Western Australia – 3 wonderful weeks of wine, food & travel
2004 was the year that Australia wrested pole position in the UK market from the French. In some respects it’s since been a victim of its own towering success because, although Australia maintains it’s number one position, today there’s a degree of apathy towards its wines in a market dominated by big volume brands – wines which could be from anywhere (and increasingly are – Chile and South Africa by way of example).
Western Australia – a firm favourite
It so happens that 2004 was also the year I first visited Australia. The timing could not have been better. Wine Australia sent me, then a Fine Wine Manager for Oddbins, and three sommeliers from Michelin-starred restaurants, on a whistle stop tour of classic Australian regions. In two and a half weeks we visited Western Australia (“WA”), South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales – it swept us off our feet in more ways than one! Though Margaret River in WA was our very first port of call, it remained a firm favourite. Why? First, the wines were absolutely informed by their place of origin – the climate and soils. Second, we loved the bright fruit and elegant, food-friendly structure of Western Australian wines.
In 2007, I was back for an in depth study. After a fast and furious fortnight doing vintage at Cullen in Margaret River, I hit the road for two weeks on a voyage of discovery to other Western Australian premium wine regions: Swan Valley, Peel, Geographe, Pemberton and Great Southern (you can read my report here). 2008 brought me back to Great Southern for a pin-sharp focus on Riesling, reportedhere. Each visit reinforced WA’s strength – its focus on regionally differentiated, premium wines and winemaking excellence wed to terroir. The high water mark of WA’s fine wine culture? Margaret River’s Cabernet Sauvignon, red and white Bordeaux blends and Chardonnay, Great Southern’s Riesling and Cabernet and Swan Valley’s fortified liqueurs. But Pemberton is onto a winner with Sauvignon Blanc and, with new clones carefully matched to site, Rhone varieties and Pinot Noir have really started to take off in the South West.
This, my fourth visit to Western Australia, featured the most ambitious brief to date – as the folder says, Sarah Ahmed’s regional challenge! I spent three weeks juggling itineraries arranged by Tourism Western Australia, the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia, Howard Park, McHenry Hohnen and joined Wine-pages’ Tom Cannavan for a day of his Wine Australia programme. Tom and I then both judged at Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia, the only show in Australia exclusively to focus on Western Australian wines – perfect to reacquaint myself with how different varieties perform across WA’s diverse regions.
Less well known to me was the burgeoning locovore gourmet food culture that has grown up around WA’s food-friendly wines. My tourism itinerary provided the opportunity to visit a trufferie and olive farm and interview farmers, chefs and producer members of Margaret River’s Slow Food movement. It was exciting to discover a vibrant food scene whose twin mantra, “fresh is best” and “buy West eat best,” accounts for a thriving, independent sector. Just like WA’s wine “industry,” it’s awash with small-scale, passionately quality-focused producers. What’s more, for many of these owner-operated businesses, long term sustainability is a key driver and this translates into principled farming, fishing and viticultural practices.
So to summarise, this is not a state where biggest is best – its loudest voices champion provenance. It’s about quality over quantity. As leading chef Russell Blaikie (pictured with Phillip & Sheelagh Marshall’s Torbay asparagus) puts it, “in Europe they have a DOC system to identify quality regional produce, but in Australia it requires us chefs to champion great products and producers.” Similarly, delighted that Wine of Show went to Brookland Valley’s premium, single vineyard 2008 Chardonnay, Qantas Wine Show’s Chief Judge Vanya Cullen beamed “it spreads the word of regional single site and terroir.”
In this report, I’ll trot through the highlights of each itinerary, save those I’ve recounted in individual reports on my visits. You’ll find my Howard Park reporthere and my McHenry Hohnen report here. You can also find tips about eco-friendly activities and where to stay, eat and drink in a feature I wrote for Decanter, now posted online here and in Part III of Tom Cannavan’s wine-pages report of his WA visit here.
It’s off to a gentle start, getting my bearings in Perth through a haze of jetlag and exploring the wine and food scene. But not before my first post-breakfast coffee in Kings Park, a beautiful, elevated spot overlooking the City. Incidentally, Fraser’s restaurant has stunning views at sunset and, when I ate there in 2007, the food and wine list impressed. Aspects next door is a treasure trove of local arts and crafts that’ll have you reaching for the wallet.
Pizza might not be the obvious first stop. However, chef/patron Raffaele Brotzu ofDelizioso Café (pictured) has won a stack of awards for his “al taglio” (by the slice) pizzas, including the “Gourmet Pizza of the Year” World Championship at Pizza Expo, Las Vegas in 2008. It’s also the perfect spot to top up my jetlag buffering caffein levels – espresso yes please!
Born in Italy and trained in Rome in the art of artisanal pizza-making, Brotzu succumbed to the charms of Coral Bay when he holidayed in WA. Workwise, he’s loved leaving behind the inherent conservatism of Rome and constraints of Italy’s traditional DOC system. Describing working in Australia as “unbelievable,” Brotzu’s excited by the culture of innovation and the fusion of Australian, Asian, Italian and French food cultures. Take his kangaroo ragu pizza with truffle infused pecorino and rocket or his world championship-winning rock melon, prosciutto and taleggio pizza. He shakes his head, no way could he make these in Italy.
He’s also enthused by the local produce – Fremantle sardines and octopus, Fini and Kailis organic olive oil, ricotta from Perth Hills and fresh herbs. I try Caprese, mushroom and traditional Roman patate pizzas and pizza Bianca with a selection of antipasti, all delizioso of course, especially the latter (pictured). The base is exceptionally light and crispy thanks to a “mature mix” (left for 24 hours) and its semolina-dusting.
Finally, here are Brotzu’s hot tips on where to wine and dine in WA: Bouchard, Pate Negra, Star Anise, Jacksons, Restaurant Amusé and The Loose Box. I didn’t have time to visit them but these names came up over and over again, especially The Loose Box whose French chef is regarded as one of Australia’s finest.
Dynasty – Lamonts
As luck would have it, an unscheduled visit to the recently opened Lamont’s Wine Store Cottesloe, brought me face to face with popular WA chef, Kate Lamont (pictured). Kate is the grand-daughter of one of WA’s pioneering wine heroes, winemaker Jack Mann. Her father established Lamont’s winery in the Swan Valley in 1978 and the family empire has since expanded to include restaurants in the Swan, Margaret River, East Perth and said trendy Perth coastal suburb of Cottesloe, all spear-headed by Kate.
The Cottesloe outlet is a new departure because it takes the form of a vinoteca. There’s a great selection of Aussie and international wines which you can enjoy in the restaurant for a mark up of $18.50 on the retail price. What’s more, each wine is available by the glass so it’s a great place to taste some top shelf kit without breaking the bank. Food-wise, the focus is on simple, seasonal food, just tapas if you like. The strong focus on wine reflects the philosophy extolled in Kate’s new book “Wine & food,” with chapters organised by wine style. As she explains “always start with the wine first because you can’t change the wine, but you can change or tweak the food.” Now that’s my kind of priority!
Lamonts run a comprehensive tasting programme throughout the year, including “Wine & food conversations” with Kate from April to October. See Lamont’s website for listings and, if you visit the Margaret River restaurant, be sure to call in at neighbouring Gunyulgup Galleries.
Little Creatures brewery
Open for visits and tastings, Little Creatures microbrewery in trendy Fremantle also incorporates an impressive dining hall. It’s a lively spot to enjoy unpretentious, flavoursome food, accompanied by wine or fresh beer. And, for me, a chance to change the record before it’s wine all the way!
Though I reckon I’m probably the only person ever to have worked at Oddbins who doesn’t drink beer, even I appreciated the hoppy prettiness of Little Creatures Pale Ale when I first visited in 2004. WA has a thriving micro-brewery scene and, buoyed by the enthusiasm of Jamie (pictured), I checked out the full range:
Pipsqueak Cider – now cider I do drink. Fresh cut Granny Smiths make for a clean cut palate with floral notes. Shame about the estery pear drop edge.
Little Creatures Pilsner – a straight forward light, hoppy style with Cz Saaz, NZ Pacific and Tasmanian Hallertau hops and 100% pilsner malt.
Little Creatures Bright Ale – a floral, citrus brew made with Cascade and NZ Mouteka hops.
Little Creatures Rogers’ Beer – richer, darker and not as fresh as the Bright or Pale Ale because the malt is roasted; Cascade and Chinook hops.
Little Creatures Pale Ale – very hoppy (floral) and fruity with grapefruit and an attractive roundness. It features Cascade, East Kent Golding, Chinook and Galaxy hops, some of which are added whole. Special care is taken with the malt to preserve its hoppiness which, I discovered bore a direct relation to my happiness. Still my favourite, followed by the Bright Ale.
Since I last visited Little Creatures has expanded. The Loft is its new lounge supper club, wine bar and performance space. Jetlag got the better of me – next time!
