Penang Wynns every time
GEORGE TOWN, June 11 — Shirazes, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, not to mention Rieslings and Chardonnays – these are what Sue Hodder knows best. That’s because, as senior winemaker of Wynns Coonawara Estate, she is one of Australia’s best-known winemakers, and has worked with some of the New Country’s most prestigious vintages for over two decades.
Wynns Estate, with its distinctive woodcut drawing label of the winery façade, is situated in southern Australia just outside Coonawara, a small town about four hours from Adelaide. The cool weather and terra rossa (red earth) terrain there is perfect for growing grapes.
The vineyard, founded by Scotsman John Riddoch in 1891, was taken over by the Merlbourne-based Wynn family winemakers in 1951, and today it is the largest single landholder, with 950 hectares, and the longest-established vineyard in the region. I met up with Sue at a wine dinner held to showcase some of their vintage collection when she was in Penang recently.
What exactly does a winemaker do? I asked her. “I oversee the making of wine, and work with the vineyard to make sure we produce the best wines possible,” was her succinct reply. A qualified viticulturist, Sue feels that, despite over 20 years in the business, she still learns something new every day.
The two-week Asian visit, with whistle stops in Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, was to “touch base” with the many loyal customers who collect their wines. But what is it that differentiates a Wynns label, which retails from RM98 per bottle, from other lower-priced wines from the Old Countries and, for that matter, Australia?
“We produce wines of provenance,” Sue explained. Rather like old cars or watches, these are wines with a traceable history, and can be verified as far as its vintage, authenticity and knowledge of storage temperatures are concerned. “These wines age well, laid down by connoisseurs to be brought out only for special occasions like birthdays or celebrations.”
The dinner, held at the Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa’s swanky Feringgi Grill, was prepared by their experienced team led by Chef Yeoh Chee Teong. The amuse bouche was accompanied by their Riesling 2010, crisp and dry with tart lemony overtones, and went well with the tiny morsel of avocado curd.
I don’t mind admitting to a penchant for white wines, and thought the Wynns 2010 Chardonnay was rather palatable. It’s not too dry, with peachy aromas which complemented the fishy second course of Scallop Boudin Blanc.
Perfectly cooked South Australian lamb, juicy and succulent, was accompanied by their best-selling Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, first produced in 1954 and with a reputation for displaying regional and varietal characteristics. This wine is produced from the top 20-25 per cent of Cabernet fruit from the estate, and its hint of tobacco leaves matched well with the musky meat.
The piece de resistance of the evening though was undoubtedly their premier label, the best-of-vintage 2008 Michael Shiraz. This robust and full-bodied red was a perfect companion to the tender wagyu beef tenderloin it was served with. First released in 1990, Michael was named after former proprietor David Wynn’s son. Made with fruits from the best vineyards in Coonawara, it has become a legend of the Australian wine industry, a fact reflected by the price: a bottle retails at RM328.
It’s a sign of our changing palates that Sue, who also conducted a master class for the food and beverage staff of the three Shangri-La properties here, was quite impressed with their enthusiasm and knowledge.
“It was a revelation to me how much they know,” she said, “and how interested they were about the products.”
Wynns Estate wines are available from Milawa: www.vintry.com.my (KL) or www.thewineshoppg.com.my (Penang). Other states are supplied via courier service.