dinner at Pipers of Penola based on the
recommendation of our good mate Steve Norman. The building is an old converted
church and the interior has been tastefully decorated in a modern fashion with
stained wooden floors, high ceilings, mood lighting et cetera. When we visited
Majella earlier that afternoon, they were inconsiderate enough to have sold out
of their 2003 Sparkling Shiraz so we were unable to taste it. However, the
local pub around the corner from the restaurant, which had an excellent
selection of wine, including many older vintages at reasonable prices, had the
Majella in stock, so Brian purchased a bottle for us to try.
When Brian and I arrived at the restaurant,
John had arrived early and was halfway through “a cleansing ale”. When Brian
asked him how it was, John said "when beer is good it's normally very good
and when it's bad, it's still pretty good. And it's never corked either!”
The night didn't start off with a bang, more
like a whimper! When our “server” (I hate this politically correct BS, and from
here on in will call her a waitress) pulled out the tree bark plug, the wine
gave a gentle little sigh. The damn cork had not sprung back properly and
whilst the wine was not totally flat, it certainly is started off not having
the expected level of bubbles. As it turned out, the way the glasses were
washed may have had just as much to do with the subdued mousse. The fruit was
so good that we still happily drank the wine.
At most of these
dinners, the philosophy tends to get pretty deep and meaningful and at many of
them, we manage to solve a number of the world's great problems. At this one,
John came up with another brilliant philosophical statement.
"Relationships are like vines, you need to keep them in balance." I
might add that earlier in the day, whilst we were driving to Coonawarra John
came up with another wonderful bit of philosophy. He said, "I think
discussion is overrated, since my wife and I have stopped having discussions,
our marriage has improved immeasurably.”
The mind boggles! I wonder what Sue will think
when she reads this?
For a starter, both John and I had King George
Whiting with a capsicum and onions salsa which was very tasty. The tartare sauce
was creamy and way above normal quality. Brian ordered a Thai beef salad and
requested a side serve of hot chilli sauce. He thought it was a bit ordinary
without the addition of the extra hot chilli which tarted it up a bit; but it
didn't have a good balance of hot, sweet and sour flavours.
The second wine was a bottle of Orlando 1996 Limited Blend which I had brought.
John was really looking forward to trying this wine, as the last two that came
out of his cellar were corked. The wine was sensational, smooth as a newborn
baby’s bum and the complexity was impeccable. Flavours of liquorice,
blackberry, blackcurrant and chocolate finished with fantastic length. Brian
remarked on the chilli flavour!
According to John, the wine has a musky smell
that he found sexy. Brian thought it was bottle stink! And these two are
“helping me” with my tasting notes.
Now that Brian has retired, and considering
that his partner Andrea originally came from Adelaide, on a number of occasions, Brian has
stated that in the future they may move to Adelaide. Upon hearing this, John said "that's
great, now you'll be able to see more of me.” To which Brian said "There's
always a downside to everything.”
For a main course, both Brian and I order twice
cooked duck. I have certainly eaten much better duck and found this to be
pretty ordinary. According to Brian, “The duck could have been darker, richer,
and roasted a bit more.” The duck lacked the flavour it should have had although
the sauce was lovely; the sweet potato rosti went well with the dish. The
biggest problem with the duck was that the second cooking was not done properly
and there was way too much fat left under the skin.
John being his usual gourmet self, ordered a
steak. When I asked him what he thought about it he said "It's ****ing
awesome, I almost censored censored ….. etc.” I think he was trying to tell me
he liked it. He also loved the fried zucchini flowers that came with the steak.
We also polished off the left-over Majella 2003
Shiraz that the Prof had
kindly given us at the conclusion of the tasting. It was most enjoyable with
the increased air time.
The piece de resistance in this restaurant was the cheese and
made the whole experience and meal worthwhile. The list of cheese was not just
a list as it is in most restaurants; it was a real menu, complete with tasting
notes. As good as the menu looked, the delivery was even better. Any serious
cheese-o-phile could not go past this dish for $18. There was enough on the
plate to keep all three of us happy. The plate arrived with loads of seriously
well-made fruit bread; this in itself was almost a meal. There was also pear,
quince paste, fruit cake, walnuts and a superb apricots and almond paste.
