Coonawarra Siding Summer Ockert Le Roux

Red Earth Rising

It is a rare miracle when two superb vintages go back to back, and, for Coonawarra, 2021 and 2022 may mark the moment in time when this iconic region finally comes of age on the international stage.

It’s been a long time coming.

Australia’s natural home of classic Cabernet Sauvignon, with a history that stretches back over a century, has recently struggled for recognition while the flashy upstart from across the Nullarbor, Margaret River, with its postcard beaches and easy lifestyle, has captured the modern zeitgeist for approachable, energetic wines.

Isolation remains the enemy for this remote piece of country, which is halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne. Arguably a more convenient location would have seen Coonawarra Cabernet rather than Barossa Valley Shiraz emerge as Australia’s definitive wine style decades ago, completely changing the national landscape.

At Coonawarra’s core is a sliver of red earth similar to the thick bands that radiate from central Australia. Up to the Pilbara, across to the Queensland coalfields and South through the Flinders ranges, these rusty stretches of soil deliver much that defines this country; mountains of iron ore and vast tracts of grazing land which contrast with the neat rows of grapevines in Coonawarra and their compelling Cabernet Sauvignon.

The deep ochre Terra Rossa soils of Coonawarra, made up of decomposed limestone, combined with a cool maritime climate can craft beautifully articulated expressions of Cabernet that boast pure blackcurrant aromas topped with a dusting of chopped mint and thrive for decades in the cellar; truly fine wines with a unique story and style defined by their combination of understated power and subtlety.

But fashion has been cruel to Coonawarra over the years, and in recent decades the wines have been trumped by bold, heavy set monoliths from warmer climates that are often best served with a knife and fork.

Thankfully, consumer tastes are slowly but almost inevitably shifting back into Coonawarra’s orbit with a move towards finer, detailed and perhaps more European-inspired styles.

Throw in the region’s location in the far south-east corner of South Australia close to the cooling elements of the Southern Ocean, which offer protection against the effects of global warming, combined with vast artesian water supplies and Coonawarra has one hell of a home ground advantage to flourish over the coming decades.

This has been superbly illustrated in the extraordinary vintages of 2021 and 2022 where the stars and climate have aligned to deliver the best pigeon pair in decades, if not ever. The mild seasons which offered long, even ripening have created ideal conditions for classic, world-beating wines – ballerinas held firm by an inner core of steel.

For Peter Gago, Penfolds Chief winemaker, the 2021 and 2022 vintages are very special. “The 2021/2022 Coonawarra harvests remind us of the terrific 1990/1991 duet. So much so that it’s ‘strongly rumoured’ that Penfolds may later this year release a 180th Anniversary commemorative blend showcasing Coonawarra 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz.”

2021 in particular is already shaping up as a unicorn Coonawarra year, potentially a vintage of the century, and one that could finally see this far flung corner of Australia given the global recognition that it has long deserved.

Little Giant Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2021
Compact aromas of blackcurrant and coffee grounds with a fruity mulberry lift are followed by a gentle weighted expression well supported by supple, fine tannins. An early drinking, leafy style done well. 90 Points, drink to 2027, 14.5%, screwcap, $32.

Redman Cabernet Sauvignon 2021
This classically styled Cabernet is tightly wound displaying a dense core of gravel and cassis fruit with impressive generosity. Excellent overall composure with chunky tannins and weighty flavours are then delivered over an extended finish. One for the cellar. 93 Points, drink to 2028-2042, 13.5%, screwcap, $35.

Penfolds Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon 2021
Seamless aromas of cassis, graphite and dried herbs are beautifully framed by seductive oak. The palate is then powerful and perfectly formed with a backdrop of sinewy tannins which drive a wonderfully long finish. A very serious Cabernet with outstanding poise and presence. 95 Points, drink 2027-2038, 14.5%, screwcap, $300.

Image courtesy of Coonawarra Vignerons

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