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1998 Petaluma Coonawarra & 2002 Rockford Basket Press

April 12, 2009

The occasion, on 9th April 2009, was another one of those Ward 48 dinners hosted by the Consultants and Registrars for the MOs and HOs. This time we returned to KaSoh at the SMA Alumni. Poh Seng brought the Petaluma while I contributed the Rockford.

The Petaluma Coonawarra has always been one of my perenial favourites amongst Australian reds, as i) it’s a blend between cabernet sauvignon and merlot, rather than a straight varietal that’s so typical of New World reds; and ii) its expression remains faithful to the Coonawarra terroir, as evidenced by the fact that the region, rather than varietal, is listed on the label, another bit that’s atypical for a New World red. As 1998 was an outstanding vintage for Coonawarra (I still have fond memories of the ’98 Penley Reserve and ’98 Parker First Growth), my expectations were high.

The wine, poured straight from bottle, was deep purple right up to the rim. Tasted right after a horrible New Zealand red (a 2001 Herzog, also from P.S.) that opened the evening’s proceedings, the bouquet of fresh ripe blackcurrant and dark fruits was most welcome. The palate held up to the initial promise: medium to full-bodied, layered fruit, soft tannins that still lent good structure. There was none of the alcohol heat that tend to mar most Aussie reds, and the wood had long faded into obscurity, leaving behind purity of fruit. After an hour, the wine gelled further into a slightly sweet, harmonious finish. Interestingly, it doesn’t have the tell-tale plum-like character which the ’98 Penley possessed in abundance. No one will mistake this for a Pauillac; it’s proudly Coonawarra. This ’98 is much better than the 2001 vintage (unbalanced, with too much alcohol heat), and is likely what the excellent 2004 will eventually evolve into. Excellent.


But the wine of the evening undoubtedly was the 2002 Rockford Basket Press. I’ve had nothing but the highest expectations each time I taste Rockford Basket Press, ever since I first gained its acquaintance in 2004 while residing in Adelaide. Released every March (and sold out before June), the Basket Press needs plenty of time. Even weak vintages such as the 1997 eventually gained weight and fleshed out in bottle after 8-10 years, and when last tasted in Dec 2008, was still going strong. I had some reservations about opening the 2002, knowing that it’s actually way too early still, but since I’ve got 4 bottles in my Basket Press vertical (1997-2006, missing only the 2000), I decided to be generous.

Knowing that the wine would be huge (my wife and I couldn’t finish the 2001 over a 2-hour dinner couple of years back), I double-decanted it for 6 hours. By the time we drank it, the wine had been opened for 9 hours: deep red with slight lightening at the rim, beautiful bouquest of ripe sweet redcurrants and raisins, full-bodied, huge, layer upon layer of rich delicious fruit supported by judicious acid, wood and alcohol (without the heat!), and a sophisticated tannic backbone. Long, sweet finish. It is not the sort of alcoholic fruit-bomb that’s typical of so many Barossa reds. It’s got everything in abundance, but much more tightly wound and sophisticated. Complex. Superb. I’m not touching my remaining 3 bottles for the next 10 years. The later vintages of Basket Press (the 2005 comes to mind) are highly accessible right from the start, but common sense dictates that they must be put to sleep for at least 10 years.

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