Tasting from around and about
Today kicked off with a tasting of around 30 wines from Peel, Swan Valley and Perth Hills at the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia’s offices in Perth, before heading off to Swan Valley. It was a mixed bag. John Kosovich’s wines stood head and shoulders above the rest and Myatts Field’s wines excited me. These were my highlights:
Paul Conti Fronti Late Harvest Muscat 2009, Swan Valley – made from 100% free run juice, this is a delicate wine with a pronounced rose petal perfume and palate and a touch of spritz. Fresh, lifted and pretty, weighing in at only 12.5%, it has 67g/l of residual sugar but wears it lightly. It’s a style redolent of 1970s Aussie whites which is seeing a revival (see Stella Bella below).
John Kosovich Rare Muscat, Swan Valley – with Taljiancich, John Kosovich is one of the Swan’s finest fortified producers. This is a non-vintage blend averaging 20 years old, with base material dating back to 1955. It shows in its tigers eye hue, a meld of amber and mahogany with saffron flashes and a lovely depth to the nose and palate. In the mouth, this is a rare treat – long, deep and dark with treacle toffee, linseed, liquorice and sweet burned toffee; wonderful resonating finish.
John Kosovich Liqueur Verdelho, Swan Valley – a tawny-coloured, golden-rimmed blend of vintages from 1982 to 1997. Quite Madeira-like on the nose, with some fresh green olive and salty anchovy notes which follow through on a smoky palate with ripe, round guava. The mouthfeel is quite different from Madeira, with lower acidity and more body and a toffeed sweetness that build on a licorous finish tinged with burned honey. Delicious.
Millbrook Estate Viognier 2008, Perth Hills – Millbrook host an annual Viogier tasting and the variety is regarded as one of their strengths, also featuring in a Shiraz Viognier. This has a rich ripe nose with candied citrus, white pepper and floral hints. The perfumed, slighty creamy palate shows good typicity with honeysuckle, aniseed/fennel, candied citrus/pineapple. A rich wine, just a tad warm, but otherwise well done.
Myatts Field Vineyards Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2008, Perth Hills – I was excited by this Carmel Valley producer whom I’d not come across before. The nose and mid-weight palate is quite Rhonish, savoury and meaty with good texture, thanks to sinewy tannins, that are attractively fleshed out with bright red fruits. A floral lift and exotic orange peel on the finish give away the Viognier. Could do with a bit more concentration, but I like the brightness of the fruit and dryness. A name to watch.
Myatts Field Vineyards Kenneth Green Vintage Fortified 2008, Perth Hills – a blend of Touriga Nacional, Durif, Shiraz – this has a very opulent, expressive Touriga nose with chocolate and violets – very enticing. The palate is quite modern – bright and precise with powdery tannins letting the red and black fruits do the talking. A chocolatey edge to the berries would make for a divine match with chocolate fondant pudding.
Visiting the Swan Valley
Just a stone’s throw north of Perth, it takes 30 minutes to drive to the pretty Swan Valley. With its rich loam soils and sunny weather, the Swan has an air of abundance. Winemaking began in 1829, making it’s WA’s oldest wine region. Houghton, one of its earliest commercial wineries, is probably its best known producer in the UK thanks to Kate Lamont’s grandfather, Jack Mann. The driving force of Houghton for 51 years, Mann helped put Western Australia’s wines on the map with pioneering table wines like Houghton White Burgundy, which he created in 1937.
Croatian farmers who converged on the Swan Valley after the First and Second World Wars are also credited with transforming it from traditional agricultural lands to vineyards. Its leading fortified producers, John Kosovich (see tasting notes above) and Talijancich, were founded by Croatians in 1922 and 1932 respectively. Their rich inventory of solera-aged Muscat, Muscadelle (known as Tokay), PX, Shiraz and Verdelho produces world class liqueur fortifieds, for me, the Swan’s vinous trump card. Verdelho and Chenin Blanc table wines can be very good too.
Following my excellent tasting of Kosovich wines, I happily made a bee-line for Talijancich to taste my first biodynamic fortified wines. As at Cullen, the deteriorating health of the soils prompted third generation winemaker James Talijancich to go down the biodynamic route.
At about the same time, Talijancich decided to revert to the winery’s original focus on fortified production. At one point, table wines represented 60% of production but today, fortifieds account for 70%, the grapes for which are sourced from the oldest, lower yielding vines. For table wines Talijancich no longer makes a Viognier, Tempranillo or Chenin Blanc but has stuck with Shiraz, Graciano and Verdelho.
After heavy rainfall, (resulting in record-breaking replenishment of dams), we steered clear of the vineyard and instead toured the cellar. I love the smell of fortified cellars – mellow with linseed oil, old wood and the heady evaporation known as “la part des anges” or “the angels’ share,” which helps concentrate flavour and extract as wines age in barrel. James gave me the low down on making liqueur fortifieds, a full on sweet and sticky style specific to Australia. To start with, the fruit is picked later and riper than say for port or Madeira. At this point, it’s so hard and raisined that the fruit is “minced” to extract the grapes’ syrupy sweet juice. So how come the wines aren’t just sweet and syrupy? James explains that the secret to the fine balance of his wines is carefully to monitor evaporation and oxidation – “you don’t want to lose varietal character so you need an element of freshness.” For solera-aged wines, it’s also about the judicious use of young wines to add fresher, more primary notes. Here are my tasting notes.
Pedro Ximénez 2009 – PX is best known for its role in Spain’s richest sherries – like eating a fistful of raisins! Just racked that morning, this wine, a mere babe right now, comes from a Houghton vineyard planted at the turn of the 19th century. Talijancich have been buying the grapes for 52 years. A year ago, they released Julian James Pedro Ximenes: Blend No. 2 from a solera started in 1965. James reckons all being well, the 2009, which was picked later than usual at around 27 baumé, will mature into a single vintage wine. It has an intriguing floral camomile lift to its raisiny fruit and, though licorous in texture, has a lovely purity.
Pedro Ximénez 2007 – if the 2009 was picked late this was all but forgotten, by James’ admission picked far too late at 34 baumé. Still on solids, it looks like pea soup and, fortunately, tastes nothing like it! A pronounced buttery, bruised apple palate of lovely warming depth is intensely sweet, yet balanced. This is also a candidate for single vintage release rather than solera ageing.
Liqueur Shiraz sample – this 38 year old wine is used for blending and explodes with indecently delicious flavours of chocolate, macaroons, spice box and coffee. James pointed out that it’s rare to release vintage wines (as opposed to solera blends) because, with time, wines reach a molasses-like concentration (my indecently delicious!) that makes them suitable only for blending.
Tokay 1969 – a deep, dark hue with a yellow rim. On the nose and in the mouth it shows fabulous floral lift and perfume with dark, underlying nutty macaroon flavours. There’s a real force of personality to this wine which makes it a perfect choice for a single vintage release. It will cost around $300 for a half bottle, but it’s right up there in my fine wine experiences.
Talijancich James Talijancich Reserve Verdelho 2003 – like WA Chenin Blanc, Verdelhos tend to be made in an off-dry, easy-drinking style. Not so at Talijancich. An enticing, perfumed nose, both topical and tropical shows desert limes (which I taste later that day at Edgecombe Brothers) and this 2009 museum release retains an impressive concentration of sweet, ripe, round and juicy tropical fruit, cut with balancing sour tropical, green mango and lime flavours. There’s a hint of tufa/white porcini and toast, like an aged Hunter Semillon, also evident in its glycerol-edged mouthfeel. The finish is very long, tight and mineral (that tufa quality). Impressive.
Lunch and a tasting at Sittella
As you can imagine, the view from the restaurant’s verandah pictured above made for a relaxing tasting. Port Samson Gold Band Snapper went down a treat for lunch afterwards.
Established in 1998, Sittella are a relatively new outfit but, in the last couple of years, they’ve been the most successful exhibitor at the Swan Valley Wine Show. I have to say that I preferred their Margaret River Cabernet and Swan/Margaret River Shiraz/Merlot blend to the pure Swan whites I tasted. I didn’t get to taste their 2007 Margaret River Semillon though it has performed well on the show circuit. Here are my notes for the two reds I rated:
Sittella Satin 2007 – 90% Swan Valley Shiraz, 10% Margaret River Merlot, this is a well made plush, medium-bodied red showing chocolate-edged juicy damson and red berry fruit supported by powdery cocoa tannins.
Sittella Berns Reserve 2007 – this flagship Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in 100% new French oak. It’s got good typicity with dried herbs and chocolate to its plum and cherry palate. Youthful and a little unrelieved at this stage, it needs time to open up.