When we made the booking, as they don’t
normally allow BYO on Friday and Saturday night, we negotiated and volunteered
to pay a reasonable corkage charge. When the bill arrived, we had been slugged $15 per bottle corkage including a
bottle that was corked and not consumed. We only had one change of glasses
(with 4 bottles) and did the majority of pouring ourselves. Considering that I
had played $8 per bottle earlier that week in one of Sydney's better restaurants,
I thought that by Australian standards, the $15 per bottle charge for a small
country restaurant was excessive.
The service was adequate but certainly nothing
special and based on our experience with the patchy food and exorbitant
corkage, given a choice, I certainly would not recommend this restaurant as my
first preference in this area.
And with that, I said goodnight to the other
two reprobates who had decided to wander off to a local hotel to consume a
couple of cleansing ales.
Sunday - Coonawarra
Up bright and early, I went for a very enjoyable
early morning walk through the township and along the back streets. Whilst
Coonawarra as a region might not be exactly a scenic mecca, the side streets in
the town of Penola do have some
attractive houses and once you get off the main street, it does have a homely
After my walk, I got back to the motel room and
as I had run out of bottled water, took my daily pills with some tap water.
Penola must be the only place in the world where the taste of water is actually
substantially improved with the liberal addition of psyllium husks.
Seen on my early morning walk – I would
like to work those hours!
I had no idea how the other two were going to
scrub up this morning but John seemed like he was reasonably bright-eyed and
bushy-tailed when he picked us up at 8.20 am. Our first appointment had been scheduled for nine o'clock at Zema Estate. The
early start would allow us time to have a quick breakfast; it turned out to be
quicker than anticipated.
There is only one thing worse than looking for
a winery that opens at nine o'clock and not being able to find one, and that's
looking for somewhere to eat at 8.30 am on a Sunday morning in Penola. As we drove
through town looking for a coffee shop or a bakery, everything was closed, and
I mean everything; not even the bakery was open, who ever heard of a bakery not
being open on Sunday! Needless to say, I was not impressed but his Pieship and
his apprentice were really snarky. They decided the only option was to have
breakfast at the local service station, and I don’t mean from the diner section
because there wasn’t one; I mean the snacks and sweets section.
And what’s more when
they walked out with their goodies, they stopped complaining; it was almost as
though they looked forward to the junk food breakfast. I had a nut bar and an
apple juice; this place was so basic they didn't even sell tomato juice. The
other two indulged in gourmet delights; Brian had a sausage roll and John
consumed a Snickers Bar, a Quix Bar, an iced coffee flavoured milk and a Red Bull
Today was Mothers Day and as the last five
years of tradition dictates, John and I were out of McLaren Vale on this day.
This is not because John doesn't want to see his mother, but there is a family
tradition the Meat Pie King would rather avoid. On Mother's Day, the Pie King’s
Queen usually goes to her parents place for most of the day, and being
out-of-town with me is the best excuse in the world for avoiding his
parent-outlaws. In fact, my whole May trip is now geared around being away from
McLaren Vale on this weekend. In previous years, we have found many of the
wineries in the Barossa are run by people who have mothers and close for the
day. It looks like the wineries in Coonawarra are all run by people who don't
, because they are all
Our first appointment was at Zema
At Wine Australia last year, Matt Zema invited me to do the grand tour of the winery next time I
was in the region, promising to look after me personally. He conveniently
arranged to be in Melbourne on the day of my visit, which means he got out of having to meet us at
9 a.m. on Sunday. His
not so lucky. We met out the front of the winery and had a good chin wag before
we went in to the winery and tasted some barrel samples.
