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Aussie cabernet sauvignon still royalty of reds

I am on holiday in Australia, which offers a chance to try some mature wines from my cellar. This column is about two memorable wines and they are still available in limited quantities from the vineyard.

Coonwarra in South Australia remains my favorite wine region in the country because of the quality of the cabernet sauvignon the local soil produces.

A 2006 Leconfield cabernet proved a delight. It has an aroma of eucalyptus and mint chocolate, and the ripe berry fruits of cassis and blackberries have integrated superbly with the silky tannins. This wine has a marvelous texture. It feels attractive in the mouth. The wine has an intense dark cherry color.

This wine has won several gold medals, including the judges' award for best gold medal winning wine at the 2008 South Australian wine fair.

Winemaker Paul Gordon said 2006 was an early ripening vintage with low yields. His skilful use of new French oak has produced a wine that, while laden with ripe fruit, will be approachable from now until another decade.

In 1972 Dr. Richard Hamilton established a small winery in McLaren Vale, also in South Australia, under the guidance of his father Burton, a noted viticulturist, and uncle Sydney Hamilton, a renowned vigneron.

Two years later Sydney bought land on the famous “terra rossa” or red soil region in Coonawarra and established Leconfield to fulfill his ambition to make classic Australian cabernet sauvignon. Sydney retired in 1981 after 65 vintages and Dr. Richard Hamilton bought the company from him. The tradition of fine cabernet continues.

In the 2013 edition of his Australian Wine Companion, the country's leading critic James Halliday writes that Leconfield is a distinguished estate with a proud history. “Long renowned for its cabernet sauvignon, its repertoire has steadily grown, with the emphasis on single varietal wines. The style overall is fruit rather than oak-driven.”

The current edition of the Leconfield, the 2010 vintage, retails for AU$34.

It is interesting to compare a single-vineyard cabernet from South Australia with a cabernet blended from a variety of grapes from the same state — in this case the Penfolds 2004 Bin 407 cabernet sauvignon.

Grapes for both wines were handpicked. Those for the latter wine come from Penfolds vineyards around the state: McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Bordertown and Langhorne Creek. As the fact sheet for the wine says: “Bin 407 highlights the rewards of Penfolds multi-region, multi-vineyard blending.”

Penfolds have a tradition of naming wines based on the bin or rack where wines were stored in the 1950s. Chief winemaker Paul Gago noted: “Individual bin numbers represent a benchmark style and quality, and each year Penfolds winemakers ensure the vintage lives up to that reputation.”

This cabernet has an intense black cherry color and aromas of coffee and blueberry, with hints of dark chocolate and nutmeg.

This wine was matured for one year in a combination of new (15 percent) and older French and American oak. The tannins are subtle and pleasant. Eight years after being made the wine is drinking well, though it could be cellared for another decade — and probably should be to appreciate the core of ripe fruit.

The current vintage retails for AU$50.

Which did I prefer? It is a bit like choosing one child ahead of the other. If pressed, I would choose the Leconfield to drink while young, and the Penfolds when it had been cellared for 20 years.

Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a variety of publications in the region. From 1975 he was a journalist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press Association; TVNZ; the Middle East Broadcasting Center in Dubai and a range of regional newspapers in Australia. Dr. Quinn became a journalism educator in 1996, but returned to journalism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the author of 17 books.

(PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY. DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE.)

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