I received a warm welcome at Edgecombe Brothers cellar door and café. It’s a friendly, relaxed place open for breakfast, lunch and tea and, despite having had lunch already, I couldn’t refuse fresh grilled asparagus with parmesan, cut by George Edgecombe’s fair hand (pictured). One of their suppliers, Maggie Edmonds, runs “Maggies Place,” a farm stall just in front of the asparagus patch. The motto here is fresh and local, with produce hailing from either the Swan or Gingin where Maggie has an olive and passionfruit farm. I’m told it’s the Swan’s only fresh fruit and veg outlet.
Before feasting on the asparagus, drizzled with Maggie’s very own olive oil, Maggie showed me how to taste olive oil. The technique is much the same as wine, but you warm the cup and don’t spit. It’s fun learning about the different varieties, including WA’s very own mission olive. Next up, a tasting of Edgecombe’s wines. Like the café, they’re unpretentious and flavoursome – the Late Harvest Chenin and Liqueur Muscat have a ready charm.
It’s time to really hit the road and head some 300km south for Pemberton and Manjimup, betwixt Margaret River and Great Southern. My timing was good because a new section of highway had just opened. It by-passes Mandurah, cutting about half an hour off the journey.
The further south you go, the greener it becomes. While the Swan supports olive and citrus groves, by the time you reach Donnybrook, you’re in apple country. The petrol station doubles as a farm shop with picnic table (pictured), a handy pit stop for petrol and fresh apple and ginger juice. A little over an hour later and, in Manjimup and Pemberton, there’s rainfall enough to support magnificent, towering forests of Marri, Karri (pictured in the first photo of this report) and Jarrah trees. The rich laterite loam soils of the area have traditionally supported fruit and avocado orchards and vegetable farms, but there are well-drained ironstone gravel soils too, good reason to plant the region’s first vines in 1977.
My first port of call is Lost Lake on Pemberton’s “golden mile,” a stretch of road that’s also home to Salitage and Picardy, amongst its best known producers. Though the vineyard was planted in 1989, it was run down when Stephen and Karen Masters bought it in February 2006, just as vintage loomed. Open about their lack of wine industry experience, they say they’ve been learning on the job. Handily, the following year, daughter Katie qualified as a winemaker, joining winemaker Mark Aitken and, from the outset, neighbours Bill and Dan Pannell of Picardy have loaned a helping hand, including supplying new Pinot Noir clones.
Without exception, the wines were well made but it’s Pinot Noir that shows the most potential with very good typicity, so I was glad when Katie said she intends to focus on it. With just a little more concentration (I found them a little lacking in conviction on the finish) and “hands off” character, I reckon they could be very good:
Lost Lake Pinot Noir Single Vineyard 2008 – pale, almost a rose, with a pretty nose showing good varietal character with red cherry, a touch of chocolate and just a hint of sous bois. Very pretty on the palate, those red cherry and chocolate notes following through, gently supported by fine tannins.
Lost Lake Pinot Noir Barrel Selection 2007 – A little deeper colour but still on pale side. The palate is more textured with spicier, sweet red cherry fruit.
Lost Lake Pinot Noir Barrel Selection 2008 – bright ruby with garnet flashes. A lovely floral nose and palate with lifted violets and sweet, ripe red cherry fruit. In the mouth it’s quite silky with good mid-palate intensity to its red cherry layered with spicy oak and earthy beetroot. Promising.
Meanwhile, Karen intends to take The Deck cellar door restaurant upmarket under the management of chef Paul Griffin and his wife, Sophine. Due to start a month or so after my visit, the restaurant will then be open for dinner as well as lunch. Meantime, I enjoyed my Dam Platter (pictured), featuring fresh local Marron (freshwater crayfish), a regional speciality.
No prizes for guessing my next stop…
Probably Pemberton’s best-known producer, Picardy is the passion of Moss Wood’s founder Bill Pannell and run in partnership with his son Dan, the winemaker. I’m sure I could make up a good limerick about Picardy given the Pannell’s status as Pinot Noir pioneers, but I shall leave that to you! Suffice to say that they have championed Burgundy clones in WA in their pursuit of great Pinot and I’m sure they’ll be glad that Howard Park are now also pushing the envelope with this variety together with Burgundy’s Pascal Marchand (see my notes of a Pinot Noir tasting at Howard Park here).
Picardy Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – I first tasted the Pannell’s Sauvignon Blanc in 2007 (see my notes here) and, though it was made from bought in fruit, it impressed with its subtlety. Dan believes that too many WA producers pick the variety too early, though he’s quick to point out that he’s not looking for big flavours, rather for complexity. Sancerre is his inspiration. This, the first vintage from 100% estate fruit, has a rich nose and textured palate with a hint of honey cut with fresh cut apples. It’s mouthwatering and subtlely complex thanks to around 7% Semillon, 6-8 hours skin contact and a bit of lees contact.
Picardy Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – for this wine, the pursuit of complexity sees the incorporation of around 5% of barrel fermented and aged wine (old barrels). This reminds me of a really good South African Sauvignon (my preferred New World style), with its intensely flavoursome, steely, almost smoky grapefruit and fresh cut apple cut and thrust. Again, good texture and complexity.
Picardy Chardonnay 2007 – this is a good example of the new breed of Australian Chardonnay made from Burgundy clones and, with an element of controlled oxidation, it’s a more savoury, nutty-edged style. There’s a good core of fleshy white peach, with well integrated oak yielding a nice burnish of smoky hazlenut. Grapefruity acidity makes for a lingering finish.
Picardy Chardonnay 2008 – part of this wine was aged in Bordeaux barrels which impart a cedary note. Earlier picked fruit produces a tighter style, with lively grapefruity acidity carrying a long finish with hints of smoke and cashew. Very good.
Picardy Pinot Noir 2007 – savoury with bright red and black cherry and a cool earthiness, dank clay (which I like!), to nose and palate. Well done.
Picardy Tete de Cuvee Pinot Noir 2007 – lovely girlish and pretty fresh red cherry and currant to the nose. It builds in the mouth, with a swirl of red currant, cherry and berry, hints of cassis and bilberry. There’s a subtle savoury undertone and some cocoa dust to its long, persistent finish.
Pemberley Farm & a Pemberton regional tasting
Bellarmine – in 2007 and 08 I drove the length and breadth of Great Southern checking out the region’s justly famous Rieslings. Then I heard whispers about a fine German style of Riesling from Pemberton. Unfortunately I got lost on forestry tracks trying to find Bellarmine, which was established by a German couple, the Schumachers, in 2004. This time I got to taste their wines and was thrilled to discover their Auslese – fabulous purity and scintillating tension, one of the most successful of the new niche breed of sweeter Aussie Rieslings I’ve encountered.
Bellarmine Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – very Pemberton, with its steely, dusty, mineral grapefruit character with a nice twist of lime; zesty, good.
Bellarmine Riesling 2009 – dry style (though 5g/l of residual sugar) with a floral nose, some talc and a razor-sharp, fresh cut apple and grapefruit palate – austere and very mouthwatering. Needs a bit of time to unwind.
Bellarmine Riesling 2009 – this wine has 30g/l of residual sugar which reveals itself in a softer, appley nose and juicier fresh cut apples on the palate. A nice purity to this – its crisp acidity giving an impression of dryness.
Bellarmine Riesling Auslese 2008 – my pick of the bunch, this has a fabulous nose with hints of lime blossom and slate. The palate is exhilarating – tight, steely and slatey with terrific purity and tension, even though it has 120g/l of residual sugar and, in case you were wondering, it weighs in at a featherweight 7% abv. Exceptional.
Big Brook – this is a new producer, grapes having previously been sold to Houghton. You can find out more on their website here.
Big Brook Sauvignon/Semillon 2009 –This dry white has a smoky grapefruit nose, good freshness and lemony fruit – well made.
Big Brook Chardonnay 2008 – a promising debut for this 4 month oak-aged chardy – it’s fresh and limey with honey hints. I like its vibrancy and well-judged oak. The 2009 vintage picked up a Gold Medal at Qantas Wine Show.
Fontys Pool – established in 1989, Fonty’s Pool was originally a joint venture project between Cape Mentelle Vineyards and Fonty’s Pool Farm. Fruit from the Fonty’s Pemberton vineyards was vinified by Cape Mentelle, though when I visited in 2007, Fontys had its very own pocket-sized winery and Cape Mentelle was no longer involved. Good solid winemaking here.
Fontys Pool Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2008 – quite rich and lemon and limey with some lanolin coming through – all very Semillon, but the Sauvignon gives it a nice charge of Pemberton-style steely grapefruit with a mineral/ironstone tang.
Fontys Pool Chardonnay 2008 – quite toasty with struck match palate on the nose and palate which is fresh and grapefruity with a salty, savoury quality; nice tight finish.
Fontys Pool Pinot Noir 2008 – beetroot to the nose and palate so nice Pinot Noir typicity with that savoury, earthy hint and a touch of chocolate to its bright red fruit – a very sound commercial Pinot Noir – could live a little more!