… ……. Zema Museum Inventory
The oldest vineyard
owned by the winery was planted 37 years ago and the Zema family purchased the
property in 1982. As well as the vineyard at the front of the winery, they own
one near Penola and another one north of the winery in Coonawarra. The original
vineyard is dry grown and the other two receive minimal irrigation. The winery
aims to produce approximately 6 tonnes to the hectare. It is a true estate winery,
with everything grown, made and bottled on the premises.
They currently crush 300 tonnes but are looking
to increase it to 500 tonnes over time. They currently own 150 acres and the
vines are hand pruned. The winery's first venture into Stelvin will be with the
I asked Tom for his impressions of the
vintages from 2001 to 2005 inclusive and as his response mirrors that of many
other winemakers, I thought I would share them with you.
“2001 yielded cropping levels that were above
average and the wines had a ripe elegance about them.
2002 and 2003 were both years that yielded very
low crops. The wines from 2002 were quite concentrated whilst those from 2003
are looking very smart. Some of the vineyards in 2003 didn't even get picked
because the yield would have been so low that it would not justify the cost of
harvesting the grapes. There is some conjecture in the region about which one
of these two years is the better. I think its 2002 and some of the 2003 wines
show a herbal, mineral character.
2004 could best be compared to 1998, it was
very similar. It was one of those out of the ordinary, very good years.
2005 achieved excellent cropping levels and the
style of the wines will be big and robust.”
By this time, we had moved into the winery and
the subject of oak came up. The Cluny gets 25% new oak, the red label Shiraz and Cabernet get
between 30 and 35% new oak, the Merlot gets 70%, and the Family Selection gets
100%. They use approximately two thirds French and one third American oak; the
American going into the Shiraz and Cluny. In majority of instances, the fruit selection process for
the Family Selection range is fairly simple. The fruit for these wines generally
comes from the block at the front of the winery and they are the oldest vines
Zema owns. Occasionally a batch from one of the other vineyards is of the
required quality and will be earmarked for the Family Selection.
Zema 2003 Inventory ready for release …………..
Notice the unused barrels – normally an
We then started tasting
barrel samples, and Brian and John were convinced Tom was “getting his own
back” for having to meet us at nine o'clock, by making us taste 2005 samples
that had not gone through malo, (Brian said it was like drinking purple
battery-acid) and were reeking of new oak. I certainly enjoyed it, but I must
admit it was hard work and would have been easier on top of a real breakfast.
The winery produces about 60% Cabernet and 40% Shiraz.
The Zema Family Selection Shiraz and Cabernet
are both very smart wines so I asked Tom why they didn't make the Family
Selection blend. Essentially the answer was that they already had six wines and
didn't really need another one. After scratching his head for a moment, he then
said, "I don't know, Majella has certainly done well with their Malleea. I
believe it comes down to best fit.”
The numerous barrel samples we waded our way
through certainly gave us a true indication of the quality of the wine, but in
many ways that did not come as a surprise. I have been drinking their wines for
many years and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I purchased multiple cases of the
1992 Cabernet (I knew someone that knew someone that got them at mates’ rates.)
By 1998 I figured the wine had entered its drinking window and slowly drank
them over the next few years. Early in 2005 I found a lone bottle that had been
misfiled in my cellar and was amazed at how ageless it was; essentially it had
just plateaued and was holding perfectly without changing. At 13 years of age,
it was still in the prime of its life and going nowhere in a hurry.
Interestingly enough, the 1998 at it current
stage of development reminds me very much of the 92, it has entered its
drinking window but will stay there for ages. And don’t forget, these are wines
that currently sell for about $22; a real bargain!
Zema Estate 2003 Cluny sells for $20 at cellar door. The bouquet
showed interesting complexity with typical varietal features. An excellent
fruit-driven, easy-drinking wine, with off-sweet blackcurrant and dark
chocolate flavours that finishes dry. Ample-weight, and whilst the mid-palate
is soft there is more than enough tannins to hold this harmonious wine
together. A good food wine, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value and
ready to drink now.
