Coonawarra is probably the most well known red wine appellation in Australia. The secret, according to Australians, is the Terra Rossa--the layer of red soil that lies over a limestone base. Regions outside of this narrow strip cannot claim to be Coonawarra even though they lie along the limestone coast of South Australia. I suspect that the micro-climate also plays a role, and one winemaker told me that the average temperature of Coonawarra is about two degrees cooler than nearby areas.
My favorite wine tasted on our visit to Coonawarra was the 2011 Bowen Estate Shiraz. The late Trevor Mast often spoke highly of the wines of "Dougie Bowen's wines." Doug is still living but has turned over vineyard and winery duties to his daughter, Emma. In what was recognized as a difficult vintage, Emma produced a beautiful Shiraz. Peppery, spicy and energetic; made me want to come back for more.
Redman is another old-line Coonawarra facility with duties recently being turned over to younger members of the family. The wine is made using open fermenters, concrete tanks and seasoned oak barrels--a traditional approach that I like. The wines I tasted, though, were not as immediately enjoyable as those at Bowen's. My favorite, the 2008 Cabernet, was fat and ripe but a bit alcoholic and one dimensional at this stage. Away from the winery, I enjoyed a 1984 Redman's Cabernet from a Jereboam (the equivalent of 12 bottles) that my brother-in-law purchased on release. Lush and ripe but with lower alcohol than the 2008 tasted at the winery. A wine that has aged very gracefully.
Probably best known to Americans are wines from Wynn's Coonawarra Estate. These wines are still highly regarded (as mentioned by Emma Bowen) and showed well at our tasting. I used to buy Wynn's wines for under $10 a bottle in Michigan, but the price has increased considerably even at the Cellar Door.