Salitage – owned by John and Jenny Horgan, Salitage is one of Pemberton’s pioneer wineries and for me, its strongest suit is the Chardonnay, of which the 2008 is a cracker. Incidentally, they rent attractive self-catering cottages, surrounded by Karri gums, in which I stayed back in 2007.
Salitage barrel fermented Chardonnay 2008 – I preferred this to the very correct 2007. It comes from a cooler, wetter vintage – the more adverse conditions appear to have been character-building! It shows a classic WA profile – aromatic, with melon and pears augmented with honey, apple and more savoury notes. Very good, its subtle characteristics drawing you back to the glass.
The focus at David and Monica Radomiljac’s Pemberley Farm is grape growing. David manages 300ha in addition to the farm’s 15 hectares of vineyard. He’s a farmer by background and says it’s common sense that, if you’re passionate about it, and work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day – “feeling, smelling and breathing the vineyard” – you’ll get great results. It’s also become key to staying in the game where a fruit glut has seen a number of growers left out in the cold – David says many never picked or were not paid in 2009.
Monica tells me that they’re fortunate not to be caught up in the red glut and, for whites, demand is in fact growing rapidly. He and Monica are immensely proud that their fruit has gone into Houghton’s and Willow Bridge Estate’s award winning wines. And, a couple of weeks after my visit, Domaines & Vineyards 2009 Pemberley Sauvignon Blanc picked up a Gold Medal at Qantas Wine Show. The Radomiljacs are partners in Domaines & Vineyards, ex-Houghton Chief Winemaker Rob Bowen’s new venture and Bowen, together with David Crawford of Willow Bridge Estate, make Pemberley’s own label wines.
Cable Beach Sunset Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 – made from 72% Pemberley Sauvignon Blanc and 28% Semillon Willowbridge Estate fruit from Geographe, this is vibrant and fresh quaffer with bright pea pod notes from Pemberley’s Broome Range. A savvy riposte to New Zealand whose Sauvignon “Savalanche” is making sizeable inroads in the Aussie domestic market.
Pemberley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – a more serious, hand-picked single vineyard wine, this is dry with steely, slightly smoky grapefruit and good acid drive – a very clean and pure expression of Pemberton Sauvignon. Much more interesting than most Kiwi Sauvs!
Overnight, Tourism WA had arranged for me to stay atStonebarn. Owned by Sharon and Dion Rangé, this secluded new luxury accomodation in a forestry estate location is set to capitalise on the region’s burgeoning gourmet food and wine culture – not just premium wines, but now “black gold” (see day 4). You can find my write up of Stonebarn on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pageshere, but it probably gives you a measure of the place when I say it’s a Mr & Mrs Smith destination – see here.
Day 4 Manjimup
It’s a sore point around these tender parts that Pemberton and Manjimup to the north were split into separate GIs. As Darelle Sinclair pointed out they’re both small towns with many producers around her age without successors, so she argues, it would have been better for profile to pool resources and keep the region one. There’s also little respect from some quarters about how the boundaries were drawn up. Site-wise, Manjimup is the more elevated of the 2 regions (up to 300m). Though they share a similar climate and soils – karri loams and ironstone gravel over clay – Vic Peos contends, there’s more of the latter, better soils in Manjimup.
The tiger on Sinclair’s label is the legendary thylacine, rumoured still to lurk deep in the forests round about – wished they’d told me that before I stayed at Stone Barn! I met with ex-science teacher Darelle Sinclair who, with her partner John Healy, established Sinclair in 1994. Darelle is the viticulturist, John the marketeer and the wines are made under contract at Flying Fish in Margaret River. Darelle keeps a watchful eye during the bench testing to make sure the wines reflect the house style – quite a full palate, with good acid drive for length and structure, so she’s looking for fruit then acid. Here are my highlights of the tasting:
Sinclair Sauvignon Blanc Swallow Hill 2009 – nice concentration of flavour with lifted pea pod soon giving way to the steely grapefruit, iron mineral quality I associate with Sauvignon Blanc from down here. 13%
Sinclair Jeremy Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2006 – an 80/20 split. In South Australia this blend tends to have a real heft to it, but this is much more WA, bright and elegant with a (dried) herbal, tobacco nose and palate which shows black berry and currant fruit. Good freshness and ripe supporting tannins. 13%
The Wine & Truffle Company
Manjimup’s black truffle industry is a recent development that’s taking the foodie world by storm. I rocked up on Thursday at The Wine & Truffle Companyto find out more including – I had no idea – truffles are a tuber not funghi…
Though the company is now the southern hemisphere’s largest truffle producer, when 1,300 black truffle-inoculated oak and hazelnut groves were planted in 1997, Manjimup, even Australia, was virgin truffle territory. Dr Nick Malajczuk, now known as “the father of the Australian black truffle,” reckoned Manjimup was climatically similar to Perigord (home of France’s black truffle), but it was a gamble.
All waited with bated breath and, at 3.30pm on 28 July 2003, to much punching of air, the trufferie produced a 168g/truffle. Since this euphoric moment in time, truffle hunter Damon Boorman tells me that patience has truly been its own reward – the company has enjoyed steady year and year growth from said lone truffle in 2003 to 12,500 truffles in 2009, weighing in at 900kg.
Although the truffle season had just ended I was treated to a mock truffle hunt with Boorman and his labradors Errol and Sky (pictured) who were keen as mustard despite having unearthed said 900kg of “black gold” over the last 3 months or so – dogs with fine palates then. Actually, the dogs don’t dig for the truffles, nor do they get their chops on them – they’re worth $3,000/kilo – so they simply track down their scent and alert Damon to the location. Damon then gently unearthes the truffles by hand, but only if they are ripe.
After careful sorting, the truffles are despatched to top Aussie, Japanese, US and other worldwide destinations within 24 hours of being dug up, so they’re super-fresh. Boorman tells me that they’ve had exceptionally good feedback from the likes of Wakuda Tetsuya (Tetsuya) and Peter Gilmore (Quay) in Sydney and Joel Reblochon and the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller abroad. I was very sorry to have missed the season, but their truffle oil was delicious…You can join Boorman or one of his colleagues for a live or simulated truffle hunt and taste truffle produce at the café. The company also celebrates the start of the season around the end of May with “Truffle Affaire,” involving a truffle dog demonstration, entertainment and a six course long table degustation truffle luncheon. And to get a handle on fast-growing WA truffle scene, at the Mundaring Truffle Festivaland Perth Hills Wine Show in early August, you can taste, buy and learn about fresh black truffles with a glass of the local Perth Hills wines.
I suspect you’ll find The Wine & Truffle Company’s vinous wares on show too. They’re made under contract at Mount Shadforth winery. Amazingly (and I was clearly not the first to say this), the company doesn’t make a Pinot Noir despite the fact we’re in WA’s Pinot country and the variety has a great affinity with truffles. I felt that the wines lacked a bit of concentration/structure, but these were my favourites from the range:
The Wine & Truffle Co Reserve Reserve Riesling 2007 – a fresh, limey nose with pretty floral/talc notes, with steely, mineral grapefruit on the mouthsluicing palate.
The Wine & Truffle Co Rose 2008 – made from estate Cabernet Sauvignon this is a well made rose with lifted floral, blackcurrant and red cherry fruit, just a touch leafy though this balances c. 10g of residual sugar and lends freshness to the whole.
The Wine & Truffle Co Shiraz 2007 – spicy plum with liquorice nose and palate, with its juicy finish and dryish tannins it’s a good food wine.
The Wine & Truffle Co Merlot 2007 – a well made Merlot with a nice core of sweet plum and juicy blood plum. 15% Cabernet Sauvignon keeps it in check lending a note of tobacco leaf and a firm tannin structure. Good.
The Wine & Truffle Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot 2007 – a minty, peppery nose leads onto a juicy, peppery, firmly structured palate fleshed out with black berry, currant and blueberry fruit. Again, a good food wine.
The Wine & Truffle Co Cane Cut Reserve Series Riesling 2008 – this delicate sweetie has a pretty nose of lychee, orange and lime blossom. In the mouth it’s toothsomely sweet with orange and apricot cut with fresh citrussy acidity – nice purity, not at all syrupy, super pretty.
Viticulturist Vic Peos’ Macedonian grandfather arrived in Western Australia in 1926, followed slowly by his parents in the 1950s. Then, tobacco was the thing, but it wasn’t long before the industry went belly up as Queensland took up the mantle of tobacco territory. The family then focused their efforts on dairy farming and vegetables, later branching out into hotels. When they sold their Perth hotel they decide to invest in wine, planting the first vines in 1996 and launching the maiden wines under the Peos Estate label in 1999.
There’s quite a range of varieties and Vic is also nursing along some young Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and Nebbiolo vines. The wines are made in Great Southern at Forest Hill, whose Riesling I love. Winemaker Clémence Haselgrove is Bordeaux-born and bred and, interestingly, I particularly liked the Peos Cabernets, though Vic said it’s the hardest to grow because the season doesn’t always let you finish it off before the weather breaks.