Zema Estate 2003 Shiraz should sell for about $22 when it is released in
The bouquet shows ripe, quality, brooding black fruit with pepper/spice, and
vanillin oak characters. Smooth, drying dusty tannins combine with fresh acid
and pure, deep fruit to provide excellent structure and balance. The palate
follows the nose with red berries, blackberry and loads of spice; all finishing
with excellent length and persistence. Medium-weight with a firm but supple
consistency, the structure is tight, solid and shows some elegance. The
complexity is well developed, harmonious and in time the wine should become
seamless. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the wine
has miles of potential and I would expect the rating to improve as the wine
reaches maturity; it’s also seriously good value.
…………………. Zema “Bottling Plant”
Zema Estate 2002 Family Selection Shiraz should sell for $40 when it is released in
sexy nose with black fruits, coffee, char and a touch of spicy oak. Deep, pure,
persistent fruit delivers spice, blackcurrant, dark plum and chocolate that
surfs down the palate, breaking over the tonsils, and flooding the mouth with
fantastic power for its medium-weight. The structure is elegant, layered and
solid; the consistency is supple and the complexity intricate. Rated as Highly Recommended with
**** for value, the rating
should improve as the wine matures around 2010 and beyond.
Zema Estate 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon should sell for about $22 when it is released in
Deeply seated pure fruit showing blackcurrant, chocolate, mulberry and aniseed
flavours that are currently dominated by bucket loads of the drying tannins;
given time the fruit should surface. Medium-weight with a very firm
consistency, solid and tight structure the wine is hard to judge at this stage
of its development but it certainly has a very good structure. I liked the wine
and Brian said, "It needs years in a cool dark place." Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve
as the wine matures around 2009 and beyond.
Zema Estate 2002 Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon should sell for $40 when it is released in
bouquet showed a touch of VA, the oak is dusty and the brooding; the rich fruit
is very attractive. Deep, pure, persistent fruit is backed by sufficient
powdery, puckering tannins to suck the back of you head in. An impressively
structured wine, there is enough coffee, blackcurrant, red berries, and choc-mint
to kick through the tannins and finish long and dry. Ample-weight with a firm
but supple consistency; the structure is solid, elegant and tight and the
complexity is already showing signs of harmony. It has all the components and
just needs time. Rated as Highly Recommended with
value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2010 and beyond.
Zema is a winery where you can buy the wines
year in and year out with confidence knowing that they should cellar well. The
Family Selection is a wine that’s right up there and whilst it is not as good
at the $70-$80 top shelf Coonawarra Cabernets, it is not far behind. There are
many good wineries in Coonawarra but Zema is one of the unsung heroes that
continually manages to fly below the radar. They make consistently good wines
and are priced very reasonably. There is nothing “flashy” about the winery and
there is nothing “flashy” about the wines but they are solid, credible,
well-made and good value. The smart buyers have a good supply of them stashed
in their cellars.
From there, the lads let me know that because they
missed out on a real breakfast, play lunch was in order so we headed around the
corner to Red Fingers. This place makes a very good cup of coffee so I was
feeling much better when I walked out. All of our light snacks were well
prepared and tasty. Then it was off to Penley Estate. I did a complete
write up on this winery a few years ago and always look forward to going back
for another visit. Their whole range is generally impressive and there is no
doubt Kym Tolley is a talented winemaker. Over the last few years, they have
been slowly but steadily increasing their product range and when I made the
appointment for this visit, I was told there would be a couple of new wines to
try. Good stuff! One of the new wines is moving against the trend in
Coonawarra; whilst some companies like Southcorp are furiously pulling out
Pinot, Penley has decided to introduce one.
Penley Cellar Door ……….……………….
You can bet these two suspicious characters are up to no
Penley Estate 2004 Pinot is the first vintage
of this wine and sells for $15 at cellar door. Smooth tannins and fresh,
youthful acid provide a lean body weight, supple consistency and elegant
structure. Cherry, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate deliver an agreeable
level of pleasant flavours that linger respectably. An OK wine for the price,
and a good choice in the bistro, is rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Penley Estate 2003 Hyland Shiraz sells for $19.95 at cellar door. A ripe, fruit-driven,
plummy bouquet showing white pepper and earthy oak characters. A clean,
well-balanced and medium-weight wine; the smooth drying tannins provide a firm
consistency and solid structure. Off-sweet on the uptake with savoury, spicy
plums and milk chocolate; the mid-palate is soft and it finishes with oak
influences. Easy to drink now, and another good bistro wine; for a lighter
style it's okay. Rated as Recommended with *** for value it should improve for the
next couple of years.
