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Wine

Coonawarra - the Cult of Consistency

While other Australian regions may have caught up to Coonawarra in the red wine stakes, the commitment of this region’s passionate locals will see it shine well into the future.

Coonawarra is an enigma wrapped in a red dirt riddle. We all think we know Coonawarra because it seems like it’s always been there.

When you set out on the journey to discover Australian wine, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the first checkpoints you reach, a foundation stone for building an understanding of what this country can do with its vineyards.

But does familiarity breed contempt? And where do the classics sit when the market seems obsessed with the cool cutting edge? Is it enough to continually do a few things well when the consumer has the all the loyalty of a stray cat and the attention span of a goldfish?

Is Coonawarra’s glorious past impeding the region’s push into a bright future?

A famously close-knit community

Coonawarra is a place where many of the names on the bottles have been there for generations. While its biggest players are corporate, Wynns most notably, the majority of producers are family owned, including names like Balnaves and Bowen Estate.

Vineyards are tightly held and rarely change hands and its comparatively small size – just 5,500 ha – ensures the region’s prized fruit is all taken up by those domiciled there and virtually nothing is available for winemakers from other regions to have a crack at making Coonawarra wine seen through outsider eyes.

There are obviously benefits in a strong sense of community.

“There’s certainly a combined sense of purpose,” says Peter Bissell from Balnaves, a transplanted Kiwi and relative newcomer, having arrived in Coonawarra in 1989.

“There’s also a long collective memory of winemaking traditions going back to the 1950s and beyond, that gives us as winemakers a real sense of carrying on something important.”

Dan Redman is as Coonawarra as they come, having joined the family business exactly a hundred years after his great-grandfather made his first wine from grapes grown in the famed terra rossa soil. It’s been his nursery, his playground, his backyard, his home.

“To me, this community is a source of great friendships and some pretty good times with people I’ve known all my life,” he says. “One of the real strengths of this place is the shared common goal we all have to promote Coonawarra. There’s a united front when any of us talk about the region.”

But Redman is not totally blinkered.

“It’s probably fair to say that some of the ideas and thinking from the wider wine world might take a bit longer to get here than some other places,” he admits.

That’s pretty understandable in a way. You can’t talk about Coonawarra without considering its physical isolation. It’s halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, but not on the direct route to either. New blood flows through Coonawarra the way it does through a statue.

Kate Goodman is uniquely placed to comment on the region’s uniquely singular focus. She makes wine under her own label in the Yarra Valley and was appointed consultant winemaker at Coonawarra’s Penley Estate a couple of years ago.

“The Yarra is vast with a huge diversity of sites, while  Coonawarra is a small area with a tight focus on carefully defined vineyards,” she says.

“I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’m just saying the diversity of the Yarra’s landscape lends itself more easily to a diversity of winemaking approaches.”

Goodman relishes the opportunities Coonawarra presents, and has quickly learned what makes the place special. “Dear God, the fruit this place can produce is just bloody sensational,” she says.

Evolution, not Revolution

It would be wrong to see Coonawarra as a wine region trapped in amber. There has been significant change over the last decade, but those changes have been subtle and have taken place within the well-established framework of the classic Coonawarra style.

Most notable of these has been the widespread reworking of the region’s vineyards, a sustained exploration of how best to manage its most valuable assets with fruit quality the singular aim. This focus certainly underpins winemaker John Innes’ philosophy and, he says, he spends time in his vineyard, “continually tasting the fruit for optimal flavour and textural ripeness.”

The minimal pruning regimes that dominated the region in the 1980s have given way to practices more conducive to vine health and various flirtations with both over and under ripeness have given way to a more comfortable middle ground.

A wider clonal mix is now present in the region’s vineyards, offering new angles from which to view the Coonawarra Cabernet picture we think we know so well.

Coonawarra has so far been immune from invasion by hipsters who harvest while howling at the moon, so remains untouched by the outer extremes of winemaking methodology, but that doesn’t mean the place is all ‘set and forget’ when it comes to winemaking approach.

