I’ve written about a few wines from Australia, and I think most have been from the Adelaide Hills. While the Adelaide Hills is an awesome region, producing some of the best cool climate wines in Australia, I’ve been remiss in my Australian coverage. I have written up a Hunter Valley Semillon, which certainly ticks a box, but as for the Barossa Valley I’ve only represented it with a Garganega, which is far from typical and not representative of the region at all. With only 20 or so posts so far, there’s only so much I can cover, but I plan on doing a bit more breadth before I get into depth.
Today is a step along that path, with a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra. In Australia, the two terms are synonymous, despite the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all over Australia (with some particularly good examples coming out of Western Australia) and there are a number of other varieties doing quite well in Coonawarra. But really, in Australia if someone says Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s a good chance they’re talking about Coonawarra.
So Coonawarra is in South Australia, a few hours south of Adelaide. It’s geographically a small region, and the town around which it is centered is really just one road with something of a concentration of shops in what constitutes the middle. All the cellar doors are to the east or west off this main road, the A66, which runs north/south. It’s south of most (all?) of the other wine regions in South Australia, which in the southern hemisphere generally means cooler. The defining characteristic of the region is the red soil, or terra rossa as they call it. It’s apparently a combination of clay and sand over limestone, which provides a combination of drainage and water retention that is claimed to be ideal for vines, and it certainly easy to spot. It’s a particularly self-contained piece of geography, very clearly delimited in a ridge that’s a little over a mile wide and perhaps 17 miles long.
Classic Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and dark, and can sometimes be picked from other regions by the presence of a minty flavour or aroma. Eucalyptus is another note that people tend to associate with Coonawarra, though I don’t know if it’s clear if that is something that shows up in notes of wines tasted blind or only if there is a koala on the label.
Tonight we opened up a bottle of Leconfield Coonawara Cabernet 1999. It was a gift from friends a while back, possibly a year, and it was just what you would want from a 12 year old Coonawarra Cabernet. The colour was deep garnet, with only the slimmest of rim showing the browning of a wine of this age. On the nose there were some dried red fruit, but herbaceous notes, and almost a bit of cabbage. No mint as far as I can smell. The palate is full and intense – black currants mostly with some cranberry, tobacco, and dark chocolate.
Small peeve though – this wine is labelled Cabernet. I hate it when people use Cabernet for Cabernet Sauvignon, as though it’s unimaginable that someone would produce a varietal Cabernet Franc. Also annoyance is when people call Sauvignon Blanc just Sauvignon.
This is a rare wine, in that it’s a 12 year old Australian. While some Australian wines can certainly age, it’s not quite so valued a characteristic in Australia as it is in some other wine regions, and so to find a bottle that’s this old and well cellared is quite a treat. It has lived up to the fine and patient treatment it has received.
Clear and bright, dark garnet, slight browning at the rim. Slow thing legs.
Clean and medium-plus intensity on the nose, with developing characters. Very herbaceous notes, with some bell pepper, black currant, potpourri, and some liquorice.
Dry, medium acidity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus intensity, medium alcohol, medium body, with notes of black currant, cranberry, bell pepper, sweet spice, iodine, and tobacco. Medium length, with a cranberry finish.
This is a very good wine – it’s held up very well and has some lovely developed notes in addition to still strong fruit. It’s not outstanding, in that none of the particulars are off the scale, but the complete package is balanced, has a complexity of fruit and developed flavours, there’s an intensity without being overwhelming, and the medium alcohol and body make it relatively easy to drink. I would recommend drinking it now, as I think it’s showing very nicely but the tannins are at their finest/softest before they cease to contribute to the wine.