Penley Estate 2003 Phoenix sells for $19.95 at cellar door. This Cabernet is
way too young to enjoy and the fruit is currently buried by youthful, crisp
acid and fine, smooth, drying tannins. The bouquet shows spice, smoky oak,
dusty notes, a touch of leaf, and sweet berry fruit. Red and blue berry fruit together
with milk chocolate finishes with reasonable length and persistence.
Ample-weight, with a firm consistency and solid structure this needs at least
three years to come together. Rated as
with **** for value.
Penley Estate 2003 Condor sells for $19.95 at cellar door. Upon tasting
this wine, Brian immediately said, "A worthwhile addition to the
line." This is a Shiraz Cabernet blend made from estate grown fruit and
may eventually replace the existing Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. It was matured
in both French and American oak, 50% of which was new. The bouquet was
completely shut down but luckily the same could not be said for the palate.
Pure, distinct fruit delivers an attractive flavour profile of plum, pepper,
black/blueberries, and mint that fills every nook and cranny of the mouth and
finishes with good length. Ample-weight with a supple consistency and solid
structure; there is nothing flash about this wine but it is more-ish and I
would be happy to drink it at any time, especially with food. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it is
sensational for the price; the wine
may gain complexity as it matures over the next few years.
Penley Estate 2001 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $29.70 at
cellar door when
it is released in August. A bigger wine than the Condor, it shows vanillin oak
characters, ripe multiple berry fruits, and milk chocolate; it's very
attractive with excellent complexity and has an impressive amalgam of nuances.
Layered, sweet and savoury flavours of black olives, spice, dark chocolate,
tomato leaf and black berries are munchable! Muscular-weight, with a supple
consistency and a soft mid-palate, the complexity is sophisticated and this
eminently drinkable wine, although approachable now, should improve with time
in the cellar. Rated as Highly
Recommended with **** for value, as the Yanks
would say, "this is a kick arse wine."
Penley Estate 2002 Reserve Cabernet
will sell for $49.99 at cellar door when it is released in July or August. A serious attention
grabbing bouquet; it is intensely dusty over a blanket of the impeccably clean,
fresh fruit. Classically constructed and supremely balanced, all the components
for a long life are there for this classical Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.
With a savoury top layer underpinned by sweet fruit, the sophisticated
complexity certainly grabbed my undivided attention. Muscular-weight with a
tight, solid structure showing some elegance the dusty, drying tannins
beautifully framed the pure, deep fruit. Rated as Excellent with ****
I wouldn't bother to open it until 2010 and beyond. John said “I want to bathe
Penley Estate 2002 Reserve Shiraz will sell for $49.99 at cellar door when it is released in
July or August. There was no 2001 wine under this label (or the Reserve shiraz) because the fruit was deemed
not to be up to standard. Well done Penley for not inflicting an inferior
premium wine on the unsuspecting public. Wow! The scents leapt out of the glass
like a Pogo stick; they were rich, ripe, intense and classy. An impressive
package; supremely balanced by very-fine, tightly-grained tannins and exuberant
fruit that delivered off-sweet plum, spice, dark coffee and blackberry that was
contrasted and by a creek of sweetness running below; it finishes with
assertive length and authoritative persistence. Muscular-weight with a firm but
supple consistency, this is a very smart wine that will only get better with
time and will probably peak around 2010-2015+. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, it has miles of potential.
Kym Tolley has the objective of eventually using
100% estate grown fruit for his wines. Penley Estate would have to be one of the
most consistent producers in Coonawarra. I honestly can't remember ever having a
bad, or poorly made wine from this estate and the quality of the wines are
consistently good to excellent. Their wines are also now bloody good value as
some of them have be adjusted (down) because of tough market conditions.
