1954 – A Very Good Year for Coonawarra Cabernet

Vintage wine at its best is an expression
not only of place, but also of time. So 1954 must have been a very good
year, at least in Coonawarra. That was the first vintage for Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon,
a wine that helped establish Coonawarra as one of Australia‚€™s premier
wine regions. The area‚€™s red soil gives wines great structure and
minerality, as well as the ability to age.
The winery is now celebrating 50 vintages of its Cab, and the current
winemaker, Sue Hodder, recently toured the U.S. with a
selection of vintages. The ‚€™54 featured good acidity and surprising
fruit for a wine so old, while the ‚€™58 showed tawny, earthier flavors
and was well past its prime. After being opened awhile, the ‚€™54 also
tired and showed its age, but what most impressed me was the similarity
of its initial burst of enthusiasm to younger wines from the ‚€˜70s,
‚€˜90s and the ‚€˜aughts. The ‚€™94 and ‚€™96 were especially superb,
displaying floral notes and a sensuous, lush texture.
The 2001, the vintage in current release, tasted more familiar, probably
because I‚€™m used to drinking wines before they have a chance to
really strut their stuff. (After all, I‚€™m a lot more interesting than
I was in my youth, and people who underestimated me back then will
probably never know.) Even the 2002 and the 2004, a barrel sample,
showed similar character to their predecessors despite being bigger and
brawnier. These are wines of restraint ‚€“ ripe fruit flavors without
the excessive wallop of alcohol so much in vogue these days.
If you can find the 2001, I urge you to buy several bottles, because you
will want to restrain yourself and let some lie still for a decade or
so. It‚€™s well worth the investment, because the winery‚€™s restraint
extends beyond the style of the wine to the price ‚€“ a modest $20.

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