Coonawarra dirt-terra rossa

Penley Estate in Coonawarra, South Australia is the red soil-terra rossa property of Kym Tolley: a long time inhabitant of the modern scene since 1988.

During that time, particularly during the 90s when Margaret River reds rose to the almighty, the pulse of Coonawarra quality was often judged by myself on the quality of several wines – one was Penley Estate Reserve Cabernet.

Coonawarra, like Margaret River, is all about cabernet sauvignon, or blended with some of its siblings (franc, merlot and petit verdot, the latter now starting to have some re-vitalisation in its native homeland of Bordeaux).

Penley farms 110 hectares which should provide over 30,000 cases on a normal season, though such a climate called “normal” no longer exists.

The region has received 141 mm during the first two months of 2011 whereas the average rainfall is 44 mm during this period. Rain just ups the disease pressure.

Penley’s main product is the standard reds, being a conservative selection, 2008, a year which gave the South Australians a hiding with elevated and accelerated ripeness with continuous days of 40C or more.

Coonawarra missed these high February temperatures but was the beneficiary of very warm, and early ripening which pushed the red varieties to monumental alcohol levels of 15%, and sometimes a little more.

These Penley reds do not show the baked characters likely to be struck with comparable Barossa or McLarenvale varietals. But they have concentration.

Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%; 90, has great colour and great nose, reeking of ripe blackcurrants and sweet oak (some must be American); its plump and plush and sweet-fruited despite having that long linear drying palate that cabernet has. It’s good.

Penley Estate Hyland Shiraz 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%; 89, is another plush wine, looks good, smells good-spice, ripe, jammy currants, hints of American oak sweetness just fill out the nose effects, the palate is juicy and soft, not drying but ample tannin. Gives a nice feel.

Penley Estate Gryphon Merlot 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%; 90, has the “merlot” colour, less density than its stable mates cabernet and merlot, a typical Australian thing, but its nose booms out load with ripe honeyed fruits-no leafiness just jam and rich fruitcake, then soft easy drinking, enough tannin to tell you the wine is Australian and not Californian or Bordeaux where grippiness prevails.

Penley Estate Condor Shiraz Cabernet 2008 (USD 18-23); 15%, 89, is a rich, spicy, style, no greenness, just brute strength and ripeness. It achieves the intention to have a filled palate from soft shiraz, but greater length from the cabernet as the tannin will persist, and that is rolled up with the oak aging process.

Nice wine. I mused that it should be cabernet shiraz though to follow the true tradition of this great Aussie two grape style.

Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2009(USD 18-23); 14.5%, 92, looks terrific, less perfume than the 2008, fresh and lively vegetal/leaf/currant intensity, nice roundness which comes out as texture before the natural cabernet tannin kicks in, drying but juicy.

Owner Kym Tolley and winemaker Greg Foster

This wine is just released, as is another very successful line of Coonawarra cabernet, that of Leconfield 2009.

Penley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (USD 44-55); 15%; 94, very contained wine, on the nose responding to longer aging before release in a positive manner, no jam just dust, cedar and the mature plum of cabernet (100%) mid-life. It’s interesting as it dries; long savoury tannin, less heat than expected for 15%, and pleasing as it disappears. Great year (9/10), great wine.

Penley Estate Chertsey 2006 (USD 44-55); 15%; 92; nice to see this wine diverge away from the cabernet stereotype and take on its own personality; spicy, cedary oak, very lifted and aromatic from the franc, powerful but plumped by the merlot, then drying like cabernet does.

Named after an English town, so far three vintage have been released. A great threesome yet the challenge is to use more franc and merlot yet keep the layers of tannin. I expect this will develop into an awesome wine, and it’s had a three years of aging so far as the start.


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