Three heart-warming Coonawarras

Whitey’s come over all nostalgic while tasting these Zema lovelies.

Feb 16, 2017, updated Feb 16, 2017

Zema Estate Coonawarra Shiraz 2013
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap

One is tempted to revert to the standard back-label descriptors of the ’80s to review this lovely traditional Coonawarra red. They’d have a few trite lines about red berry and cherry fruit and something about oak and the wine being great for cellaring and perfect with all foods.

On the other hand, tasting barrels with Demetrio “Black Duck” Zema was always a little more basic. He had two tasting terms: “No good? All bugger?” and “Boom-boom!”

The longer I contemplate this Zema, the more I think that its style and quality fits those hazy, heady days. I’m not being condescending in any way: good wine had a certain, almost naïve honesty that was devoid of sophistry: a feeling missing from most of the over-polished or pick-your-nose feral extremities of today.

The only thing missing is that acrid barky whiff of a dodgy cork.

It does indeed reek of those bitter cherries, with the simple seductive ooze of ripe raspberry conserve, the woodfire stove and a crackled old chesterfield. But there’s fresh-bathed flesh, too: you’re not alone.

It’s generous of flavour and those traditional Coonawarra tannins put their warming fur over you whilst also drawing the finish out into a long dry reverie that triggers much contemplation and nostalgia, and then hunger.

It spins me back to the hearty tomato and olive pasta Mrs Zema would shovel into me after that long, flat drive south. Don’t hold the parmigiana. Or the pepper.

Zema Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
$29; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap

After the mighty stack of pasta came the game. I recall being served two pigeons and a duck on one big white plate. I was scolded when I tried to pass it round the table: I thought it was to be shared. But all, all for me.

And then, with great pride, came the Cabernet.

Like this: teases of coffee, tobacco, blackcurrant and whole blackberry bushes, with all their brambly prickles, dark leaves and ripe, almost dripping fruit. It is precise Coonawarra Cabernet from an exceptional vintage.

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The flavours and form take the shape of what was called claret. Claret was usually more lineal, less fleshy and tighter of form than what was called burgundy. But then, after a few days of air, the wine is edging more towards the fleshy opulence of a Rubensian Aussie burgundy.

It is indeed a lovely Coonawarra of the old school: perfectly reflective of the Zema family’s constant rustic faith in their practice in both vineyard and winery.

If you didn’t grate all the parmigiano onto that spaghetti, finish it with this lovely.

Zema Estate Family Selection Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
$46; 14% alcohol; screw cap

Vino famiglia. The title often given to the odd barrel of house wine for grandpa in this instance goes to the best, finest assemblage in the family chais.  More precise fruit and barrel selection, and an extra year in good French oak almost erases the rustic allure of the two 2013 reds. But not quite. This is the Zema Lambo.

The best Coonawarra Cabernet is one thing. Really posh French oak, like we rarely saw in the ’80s, is another. In this case that wood adds lemon and a hint of wintergreen and mint to the already wildly alluring mess of hedgerow berries soaking in crème de cassis, drawing the whole glorious dish into precise focus.

While the 2013 wines will glow with a few more years’ cellar, this extra refinement will carry this baby for well over a decade. In the meantime, I’d have it with a juicy, lemony saltimbocca.

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