Cowra boutique wines — part 2 of 2

As reported last week Cowra’s wine output recently halved as demand for its grapes evaporated. In response, a dozen independent growers formed Cowra Winemakers to promote the area’s soft, fruity, easy-drinking, inexpensive wines.

Like South Australia’s Langhorne Creek and Wrattonbully regions, Cowra’s broad-acre developments fed largely into multi-regional blends. As a result Cowra became perhaps better known to the wine industry (as a blending source for ‘brand Australia’ than) than it did for its regional styles.

By joining together, the twelve vignerons in Cowra Winemaker group hope to spread the regional message. It’ll be a tough task in a crowded market. But they have the advantage of making realistically priced, soft, easy-to-drink wines that don’t need cellaring.

And, unlike the early days when soft, juicy chardonnay looked to be the only string in Cowra’s bow, its red wines, notably shiraz, and the white verdelho offer decent drinking, too.

These are my impressions of the 12 wines offered on the group’s recent road trip to Canberra. The wines are ‘recommended retail’, so could be expected to vary considerably.

Rosnay Sparkling Rosé 2009 $23
A tank-fermented blend of shiraz and mourvedre from the Statham family’s organic vineyard. Light, bright pink colour with matching vibrant strawberry-like aroma and flavour, finishing crisp and dry. This is very good and refreshing enough – but I still don’t understand why anyone would choose to drink rosé.

Toms Waterhole Semillon 2008 $18
A very pale-coloured bone-dry white weighing in at just 10.5% alcohol and therefore very light bodied. This could be a good thing but, to me, it lacks fruit flavour and there’s something peculiar in the aroma and flavour. Belongs to the former owner of the legendary Canowindra pie shop and apparently offers delicious bread and pizza at the cellar door.

The Mill Verdelho $17.99
This comes from the David and Elizabeth O’Dea’s extensive Windowrie estate and is a terrific example of what Cowra does best. It’s vibrant, aromatic in a lovely musky way, and the palate’s juicy, soft and refreshing.

River Park Rosé 2009 $19.00
Apparently made from cabernet, although to me it tastes like simple and lolly like.

Kalari Cowra Chardonnay 2008 $17
This gold medal winner from the Cowra show delivers a great juicy mouthful of ripe, peachy chardonnay flavour with add-ons derived from oak fermentation and maturation. A very pleasant drop indeed and best enjoyed while young. Cowra does this style very well.

Cowra Estate Merlot 2007 $18
Cowra Estate’s medium bodied merlot has the bright, appealing fragrance of cabernet franc, not merlot. That’s not surprising as much of the merlot planted in Australia twenty years ago turned out to be cabernet franc, another of the Bordeaux varieties. This, then, is probably a blend of the two, and it’s very appealing as an easy drinking luncheon red.

Pig in the House Shiraz 2008 $25
Jason O’Dea, son of David and Elizabeth, produces this from his own small organic vineyard. It’s a delightful, pure expression of shiraz, very much in Cowra’s juicy, soft, drink-me-now mould.

Mulyan Bloc 9 Shiraz Viognier 2007 $25
This more weighty, chunky red comes from the Fagan family’s Mulyan vineyard and is made by Frenchman Chris Derez at Orange. It’s full and round with loads of soft tannins and alcoholic warmth. Mulyan makes some of the area’s best chardonnays, but they were not featured at this tasting.

Swinging Bridge Shiraz 2008 $19.95
I rated this as the most complex of the shirazes in the tasting, albeit still in the soft, drink-now Cowra style. It’s not quite as fleshy as the others, it has an appealing savouriness and there’s a real-red grip to the finish. Made by Chris Derez.

Gardners Ground Canowindra Shiraz 2008 $19.95
This was another complex red and unexpectedly peppery and spicy for a shiraz from such a warm area. Has lovely fragrance and fine, taut structure.

Spring Ridge Cowra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $19
Spring Ridge belongs to Peter and Anne Jeffery. Peter says the fruit came from a small section at the top of his vineyard, at around 350 metres above sea level. The wine offers pure, sweet, ripe cabernet varietal character without any of the lean, green flavours we see in a lot of inland cab sauvs. It has cabernet structure too – not too fleshy; but not mean; and finishing dry with a distinct tannin bite.

Wallington Petit Verdot 2004 $20
Petit verdot is a useful blending variety in Bordeaux, but a number of Australian makers now offer it solo. I tried very hard to like this wine but, alas, found little to enjoy.

It’s not always easy to find Cowra wines in Canberra. But the individual growers can give details of stockists. Just Google the vineyard names or see www.winesofcowra for general info about the region and details of cellar door locations.

But as Cowra’s just two hours drive from Cowra, it’s worth an overnight trip. While you’re there, the must-visit Neila Restaurant (www.neila.com.au) offers excellent food, and they don’t charge corkage on BYO wine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

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