Friday March 27/28, 2015 Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia
Coonawarra is the lynchpin appellation in the region known as the Limestone Coast. Bordered by a modest mountain range that separates it from Victoria to the East, and by the Antarctic Ocean to the West and South, the Limestone Coast is a much cooler wine region than we originally thought. For the most part it is rather flat, but it does benefit from a steady and predictable cooling breeze in the afternoon. The region is famous for its Terra Rossa (red soil) that covers the vineyards in a narrow stretch down the center of the appellation. While unique to see, it is actually the Limestone underneath the thin layer of iron rich clay (most places only 6-18 inches) that provides a natural minerality and acidity to the grapes. The region historically specialized in fortified wine, then Shiraz, but in the 1990s there was a big shift to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. Many iconic and highly rated wineries straddle John Riddoch Highway; we made it a point to try the iconic, but also the historic.
Parker Estate– Established in the 1980s, Parker has always specialized in the modern new world style of wine. Lush, rich, powerful wines were incredibly popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, but in recent years the trend has shifted back to lower alcohol, less oak, and more varietal definition. Parker has kept up with the times and is producing quite nicely balanced wines.
Key Wines: “Coonawarra First Growth” Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
Balnaves– Started by a former sheep farmer, the quaint Balnaves Estate is an organic farm as well as a vineyard. The wines are typical of the region, with big bold reds and medium bodied whites. The one that stood out was the Sparkling Cabernet made into a dry red bubbly. Reminiscent of dry Lambrusco, it is a very unique and versatile wine. The flagship is called the “Tally”, a dense and powerful Shiraz made from selected grapes in select years- a perennial high scorer for critics.
Key Wines: “The Tally” Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon
Penley Estate– This was one of our favorite stops on the entire research trip. We had the pleasure of being guests of Kym Tolley, one of the better people I have encountered in the wine world. Kym comes from Australian wine royalty. He has 5 generations of winemaking on both sides of the family. His mom was a Penfolds and his dad a Tolley, two of the most lauded clans in the country. The winery name is a mash up of the two. Kym started this winery 27 years ago and has been a steadfast proponent of clean, pure, and site specific winemaking. Having worked at Penfolds for 17 years prior to starting Penley, his winemaking expertise is vast.
The winery itself is quite substantial, producing over 60,000 cases per year. A good part is sold off to other wineries, but impressively at the height of harvest we only saw 2 employees aside from Kym! Designed in such a way to maximize gravity flow, meticulously organized, and impeccably clean it produces 13 different bottlings for Penley.
The upper tier includes the Reserve Cabernet, the Bordeaux Blend “Chertsey”, the single vineyard Cabernets Tolmer, and the Reserve Shiraz. The everyday tier is just as impressive. With wines that retail around $20, these are a great series to discover. The Condor Shiraz/Cabernet blend is a personal favorite. The wines will surprise you with their richness, elegance, and subtlety. The higher tier wines are definitely polished, yet not over-oaked or over-extracted. The wines are a great representation of Coonawarra and modern Australian wine. These are not Yellow Tail nor are they $100 High-Scoring monsters, they are awesome everyday drinking wines made honestly and masterfully. It is always a pleasure to meet people like Kym Tolley and learn from his experience.
Reeds Wine List:
2010. Penley “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon. Coonawarra. $68, $45 to go
2010. Penley Estate “Hyland” Shiraz. Coonawarra. $40, $22 to go
2012. Penley Estate “Phoenix” Merlot. Coonawarra. $40, $22 to go
Key Wines: “Chertsey” Bordeaux Blend, Reserve Shiraz, Single Tolmer Cabernet