2008 Four Aces Chardonnay – a lime zest nose with richer, cream and oak notes; ditto on palate whose butterscotch oak-edged fruit is undercut with brisk limey acidity.
2007 Shiraz – a damson and briary fruit nose and palate leads onto a tightly wound berry and blackcurrant palate. Good fruit purity, freshness and a nice lick of cinnamon and cedar spice. Well done.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon – very deep in colour with a ripe cassis nose; the palate shows a good purity and concentration of tight cassis fruit, underscored by darker, savoury chocolate and an ironstone bloody tang. Well balanced and nicely supported by plush tannins.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – very youthful on nose and palate with a good depth of tighty coiled, blackcurrant and cassis fruit – needs time but good purity and promise.
John and Yvonne Herriot bought their farm in 1995, planting their first vines in 1997. Farming started to lose its appeal when John went on a chemical handling course. Redemption came in the form of a book about biodynamics. Though John, an engineer, admits that it was initially a “leap of faith,” since 2000, they’ve worked the farm as naturally as possible. In 2005,Herriot obtained biodynamic certification. Even beef from their exceptionally pretty Belted Galloway herd (pictured) is certified biodynamic.
In the winery, the natural approach prevails – John, who makes the wine, doesn’t acid adjust, inoculate yeast or nutrients and sulphur levels are kept low. I queried with John a touch of premature oxidation on the 2008s which he took on the chin, readily admitting that the project is still work in progress. Still, based on the 2006s, I thought that the wines showed great character and promise and, with the Shiraz, their wild, slightly rustic edge is a positive.
Herriot Riesling 2006 – an attractive nose and very crisp, tight palate show lime flower/blossom, grapefruit and a mineral tang. It’s put on bit of weight with age, with some honey. Very good.
Herriot Natascha Riesling 2006 – there’s a honeyed edged to this off-dry wine’s apple sorbet fruit. A nicely textured palate is long and pure, with mouthcleansing acidity to the finish. Well balanced and structured. Very good.
Herriot Shiraz 2008 – a characterful Shiraz with dark but juicy berry fruit lifted by violets cinnamon spice and white pepper. Good support from firm, sinewy fruit tannins. There’s liquorice and a hint of camphor as warms up in the glass.
Herriot Shiraz 2007 – a touch deeper in colour, this has lovely juicy violet-edged red fruits with that touch of camphor to the finish. Textured, chalky tannins. Good.
You may recall that, all truffled up, I was a bit disappointed that The Wine & Truffle Company didn’t make a Pinot Noir. I’d fancied something aromatic and heady, yet earthy. Later that day, I found more than ample compensation in a visit with Bob Peruche of Batista. He makes fabulous Pinot Noirs on his small farm perched high on a ridge in Middlesex, Manjimup, overlooking the beautiful Warren Valley.
There’s no signage to Batista and, suffice to say, no website. Bob regards himself as “just a farmer” and, when it comes to winemaking, it’s very much about pleasing himself. And I’m very glad of that because he has a wonderful sensibility around Pinot Noir. It all started when he was asked to advise on the planting of Smithbrook Estate’s vineyard in 1988, which was established by self-confessed Pinot-phile, Picardy’s Bill Pannell, together with investors in Burgundy’s Pousse d’Or. Though Peruche was not growing grapes (in fact he’d pulled up his father’s vines five years earlier), Pannell valued his knowledge of the land. Inevitaby Pannell introduced Peruche to Burgundy and, soon smitten by Pinot Noir’s “smell of chook sheds and cow yards”, Peruche planted his own vines in 1993.
Unlike Pannell (and bucking overall trends), Peruche has not been as convinced by Burgundian clones 114, 115 and 777. His vineyard is mostly planted to the region’s traditional upright and droopy clones and it’s the upright clone that gets his vote, though he says 115 looked good for the first time this year (2009). The “winery” is as unfancy as Peruche’s approach to winemaking – “I pick it, I crush it, I ferment it, settle it, taste for tannin and filter.” He tells me following criticism about brett from James Halliday, he’s sterile filtered since 2005. While he feels that it’s removed some of the earthiness he likes, he reckons it’ll come back with time, as the wines age.
We taste the 2009 from barrel. It’s from his best vines. Deep in colour, the nose entices with violets and sweet red fruit. In the mouth, there’s raspberry, but the emphasis is on sappy black fruits, berry and cherry. Lovely weight, without being heavy, supported by attractively textured tannins. Very good. We head indoors (pictured) to taste the 98, 2007 and 2008, accompanied by a tasting plate with his (excellent) Shiraz-washed sheeps milk cheese (which we’d spotted maturing in the wine shed).
Batista Selection Pinot Noir 2007 – made from two barrels from the best parcels, this has a good depth of colour, showing a chocolate edged to the black and red cherry fruit. The palate is intense, long and layered with floral notes, sappy red and black fruits and a fine spine of powdery tannins. Lovely balance and structure, this still has plenty to give.
Batista Pinot Noir 2008 – though very youthful and relatively closed this shows plenty of potential. A textured palate shows well-defined, fresh red fruits with chocolate. There’s a lovely seamlessness to this wine, with excellent integration of the fruit, tannin and acidity.
Batista Pinot Noir 1998 – still good depth of colour, with a garnet rim giving away its age. It shows ripe dark fruit, quite smoky and savoury. Though it’s from a warmer year and, at this time, Peruche picked nearer 14 than 13 baume, it’s admirably vital with a lovely tannin structure and texture.
Peruche’s Pinot Noirs are sensual, which tallies with what he told me about his response to the fine Burgundies to which Pannell introduced him – “it feels nice.” And it backs into a general trend I’ve noticed about Australian wines – there’s much more focus these days on texture as opposed to just flavour, and I love it.
Overnight at Stonebarn, it was time to drink a couple of nice bottles (no, not on my own!):
Pepperilly Grenache 2007 – a cracker of a Grenache from a producer I’ve not come across, Pepperilly in Geographe’s Ferguson Valley. Though there are some gloriously flamboyant flavours here – spicy orange peel (tipping into Terry’s Chocolate Orange), mocha and dark spice, there’s none of that fat, baked or confected character from which Grenache can suffer. Instead, fresh red fruits and skeletal tannins lend structure and animation. Very good.
Lillian Lefroy Brook Chardonnay 2006, Pemberton – I loved John Brocksopp’s wines when I came across them in 2007 and this did not disappoint (but then John was Leeuwin Estate’s viticulturist). Rich and weighty flavours with its cashew-edged stone fruits and classy oak, but good balancing freshness brings structure and length. I visited John the following week and you’ll find more tasting notes below.
Slow food in Margaret River
The Slow Food movement originated in Italy in 1989 and was founded “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”
Today, the movement has over 100,000 members in 132 countries and, according to Slow Food Perth, Western Australia has five of Australia’s 38 Slow Food convivia. Happily for me, my stay coincided with a lunch at Cullen Wines to celebrate the Margaret River convivia’s Slow Food accreditation. Cullen have been certified organic since 2003 and biodynamic since 2004. The ethos follows through at Cullen Dining. Chef Matt Egan carefully sources fresh, local, organic and biodynamic produce.
Today’s lunch is representative of the lunches he turns out daily, and here it is:
- Yallingup woodfired sourdough with Ellen’s Ridge Extra Virgin Oil, Agonis Ridge Extra Virgin Oil, marinated Red Tail Ridge and Cullen olives
- 34 Degrees Blue – Deep sea snow crab and fresh Cullen garden pea risotto
- Bindoon organic beef fillet with Cullen garden roasted spring vegetables and The Organic Vege Shop Dutch Cream Potatoes
- Margaret River Creamery Camembert with Yallingup woodfired fruit and rye breads
- Margaret River citrus Seville and blood orange tart with Agonis Ridge orange pressed olive oil
Self-sufficiency is a key tenet of biodynamics, so I wasn’t surprised to find Cullen olives and spring vegetables from their biodynamically tended kitchen gardens on the menu. I was, however, tickled to discover that the peas came from inter-row cover crop (pictured with Egan) – no waste there! Egan tells me it’s really rewarding working with your own garden and customers love it. He says that the heated debate about GMO in WA has put provenance under the microscope and, as a result, Australians are much more interested in where their food comes from. The knock on effect of rising fuel prices on food has also boosted interest in local, seasonal produce and, at Cullen it doesn’t get more local than having your own kitchen garden! Its an ample source of salad, herbs, squashes, tomatoes and veg, the surplus of which Egan pickles or makes into chutney.
As for sourcing food from elsewhere, he keeps it as local as possible, though it requires flexibility and good organisation in the kitchen when your menu is informed by what’s available. But like other chefs I meet during my stay, Egan is excited by the vibrant lovocore scene and the quality and sustainability of the region’s seafood and farm produce.
