Wynnsday has been and gone for another year, but the wines will linger and give pleasure for decades, especially this year’s vintage, the sensational 2012s.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate (tastings) winemaker Sarah Pidgeon was doing the rounds last week, showing off the 2012 vintages of Black Label cabernet sauvignon (tasting) and Black Label shiraz (tasting), as well as the 2012 vintages of the two V&A Lane reds, shiraz (tasting) and cabernet shiraz (tasting).
These are Sarah’s playthings. She’s not the chief winemaker (that’s Sue Hodder), but with these wines Sarah gets to call the shots. The wines were created in the 2008 vintage so the ’12s are the fourth release (they skipped 2011 for obvious reasons). According to Sarah, the two wines are sourced from a number of the company’s own vineyards in the vicinity of V&A Lane. Although V&A Lane pretty much runs east-west through the centre of the terra rossa strip, it is the earliest ripening part of Coonawarra – earlier than the north, the south, and the lowest altitude parts of the region.
Hence, these vineyards are the first to be harvested each year. Sarah has styled the wines around the idea of earlier harvesting: they are always 13% alcohol and a very elegant, medium to full-bodied style with quite gentle structures. A small portion of the grapes are fermented as whole berries and/or whole bunches, which may result in slightly more lifted aromatics. She sees the wines as a little fresher, not necessarily lighter but with a different flavour spectrum. She baulks at defining what that spectrum is, seeming to prefer to leave that to the taster.
The wines are excellent, my preference being slightly towards the cabernet shiraz, which is a blend wavering between 60/40 and 70/30. Both are fully priced at $60 but they’re already being offered by some retailers under $50.
Wynns’ viticulturalist Allen Jenkins has raised a few eyebrows with his vineyard mapping, which shows there is a significant difference in some of the Wynns vineyards with just two metres of altitude.
Now, it’s nothing new to make fun of Coonawarra for being pancake-flat, but the proof is there for all to see. There’s an observable difference in ripeness between parts of the vineyards which are 58 metres above sea level compared with 60 metres. Just two metres can be significant. The same grape variety, managed the same way, ripens earlier on the higher parts. That’s because in the higher parts, the soil is more weathered, better drained and redder in colour.
In many wine regions, you might expect lower-lying spots to be warmer, and in a cool climate that’s a positive for ripeness. Not in Coonawarra. Lower-lying, even just two metres lower, can mean poorer ripeness, and the reason is suspected to be that cold air pools in these places. Cold air drains and settles, rather like water does. It sounds unlikely, but the evidence is there.
And it helps explain why the V&A Lane area ripens first. It’s the highest.
As Sarah Pidgeon says, Coonawarra’s strengths are cabernet sauvignon and shiraz: rather than grow other grapes badly and make ordinary wine, Wynns is interested in doing different things with the varieties that excel in the region. V&A Lane is one of the many permutations.