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Petaluma Coonawarra Vertical Tasting  

Website: http://www.petaluma.com.au/

Coonawarra is one of Australia's great distinguished vineyard sites. The key to its success is the soil - terra rossa over limestone - and the relatively cool climate. Although it is reasonably far inland, there is still some maritime influence which tempers what would otherwise be a warm location. 

There's something distinctive about Coonawarra reds. Indeed, this is a place where Cabernet Sauvignon really succeeds: elsewhere in Australia, it struggles a bit, with perhaps the exception of the Margaret River. 

Brian Croser's vision in setting up Petaluma was quite before its time: in Australia, most wineries do a bit of everything, making a wide portfolio of varietal wines from the same property. Croser set out to identify special sites, and with Petaluma he had Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills, Riesling from the Clare and for his Bordeaux blend, labelled simply Coonawarra, he took advantage of the fact that Coonawarra makes great Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 

This vertical tasting, with Brian and leading French critic Michel Bettane at the winery in the Adelaide Hills, was an eye-opener. I'd always thought this wine was good; I don't think I'd previously realized how good, and how consistently good. I reckon this is one of Australia's great wines, and at a penny under £20 in the UK, it's tremendously good value.

The inaugural 1979 was 60% Shiraz, 40% Cabernet – the last vintage to contain any Shiraz in it was 1982, with 12%. Since then it has been either a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, or more commonly a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  

Petaluma Coonawarra 1982
Evolved open nose is savoury and earthy with some fruit sweetness. The palate is quite aged and is on a downward curve. Nice weight and balance to this rather Clarety red that is good current drinking but shouldn’t be kept much longer. Savoury, dry finish. Very good+ 86/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1986
Rich, spicy, full nose with a tarry, smoky overlay. Warm woody character, too. The palate is full, fresh and minty with a savoury spiciness. Finishes very dry. Very good+ 88/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1988
According to Brian Croser, this is the first year when the Merlot in the vineyard had settled down and was behaving properly. Interesting savoury, slightly tarry nose with a nice leafy edge and some minerality. The palate shows lovely concentration and weight, with nice balance. There’s real Coonawarra character here. Fresh and savoury. Lovely. Very good/excellent 93/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1990
Ripe, sweet, expressive berry fruits nose that’s currently in great balance. The palate shows nice weight and balance, too: it’s savoury, slightly minerally and a bit leafy with good structure and acidity and a minerally finish. Delicious stuff, showing that just a little bit of greenness can be a good thing in some wine styles. Very good/excellent 93/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1991
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a hot year when the Merlot was no good. Quite a ripe, sweet berry fruit nose with lots of warmth and a savoury edge. The palate is quite structured and dense with more savouriness. Finishes a little short but there’s still life in this wine. Very good/excellent 90/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1992
Really lovely classic Coonawarra nose of open dark fruits with a leafy, chalky edge. Delicious, savoury and elegant on the palate: the dense, spicy structure is perfectly meshed with the fruit. Very good/excellent 93/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1995
Picked by Easter, this was a small crop, and was one of the best years for this wine. Dark, dense colour. Tight, restrained nose with lots of elegance, and a rich, savoury tarry edge to the fruit. Big but very well balanced. The palate is structured and brooding, but with it elegant. This needs time still. A fantastic effort. Excellent 95/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1996
A big crop at 7 tons/hectare (~45 hl/ha). Sweet, slightly minty tarry edge to the ripe fruit. Sweet and accessible. Nice weight on the palate which combines sweet fruit and good structure. Not the most complex vintage, but still quite lovely. Very good/excellent 90/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 1998
Youthful, tight, tarry dark fruits nose with brooding spicy minerally notes. Ripe and full, in a dark, rich style. The palate is hugely concentrated, showing rich dark fruits backed up by spicy tannic structure. Big but beautiful. Very good/excellent 94/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 2000
This was a short crop and they picked everything they had out of necessity. A dark wine, this is sweet and smooth on the nose. Quite elegant actually, with a chocolatey richness. The palate is quite dense with expressive dark fruits. Fantastic fruit and a lovely structure: another brilliant effort. Excellent 95/100

Petaluma Coonawarra 2001
Another short crop. Lovely dark fruits nose: rich, tight and intense with some nice cedary, tarry oak overlay. The palate is expressive and shows lovely definition of fruit. It is ripe with super balance and nice structure. Just a hint of minty herbiness on the finish. Lots of structure and potential. Very good/excellent 94/100

Wines tasted 10/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

see also: Brian Croser, Petaluma and Tapanappa Part 1, and Part 3 

See also: A review (2010) of the wines of Tapanappa

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