We went to the next winery with some
trepidation. Bowen Estate used to be a favourite
but some of the recent vintages had been very patchy so we had no idea what we
would find. The news was good, the wines have returned to form, even in the
difficult 2002 vintage.
Bowen Estate 2002 Shiraz sells for $22 at cellar door. Unusually, I
preferred the Shiraz to the Cabernet. The bouquet was attractive; rich, very ripe and showing
plums and blackberry. Pure, deep, strong fruit has been well balanced to the
abundant powdery tannins and deliver intense blackberry, spice, pepper,
chocolate, violets and liquorice flavours that linger well and finish with an
almost bitter chocolate/coffee taste. Ample-weight with a firm consistency,
solid structure and an agreeable complexity; this wine is better than many of
the previous vintages and is rated as Recommended
with **** for
value; its peak drinking window is 2007-2010.
Bowen Estate 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at cellar door. A
typical, varietal Cabernet nose that is leafy, dusty, with coffee, composted
earthy notes, and a menthol lift. There are enough smooth tannins to hold the
wine together and whilst the mouth feel is supple, there is a slightly hard
edge to the consistency. Well-balanced, the blackberry, liquorice, chocolate,
mint and coffee oak flavours finish with good persistence. Ample-weight, it is
very drinkable and already harmonious, but it should improve as it softens over
the next couple of years. Rated as Recommended
From there, it was a quick trip to Punters
where I wanted to check out two wines. I have tried most of their current releases
at Wine Australia last November, but there was one new release and one back
release that Brian and I wanted to try. By coincidence, the waitress who looked
after as the previous evening at Pipers of Penola was looking after this cellar
The wine that Brian wanted to try was the 1999 Shiraz which the winery had
been selling on special. We had both promoted the special on our web sites and
Brian had received an e-mail from someone claiming that they found the wine was
green and unattractive; the description was certainly very different to my
original tasting note made two years previously. We retasted the 1999 Shiraz and found nothing
green or unattractive about it and when I looked at my original tasting note,
it was well within the bounds of normality.
Punters Corner 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30 at
cellar door (case price.) You can still purchased in 1999 Cabernet for $24 or
the 2001 for $27.50. An interesting bouquet and one that was difficult to
discern the nuances; but soy sauce and cedar notes were obvious. A solid,
well-made wine, the tannins were deceptive at the start but kicked in and
certainly let you know they were there. This ample-weight wine is a dichotomy
in many ways but with time, once it has had a chance to soften, it should be
pretty good. Intensely savoury, with spice, black and blue berry fruits, mint,
and soy, the complexity is diverse. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the
rating may improve as the wine matures around 2010, and drinking it before that
would be a waste.
Another short car drive, this time to Parker Coonawarra Estate. The 2001 vintage of
this wine that was atypical, it was rich, ripe, exuberant, in your face and
destined for early drinking, and whilst it was a very enjoyable wine, it was
certainly not your typical Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. I was looking forward
to trying the 2002 as it was more likely to be back into the normal mould. The
last time I visited this winery, I introduced myself and gave the (elderly)
lady who manned cellar door my card, but it made no difference, there was no
way I was going to get to try their First Growth. This time I didn't bother,
politely avoided trying the Merlot and got straight down to work.
Parker 2002 Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $34.95 at
cellar door. The bouquet is quintessential Coonawarra Cabernet; dusty, leafy
with blackcurrant below. A good wine that will improve with the big sleep, it
is well-balanced, muscular-weight with a very firm consistency and reasonably
well developed complexity. Blackcurrant, black olive, chocolate and mint
flavours complete the package. An old-style Coonawarra Cabernet that is worth
throwing into the cellar, it is rated as Highly
Recommended with *** for value; drink in 2009 and beyond.
