Can you make Coonawarra sexy?
(Gary Walsh kicked off a great conversation this week with his review of the Zema Estate Cabernet when he noted that Coonawarra has gone from one of his most covered regions to amongst his least. So what has changed? Lots of people chimed in with relevant responses, and it triggered a memory of this (now four-year-old) print piece. Rereading it I think it’s relevant to post again now, albeit with a slightly different context. Let me know what you think).
How do you make a wine region sexy? Or does a wine region need to be ‘sexy’ in the first place?
That’s a question I’ve been pondering since a recent trip to Coonawarra – the South Australian wine location which, curiously, seems as fashionable as a politician in a pair of Speedos.
Of course, what’s in fashion doesn’t always dictate what sells, and much of Coonawarra’s wines seem to move by themselves. Indeed, Coonawarra’s appeal to full-flavoured red wine loving men is unparalleled. The Chinese market loves Coonawarra Cab too; with Steve Raidis (of Raidis Estate) telling how one Chinese buyer offered to buy the entire productions of Raidis Cabernet in one go.
The issue instead is that, beyond the rusted-on fans and the red-wine-loving Chinese, the perception of Coonawarra is of a land that time forgot. Of a region that is preoccupied with Cabernet Sauvignon in it’s most most tannic form, ignoring the juicy, medium bodied red wine trend in the process.
There is, however, change in the air. Unsurprisingly, it is coming from the newer generation of local winemakers with a desire to stir in a little contemporary fun.
The Raidis wines are a good start , with Steve’s pink-hued Raidis ‘Cheeky Goat’ Pinot Gris ($18) amongst the more easily enjoyable Coonawarra whites. I also liked the Rymill ‘GT’ Gewurtztraminer ($19.95), which introduces the fragrance and spice of Gewurtz to the Coonawarra mix.
The greater challenge is to make Cabernet-based wines that are also easy to drink earlier. Majella’s ‘Musician’ Cabernet Shiraz sells for under $20 and can be affable, though it can be too serious and dry. Ditto the Wynns’ Siding Cabernet Sauvignon ($17), which is stuck between an easy drink and serious, masculine style.
As Sue Bell of Bellwether Wines suggested, perhaps one of the great wines wine styles of the world – Coonawarra Cabernet – is sexy because it is so uncompromising? Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong, and that sexiness is innate with great wines?
If any wine is out to prove that point, then Sue’s 2009 Bellwether Cabernet Sauvignon can do it. It’s a wine that couples the grace of elegant, mid-weight Cabernet with tannins that will seduce even the most jaded Cabernet lover. The 2006 vintage is still available around the traps too, with that extra bottle age helping to make the wine even sexier.
The more time you spend in Coonawarra, the more that last point makes sense. That the key to ‘sexing up’ Coonawarra is just to release the wines later to help soften, complex and complete the unevolved Cabernet style?
But will that solve the problem, or is Coonawarra condemned to be the least sexy ‘great’ wine in the room?