The picturesque Balnaves cellar door comes complete with its own rose garden, duck pond and even the odd giant pumpkin!
If there's one 'smaller' Coonwarra producer that is on everyone lips at the moment it would have to be Balnaves. Unsurprisingly their stand was exceptionally busy early. It really is amazing what being named James Halliday's Winery of the Year can do for a winery's profile. Like almost everyone I felt Balnaves had an incredible 2004 vintage for all reds, but unlike almost everyone, I've found things have been fractionally disappointing since. I found the 2005's of Balnaves to be reasonably good, if a touch essence-like, ripe and concentrated, but the 2006's let me down somewhat. I just found them too firm and blocky for my tastes. In contrast to this, their flagship Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has impressed me with every release, and it thoroughly deserves its growing reputation as a Coonawarra benchmark. One of the highlights for me of last year's Coonawarra Roadshow in Brisbane was getting to meet the kind, bubbly and personable Doug Balnaves. Unfortunately Doug was in Perth on this occasion, leaving the marketing duties to his daughter Kirsty. Also absent was a Balnaves Chardonnay, which at its best is my favourite Coonawarra white. Kirst informed me Balnaves have 150ha of Coonawarra vineyards, most of which usually gets sold to other producers. With the low yields delivered by 2007, Balnaves retained much more fruit for their own wine, which is why most of their range is available in 2007 (unlike a lot of others).
Balnaves The Blend 2007 Beautifully fragrant if a bit simple, with minty overtones to vibrant fruit characters. Light-medium bodied, easy drinking style. Does nothing outstanding but also does nothing offensive. 87
Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Slightly closed aroma with red/black fruits easily overlapped by pronounced seasoned cedar oak. Light-medium bodied palate drops a bit short towards a dry finish. 87
Balnaves The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Lovely, vividly ripe, almost confection fruit-like nose. Touches of choc-mint and mocha oak woven throughout cassis and violet aromas with floral overtones. Medium-full bodied, palate shows classic Tally concentration and power, with its freshly fruited base leading into a wonderfully long finish marked by sturdy tannins. 95
Bowen Estate is one of Coonawarra's most successful boutique operations. Essentially a father/daughter team, they usually deliver a very focused range which consists of the regional specialties of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, as well as one of the region's more interesting whites with their chardonnay. The 2007 reds are unsurprisingly ripe and meaty, lacking the polish, length and drive of the better seasons. At their best, they're some of the most complex, undervalued wines in Coonwarra.
Bowen Estate Chardonnay 2006 Nutty, buttery, toasty nose with grapefruit characters evident. Its smoothly textured palate shows a refined, slightly idiosyncratic, mineral fruit profile, but lacks the length and drive required for more points. 88
Bowen Estate Shiraz 2007 Ripe, meaty, savoury fragrance with elements of olive. Palate is full and plush but decidedly ripe. 85
Bowen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Savoury, slightly leafy nose with red/plummy fruit. Full-bodied, ripe and meaty, rounded cabernet palate finishes sweet but lacks finesse. 88
McWilliam's Coonawarra outpost has delivered some pretty handy wines lately. I appreciate the extra time they are allowed to develop in the bottle, which benefits their accessibility when young. South Australian McWilliam's rep Sam Brand is great at what he does too, very unique. A wine company representative with a penchant for Nike Air Max - now that's a modern twist I can relate to!
Brand's Laira Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Scented with savoury vanilla oak, mulberries and dark fruit. Has good aromatic lift. Pleasingly juicy, ripe palate announces lashings of fruit flavour before a long, dry finish underscored by herbal undertones. A fine expression of 2005 Coonawarra cabernet at this price. 90
Brand's Laira Steinford's Reserve Shiraz 2005 Richly fruited currant nose with intriguing hints of suede. Does reflect older vine material. Rich palate develops into a pleasingly savoury finish marked by grainy tannins. 91