It’s an extraordinary thing that the current vintage of Petaluma’s Coonawarra cabernet-based blend is nearly seven years old and that it’s a mere $60 at retail. Take a glimpse around the wine store shelves and aisles and you’ll see that most cabernets are from 2016 or 2017 – or even 2018. This wine is actually two years older than the current release of Grange.
Back in the day, too, Petaluma Coonawarra was one of the more expensive red wine labels in Australia, with an enviable place in the sharp pointy end of the market and a profile that was the envy of all but two or three makers of comparable prestige. I’m talking about the decade of the 1990s – perhaps the finest decade of cabernet production this country has ever seen.
What happened? Petaluma, a listed entity at the time which also included Mitchelton, Knappstein and Stonier as well as the Argyle winery in Oregon, was bought in late November 2001 by the Australian brewer Lion Nathan. The brewing industry, which by then had already developed a history of trashing wine industry acquisitions, did not let observers down. Almost exactly five years after its purchase, Lion Nathan offloaded its wine division (then called Fine Wine Partners) to Accolade Wines, then owned by a US-based equity capital business called Champ Private Equity for $100 million. Champ, which frankly did a fine job in wine after a questionable start, sold Accolade last year for a billion to another equity business, The Carlyle Group, which is also operated by a trio of ex-beer industry executives.
Throughout this process it’s fair to say that despite having a brand-new winery home in the Adelaide Hills (courtesy Champ PE), Petaluma’s profile has well and truly entered a nosedive. All of which makes its wine, made to a high standard throughout, of particular interest to wine drinkers.
The serious Petaluma wines have a yellow label and of these the most important – along with the Hanlin Hill Riesling from Clare – has been the Coonawarra cabernet blend, labelled these days as the Evans Vineyard. The 2013 vintage of this wine is a chocolatey Coonawarra red whose deep bouquet of ripe blackcurrants, red berries, blood plums and coffee grounds-like oak overlies a hint of dark cherries and dried herbs. It’s long, supple and deeply flavoured, with an elegant, rather polished expression of intense, slightly minty fruit framed by a firm, loose-knit spine that finishes with genuine drive and persistence. There’s some meaty evolution of flavour that works well with its handsome complement of oak.
So, if over this festive time of year, you’re seeking a wine that over-delivers on quality and age for its price, think about buying some. I know that wherever you are it’s likely to be hot, but Christmas for me is non-eventful without a serious red…