The Limestone Coast wine zone takes in all of South Australia south of Lake Alexandrina, bounded to the east by the Victorian border and to the west and south by the sea.
This unique limestone plain is home to The Coorong, Naracoorte World Heritage caves, the extinct volcano, Mount Gambier, the Robe crayfish industry, vast pinus radiata plantations, flocks of tasty fat lambs, sundry crops and about fifteen thousand hectares of vines. In the bumper 2004 harvest these produced about 172 thousand tonnes of grapes – equivalent to around 13 million dozen bottles.
So the Limestone Coast is a big wine producer. But it’s also a high-quality producer embracing one of Australia’s greatest gems, Coonawarra, as well as Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Lucindale, Mount Gambier, Robe, Mount Benson and Bordertown.
Together these make a feast of wine across a wide range of styles and prices. As the results of the recent Limestone Coast Wine Show indicate, the region produces not only high average quality but spectacular highlights as well.
In a field of 433 entries from 64 producers, two three-member judging teams awarded 33 gold, 64 silver and 163 bronze medals – a strike rate of 60 per cent.
And the spread of latitude, local climates, soil types and winemaker approaches saw a diversity of wine style sharing the medal haul with gold medals awarded to two rieslings, two chardonnays, one sauvignon blanc, ten shirazes and eighteen cabernet and cabernet blends.
Where cabernet fares poorly in most Australian regions, Coonawarra – a world specialist in the variety – underpinned, but didn’t monopolise, an exciting display by the variety at the show.
While Murdoch Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – an intense, firm, slow evolving example of the style, won the Cabernet trophy, there was a feast of other styles, ranging from the fragrant and juicy Penley Estate Coonawarra Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (top drops) to the sublime, mellow perfection of Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1982.
And amongst the blends, the emerging Wrattonbully region earned golds for the 2002 and 2003 vintages of Stonehaven Rat & Bull Cabernet Shiraz while Padthaway struck gold with Browns ‘The Brigstock’ Cabernet Shiraz 2002.
The cabernet gold-medal shopping list included, as well, Majella Coonawarra 2003, Mildara Rothwell Coonawarra 2003, Leconfield Coonawarra 2003, Reschke ‘Empyrean’ Coonawarra 2002, Peppertree Coonawarra Grand Reserve 2002, Stonehaven Hidden Sea 2001, Jacob’s Creek St Hugo Coonawarra 1996, Orlando Jacaranda Ridge 1998, Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2001, Penley Estate Coonawarra Conder Cabernet Shiraz 2004, Mildara Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2003 and Majella Mallea Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2002,
Shiraz showed class across the region with styles ranging from the supple, low-oak, new style Wynns Coonawarra 2004 to the inky-deep, powerful Orlando Lawson’s Vineyard Padthaway 2003, 2002 and 1994 (the 2002 won the best-shiraz Trophy).
While Coonawarra won three of the ten shiraz gold medals (Wynns 2004, Ladbroke Grove Reserve 2002 and Majella 2003) and Padthaway earned six (Morambro Creek 2003, Orlando Lawsons 2002, 2003 & 1994, Stonehaven Limited Release 1999 and 2001).
The tenth shiraz gold medal went to Wrattonbully grape grower Greg Koch for his Redden Bridge ‘Gully’ Shiraz 2003, winner, too, of the trophy for best single-vineyard wine. This excellent new drop is due for release next year. So watch this space.
And to finish on a refreshing white note, Balnaves topped the show with its intense and silky Coonawarra Chardonnay 2003, made by Pete Bissell.
Penley Estate Coonawarra Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 $19.99
At last week’s Limestone Coast Show, Singapore based writer, Ch’ng Poh Tiong awarded Phoenix the International Judge’s Trophy as his favoured wine of the show. Together with James Halliday, we’d ranked it at the top of the small 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon class, noting its vibrant, sweet, fruity aroma and juicy, fleshy, drink-now palate. Waxing metaphorical at the trophy presentation, Poh Tiong praised its ‘smouldering-ember smoky’character – fitting for a wine named Phoenix, I suppose. With or without metaphors, it’s simply delicious and made specifically for early drinking. It’s to be released in early December and will be available at cellar door (08 8736 3211) and fine wine retail outlets.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Johnson’s Block Shiraz Cabernet 2003 $35
Johnson’s block is a distinguished Coonawarra vineyard with vines dating from 1925. Recent rejuvenation work – principally restructuring dense, woody, vine canopies – seems to have paid off in Johnson’s blend with its beautifully even, ripe berry fruit flavours and supple tannins. It also displays Sue Hodder’s well thought out change in winemaking philosophy inspired by the elegance and longevity of Wynns reds of the 1950s. The limpid colour, bright berry flavours, supple tannins and supportive oak provide a substantial, potentially long live modern interpretation of a traditional style well removed from the darker, more alcoholic, more tannic, more oaky reds that’ve prevailed in recent decades. Johnson’s hits the mark as it focuses on Coonawarra’s unique, bright berry flavours without compromising depth or complexity of flavour.
Ladbroke Grove Coonawarra Riesling 2005 $17.99
This is a little producer to watch. Ladbroke’s Killian Cabernet 2001 won three trophies in the 2003 Limestone Coast Show. This year it was the riesling’s turn. After topping a strong 2005 vintage riesling class it went on to win the Karl Seppelt Trophy. Fruit comes from a northern Coonawarra vineyard, contracted to Ladbroke Grove and made in the Di Giorgio Winery by former Wynns winemaker, Peter Douglas. The wine springs out of the glass with its floral and lemon varietal aroma then lights up the palate with vibrant, very fine lemony flavours. Refreshing, delicate, minerally acids give the wine structure and length – and probably longevity, too.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007