But it’s all about refinement rather than re-invention. Concrete fermenters are back in vogue, larger format oak and softer fruit handling are helping shape red wines that are more medium-bodied and supple, yet still retain the region’s famed capacity for ageing. Nick Zema explains it best.

“We’re always looking to improve, but we never forget what this place has always done best,” he says.

“You can go chasing market trends and change up everything you do, but by the time those changes come through to the wine in the bottle, the market’s moved on and you’re just chasing your tail. When you’ve got something that’s considered a classic, you just keep polishing it.”

Looking into the future

So where does the famed terra rossa fit in the Australian landscape? The status Coonawarra once had as arguably Australia’s finest red wine region has slipped – more through the competition catching up than Coonawarra going backwards – but the core of what has made this place great remains and, if anything, the future looks brighter now than it has for a long time.

Coonawarra’s biggest challenge is making the market fall in love with Cabernet again, and with the ongoing refinement of the style – small, considered steps rather than radical reinvention – the region’s winemakers are set to take that challenge on.

Once that’s been done, the story of the region’s outstanding Shiraz, hugely underrated Chardonnay, and affinity with other members of the Bordeaux brotherhood like Cabernet Franc can be told, too.

It will always be a place of traditions and tightly woven community ties and may that always be the case. In a world that flutters on the fickle winds of fashion, some certainty, classicism and Cabernet Sauvignon can prove to be welcome respite.

