Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Cabernet Heaven at the Coonawarra Wine Tasting Roadshow

Coonawarra is synonymous with quality Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia, thanks to its famous Terra Rossa soil. This rich, red soil,along with limestone minerality, purity of the water table and a cool ripening season combine to create a prized terroir that is renowned for luscious, complex and age-worthy Cabernets.

Each year, the vignerons of the iconic Coonawarra wine region undertake an epic tour around Australian capital cities to showcase their wares. Little old Perth all the way over in the West is often neglected when it comes to such undertakings, but this time, we were in luck (sorry Darwin and Canberra!).

From previous attendees, I had been warned that the Roadshow could get a little out of hand in terms of number of people and  level of sobriety. So I arrived early and with a game plan. I would attend the stalls of my 'must visit' wineries first and only sample Cabernet Sauvignon to keep my palate on track (ended up failing on the latter point).

Wine Bottle USB - novelty item!
With the warning of overcrowding in mind, I was surprised and impressed with how the evening unfolded. The crowds were a mere trickle at the start time of 5pm and slowly built to a manageable peak around 6.30pm.

Perks of the evening were the wine bottle USB sticks that each attendee received, as well as palate-calibrating bread sticks available at each stall. Water jugs were topped up regularly and spittoons were emptied before becoming over-full. All these logistical tasks were conducted smoothly and efficiently without disturbing tastings and talking. Kudos to the organisers!

There were a number of producers for whom the reputation of their wine preceded them, and others who I was delighted to discover on the evening. Something that really impressed me was the recurring story around the room about the response to the 2011 Vintage. Almost every producer I was lucky enough to meet proudly declared that they had made the difficult decision to either downgrade or not produce in 2011 to uphold the quality and consistency of their wines and retain the confidence of their loyal consumers.

Here is my rundown on the best on show (in my opinion):

Zema Estate
A smart and concise lineup with a philosophy of aged releases - wines are not released until they are ready to drink. Based upon this fact, their prices were surprisingly approachable. Zema's standout wine was the 2008 Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon with bold black fruits, powerful tannins and a plush mouthfeel.

Katnook Estate
The Estate wines showed skillful use of oak in the reds and the Collectors Series really raised the bar. I could not choose between the elegant and complex The Caledonian 2012 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Tannat) and the earthy, smoky black olive and mocha undertones peppering the dark fruit of the Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
Brand's Laira
With plantings dating back 110 years, Brand's Laira wines are crafted to last the distance.  It was an inspired decision to have the 2006 'Blockers' Cabernet Sauvignon available for tasting (current release is 2012). The rich prune and black fruits, with lovely spice and fine tannins suggested that this wine has plenty of legs left and goes to show that there is quality and backbone in Coonawarra Cabernet at all price points.

I am still raving about the 2010 Merlot. It is worth every extra penny you will have to fork out, with its uplifting mint chocolate and licorice aromatics and luscious red and black fruit. The best Merlot I have tasted in Australia (big call, I know - perhaps I need to drink more Merlot?). Their other wines are similarly outstanding.

The 2012 Coonawarra Merlot was incontrast to Petaluma's, having bright red cherry and strawberry aromas, and a lean and tart, but  elegant structure. Their wines had a slightly gamey theme running through them.

Balnaves of Coonawarra
Of course, who could go past Balnaves' Reserve Cabernet? The Tally has been listed as Outstanding with Langton's Classification in 2010 and 2014, and rightly so. I had the opportunity to taste both the 2008 and 2010 Tally, both which delivered with rich fruit, sweet oak and fine, grainy tannins, at various stages of secondary development. Yum.

The influence of French winemaker Sandrine Gimon is evident in the accomplished lineup at Rymill. From the food-friendly 2012 mc2 (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40%Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc) through to the peppery punch of the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, there is a power and elegance to these wines that had me swallowing instead of spitting. Managing Director John Rymill was definitely the most jovial and engaging host of the evening.

To cap off an excellent event, I thoroughly enjoyed having a go at the blind tasting being conducted by Sarah Andrew, who is the Director of Selador Wines. She is currently undertaking research with the support of WSET (for whom she is a Certified Educator and Diploma recipient) looking into which characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon are preferred by consumers and why. She hopes her research will assist vignerons, such as those in Coonawarra, to focus upon these characteristics in their viticultural and winemaking practices to enhance the drinkability and, ultimately, saleability of their wines.

Blind Tasting - All 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
So whether you have already fallen in love with the power and complexity of a good Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, or if the wines I have described tickle your fancy, I recommend keeping an eye out for next year's Coonawarra Roadshow.

Even better, plan a trip to the region - it's definitely on my bucket list!