An isolated strip of red soil on the South Australian and Victorian border has for the past fifty years provided Australia with its finest Cabernet Sauvignon. Great Cabs do come of course from Western Australia’s Margaret River and also from Victoria but no region in Australia has consistently produced such fine Cabernet as Coonawarra. In that sense it is the ‘Medoc’ of Australia, if not necessarily in style, certainly in importance.
Wine Australia offered a retrospective of 14 wines and 7 different vintages back to 1982 at a masterclass at the Wine Fair which provided a great opportunity to assess not just the quality and style of Australia’s finest Cabernet, but also the potential of the wine to improve with age. The tasting was hosted by Andrew Caillard MW of the Australia fine wine auctioneers Langton’s, with Sue Hodder of Wynn’s fame, alongside Wayne Stehbens from Katnook Estate and Bernard Hickin chief winemaker at Jacob’s Creek. Vintage variation and wine making style exerted a considerable influence over the wines. The older bottles certainly demonstrated the ability of Coonawarra Cabernet to age, though not producing the degree of complexity that one would expect from Bordeaux at the same age, nor say the Napa Valley. That said the mature wines were wonderfully warm in flavour, with age taming the tannins and leaving wines with pleasing secondary flavours of leather, tobacco and spices.
The younger wines were however more impressive, and though the wines had big and quite present tannins, the best, such as Parker Coonawarra Estate, Majella Malleea, Balnave’s ‘Tally’ and Katnook Estate, showed the richness and intensity that Coonawarra can achieve. Parker Coonawarra Estate and Majella Malleea were especially impressive. Wynns, a long time favourite of mine, was a little spotty, and although the 1982 John Riddoch showed well, for me the 2004 Riddoch underperformed, as did the 2003 tasted separately that day on the Penfold’s stand. In both cases the wines seemed to lack fruit, felt a bit lean and the tannins seemed present and very dry.
Hollick Ravenswood 2006: Deep black red; slightly loose at the edge; legs; ripe warm nose; menthol, tar; some lift with blackcurrants; palate has reasonable body, more chocolate and menthol on the palate; lacks a bit in the middle; and while there is extract with some chew at the end, the overall finish is a little short and falls away. Half hour later seemed to open up a bit further; more blackcurrants present; some cedar. 88+/100
Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa First Growth 2005: Deep colour; bold black/arterial, tight to rim; legs in glass; wonderful cassis; really intense and precise; very focused; strong and piercing; polished; palate similarly intense with layers but precise blackcurrant flavours; quite tannic with lots of extract and material; long haul wine; tannins need to resolve but ripe; nice bite and some alcohol on the finish. Needs time. At first felt it lacked some polish at the back end but later the palate opened up and the finish quite silky, although considerable tannins. This is the Pichon Baron of Coonawarra, not a first growth but a terrific super second. 94+/100
Balnaves, The Tally, 2004: Again black red; maybe slightly less focused than Parker; warmer ripe nose; menthol and tar along with the blackcurrants; solid rich nose; quite big; on the ripe side of Cabernet; figgy; palate mid-weight and nicely balanced; quite intense with extract and material; quite chewy tannins but pleasing and comes together at the end. Very attractive 92-93+/100
Jacobs Creek St Hugo 2004: Mid red; more ripe warm characters here; some leaf too; more lifted and less intense than the last two; leaf and lift; palate a little lighter toned; more acid and tannins a bit drier and more present; seems to be drying a little on the palate; less caressing than the Balnaves or the Parker Coonawarra Estate. 86-88/100
Katnook Odyssey 2004: Mid red/black; legs with some red at edge; warm ripe nose, some spices; lacks precision on the nose; some spices; sweet entry here; ripe fruit and blackcurrants come through; chocolate and mocha on the palate; very supple and harmonious palate here; attractive and ready to drink. Harmonious. Fine grained tannin. Overall impressive in a supple, harmonious way even if aromatically it lacks precision. 91+/100
