Katnook, Coonawarra. Australia

wayne Katnook Estate is based in Coonawara, one of the most prestigious red wine regions in South Australia. Indeed the name Katnook is an aboriginal word meaning ‘Fat Land’, referring to the rich, red soils commonly referred to as ‘terra rossa’ that made Coonawarra famous.

Though Katnook’s history begins in 1896 with Scottish immigrant John Riddoch, winemaker Wayne Stehbens (right) has put the estate on the map over the past 30 years (the company reckons he is the longest serving winemaker in Australia, working for the same employer). In that time Katnook has won two Jimmy Watson trophies, Australia’s most prestigious wine prize, so clearly the relationship is one that works.

In fact the family-owned company became part of Spanish giant Freixenet’s portfolio in 2008, but stays under the guidance of Wayne Stehbens and Vineyard Manager Chris Brodie, and not much has changed in terms of the vine growing and wine making philosophy. Their 198 hectares of vineyard are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (almost 50% of the total), Shiraz and Merlot, as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

Coonawarra is a relatively cool wine region, with similar climatic conditions to Bordeaux, meaning a long, mostly sunny growing season but with cool overall temperatures. The mean temperature in Coonawara is a full degree lower than in the Barossa Valley for example.

In terms of winemaking, Wayne Stehbens says “Winemaking is an exciting challenge here from year to year. Nothing is static. Seasons, knowledge, equipment, oak. – even our markets – they’re forever evolving.” Approximately 90,000 cases are made annually, though only 20,000 under the Katnook Estate label. The estate also produces wines under the Katnook Founder’s Block and Riddoch labels. I recently lined up three vintages of their estate Cabernet Sauvignon to taste, and will be adding a second tasting of three vintage of the less expensive Founder’s Block Cabernet too soon.

The wine sells for around £18 – £20 per bottle, and you can see all vintages currently for sale in the UK on wine-searcher

The wines

Cabernet Sauvignon Katnook Estate, Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Australia
Glorious stuff with eucalyptus and mint overlaying really creamy, dark, glossy black fruit and with a little undertow of cedar. The palate is similarly full, fleshy and ripe but with marvellous texture and length and chocolate-smooth tannins. Big and beautiful, this also has a juicy black cherry acidity and more of that little cedary, nutmeg twist on the finish that keeps it fresh and savoury. Delicious stuff and can’t wait for the lamb to come out of the oven…. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Katnook Estate, Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Australia
2005 is a highly regarded Coonawara vintage, and Katnook’s Cabernet gave slightly lower yields than on average leading to natural concentration. There’s a slick overlay of vanilla and plenty of eucalyptus, an impression of chocolate richness and plummy, deep fruit. On the palate it is that savoury but sweet, sour but ripe weight of plum, blackcurrant and tart black cherry that floods the mouth. The background of creamy, charry oak is there (the wine spent over two years in French oak barriques) but the layers of flavour and texture in this wine are delicious. Polished tannins and good acid balance give it length – and will give it longevity too. 93/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Katnook Estate, Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Australia
The harvest in 2006 was an early one following a slightly higher than average temperatures and a dry, settled ripening season. The wine was aged for 22 months in French oak. It has the most dense, plummy and darkly chocolaty nose of the three wines here, a brooding muscularity and a little less of the minty lift. Cedar and spice comes through. On the palate this follows a similar pattern, the fleshy plum and sinewy, meaty density of the wine much more slanted towards the sour and grippy acids and spicy but soft tannic weight. There is good fruit here, and the real core of sweetness teases in and out of focus suggesting it needs time to unfurl, perhaps another five years. 92/100, potential for 93/100 certainly. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

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