Margaret River v Coonawarra

Reviewed: 18th May 2013

Margaret River or Coonawarra? I often ask myself that question when I am purchasing or opening cabernet based wines. Ten years ago, I would also have included Bordeaux in the equation, but the tremendous prices being charged for decent Claret makes Bordeaux an unrealistic option for me.

Fortunately the quality of Australian cabernet has continued to improve and the best local wines are equivalent in quality, if not style, to the best imports. The added benefit of shopping locally is that they are invariably sealed with a screw cap, removing the inherent risks associated with cork.

Whilst the current tasting was an opportunity to look at a selection of aged cabernet-based wines, it also gave me the chance to think about the regions.

One of the biggest differences between the two has been vintage conditions. Margaret River has been blessed with an amazing run of vintages starting with 2007 and continuing right through to 2012. (Early indications are that 2013 will also be very good). Coonawarra, on the other hand, has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride with the highs being followed by lows. Improved viticulture has helped offset some of the lows, but I think it is a good idea to keep an eye on vintage variations.

Call me a fence sitter, but at the end of the tasting, I decided that I needed to keep space in the cellar for both region’s wines. Margaret River will always be the backbone of my cellar due to a combination of familiarity, availability, quality and consistency. In the great years however, I will always make space for Coonawarra. The wines are distinctive, age-worthy and totally delicious.

Wines tasted: 20

Wines reviewed: 10


Raveneau – Chardonnay – Chablis – 2010 (17.8). This is a complex, serious wine on the nose. There is creamy oak, textural barrel ferment characters and fine, pristine fruit. The finish is very long, with lemony acid the backbone that is fleshed out by a hint of sweetness that further enhances the balance. (The warm-up wine)

Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 1991 (18.2). Dense, sweet ripe fruit leaps from the glass. Think mint, eucalypt, cassis and red berries. There are hints of earth and leather courtesy of the bottle age adding to the great length and lovely texture. There is new-world density to the fruit, but old-world complexity and structure. Lovely drinking.

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – John Riddoch – 1991 (17.8). Remarkable contrast to the Cape Mentelle, as this is fresh and vibrant, yet tight and restrained. There are hints of blueberry, mint, cherry, cinnamon and supple, cedary oak. A powerful wine, yet one that is balanced and restrained. Very long and near seamless, the ever-so-fine tannins providing a sprinkling of dust across the finish.

Sandalford – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2003 (18). This wine really impresses for its sweet, ripe fruit. At ten years of age, there are plenty of dark fruit characters with a touch of mint and eucalyptus. The palate is dense, structured and tannic, needing another 5 – 10 years to really unwind. There is structured oak to close. This is a powerful wine.

Wise – Cabernet Sauvignon – The Bramley – 2003 (18). This is a much softer interpretation on Margaret River cabernet compared to the Sandalford, with red fruits the primary character. There are hints of oak in the background and the very fine tannins build at the very end of the palate. The tannins are actually quite firm suggesting that this wine will still evolve, but it is in its drinking window now.

Coriole – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Mary Kathleen – 1999 (18). This wine has really intense fruit with complex savoury highlights. Think coffee, cinnamon and spice. The palate is textured and long finishing with very fine tannins and supple oak. In the mouth, this is supple, savoury, spicy, fragrant and long. Delicious now, this is an elegant wine from McLaren Vale showing excellent cabernet typicity, yet also some clear regional characters.

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – John Riddoch – 1999 (17.8). Opens with mint over red fruits. This is elegant and drinking very well. There are hints of blackcurrant over cedar and spice on the palate. The finish is fine and long, with the acid cutting through the silky structure. The tannins are amazingly soft and add to the texture. This wine will be a great foil to food.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstone  – 1999 (18.5). Compared to the Wynns, this has much more obvious ripe fruit characters. Blackcurrant, cinnamon, spice, mint, eucalypt and subtle, textural oak all meld into a fantastic package on the palate. Whilst refined and elegant, there is tremendous power and length to the fruit. Superb!

Parker Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc – First Growth – 1998 (18.2). This wine approaches drinking perfection. There are fragrant red fruits, supple spice and silky tannins which combine to make this oh-so-easy to drink. The excellent length of flavours is a highlight and the fruit is very persistent. The tannins build on the finish providing the texture to accompany fine food.

Petaluma – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc – 1998 (18.3). Reserved and shy compared to the Parker, this is a superb wine of the highest quality. The palate is dense, ripe, textured and powerful. There are hints of fresh herbs and wonderful fruit. Very structured, yet almost seamless.