In his review of the Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker asks, “Is this Australia’s answer to a top-class Pauillac?

The luxury 1992 Odyssey (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) is Katnook Estate’s top cuvee. The wine spends 30 months in French oak, and comes across as a serious Bordeaux look-alike. The dark ruby/purple color is saturated to the rim. The nose offers up reticent but promising aromas of cigar box, cedar, fruit cake, black currant, and toasty notes. In the mouth, black cherry/black currant flavors are impressive and full-bodied, with nicely integrated acidity and tannin. (Wine Advocate #119, October 1998)

You may not always agree with Parker’s assessments, but you can’t dispute the breadth and depth of his palate. If he compares an Australian Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to a top Bordeaux you know it’s a very informed opinion, based on years of tasting wines from all over the world.

Aromas of “cigar box, cedar, fruit cake, black currant, and toasty notes” are indeed descriptors frequently used in tasting notes for the best Pauillac wines – an appellation that is home to three of the five First Growths. Pauillac wines are also admired for their concentrated flavours and voluptuous texture, so to compare a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to a top Pauillac is very high praise indeed.

Wine critic James Halliday jokes that Coonawarra on South Australia’s Limestone Coast and the Haut Medoc of Bordeaux prove the exception to the rule that almost all of the foremost wine regions of the world are landscapes of great beauty!  Coonawarra is a cigar-shaped strip of land only 12km long and 2km wide that is all but taken up by vineyards. The flat, bleak terrain is subject to cold, wet and windy winters and, like Bordeaux, enough vagaries in the weather to make vintage conditions unpredictable.

But the appellation does have one very important attribute going for it – its friable, well-drained ancient terra rossa soil on a slightly elevated limestone ridge. Terra rossa refers to the fact that the limestoned-based soils have been turned red by the oxidation of iron impurities in the top soil. As Halliday notes, this soil has been “universally recognised as the greatest terroir for cabernet sauvignon in Australia.”

Halliday quotes Peter Sichel, former president of the Grand Crus de Bordeaux, as saying: “Terroir determines the character of the wine, man its quality.”

In the case of the Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon, the man responsible for its creation is winemaker Wayne Stehbens, who has made wines for Katnook for over 30 years and is possibly Australia’s longest serving winemaker. Stehbens works closely with Vineyard Manager Chris Brodie to insure the best possible outcomes in the vineyard.

First released in 1996 from the 1991 vintage, the wine has won a string of international trophies including Best Australian Red and the Frescobaldi Trophy for Best Vintage Red Wine, awarded twice, at the 2003 UK International Wine & Spirit Competition for the 1998 Odyssey.

See James Halliday, The Australian Wine Encyclopedia, Hardie Grant Books 2009

Back vintages of the Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon are available on the Cellarit Wine Market.

Merrill Witt, Editor