Western Australia is enormous - bigger than Texas enormous. Bigger than Alaska. Actually bigger than Texas and Alaska put together. Most of WA is entirely unsuitable for winemaking however, either too hot, too arid, or too humid. However down in the South Eastern corner, about 280km South of Perth is the Margaret River wine region. Small by Australian standards, about 5,000 hectares (or roughly 5 times the size of the Martinborough & Wairarapa wine region). It produces about 3% of Australian wine, but more than 20% of its awards - Margaret River is serious on quality.
Last night we hosted a tasting lineup of 9 different wines from Margaret River. There are rougly 200 producers, mostly boutique operations that don't travel this side of the ditch. That said, there are some excellent wines that do arrive here from some of the most acclaimed wineries... but I get the feeling that we only scratched the surface with our lineup and given the quality of the wines I'd like to see a lot more.
When given the choice, especially dollar for dollar, one would generally recommend NZ whites, and Ozzie reds. Margaret River however is a cooler region, roughly similar to Bordeaux in a dry year. As a result it produces some excellent whites as well as red - and best known for their Chardonnay and Cabernet they do some stunning Semillon as well.
A bit like New Zealand, Western Australia is young. The coast was only fully charted in the early 1800s, and the first permanent European settlement in the 1820s. The first commercial vineyard started in 1967 - Vasse Felix first bought their land at the princely sum of $75 per acre ... which would buy you a single bottle of their top tier Chardonnay these days!
On our tasting platter went went as Aussie as we dared- the Shrimp wasn't on the Barbie (it's winter) but rather pan fried in butter, crumbly aged cheddar, seared ostrich, kangaroo steak stew, and roasted veges.
We kicked off with Cape Mentelle's Sav-Sem 2014, a blend of 58% Sauvignon Blanc and 42% Semillon. Bright, clean and zesty, the Sav definitely dominating the blend with grassy fresh herbaceous flavours with a hint of stony mineral nature underneath.
Next, one of my favourite wines of the night; Moss Wood Semillon 2011 - a rich sumptuous wine, the fruit picked in three tranches (green, medium ripe, and fully ripe) to balance the freshness with richness, texture, fruit and acidity. Waxy texture, green melon, fresh apple, citrus and nutmeg. Gorgeous wine now at 4 years old but will age gracefully for easily another 5 years.
Onto the Chardonnays, the Xanadu Chardonnay 2012 is my kind of Chardy - whole bunch pressed, fermented with natural yeast, with plenty of lees stirring and aged in French oak (25% new). Clean and powerful fruit with loads of nectarine, yellow grapefruit, oatmeal, with delicate white florals with a tight zingy mineral backbone and a long savoury finish.
Next up the price ladder is the Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2013 - a big wine with big oak (45% new barrels). I'd like to say a high portion of Mendoza fruit as the wine oozes mealy savoury characters. Reductive roasted nuts and struck match on the nose, tightly bound core of zesty citrus with nuances of smoky meats mushroom. Very full and deserves plenty of time in the cellar.
Onto the reds, we kick off with a cheapie Shiraz - Byron and Harold's 'Circle of Life' 2013 - made with a cold soak to emphasise the bright fruit, followed by a long warm ferment and aged in oak for 9 months. Dark tangy black fruit, a touch of cedary spice.
About three steps up the quality scale, onto the Leeuwin Estate 'Art Series' Shiraz 2012. Leeuwin was established in the 1970s with help from American wine icon Robert Mondavi and shot to prominence in 1980 when their Art Series Chardonnay won Decanter Magazine's blind international tasting. Their Shiraz is fermented gently, partial whole bunch, with 20 months in French oak. A deep core of blueberry, blackberry, violets, with plenty of vanilla, dark chocolate and silky round tannins.
Zinfandel is not a grape seen much outside of California and South Eastern Italy (where it goes by the name Primitivo). Zin abhors changable weather conditions, which explains why it doesn't grow extensively in NZ. Cape Mentelle Zinfandel 2013 comes from Californian cuttings, blended with 5% Shiraz - bright fragrant boysenberry, raspberry, caramel and sweet spice.
Lastly a pair of Cabernet Sauvignons. Cullen Cabernet Merlot 2013 is 89% Cab, 11% Merlot. A rich, savoury and herbaceous wine - blackcurrant, broccoli stalk, green herbs. Big oak again with 14 months in French oak, 39% new barrels.
Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is their flagship wine - made with a small amount of Merlot and Cab Franc. 18 months on oak, with close to 50% new wood. A huge wine, very concentrated cassis, red currant, cigar box, black plum, black liquorice, Bold but very ripe firm tannins, Cape Mentelle says it will go 30+ years - but I wouldn't have the patience to set this aside for that long.