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Food
The taste of the Adelaide Hills
Words by Mark Hughes on 18 Jul 2017
We traipsed around the Adelaide Hills to discover the most divine food offerings in this picturesque wine region. Just 20 minutes drive from the centre of Adelaide you find yourself in the Adelaide Hills. The ascent from the city is 700 metres, making this a cool climate wine region boasting a range of award-winning wines such as  Pinot Noir ,  Chardonnay  and  Sparkling , as well as elegant  Shiraz , while it is arguably the home of  Australian Sauvignon Blanc . Alongside impressive wines, the  Adelaide Hills  has an array of sumptuous dining offerings. Here are some of the highlights recommended to me by locals during a recent trip to the region. CRAFERS The first village you come to in the Hills along the M1 from Adelaide is Crafers, and it is where you'll find the recently renovated Crafers Hotel. Retaining the 1830s heritage of the original structure, it offers a pub feel with a contemporary dining experience with dishes like beouf bourguignon and duck confit sitting alongside gourmet burgers. There's a range of craft beers on tap, but it is the wine list, or more appropriately, the wine cellar, that is something to truly behold. With an extensive range of local wines and South Australian gems, there's also some hard-to-find wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. With boutique accommodation on site, you could be excused if you called in for lunch, but ended staying for the night. Crafers Hotel, 8 Main st, Crafers. Just up Mount Lofty Summit Road, is Mount Lofty House and the serious new addition to the Hills dining scene - Hardy's Verandah. A recent renovation has seen the long closed-in verandah opened up to become an exquisite dining space with breath-taking views across the Piccadilly Valley. The degustation menu from chef Wayne Brown is edgy and bold with a Japanese focus to local produce and a scintillating wine list curated by sommelier Patrick White. Hardy's Verandah 74 Mount Lofty Summit Rd, Crafers. SUMMERTOWN AND URAIDLA Follow Mount Lofty Summit Road and just a few enjoyable twists and turns up the hill you'll find yourself a culinary world away from Crafers at the Summertown Aristologist. This much-talked about venue is the collaboration of Aaron Fenwick, the former general manager at Restaurant Orana and winemakers Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margaux) and Jasper Button (Commone of Buttons). Housed in a former butcher shop, the vibe embodies a communal epicurean feel. Produce is sought from the kitchen garden or the community of farmers, while artisan bread is baked on premise. There is no set menu as the chef of the day chooses from what's available, but think grazing plates such as buckwheat, kombu and beets or artichoke, whey and ricotta matched with natural wines sourced primarily from the nearby Basket Range sub-region. Friday, Saturday and Sundays for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Summertown Aristologist, 1097 Greenhill road, Summertown . Keep the communal vibe going and follow Greenhill Road down into Uraidla, where winemaker of the moment, Taras Ochota from Ochota Barrels, has teamed up with a couple of mates to open Lost in a Forest - a wood oven/wine lounge in the beautifully remodelled St Stephens Anglican Church. Marco Pierre White called these 'the best pizzas he's ever eaten' courtesy of chef Nick Filsell's intriguing offerings such as cider braised pulled pork pizza with pickled vegetables, mozzarella and pork crackle, topped with housemade sriracha mayo. The bar features wines from nine Basket Range producers, as well as a range of exotic spirits. Lost in a Forest, 1203 Greenhill Rd, Uraidla. STIRLING If in Crafers you decided to get back on the M1 further into the Hills just a few minutes' drive you'll see the turn off for the impossibly beautiful town of Stirling. Its tree-lined main street features boutique shops and a number of cool eateries including The Locavore. As the name suggests, this intimate venue adheres to the 100 mile rule with all produce and wine sourced locally and used thoughtfully in Modern Australian tapas style offerings. The Locavore, 49 Mount Barker Rd, Stirling . Just down the road is the Stirling Hotel, a beautifully renovated pub with a fine dining bistro, grill and pizza bar. Not quite the level of a gastro pub, the food is wholesome and hearty with a substantial wine list. But the highlight is its Cellar & Patisserie. Located in separate premises behind the hotel, it serves a range of mouth-watering pastries, pies and breads and coffee from five different roasters. Stirling Hotel, 52 Mount Barker Rd, Stirling . BRIDGEWATER Just a few clicks up the M1 from Stirling (or along the more scenic route through Aldgate) you'll find an icon of the Adelaide Hills dining scene, the Bridgewater Mill. The former 1860s flour mill was turned into a fine dining restaurant in 1986 by wine industry legends Brian Croser and Len Evans. A few years ago, Seppeltsfield's Warren Randall bought the venue and gave it a major overhaul including a new