Two current vintages of an under-appreciated marvel are going for a song.
2018 from AU$14.99, €10.90, NZ$19.95, HK$160, 160 Chinese yuan
2019 from AU$15, €10.80, NZ$19.99, 39.90 Norwegian kroner, £14.99
Every now and then – though perhaps not as often as I’d like – a wine comes along that is obviously and absurdly underpriced. These are two of them.
Wynns is the historic Coonawarra estate, founded in 1891 by John Riddoch and rescued from being turned into a wool-shed in the early 1950s, when Australians were much more interested in sweet fortified wines than dry red ones, by David Wynn. It was David Wynn, who went on to found Mountadam in the Adelaide Hills, who renamed the Coonawarra property Wynns and commissioned the clever woodcut of the winery that makes Wynns’ labels so striking.
Today Wynns is part of the massive Treasury Wine Estates group, whose most treasured brand is Penfolds and, with Coonawarra being a one-horse town on the way to nowhere in the far south-east corner of South Australia, it does not get anything like the attention it deserves.
There is the other factor that, once a vibrant market for Australian dry reds was established, Coonawarra and its famous terra rossa (pictured at the top of this article) became synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, which was, for a long time, so much more fashionable than Shiraz. (It was not that long ago that Shiraz was routinely uprooted in the Barossa Valley to make way for Cabernet.)
So Shiraz (called Hermitage on Wynns labels until 1994) has been seen, including presumably by those in Treasury’s head office, as very much an also-ran in Wynns’ portfolio. This is a shame since, as James Halliday noted in his 1985 Australian Wine Compendium after a set of tasting notes on the estate’s Cabernets, ‘Wynns’ Coonawarra Estate Hermitage has an equally proud history. The wines made in 1953, 1954 and 1955 are still absolutely remarkable, equal to the very greatest wines produced in Australia in those years.’
Hence current prices for Wynns Estate Shiraz that are almost inexplicably low. Big companies do big deals and often need bargaining chips. I fear this wine has become one of these. But why not take advantage of this?
I tasted the 2018 recently and was blown away by the combination of quality and price. So much so that, even though I had many more expensive and respected wines available, Nick and I chose to drain this particular bottle over the next two nights. The alcohol level of this wine is reasonable. And the bottle weight is agreeably modest, well under 600 g. Here’s my tasting note, made at the same time as tasting Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet 2019:
Full screwcapped bottle a very reasonable 1,288 g.
Mid crimson. Clean as a whistle and so appetising! I wonder why this has an extra year’s age on the (more expensive) Cabernets? It’s a steal! Beautifully judged with recognisable Shiraz/Syrah character but with nothing overstated. It does seem as though, despite the size and power of the corporate owner, winemaker Sue Hodder is, wisely, allowed to do her own thing. Bravissima! This may not last forever but it’s so pure and expressive for now with luscious fruit and some salt-and-pepper character. Unusual! Like the Chardonnay, this may be underpriced because Cabernet is Coonawarra’s traditional strength. VGV 16.5/20 Drink 2020–2024 13.6%
The 2019 is – guess what? – more youthful and will probably be even more rewarding from 2022 but, like the 2018, it’s certainly superbly well made by the hugely respected Sue Hodder and capable of giving pleasure already when served with food. Like the 2018, I would guess that it will age pretty well, so buy this in quantity. If you’re in the UK you can stock up at exclusive stockists Majestic Wine and take advantage of their £11.99 ‘mix six’ price. Here’s my tasting note:
Full screwcapped bottle a very reasonable 1,280 g.
Mid crimson. Really serious – and surely underpriced? – wine. Gently made with a dry, fruity core that combines the fruit with the pepper and structure of Syrah. So long and so beautifully balanced. It expresses Coonawarra and the grape variety and is delightfully long. A lightly saline finish with real electricity on the palate. Snap this up! VGV 17/20 Drink 2021–2027 13.7%
I asked Sue Hodder for some technical background to the two wines and her notes are below. Evidently the two vintages are made from different vineyards.
2018 A warm summer with a cool, dry autumn finish due to the cold coastal upwelling. Vineyards on the terra rossa soil. Average vine age is 32 years (yields were lower in 2018 so some younger-vine fruit was included in the blend); all vines on their own roots. Machine picked with selective harvesters. Crushed and destemmed and fermented in static fermenters for an average of ten days. Malo in tank before being matured in a combination of older (three- and four-year-old) French barrels and tank staves for 13 months. Bottled under screwcap.2019 Vintage was cooler than 2018. The phenology and harvest aligned to long-term average dates for Wynns Shiraz. Average vine age is 47 years. Maturation: 14 months in three-year-old French oak barrels and tank staves.
The 2018 is available in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Hong Kong and mainland China. The 2019 is available in the UK, Germany, Austria, Norway, Australia and New Zealand. In the UK it’s exclusive to Majestic and if you buy a total of six bottles the per-bottle price comes down to £11.99. This is one of those wines that doesn’t seem to be available in the US. Perhaps because it’s not expensive enough?! Or perhaps a hangover from the American antipathy to Australian wine.
Incidentally, I tasted Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2020 at the same time and was almost as impressed by it as by the Shiraz, and it too is given away. At the time of writing it is available in Ireland and Germany (at even lower prices than the Shiraz) but not the UK. Lucky Irish and Germans
See Julia's account of a vertical tasting of Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet from 1954 to 2006.