Whilst we were at Parker, the cellar door
manageress was raving about a new winery called Koonara that had a cellar door
located in the main street of Penola. It was owned by members of the Renschke
family (not the producers of the Empyrion,) that have been growing grapes for
some years and have decided to make their own wine. Being suckers for
recommendations, we decided to head back into Penola to try their wines. When
we got there, Brian rang Red Fingers to give them half an hour's notice so that
they could start preparing our lunch. He made the booking for Mr Pie O’clock.
And what is more of a
worry is they knew exactly who Brian was referring to!
The family has been
cattle farmers in Coonawarra for over a hundred years (like many of today's
crop of grape growers) and about 17 years ago decided to plant vines on their
property near the Mildara vineyard. From 1991 to 1998, they were making small
quantities of wine for their own consumption. In 1999, they decided to release
their wine to the public. They crop at about 2 tonnes to the acre, which is
fairly low, even by Coonawarra standards. Peter Douglas is now their winemaker. The cellar door takes up a small
part of a medium-size shop that sells assorted art work and gifts. With lunch
already booked, I only had time to try two of their wines.
Koonara 1999 Ambriel’s Gift sells for $27 at cellar door. There is nothing
subtle about this big, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon; with chewie, drying
tannins, much of them from them coming from the oak. Pure, strong, deep fruit
delivers blackberry, blackcurrant, and mint flavours which linger nicely. An
interesting wine and whilst the fruit is just able to keep pace with the tannins
now, I think it will fade before the tannins integrate. Rated as Recommended with *** for value. There are better wines around.
Koonara 2002 Ambriel’s Gift sells for $24 at cellar door. This Shiraz exhibits a bouquet of
charry oak over dark fruit. Heaps of dusty tannin over black berry fruit and
whilst there is enough fruit to absorb the charry oak, I'm not sure there is
enough fruit to handle the tannins. A full-bodied wine, with a firm
consistency, solid structure and plain complexity, it is rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Peter Douglas may be a very talented winemaker,
and it is probable he did not make these wines, but if he did, either he has
lost the plot, or more likely, does not have the required quality of raw
ingredients (i.e. good enough grapes) to work with. The visit to this winery
was not exactly enthralling and if they are to survive in an incredibly
competitive marketplace, their wines are going to have to be a lot better than
the two I tried.
Now the event that we
have all been waiting for, even me! I was looking forward to the Wagyu Beef Pie at Red Fingers. The
pies were served in a ramekin bowl with a crusty top. The sauce was wine-based
and reasonably rich and contained lots of mushroom but unfortunately not a huge
amount of Wagyu Beef. Nevertheless, it was most enjoyable. If we could eat pies
like this all the time, I would be happy to eat them almost every day. As it turned out, the Meat Pie King of South Australia is a bloody meat pie wimp! John was unable to
finish his Wagyu Beef Pie. Brian and I had absolutely no trouble in getting
through ours and Brian even managed to finish off John’s left overs. Too rich?
Not as far as I was concerned, I followed up the pie with a decadently rich and disgusting vanilla
consistency was so thick; I had trouble cutting into it. To quote Ian Thorpe,
"It's fully sick." And if I have another mouthful I would have been;
but if you are going to pig out, you might as well do it in style.
On the way home, John was certainly in a better
frame of mind than on the drive to Coonawarra. John’s eyesight is not great;
coke bottles have nothing on his glasses so he drove the first leg of the
journey and it was decided by a unanimous vote that I would do the second leg.
John’s night vision is non existent and I knew the back roads that were
required to get us home better than Brian. So once again, I “got lucky” and was
driving into the sun.
Now if you want an example that illustrates John's
sight capabilities here is the perfect one. On the way home, John spoke to Sue,
and she asked him to pick up some cream. He tried at a service station at Mount Barker but they didn't have
any, neither did the service station at Meadows; or the take-away shop there
either. When we found a mini market, John spent five minutes looking for the
dairy cabinet despite the fact that directly in front of his head was a 2
meters long and 1 meter high sign with a single word on it; “Milk” and an arrow
pointing to it.
At one stage the conversation drifted to
winemakers losing a substantial share of their winery after being divorced.
John in his inimitable style sprouted another one of his wisdoms, "If you
are going to make wine, you don't grope for trout in peculiar waters."