wine bar and extending the outdoor deck. Local Hills chef Zac Ronayne delivers delicious seasonal offerings enjoyed by the fire in winter, or on the deck overlooking the huge working wheel in the summer. Bridgewater Mill, 386 Mount Barker Rd, Bridgewater . HAHNDORF The main strip of the historic village of Hahndorf is very touristy and you can find any number of German-inspired pubs where you can eat your weight in bratwurst, but there are two gems in Main Road as well. The Seasonal Garden Café celebrates local produce delivered as delicious wholesome meals such as salads, slow-roasted lamb as well as vegetarian options. Be sure to check out the delightful and relaxing kitchen garden out the back. Seasonal Garden Cafe, 79 Main Rd, Hahndorf Satisfy your sweet tooth at Chocolate @ Number 5. Famed for its waffles and exotic hot chocolates, there's also a range of decadent desserts, chocolate truffles and pralines and coffee sourced from a small batch roastery. Chocolate @ Number 5, 5 Main Rd, Hahndorf. Pay a visit to the iconic Beerenberg farm shop before taking the Balhannah Road north to the The Lane Vineyard and Restaurant, where you are greeted with sweeping views across the region. Chef James Brinklow has created delicious seasonal recipes and also offers the Lane Kitchen's Chef's Table experience - scores of dishes matched with wine across an indulgent three hour sitting. The Lane Vineyard and Restaurant, 5 Ravenswood Lane, Hahndorf . WOODSIDE Woodside Cheese features on many menus around the Hills. Being so close, take the Onkaparinga Valley Road and see artisan cheesemaker Kris Lloyd, winner of over 100 awards, including a Super Gold at the 2016 World Cheese Awards for her Anthill - a fresh goat cheese encrusted with green ants - she's been experimenting with a variation that includes lemon myrtle, as well as doing the country's first raw milk cheese. An innovator in the industry, she is a must-visit in the Adelaide Hills. Woodside Cheese Wrights, 22 Henry St, Woodside . A bit further along Onkaparinga Valley Road you'll find Bird in Hand winery. Everything about this place is impressive. Picturesque vineyards, incredible artwork and a top class restaurant, The Gallery. Carlos Astudillo has recently taken over as Chef de Cuisine and has introduced a farm-to-table rotation of dishes with produce sourced directly from local growers and Bird in Hand's kitchen garden. Open every day for lunch, take on one of the two lunchtime dining experiences, Signature Flight, a share-style menu or the more immersive Joy Flight - an exciting seasonal culinary journey that unfolds over three delectable hours, best enjoyed with matching Bird in Hand wines, of course. The Gallery, Corner of Bird in Hand & Pfeiffer Roads, Woodside . Another winery with a stellar restaurant is Howard Vineyard just 10 minutes drive back up the hill to Narnie.  MasterChef  alumni Heather Day has taken over the reins at the recently renovated Clover Restaurant and she's serving up some of the exotic, fresh flavours of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and China. The venue hosts acoustic Sunday Sessions and the lush green lawn outside the cellar door is the perfect spot to soak up some cool musical vibes and feast on Heather's delicious Asian dishes. Clover Restaurant, Howard Vineyard 53 Bald Hills Road, Nairne . VERDUN If you follow the signs from Woodside  back to Adelaide, you'll pass through Verdun, where there are three final additions to your Hills culinary journey. The Stanley Bridge Hotel is still an 'old school' pub, with a 1970s carpet and undulating floor. And that's its charm. With its cosy inside dining with dishes such as mushroom gnocchi and marinara linguine, it is finding favour with the hip crowds on the weekend who kick on out the back on the petanque rink and frequent the caravan-cum-bar. Stanley Bridge Tavern 41 Onkaparinga Valley Rd, Verdun . Only a couple of hundred metres up the road is the Walk the Talk Café. Housed in the old Verdun Post Office (locals still pop in to get their mail) chef/caterer Ali Seedsman and her partner Russell Marchant have opened a funky but unpretentious café. Ali's stellar pedigree (Bayswater Brasserie, Bathers Pavilion, Magill Estate) is evident on the menu - simple but sumptuous shared plates and housemade cakes and pastries. Walk the Talk Café, 25 Onkaparinga Valley Rd, Verdun . Still in Verdun, just before you get back on the M1 back to Adelaide, swing up the hill to Maximilian's, acknowledged as one of the best regional restaurants in the state. Casual shared plates, a la carte and chef's degustation journeys matched with wines from the on-site Sidewood Cellar Door. The venue also offers gorgeous views across the lake and vineyard. Maximilian's Restaurant 15 Onkaparinga Valley Rd, Verdun .
Wine
Mornington Peninsula must visits
The Mornington Peninsula is a haven for holiday makers hungry for food, wine and adventure. Here’s our list of the best places to visit in the region.