The visit was also a great opportunity to catch up with the latest wines and developments in the winery since my fortnight cellar ratting in 2007. I’d tasted the much acclaimed Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007 just before I headed out to WA (October’s white Wine of the Month – see here) and was particularly looking forward to tasting the flagship Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2007, which includes 4% of each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Punching down the Cabernet Franc thrice a day was among my responsibilities during vintage 2007 – never had a flatter stomach! Anyway, this time I was searching for a vinous reward and found it – here’s my tasting note for the Diana Madeline 2007 and some 2009 barrel/tank samples which I tried on a zip around the cellar with Vanya Cullen and Trevor Kent, her right-hand man in the winery. I haven’t given notes for the 09 reds because the different varieties had yet to be blended, but they were looking particularly floral, a quality which Vanya says has become more pronounced since going down the biodynamic route.
Cullen Diana Madeline 2007 – a gorgeous nose, lifted yet rich with chocolate edged cassis and fresh blackcurrant. The palate shows lovely freshness and balance, with ripe but well-defined black and red currant and berry fruit supported by firm, savoury tannins. Subtle hints of cedar and tobacco come through on a long finish. For Vanya, “Cabernet should be medium-bodied,” though she says she fears it has sometimes “lost its way” in Australia because of a tendency to make it like Shiraz.
Cullen Mangan Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (tank sample) – very intense, direct and lemony, with lemon pips and riper lemon meringue pie notes. Always a linearity with Mangan SSB. Very good.
Cullen Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009 (tank sample) – I love the estate SSB for its limpid, subtle power and structure – see my notes here of a vertical tasting in 2007 at which I felt this wine really strutted its pedigree. Seventy percent of the wine was barrel fermented in new French oak. Unlike others in the region, it’s the Sauvignon that’s oaked not the Semillon. Vanya explains that Cullen Sauvignon is quite open in expression so it can handle oak and, conversely, it’s the Semillon that gives the line so that sees no oak.
Cullen Chardonnay 2009 – last year, when I was in WA for a Riesling focus, I swung by Cullen on my way home to see how the 07s were doing in barrel. It was April and Vanya and Trevor showed me some still fermenting 2008 reds. Both were excited by the influence of some new bits of kit – a vibrating sorting table, conveyor and Bucher Vaslin basket press, each of which mean the grapes are transported and pressed even more gently than before. Cullen reds are renowned for their fine tannins anyway and, when I compared the 08 reds that had been mollycoddled with the new kit with batches that hadn’t, I can remember thinking where are the tannins?!? Result!
In 2009, Vanya experimented with using the Bucher Vaslin basket press on batches of the Chardonnay (instead of the pneumatic horizontal press). Both chardys looked great but they were really quite different. The basket pressed wine was more floral and less citrus, with a particularly sensual, layered mouth feel. Too bad that the return is 400l/ton as opposed to the 500l/ton return from the pneumatic horizontal press, especially when we’re talking about the hens and chickens prone gin gin Chardonnay clone which is a shy bearer, especially at Cullen where the vines are getting on. In fact, Trevor mentioned that they’re thinking about introducing bee hives to give pollination a boost!
Cullen Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2009 – there’s been a sea change for the Chenin this year with the decision to use cordon cut fruit to concentrate sugar and flavour intensity. I must say, this has transformed this sweetie from a very pleasant drink to a really lovely wine. With greater depth of flavour and length and, excitingly, some Loire-like honey and camomile notes, it’s characterful too. Promising.
Burnside Organic farm – The Good Life
Self-sufficiency is at the very core of Lara and Jaimie McCall’s Burnside farm, my next stop and home for three nights. Over dinner, the couple told me how they’d left Perth and made their way to Margaret River after careers in stock-broking and journalism.
From the outset the couple, who have young children, didn’t want to use chemicals and the farm is certified biodynamic. Lara tells me “it’s not hard if you let the animals do the work,” which explains all the fences to ensure that the sheep, hens, geese, guinea fowl and guinea pigs (effective lawnmowers apparently) stay task-focused. They grow avocados, macadamia nuts, olives, capers (intensely fruity and floral), salad, herbs, vegetables and fruit. Lara tends the Zinfandel vines, biodynamically of course and makes a good Zin under the farm’s “Three Boys” label. The larder is stocked with homegrown/homemade jams, chutneys, pickles, cheeses and ham. For guests staying in the farm’s self-catering bungalows, Lara makes up a basket of farm fresh produce for breakfast, including her fresh-baked bread and very good it is too. You can also help yourself to veg and salad from the kitchen garden. Surplus produce is sold at Margaret River’s fortnightly farmers market, which the McCalls helped found.
Margaret River farmers market
Burnside farm is just 15 minutes drive north of Margaret River township, so, after coffee at Blue Ginger, a really cool Margaret River café and delicatessen, I head off to have a general mosey around the farmers market(pictured). I’m a honey fiend and, take it from me, the Karri, Marri and Jarrah honeys are worth lingering over.
It’s also a chance to meet a couple of the producers I didn’t have time to speak with at the Slow Food lunch. Marion Bauer of Yallingup Woodfired Bakery tells me her husband, baker Gotthard, is from a Stuttgart family of bakers. A traveller, he pitched up in Perth with his family and his woodfired sourdough bread, made from biodynamic flour, is now regarded as among Australia’s best. Big Rock rye is fabulously flavoursome. You can visit the bakery at the corner of Biddles and McLachlan roads, Yallingup (northern Margaret River) from 10am to 4pm Thursday to Sunday.
Margaret River Organic Creameries stall is manned by Peter Togno’s parents. His father, Frank, tells me that his father started the dairy farm business in the 1920s. Though he says they never used sprays, Peter was the passionate force behind the push to organics and cheesemaking, starting trials in 2003 which led to certification in 2004. This means they don’t use chemical fertilisers, antibiotics or additives, which Frank says has resulted in an increase in quality and production. The range includes five cheeses – a Feta, Camembert, Havarti, Romano and Cheddar. They can’t make enough Camembert and, of the cheeses on tasting, the Cheddar has nice bite while the Havarti is intense, nutty and more granular in texture.
At the Slow Food lunch I really enjoyed chatting with Karen and Rob Gough from the Settlers Tavern, which I’ve reviewed on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages here. Vanya Cullen had tipped me off about their amazing wine list so I briefly stopped by en route to my next appointment. Sure enough it’s an impressive list with over 250 bins, including plenty of lesser known (at least over here) boutique Aussie producers and a good number of organic and biodynamic wines, Australian and international. Next time I visit, I’m coming here for a drink!
Must Wine Bar
Must’s Chef/patron Russell Blaikie divides his time between Must Perth and the newer Margaret River branch, in addition to broadcasting and writing about food, so I was lucky to catch up with him for an interview. He’s a passionate communicator about food and, though he’s worked at The Dorchester in London and in Paris, he’s thoroughly in love with his home surf and turf and, specifically, the freshness and quality of WA’s raw ingredients.
That morning, he’d raided the farmers market for beetroot – like Kate Lamont and Cullen’s Egan, he gets a buzz from working with ingredients, what’s available, not recipes. He says that the slow food movement and farmers markets have really driven the focus on local, seasonal food, indeed Albany farmers market won Vogue Entertaining & Travel’s outstanding Australian farmers market award in 2008 www.albanyfarmersmarket.com.au. For his part, Blaikie is keen to champion unique products like Must Margaret River’s signature dry aged Butterfield beef, a single estate beef from Paul Omeehan’s farm at the foot of the Stirling Ranges. Similarly, he only buys my starter’s thick-stemmed, super-tender asparagus from Phillip and Sheila Marshall in Torbay (you can read my review of Must Margaret River and Must Perth here on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages).
The small (and local) is beautiful philosophy follows through in the wine list not, I might add, in terms of the number of bins (around 500!), but rather because co-owner Garry Gossati is keen to ensure that it includes Margaret River’s smallest producers. Gossati invited every Margaret River winemaker to show their wine and was delighted by the terrific response. It’s meant that wines from one man operations usually only sold at the cellar door appear alongside the region’s iconic producers. With my lunch, I enjoy one of around 20-25 wines available by the glass, Churchview’s The Bartondale Reserve Marsanne 2007. Churchview are a relatively new outfit (established in 1998) whom I’ve never come across before. With a squeeze of fresh lime juice to the palate, I reckon this is early picked and, though the palate has Marsanne’s trademark waxy quality, its fresh and delicate with lifted honeysuckle. Like it.
After posting a blog about week one, I’m off to a friend’s house for dinner, featuring delicious snapper bought this morning at the farmers market. It’s a night off – no need to ask questions or take notes and how relaxingly normal to prepare the guacamole, field the kids’ questions and watch Harry Potter!
