Penola SA – Tips for wine tasting in the Connawarra

The display at Wynns Estate cellar door says that the Coonawarra region is an ideal place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes because of the cool weather. The region is lower than the surrounding land allowing the crisp southerly from Antarctica to travel further inland. The grapes therefore ripen slowly, giving them a greater depth of flavour. On the day that we drove around the region the car temperature gage told us that it was 37 degrees.  It was too hot for red wine. It was almost too hot for wine full stop. But I didn’t let that stop me.
This was my third visit to the Coonawarra and having spent the formative years of my life working in and managing bottle shops I feel that I am in a good position to offer a bit of advice; most of which I fail to follow by about the 3rd cellar door in.
~ Don’t taste everything. 
I find it very difficult; especially at the first few cellar doors not to just make my way through the list from top to bottom. However I’ve found that if I do that I might as well just hand my credit card details over to the Russian mafia. I buy up big on everything that is drinkable and because my drunk pallet is less discerning end up with a boot full of fortified and dessert wine. I never end up drinking it when I get home because I actually prefer dry wines. 
~ Cellar door only wines.
So how do I limit my tastings choices?  I always try the cellar door only wines. These are the wines I stock up on because I won’t be able to duck down to the local bottle shop to grab a bottle. They are a great talking point and make fantastic presents.
~ Do taste the wines that you have seen in your local bottle shop.
That said this does not mean that I avoid the wines that I’ve seen at my local.  Cellar doors are a great chance to try new wines, both the cheap and cheerful and the special occasion, more expensive wines.  If I have already tried a wine and l know that I like it I’m more likely to buy it because it’s not a risk. It stops me from getting in a rut at the bottle shop and turning up to every party clutching the same tired bottle of plonk.
~ Don’t buy those wines unless they are significantly discounted.
The trick is to stay sober enough to not buy those wines that you can find easily in any bottle shop. They are often cheaper at discount bottle shops so just memorise the label or if that’s not an option take a photo.  If you don’t want to seem cheap in front of the tasting staff pretend to be an arty hippy like me and take your photos on weird angles.
Ohhh arty…
So where did I go and what did I buy?




1st Stop – Lunch – Here’s another tip – Eat Lunch!!!
We ate at Fodders in the Coonawarra township. It was the second time that we have eaten there (over about a 4 year period) and the food was still great.  Ben and I shared a wood oven pizza with salami, olives, capsicum, cheese and we added anchovies.  We washed this down with a Cooper’s Pale Ale each, the traditional drink of South Australia.
2nd Stop – Wynns 
Wynns is one of the goliaths of the region but my argument for stopping at some of the big names is that they have much better economies of scale. They buy in bulk, they produce in bulk. This means that they can often make great wines at a better price than the smaller producers. I tried a few of the more expensive wines, mainly so that I would know what was good next time I was buying a present but we only purchased the cellar door only ‘The Gables’ Cabernet Shiraz 2009.
3rd Stop – Di Giorgio
We were given a recommendation to try their fortified Shiraz.  Ben was after some fortified wines and he was driving so he can’t even blame being drunk when they are still sitting on the top shelf of the bar in 4 years time. So yes we bought the fortified Shiraz and I picked the 2008 Merlot.
4th Stop – Majella
There is a gorgeous view from the Majella Cellar door across a sparse paddock with a few gum trees and bright green grape vines in the background. I already knew that the sparkling Shiraz was one of my favourites but I tried it anyway. The standouts were the Melody, their very dry rose and the Malleea 2008 their rather expensive flagship wine that we purchased as a present.
5th Stop – Leconfield
By this stage I was struggling to follow not only my rules above but the laws of physics regarding just how much wine I could fit in my car.  I’ll blame Ben for purchasing the Lion Heart fortified wine. I chose the Cabernet Merlot but now I can’t seem to find it…
6th Stop – Balnaves
We weren’t meant to have a 6th stop but we were on a roll, or should I say I was on a roll. Ben was still driving. I bought the sparkling Cabernet that is a bit different because all of the other sparkling reds I’ve tried have been made with Shiraz grapes. It was a very rich wine that I thought would be good to drink in winter when you want to have a fun bubbly but its really red wine weather.
I did eventually find the Leconfield Cabernet Merlot, behind the television in the hotel room. For some reason I had pulled it out of a box and put it there. So as you can see from that last sentence I failed dismally at following my own rules of wine tasting at cellar doors. It might be safer to just leave the credit card at home. 

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