Crittenden Estate The Crittenden Wine Centre offers a unique way of experiencing wine on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. Originally the home of the Crittenden family, it has recently been renovated to a stylish, purpose built Wine Centre where knowledgeable staff guide visitors through carefully designed wine flights. Sample Crittenden’s exquisite range of traditional styles and unique alternative varietals with views over the lawn, lake and some of the Peninsula’s oldest vines, and just a short stroll to the Stillwater at Crittenden restaurant. Crittenden Estate is a true family operation with founder and living legend Garry overseeing the vineyard, son Rollo making the wine and daughter Zoe running the marketing. 25 Harrisons Rd, Dromana Open daily 10:30am – 4:30pm crittendenwines.com.au 
Yabby Lake Vineyard Cellar Door + Restaurant The Yabby Lake Vineyard offers a relaxed cellar door, restaurant, and wines of exception. Home of the history-making Block 1 Pinot Noir, winner of the revered Jimmy Watson Trophy, Yabby Lake has built a reputation for wines of great purity and character, uniquely crafted by renowned winemaker Tom Carson. Visitors to the striking cellar door marvel not only at the natural bush setting of the vineyard, but their incredible collection of artworks. Chef Simon West’s seasonal and local fare; often picked fresh from the kitchen garden, is best enjoyed on the outdoor deck, taking in stunning views of the vineyard and beyond. 86 Tuerong Road, Tuerong Open daily, 10am-5pm  (03) 5974 3729   yabbylake.com
Life
Go West
Words by Jeni Port on 4 Jul 2017
Henty, the Grampians, Pyrenees and Ballarat – there are plenty of tasting treasures to be unearthed in the wine regions of Western Victoria. We need Western Victoria and its wine. We need its different taste and the perspective it brings: a balanced, middle-weighted, pepper-infused, mint-garnished, spicy, smooth, sometimes savoury, sometimes rustic kind of alternative taste. Vineyards are vast and isolated here, attached by dirt roads to country towns and sometimes just the smallest of hamlets. Wines are made by men and women of the land, people like John Thomson at Crawford River in the Henty region, who talks of his “peasant genes,” and who has four generations behind him who have farmed sheep and cattle on the land. He and his wife Catherine branched into wine in 1975. “I didn’t set out to grow grapes,” he says. “I set out to make wine.” There was, he adds, more money in the latter. It’s a common enough story around these parts. Western Victoria is a collective term for four independent wine regions:  Henty , the  Grampians ,  Pyrenees  and Ballarat. This is home to  Shiraz  (plenty of it) and  Cabernet Sauvignon  (less of it) along with  Chardonnay  and a little  Sauvignon Blanc ,  Riesling  and  Pinot Noir  with a gaggle of Italian varieties bringing up the rear. The Back Story
It’s the flagpoles out front issuing a kind of multi-national wave of welcome that stump first time visitors to  Taltarn i . There’s the Aussie flag to the forefront shouldered on either side by the American stars and stripes and the French tricolour. What does it all mean?   Like a few wineries in Western Victoria, it’s all about history and foreign influences.  Taltarni’s  story involves a wealthy Californian owner who set up the operation in 1972, and his long-time French winemaker who laid the foundations for its enduring, elegant wine style. The French were among the first to see the potential that lay in the Pyrenees, with Cognac-based Rémy Martin arriving at Avoca in 1960, ostensibly to make brandy, but wine quickly followed. They called their enterprise Chateau Rémy. We know it today as  Blue Pyrenees Estate . But the biggest influence on the region was gold. Discovered in the 1850s, it made towns like Ballarat and Great Western magnets for prospectors from around the world. After the gold, people like Joseph and Henry Best stayed and moved into wine. Joseph built a substantial winery and used unemployed gold diggers to carve out underground cellars. It was the beginning of what came to be Seppelt, one of the biggest Sparkling wine producers in the country. Henry Best planted vines fronting Concongella Creek at Great Western. But it was the purchase of the site by Frederick Thomson in 1920 that really saw the Best’s Wines story take off. The Grampians
Western Victoria is a land of wide plains running smack up against some pretty spectacular hills and ranges, none more impressive than the rugged National Park that gives the  Grampians   its name. Mountain walkers, climbers and cyclists really love this part of the world. With a range of B&Bs, hotels and camping sites to choose from, most make Halls Gap their HQ. Wineries like Mount Langi Ghiran and The Gap are just down the road. Mount Langi Ghiran is best known as the producer of archetypal  cool climate, peppery Shiraz , which first drew the industry’s attention to a budding new style in the 1980s. How pepper gets into the wines of Western Victoria to such a degree that it might be called a phenomenon has only slowly been revealed by scientists at Melbourne University working with the winemakers at Mount Langi Ghiran (it’s got to do with a cool climate and wet seasons). On paper, the region (19 