We arrived back at Pie King Bridge Vineyards a
little before 7 pm.
We had a great trip and many wonderful experiences. It’s a long way to go in
two days and decided that next time we will allow an extra half a day, staying
two nights in Coonawarra.
When John spoke to Sue on the way home, she
told him that she had made roast beef and John and I were speculating whether
she had made Yorkshire pudding too. I said "of course she would have, she
loves making Yorkshire pudding." John replied, “I certainly hope so, her
Yorkshire pudding is better than sex with a nubile wench.”
He really is a sick
man. The dinner was lip-smackingly good but halfway through, Sue looked up from
her plate and hesitantly said “I forgot to make the Yorkshire pudding” and John
and I just broke up laughing. As usual, as is Sue’s want, there was enough food
to feed a small regiment, or possibly enough to feed John for two meals. There
was a ji-normous bowl of corn on the cob, as well as a large plate of
scrumptious crunchy roast potatoes. After pigging out on potatoes, not to
mention the lunch earlier in the day, there was no way I could eat the
bread-and-butter pudding (with cream) that was for dessert.
The duck and chooks
were happy to see John. Hosanna, despite having been asked specifically to let
them out, forgot to do so on Sunday. I wouldn’t have
liked to be in her
shoes when Brian and I were not around.
It really does look like John failed Parenting
101! Or maybe Hosanna didn’t attend.
With dinner, naturally enough we consumed a
couple of glasses of vino. The first was a Majella 1999 Sparkling Shiraz that was glorious. The wine is just entering
its peak drinking window and it showed more complexity and interesting nuances
than the 2003 vintage wine we had tried the previous night. With typical Sparkling
Shiraz flavours, it is not overly sweet or confected which makes it even more
enjoyable. We followed that up with a bottle of Casas 1999 Cabernet (WA) that Brian brought. Both John and Brian liked
it but I found it to be a bit hot and alcoholic. To my palate, it also seemed
disjointed with a layer of tannins, a separate layer of fruit, and together
with its youthful acidity, I couldn't see it coming together. We also finished
off the Penley 2002 Reserve
Cabernet Sauvignon which the winery had kindly allowed us to take with us after the
tasting. It was absolutely stunning, and all better for having a few hours of
airtime and a good shake up in the car on the way home. The flavour profile of
the wine, which was off-sweet was most unusual, possibly rhubarb, but it was
certainly enjoyable. With time, it should become a classical Coonawarra
Cabernet Sauvignon of the highest order.
Prior to ending this chapter, it is worth while
summarising my findings in Coonawarra. In terms of 2002, some people have
reported many of the wines having loads of green capsicum characters, but
certainly most of the wines I tried were not in that spectrum. They may not
have been as rich and ripe as 2001, but in their own right many of them were
credible. However, 2002 in Coonawarra is a mixed bag, some of the Cabernets
show very firm tannins, and I would recommend that unless your palate is
aligned to someone and you can rely on their tasting notes, try before you buy.
As far as 2003 is concerned, whenever winemakers tell me that volumes the way
down but the quality is really there, I am normally very sceptical. However, in
this case based on the samples I tried, many of the 2003 wines were very good
and I would not hesitate to buy them, especially the Shiraz, and that it in itself
is unusual as Coonawarra is renowned for Cabernet.
And with that, it was time for bed, tomorrow
was going to be another big day of wine tasting and pie avoidance.
To be continued........
The May 2005 South Australian Tour Diaries
Chapter Two – Saturday and Sunday - Coonawarra
Whenever the name Coonawarra is mentioned it evokes a warm glow and many positive memories to wine lovers, especially those that appreciate good Cabernet Sauvignon. If you knew nothing about Australian wine and ordered, for example a $30 McLaren Vale Shiraz, there is a reasonably good chance the wine would be good. However, if you ordered a $30 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, there is an excellent chance the wine would be very good. It is this consistency, as well as value for money that makes this area so attractive to wine lovers. It certainly has nothing to do with the scenic geography (sic) of the area.