Western Australia’s Margaret River has to be one of the most picturesque wine regions, not only in Australia, but in the world. Home to a number of small boutique wineries, the region has thrust itself into the mindset of wine drinkers by producing stunning wines that capture the breathtaking beauty on view in the bottle.
Although Margaret River is one of the biggest wine regions in Australia, it is home to only around three percent of total wine production. Spread over some 3000 square kilometres, the region is made up of a patchwork of small vineyards with only around 54 square kilometres planted under vine. It might be small in terms of production, but with iconic names such as Leeuwin, Vasse Felix, Voyager, Cape Mentelle and Cullen calling the region home, it’s not hard to be seduced by this far-flung corner of the Australian wine scene.
From then to now
The region itself is relatively young when compared to the historical wine regions found elsewhere across Australia. Whereas viticulture can be traced back to the mid-to-late 1800s in South Australia and Victoria, the first vines were only planted in in the mid-1960s in ‘Margs’. Since then the region has bolted ahead and not looked back when it comes to producing wines of intensity and intrigue and that have proven themselves to be amongst the very best in Australia today.
Margaret River conditions and climate
With most of the annual rainfall coming in the winter, and summers remaining warm and dry, the region is blessed in terms of climatic conditions. Mix this in with the cooling maritime influence of the Indian Ocean and the incredible mix of gravelly soils, and you have a region that has a remarkable ability to produce wines that are similar in structure and longevity to the classic wines produced from the gravelly soils of Bordeaux in France. The climate and soil aren’t the only similarities that ‘Margs’ shares with Bordeaux. Bordeaux is home to the classic international variety that is Cabernet Sauvignon, and is the home of fine wine production in France. Margaret River is also predominantly planted to cabernet, and although it is responsible for only 3% of the nations’ planting, it is responsible for around 20% of the premium wine market - which goes to show that these producers must be doing something right with the small volume of fruit that they are producing!
The iconic producers mentioned thrive when it comes to producing the classic, leafy, cabernet-dominant wines that the region has become known for. Year after year, Vanya Cullen releases a Cabernet/Merlot blend that sets the benchmark for others in the region. Her top blend, the iconic Cullen ‘Diane Madeline’, which is only released in exceptional years, regularly competes for the title of the nations’ best red wine. The mighty Voyager Estate produce a few different cabernet blends, with their ‘Girt by Sea’ being one of the region’s best value wines, and their estate Cabernet/Merlot being fitting enough to grace the cellar of any serious collector.
Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-dominant blends might govern our minds when thinking of Margaret River and the stunning wines made there, they are not the only string to the region’s bow. Much like Bordeaux again, the region excels when it comes to producing sauvignon blanc and semillon blends that are punchy, fresh, textual and packed full of flavour. It’s tough to look past the wines of Lenton Brae, Cape Mentelle and Pierro when looking to these blends which demand a plate of locally-sourced seafood to help wash them down!
And we can’t finish off without talking about Chardonnay (which Bordeaux doesn’t do well – or at all!). Margaret River and Chardonnay just seem to work. The region produces wines of intensity and precision, wines that are packed to the rafters in every department but that remain focussed and tightly wound in their youth but develop into complex, rich wines with a bit of bottle age. There are numerous producers that excel with Chardonnay in the region, but it would be foolhardy to overlook the stunning wines made by Virginia Wilcox (current VC winemaker of the year) at Vasse Felix. And you can’t talk about Margaret River and Chardonnay without talking about Leeuwin Estate. Their Art Series Chardonnay ranks as one of the nation’s finest but if it is out of reach (it tends to get snapped up by collectors and restaurants pretty quickly); then their Prelude is every bit as good an introduction as you will get to this magnificent estate.