vineyards, eight cellar doors) looks small, but its history and influence belie its size. The Great Western sub-region was the commercial cradle of Sparkling wine production in Australia at Seppelt and is synonymous with a great Aussie icon, Sparkling Shiraz. Grampians Estate and Seppelt lead the pack, but for added gravitas, tour the Seppelt underground drives to feel the history and finish with a glass of spiced-up red bubbles. One of the state’s great restaurants, the  Royal Mail Hotel , can be found in a highway town called Dunkeld. Five and eight course degustation menus star local produce, alternatively there is an informal wine bar. Or there are the local Mount Gambier wines to try, including up-and-coming Pinots, at Tosca Browns in Hamilton. Henty is a developing wine region as far west as you can go before you bang into South Australia. Volcanic, gravelly soils over limestone are the key to some of the best Rieslings in Australia made here at Crawford River Wines. And what a treat to find a one hat quality restaurant such as The Pickled Pig in Warrnambool. The Pyrenees
Major Thomas Mitchell, the 19th Century explorer, was a bit of a romantic, clearly. He named this part of the Great Dividing Range,  the Pyrenees , as the dense, blue-hued hills reminded him of the mountains dividing France and Spain. Given the hills outside the towns of Avoca and Moonambel rise to 800 metres compared to some 3400 metres in Europe, that’s a bit of a stretch, but point taken. This is a pretty part of the world. It is here that the wine lover will confront the Pyrenean wine character known in academic circles as 1,8-cineole. The rest of us call it eucalyptus, aka, mint or menthol (the cineole is sourced from leaves and stems that find their way into fermentation), and it’s often found on either a red wine’s bouquet or flavour, or both. Its usual vehicle of choice is the Shiraz grape, which dominates plantings, but it can be found in any number of red wines. That eucalyptus in wine should be such a powerful influence is not so surprising. Gum trees are everywhere around these parts. For those who applaud its inclusion in wine, it’s part of the land, a question of terroir. The Pyrenean red winemaking style is understated, medium-bodied and earthy. Best in Bubbles
And strange as it may seem when so many producers today seek the super cool regions like Tasmania for sourcing grapes for sparkling wines, the Pyrenees does an excellent job with bubbles. Blue Pyrenees Estate 2010 Midnight Cuvee  beat some of the country’s top Sparklings to be named World Champion Australian sparkling at the inaugural Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in England in 2014. A 100 per cent Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs style, Midnight Cuvee’s success comes thanks to 10 years of refinement in the vineyard and winery by winemaker, Andrew Koerner. And, yes, the fruit is harvested at midnight at optimal coolness. Taltarni  is another leader in Sparkling wine, sourcing grapes grown on the estate in addition to Tasmania for its successful Clover Hill brand. The region’s great white, whether for still or Sparkling, is Chardonnay. It has undergone changes over the last decade or more, moving away from a rich heavyweight to a more fruit-powered, streamlined number. At Dalwhinnie, the importation of a Chardonnay clone from Champagne has served to highlight citrus and grapefruit qualities with sustained acidity and textural weight. It is a wine of great presence in the glass. While Mount Avoca’s early reputation was built on Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, I suspect that it is the Italians coming through – Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo,  Sangiovese , Lagrein – that now attract the drinker’s attention. The adjoining region of Ballarat is smaller again, but its focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay indicates that it is heading in a different direction to its neighbour. Eastern Peake Winery at Coghills Creek is a Pinot Noir maker par excellence, and is one of the few open for tastings seven days. Or, for a relaxed look at the wines of the west over a meal, head to Mitchell Harris Wine Bar in North Ballarat, part-owned by former Domaine Chandon Sparkling winemaker, John Harris. Events Out West Avoca Riverside Market   - Dundas & Cambridge Streets, Avoca, on the fourth Sunday of each month. Blue Pyrenees Estate Avoca Cup   - Avoca Racecourse, Racecourse Road, Avoca, each October. Grampians Grape Escape Food and Wine Festival   - Showcases regional wine and fare during a month-long festival in April, culminating in the Grampians Escape Weekend tastings, auction, grape stomping and live music in Halls Gap. Staying out West Pyrenees Eagles Nest at Dalwhinnie Vineyard, Moonambel  Redbank Chestnut Cottage Mount Avoca Vineyard Eco-Luxe Lodges, Avoca Warrenmang Vineyard & Resort, Moonambel Grampians/Henty Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld Boroka Downs, Halls Gap Aztec Escape, Halls Gap Links Retreat, Ararat   
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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