Samudra yoga and surf session
An early start next day and I’m going right out of my comfort zone. Tourism WA have arranged a yoga and surf session for me with Samudra. I’m the least supple person I know and not big on swimming out of my depth! I’m also hyper-conscious that, on my first visit to WA in 2004, one of our hosts grimly pointed out the beach where a surfer was mauled by a Great White Shark. In a strange twist of fate, I subsequently (fortunately) meet someone whose brother was surfing next to the guy that died that day…Summoning up all my courage, I mentally rehearse the line “more people are killed by chairs than by sharks” over and over and, thinking positive, bring to mind all the winemakers I’ve met who are surfing addicts. In the end, I decide it’s too good an opportunity to miss. And it is.
My next host is Lifestyle Margaret River, but aside from its teetotal café, Samudra pretty much sums up Margaret River lifestyle. Surfing’s a huge draw here (the world championships have taken place at Prevelley beach) and there’s a strong interest in activities which nurture the mind, body and soul as well as the stomach, while showing a healthy respect for the environment. Samudra expertly weaves these different threads together. Director, Sheridan Hammond tells me he started practising yoga after sustaining leg and back injuries surfing. Having surfed all his life, Hammond wasn’t about to give up and yoga has helped him keep going. Practising with advanced yoga teachers in India introduced him to meditation and a healthier vegan diet.
Hammond is passionate about sharing the benefits of his journey with others. He tells me seeing the transformation that comes from a week’s yoga and surf retreat is the best part of his job – “people awaken and you see the joy and clarity in their eyes.” After an early start, I’m feeling pretty bleary-eyed, but my Ashtanga yoga teacher is very reassuring. Though initially distracted by the mind-boggling things the regulars are doing with their bodies, I soon start to feel centred and more relaxed. Different positions encourage me to be mindful of my balance and flexibility – useful for surfing later.
Over breakfast in Samudra’s award-winning, very cool café (pictured), Hammond talks me through their “food for life” philosophy – a vegan diet that draws on the best elements of Ayurveda, Macrobiotics and Raw Living Foods. Everything on the menu is organic or biodynamic and the café has its own biodynamic kitchen garden. I don’t eat meat so I was excited to explore the menu over breakfast and lunch. Though, on first glance, it might look at bit worthy and hairshirt, let me tell you it’s the perfect combo of delicious and nutritious. I’d be amazed if anyone realised that Bill’s banana smoothie wasn’t made with dairy milk as opposed to almond milk, in fact I reckon almond milk’s nicer.
And so to the surfing. Smiths beach is typical of the region, gorgeous, unspoiled, with pristine white sand and aquamarine waves. Hammond’s partner Lisa, a former surf champ, takes the lesson. Though she’s a great, super-encouraging teacher, I don’t make the transition from lying to standing, though one of our number does, (damn him!). I’d like to blame my divine breakfast of buckwheat pancakes and cashew cream (pictured), but I suspect that lots more yoga practice is the answer as, last attempt, my spaghetti-like arms buckle on me! But hey, body boarding is fun, I’ve overcome my fear of the sea and, even in half a day, I’m feeling awake, very alive and joyful. Mr Hammond, I salute you!
Lifestyle Margaret River
My exit from Samudra was (unusually) glamorous, in Lifestyle Margaret River’s1955 S1 Bentley saloon (pictured below). Nola Gaebler, my chauffeur, has been running tailored tours of Margaret River since 1997. I was impressed with the itinerary she’d planned for me – focused on “green” producers, with none of the usual suspects. Gaebler loves to share her knowledge of the region and there’s always an element of surprise – she tends to steer clear of the big players in favour of smaller family-run outfits and gets a kick from showing the Perth locals places even they don’t know. She explains “the emphasis is on meeting interesting people with stories to tell,” so she’ll happily arrange exclusive “behind the scenes” visits and tastings with the winemakers or owners.
Marri Wood Park
Our first stop is Marri Wood Park, owned by Julian and Lisa Wright, who bought the property in 1992, planting it the following year. Julian’s brother is Michael Wright of Voyager Estate. I don’t know about the brothers, but Marri Wood Park and Voyager Estate are like chalk and cheese. Voyager Estate’s presence is trumpeted by the third largest flagpole in Australia. An immaculate Cape Dutch-style cellar door sits pretty in landscaped “werf” gardens. Marri Wood Park’s Yallingup setting is altogether more rustic. It would be wrong to say we swept down the driveway, though the Bentley gamely handled the ironstone gravel track, leaving a cloud of red dust in our wake. Here the cellar door is a corrugated metal affair, but the secluded setting is lovely, true to the name, surrounded by Marri trees.
Wright, a financier, originally employed a manager to run the estate when he was still working in Perth. Less than impressed at the thought of donning a protective suit to spray chemicals when he “retired” to take over running Marri Wood himself in 2004, Wright elected to adopt organic practices instead. A couple of months later, despite reservations it was “hocus pocus,” a course at Cullen persuaded him to give biodynamics a go and he’s not looked back. In fact, he’s very hands on in the vineyard and proudly takes me to see his biodynamic field-station (pictured). The barrels feature a range of soil-enhancing cold fermenting preparations, including a fish emulsion, causarina brew (an antifungal high in silica and Australia’s alternative to horsetail) and my first road kill prep – not the best timing after lunch! Wright dilutes these potent reductions before dynamising them with a stirrer and spreading them around the vineyard with a fertigator.
In the winery, it’s another story. Wright says he’ll never know as much as ex-Leeuwin man Bob Cartwright, his white winemaker or Ian Bell (formerly of Moss Wood, now making great wines for himself at Glenmore), who makes the red wines. Excitingly for me, being a Chenin nut, it’s Chenin which Wright has singled out as his vinous calling card. He’s keen to prove that Margaret River can make top Chenin and picks quite early, between 11.5 and 12 baume, making a serious, dry and steely style. I’m impressed because, with notable exceptions like Peel Estate, WA Chenin tends to be made in a fairly soft focus, easy drinking style. The Chenins are the stars of the show – here are my Chenin tasting notes:
Marri Wood Park Grandis Brut Reserve 2007 – made using the traditional method, this is a fine sparkling wine. It spends 16 months on the lees because Wright’s not looking for an autolytic style. As with the table wines, the focus is on a steely, tight style. This is dry, fresh and steely with good acid drive giving nice grapefruity length. Impressive.
Marri Wood Park Reserve Chenin Blanc 2006 – shows lime peel and some development on the nose. The palate is crisp, dry and mineral with persistent steely grapefruit and a hint of toast, that developed note. Very good – my pick of the bunch.
Marri Wood Park Reserve Chenin 2007 – a warmer vintage and, though still dry and well-structured with only 12.3% abv (the 06 is 12.2% abv), this is rounder with juicy citrus and lemony acidity. Good.
Marri Wood Park Reserve Chenin 2008 – picked a little later this comes in at 12.7% and has a touch more richesse with its honey-licked Granny Smith apple fruit. Good minerally length. Very good.
I really enjoyed my truffle farm experience so I’m happy to discover that my next port of call is Olio Bello, an organic extra virgin olive oil producer. Before this trip I knew that WA’s wineries are fantastically visitor-friendly, but I’d not appreciated that food producers also offer such great tasting and learning experiences.
Olio Bello is quite a sizeable operation, with 10,000 olive trees planted amongst native vegetation. This biosdiversity attracts bees who help pollinate the olive trees. After my introduction to olive oil tasting at Edgecombe Brothers I rattle though a “Heinzian” number of varieties of olive oil, well a dozen not 57. But it does include “Big Nev” made from the pungent Nevadillo variety (a stonker!) and their unique parmesan infused olive oil which I can only say is very parmesan-like on nose and palate. I guess it’d be a useful substitute for the cheese itself, saving money and finger nails! There’s also an exciting range of fruit pressed and infused oils made using lemon, lime, mandarins and passion fruit. It’s late in the day and I’m behind schedule so there’s no time to sample the wares at the café, but I’m told they make their own pasta and also cakes using olive oil instead of butter. Their website has a heap of tips for cooking and baking with olive oil – see here.
It’s back to wine for the final appointment of the day atMerops, a certified organic producer. Aware of my interest in the Loire, Gaebler (pictured at the wheel) hits the jackpot again because Merops Ornatus is a Cabernet Franc dominated blend. Now made by Clive Otto of Fraser Gallop (see here for some Fraser Gallop tasting notes) and previously by Jancis McDonald (see the Stella Bella notes below), the wines are very good. When I meet owner and viticulturist Jim Ross at his home, it’s very clear to me why they are such subtle, well-defined wines. His walls are lined with framed labels of top Bordeaux wines. Ross tells me that he and his wife Yvonne developed their love of Bordeaux wines when they lived in France. It clearly informs the style here.
