“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





04 December 2013


Zema Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 
$25 at cellar door; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points 

Sometime in the early eighties I sat at the table of Demetrio "Black Duck" Zema and his bonnie wife, Francesca. They'd bought some venerable bush vines beside Wynn's Coonawarra winery, where Francesca's dad Nick had commenced working for David Wynn in the 1953 vintage, when winemaker Ian Hickinbotham had made his world-changing discovery of how malolactic ferments worked. Veteran Wynns man Ken Ward helped the Zemas with their first vintages, which we drank with as much fusto as gusto. Francesca served each of us a quail and a pigeon, which pretty well did me.  Then she served us wild duck: two each.  Then came an enormous platter of pasta.  Then cheeses and fabulous country desserts.  Every time I put my nose in a glass of Zema, I recall the generosity and hearty nature of that amazing feast. The wines have always been full of such giving, and stand apart from the rest of Coonawarra.  At about the same time I sat at midnight in the gutter of King William Street Adelaide with Rouge Homme winemaker Greg Clayfield and necked a bottle of Grange. We'd been at dinner in the old Buring and Sobels Quelltaler House in Gilbert Place, and bought that take-away schlück because we were still thirsty.  That Grange didn't last long.  Clayfield now works with the Zema family.  All of these things arise from every glass of Zema. This Cabernet reinforces all those memories and more. From a solid, ripe vintage, it's rich and hearty and soulful and grows beautifully soft if you give it plenty of air - I'm just now finishing a bottle which I started on four days ago.  It goes swimmingly with Pecorino pepato.  But I'd prefer one of them there ducks. 

Zema Estate Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 
$40 at cellar door; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points

Zema Family Selection is pretty much the Rolls Royce of Coonawarra Cabernet.  Others might make tight-and-edgy Ferraris and Lambos, but this big baby has all the walnut and plush leather and you sit a lot higher.  In the back.  With a cigar.  It has all the bright-and-dark fruits of the best of the region's Cabernet, with a little of the minty eucalyptol aroma typical of the district.  Coonawarra had been a red gum forest originally, with a honeysuckle (Banksia marginata) understorey.  If you've ever tried to wash the smell of eucalyptus oil off your fingers you may begin to realise how such a unique volatile aroma can haunt a region's air and ground.  Add that heady wildflower honey whiff and some plush cedary/gingery oak to fruit painstakingly selected from hand-tended vineyards, and you begin to get the general idea.  Oh yes, it has a layer of the methoxypyrazine/tomato leaf/Deadly Nightshade edge that gives Coonawarra Cabernet its slice. Eight was a tricky year, and the heatwave sent sugars ripping north, but there's not too much sign of any of that in here.  It's more of a majestic Zema than a 2008 Coonawarra.  Best with some air and mutton shanks cooked real slow in tomato and black olives with some juniper berries. 

Zema Estate Family Selection Coonawarra Shiraz 2008 
$40 at the cellar door; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points 

Bacchanal wine.  No doubt about it.  While I'm sure that alcohol number on the back is not quite high enough to reflect your actual reality, neither is this much of bother, given the overall effect.  A little American oak adds some coconut husk and cedar to this rude but polished, generous but dignified essence.  Of these three lovely reds, this is the one you just open and pour.  It may take you to Calabria before it gets you to Coonawarra, but hey, what's a diversion like that worth to the serious partying glutton? If you have a troublesome wild boar handy, sacrifice him on the altar and eat him without cutlery or crockery, accompanied by a goatskin of this. On the day of reckoning, blame the results on Unca Phil and the Almighty will understand and forgive.  He won't want every customer joining me down by the fire.  
Okay, okay, I realise it's Pan, not Bacchus, but you get my drift, and I'm sure they'll both forgive me. Even the bits about the goatskin and the pig. This is New South Wales artist Sydney Long's 1898 work from the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. There are ponds in the limestone bush around Coonawarra which always remind me of this remarkable early example of Ozart nouveau.  All top spots to drink Zema. And groove. 

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