Sunday, 25 November 2012

Katnook Estate: An Iconic Winery, from an Iconic Wine Region

One of Australia’s most famous wine regions, Coonawarra (pop. 335), is also its most remote. Unlike the Hunter Valley, Adelaide Hills or Yarra Valley, which can be easily accommodated within a day’s itinerary from the nearest capital city, Coonawarra is a five hour drive from either Adelaide or Melbourne. Luckily for us here in Singapore, Coonawarra came to us instead, in the form of Katnook Estate during a dinner at Mag’s Wine Kitchen

Australia is a country shaped by brands such as Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek, yet in recent years a distinct focus on regionality has begun to take shape. As the Barossa Valley is inextricably linked to its rich, heady Shiraz, so too is Coonawarra associated with Cabernet Sauvignon. Coonawarra’s famous terra rossa soils, a reddish brown topsoil of clay and loam over well-drained limestone, is said to be ideally suited to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety. Including the word Coonawarra on the label now commands a price premium that was the source of acrimonious debate between winemakers and the courts over the boundaries of this region. 

The area where Katnook Estate now stands was once a fruit farm owned by John Riddoch, an Irish immigrant who founded Coonawarra. Katnook Estate has gone through several changes of ownership, culminating in its purchase by the Spanish conglomerate Freixenet in 2008. Continuity is provided by winemaker Wayne Stehbens who has been at the helm since the first commercial vintage in 1980. Under his watch, Katnook Estate has won two Jimmy Watson trophies and an inclusion in Langton’s Classification of Australian wine. The wines are divided into the following tiers starting with the top range; Katnook Limited Release, Katnook Estate and Katnook Founder’s Block.

The dinner got off to a good beginning with a plump, melt-in-your-mouth scallop carpaccio with pumpkin puree, soya and wasabi pearls. It was paired with the Katnook Estate Riesling 2009, a fruit driven wine with notes of lime, Chinese plum, guava and stone fruit. Pronounce mineral intensity and juicy acidity provide firm structure while the finish reveals a hint of kerosene. Discovering that an area known for Cabernet Sauvignon can also produce noteworthy Rieslings is somewhat of a surprise. Alison Harvey of Wingara Wine Group (an Australian offshoot owned by Freixenet) notes that there are other soils beside terra rossa in Connawarra, saying “The link between grape variety and region is not as straightforward as the Old World would have you believe”.  

The next wine, also white, served to reinforce this notion. The Katnook Estate Chardonnay 2010 displayed intense aromas of yoghurt, vanilla and melted butter overlaying citrus and pear fruit, a delicious expression of modern Australian Chardonnay. This was served with a 63 degree egg with sautéed lobster in chorizo oil and potato ribbons. The creamy texture of the egg yolk contrasted nicely with the salty cubes of chorizo, each bite giving a small explosion of flavour. 

The next two wines were from the Founder’s Block range, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz both from the 2010 vintage. Alison states that whereas the Katnook Estate series requires some time in bottle, Founder’s Block wines can be appreciated immediately. Another difference is that grapes for Founder’s Block are bought in while the Estate label is sourced entirely from Katnook’s own vineyards*. The Cabernet had a distinctive nose with notes of black fruits and bell pepper while the Shiraz had softer, riper notes of spice and plums. Accompanying these wines were the two most sinful dishes of the evening, a marbled, umami-rich wagyu tataki with garlic honey soy, and smoked duck breast with onion confit and deliciously chilled flakes of foie gras. 

The final wine of the evening was a real stunner. The first vintage of the Katnook Limited Release Shiraz, made from young vines, managed to win the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1998 straight off the bat. The early success of this wine led to it being named “Prodigy”. Along with the “Odyssey” Cabernet Sauvignon, both wines are the flagships of Katnook Estate. We sampled the Prodigy Shiraz 2008, which was admittedly far too young to fully appreciate, but already showed marvellous complexity on the nose and palate. Dense and tight at first, it was persuaded to yield intense plum, forest fruits, spice and blueberry flavours when paired with chef Magdelene Tang’s generously portioned lamb rack with root vegetables. 

Thanks to Crystal Wines Pte Ltd, the local distributor of Katnook Estates, you can obtain the wines in Singapore instead of travelling to Coonawarra, but if you decide that nothing beats the authentic experience, you will be welcomed by friendly staff and a newly renovated cellar door that stays true to its 19th century architecture. It’s a fairly long trip, but as the saying goes, getting there is half the fun. The other half is the Odyssey. 

* 27/11/2012 - Alison has informed me that fruit for the Founder's Block range is now 100% sourced from Katnook Estate's own vineyards.

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