Penley 2010 “Phoenix” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra

Posted by Keith Wallace

A classic style of Cabernet Sauvignon, without the overblown fruit and alcohol.  Fresh blackberry and strawberry on the nose, along with a hint of cedar.

Linear tannins soften in the midpalate, allowing flavors to transition from herbal notes to the ripe dark fruit. The finish opens up with black pepper and allspice notes.  All in all, this is composed and refined, drinking well above its price point.

Located in Coonawarra, Penley is one of the older wineries in Australia. The Phoenix is their lower-priced bottling (their Reserve Cabernet lists at about $50 a bottle). It was named after one of the original Penley wineries,  “The Phoenix Winemaking and Distilling Company.”

About Coonawara

This famous district is the most southerly in South Australia. Coonawarra is Aboriginal for “wild honeysuckle”; it also happens to be easy on English-speaking tongues. This has been useful for marketing wine from the district in English-speaking countries.

Consequently, this region achieved worldwide fame, which paradoxically held it back during the GI process, while other less well-known regions were demarcated relatively quickly. Everyone with the slightest chance of being considered part of Coonawarra wanted to be included within the boundaries, while the bureaucrats operating the GI scheme demonstrated little or no imagination. Thus it took eight years to settle all the disputes.

The crux of the matter revolved around Coonawarra red earth or terra rossa. Black soil areas are interspersed amongst the terra rossa, and these soils produce quite different wines, even though they share the same limestone subsoil. The neatest solution would have been to have two appellations: a regional Coonawarra GI, within which there would be a subregional Coonawarra Terra Rossa GI.

The Coonawarra ridge hardly stands out topographically, being just 194 feet (59 meters) above sea level, but it does stand out viticulturally since the surrounding land is flat, frosty, and poorly drained. This, and the Mediterranean climate, which enjoys the cooling maritime influences of the Southern Ocean, make height-challenged Coonawarra superbly suited to viticulture, whether on black or red soils. It is just that those vineyards on terra rossa soils have historically been responsible for some of Australia’s outstanding wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.

Vineyards on black soils can produce excellent wines, but those on terra rossa are demonstrably more expressive of their terroir. Cabernet Sauvignon might be king of the terra rossa, but other varieties that perform well throughout Coonawarra include Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Merlot. Although Coonawarra is red wine country par excellence, successful white grapes include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon. Check out more of our Australian wine reviews.

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