Majella Malleea 2004: Dark black red; tight to rim; still youthful looking; very polished nose; nice oak and blackcurrants; fine seam of blackcurrants; very attractive nose; some sweetness from the oak; earthy characters at the back; later little VA lift to the nose; quite polished palate; barrique influenced notes on the blackcurrant fruit; intense and fine; quite a pretender; warming but with good bite at the end. Some Shiraz in here? [Yes – 55% Cab, 45% Shiraz]. Exciting. 93+/100
Petaluma Coonawarra 2004: Mid red; less depth; warm nose; some spices, trace of banana; warmth here; less precision; mature notes; lacks delineation; bit one dimensional on the palate; short by comparison with the others. 86?/100
Wynns John Riddoch 2004: Black red; dark a core [little dull looking?], leafy note to the nose with earth, iron and rust, not unattractive; leaner style on palate; lacks richness and body in the mid palate; tannins a bit angular and feel a bit green. Bit angular on the finish, warm finish but tannins present and angular. Not sure here 88?/100
Wynns Coonawarra Estate 1991: Red, some brown; dark at core; golden Virginia nose; some cedar and dust; little demerara sugar note; warmth and real maturity here; some spices and chocolate at the edge; nose starting to tire; palate some chocolate, molasses and fig; quite big and ripe with tobacco on the palate; good palate here; more life to it than to the nose; chocolate and tannins soft and agglomerated; some leather and tea notes at the end. Palate much better than the nose suggested. 88-90/100
Katnook Odyssey 1991: Deep at core; brown at edge; very developed warm nose; tea, spices; quite exotic in its way; some slightly feral qualities and earth, not unattractive; palate quite mature, leather, some spice and blackcurrant traces; real extract and chew still here. Very attractive fully mature wine still with density and great length. Wayne Stehbens thinks it’s got further evolution ahead of it. I think he’s right. Wonderful mature Coonawarra. 93+/100
Orlando St Hugo 1990: Brown at edge; looks a bit old in the glass; sweet warm nose; a little faded; some spice and tobacco; quite light palate now; faded qualities; very delicate; some blackcurrant traces, tannins still feel a little green here striking an angular note that has now emerged as the fruit has retreated. Bit of chew at the end. Mellow but faded. 86/100
Penfolds Bin 920 1990: Dark, black at centre; still fruit here; earthy sweet and ripe; blackcurrants, figs – some complexity with tobacco. Good. Still youthful and strong. Lots of chew and extract on the palate; this will last further; still some angularity to the tannins and good extract left to support it but not sure how much more complexity we will get. This seems Penfold’s answer to Chateau Montelena Cabernet. 92+/100
Wynns John Riddoch 1982: Brown at edge; still dark at the core; obviously very mature; warm cedary nose quite well developed and still alive; tobacco, leather; lovely mature wine notes to the nose; mushrooms and undergrowth there too; complex; palate very alive; tobacco, lots of extract still – minerals, iron, rust. Tails off a fraction but a wonderful mature red made under the stewardship of John Wade. 92+/100
Orlando St Hugo 1996 [tasted as a post script]: Black red; spicy cedar nose with some nice development; attractive blackcurrants and cedar; this is nicely mature and still with good fruit and life; quite concentrated palate and more blackcurrants and spices on the palates; some chewy tannins at the end. The best of the three St Hugo’s at the tasting. 90+/100
Tags: 1990, 1991, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006, Andrew Caillard MW, Australia, Balnaves, Bernard Hickin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Hollick Ravenswood, Jacobs Creek St Hugo, Katnook Odyssey, London Wine Fair, Majella Malleea, Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa First Growth, Penfolds Bin 920, Petaluma Coonawarra, South Australia, Sue Hodder, The Tally, Wayne Stehbens, Wine Australia, Wynn’s John Riddoch, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Wynns John Riddoch 1982