When they planted Cabernet Franc, Shiraz and Merlot vines 10 years ago, Ross and his wife had a long established horticulture, nursery and vineyard irrigation business. Ross speaks with no little feeling and knowledge when he says it’s just common sense to work organically – “spend your money on nutrients for a balanced soil rather than poison.” His approach is highly scientific compared with most organic producers I’ve spoken with and based on the work of American scientist Professor William Albrecht. Ross calls it “bio-fusion” and you can find out more about it here. As for the wines, here are my notes:
Merops Shiraz 2005 – bright ruby in colour and refreshingly bright on the palate too with well-defined red fruits with blackcurrant supported by firm, quite sinewy tannins. It’s not as soft-centred as many WA Shiraz and I like it for that. There’s a touch of mocha, but it’s worn quite lightly, with just 25-30% new oak here.
Merops Ornatus 2005 (Cabernet Franc 74%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11% and Merlot 15%) – a subtle nose and palate, still quite tight with sinewy tannins fleshed out by well-defined red cherry, damson and plum fruit with a lick of liquorice. Very good. He tells me the 2009 Cabernet Franc is his best yet – I look forward to tasting it down the track.
Supper at Woodlands
In 2007, I was really excited to discover Woodlands (see my 2007 notes here), so it was good to catch up over supper with brothers Stuart and Andrew Watson. They’re really driving Woodlands forward and it was a real bonus to spend time with their father David too who, with his wife Heather, established the vineyard in 1973 in the heart of Wilyabrup.
Woodlands was one of Margaret River’s first five vineyards but is less well known because, for a period, wines were not made under the Woodlands label. Still, Wilyabrup is arguably the Margaret River hot spot for Cabernet Sauvignon (see my notes of the Great Wine Estates of Western Australia tasting here) and I rate Woodlands amongst the region’s finest. Stuart, who only started making the wines in 2002,is choc-ful of ideas about how maceration, splashing, use of lees and pressings can attain the qualities he so admires in great Bordeaux – “concentration without sweetness…I like savoury.” So I reckon it can only get more exciting still at Woodlands. Here are highlights of our informal tasting over supper:
Woodlands Margaret River Reserve 2007 – 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot & 16% Malbec – a great combination of lift and depth and very expressive now. Floral with juicy black cherry, plum and tighter cassis. Savoury cedar, chocolate and balsamic/soy notes ratchet up the complexity and intensity. Ripe but present supporting tannins. Very good.
Woodlands Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – this has a terrific concentration of cassis with a vibrant sour cherry twist underscored by liquorice. It’s a powerful wine with a great thrust of energy about it – animated fruit collides and conjoins with textured tannins, of the oak and fruit variety, adding savoury depth and length. Tons of potential. I can see why Stuart says if he could make a vintage every year, it’d be 2007 for its line and persistence.
Woodlands Cabernet Franc 2005 – planted in 1975/76, this is a limited production wine – typically around 600 bottles and glorious if the 2005 is anything to go by! Very deep in colour, it’s inky, floral (rose petals) and dry, yet has a swagger, a richness to its chocolate, liquorice and cinnamon-edged sour cherry and damson fruit. A sensual wine – just gorgeous.
Woodlands Malbec 2005 – very deep colour and tight on the nose though decanted an hour previously. Though initially fleshy and expansive in the mouth with blueberry black cherry and chocolate, it slides off the palate a bit. The tannins start to build in the mouth on the finish. A big wine, yet to centre, but good potential.
Woodlands Cabernet Sauvignon 1982 (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec) – a cool classic vintage in which David says Moss Wood, Cullen and Vasse Felix all made great wines (see my notes of the Cullen here). Deep plum/aubergine hue, this is tight, tight, almost Nebbiolo/Barolo-like with its tar and roses and structure informed as much by acidity as tannin. There’s a touch of boot polish and the gravelly, mineral quality I find in older Margaret River wines, but still a core of balsamic-edged red cherry. A well-hewn wine, one to drink up soon, but still quietly impressive.
I’m a little worried by the title of this morning’s activities – yes, like the idea of canoeing down Margaret River, but I’m not sure the bushtucker lunch is a carrot – can’t help thinking about Brian Paddock’s bush tucker trial on “I’m a celebrity…”
We paddle off at the mouth of Margaret River, our journey serene compared with the frenetic paddling and surfing out at sea. It’s a pleasant way to pass the morning, save for one family who go round and round in ever decreasing circles prompting our Bushtucker Tours guide to comment about family dynamics, divorce and the like. Fortunately, they eventually get into their groove and redeem themselves by winning the race back to the beach, the prize a bottle of wine. Transpires they’ve done the trip before and I’m not the only one who, not so sotto voce, wonders if their earlier display wasn’t tactical bluffing. Me competitive…
If the canoeing threatens to cause division, the bush tucker picnic is a bonding affair. After a genuinely interesting trot through the bush tucker ingredients we are about to receive, Quondongs, Kakadu plums, Bunya nuts, bush tomatoes and the like, the wichetty grub gauntlet is thrown down. I waste no time playing the vegetarian card and, frankly, I’m surprised how many people volunteer to taste these unearthily white ridged and distended grubs (the very ones in my photo). While some say it tastes like chicken (doesn’t it always?), those who drew the short straw, the head (or is it the bottom?!?!?), look close to wretching. Fortunately, a spoonful of sugar in the form of Marri honey sweetens the wichetty pill and, after a spot of cave exploration, we head home.
Tonight’s “home” is Cape Lodge, a luxury five star hotel. It’s been cold during my stay and, as usual, I’ve been over-optimistic about the weather. Many cotton layers do not a warm person make so it’s sad but true that one of my highlights of the stay is the heated bathroom floor! I’ve written up Cape Lodge on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages here and you’ll see that the restaurant is tip top. I’m still thinking about the sashimi of hiramasa with Asian omelette and jasmine rice.
While I’m there, it’s a good opportunity to taste some samples I’ve been sent during my stay – here are the highlights:
Fraser Gallop Semillon Sauvignon 2009 – this is much more forward and fruity than the 2008 I tasted in London earlier in the year with owner, Nigel Gallop – seehere. There’s pea pod and ripe passionfruit to the nose and palate with the Sauvignon very much to the fore. Though I preferred the stony, flinty quality of the 2008, it’s a juicy, fruity well-made wine – maybe just a bit young and primary now to be fair.
Willespie Riesling 2002 – though Riesling was planted in Margaret River’s early days, there are not many producers making Rieslings today. Great Southern’s cooler climate is generally better suited, but this is good, especially with some age behind it. Showing a petrol and ripe salted lime nose, it’s quite round and generous in the mouth, with lemon butter and lime shred flavours and more delicate talc hints balanced by ripe citrus acidity. Very enjoyable, more comparable with South Australian Riesling than Great Southern’s more finely etched wines.
Willespie Old School Barrel-fermented Semillon 2007 – a toasty nose with ripe citrus/lemon and sweet talc/herbal notes which follow through on a rich, round palate with lemon/lemon curd. A fresh finish gives length and poise. Very good.
Today is back to wine and the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia have organised some visits with Margaret River producers.
Earlier in the year I heard that Cliff Royale, the very talented winemaker at Voyager Estate had moved on. Just before I headed out to WA, I discovered he’d gone toFlametree. Though only established in 2007, Flametree’s Cabernet Merlot 2007 was awarded one of Australia’s most prestigious awards, the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy. It’s been awarded annually, since 1962, to the best one-year-old dry red wine in the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, so I was keen to find out more, especially with Royale at the helm.
The cellar and cellar door are located in Dunsborough, a popular resort town. Royale explains that Perth owners the Towner family had always wanted to get into wine tourism hence the location. He’s quick to point out that there are no vineyards here, it being too far north (too warm) from a quality perspective. Instead, all the fruit is bought in and Flametree work with 8 growers in Wilyabrup. Though he’s only been there 6 weeks, Royale is happy to show me the wines. Aside from the 2008 Frankland Shiraz, which showed plenty of pepper, sweet blood plum and blackberry fruit with fine tannins, the current range didn’t bowl me over. There are some sound commercial wines but for me a lack of structure and character. To be fair, it’s early days for the winery, let alone Royale and, having discussed his plans for the wines, I’m very sure next time I visit that the range will have benefited from some Royale treatment, especially with the Chardonnay – a particular passion for Royale.
Pierro is renowned for its Chardonnay in particular and, though I swung by the cellar door in 2007, I’d not met owner/winemaker Dr Mike Peterkin (pictured) before. Margaret River’s early history is bound up with doctors then chancing their arm at winemaking – doctors Kevin Cullen, Tom Cullity and Bill Pannell founded Cullen, Vasse Felix and Moss Wood respectively. Like Peterkin, they were influenced by Dr John Gladstone’s report touting Margaret River as a potentially great winemaking region. He tells me, aged 20, “it sounded like fun” and, when he finished his medical degree, he went to study oenology at Roseworthy, graduating in 1977. In 1979, after a vintage in Clare Valley, Peterkin made wine at Cullen, that same year buying 65 acres of very rocky Wilyabrup land to develop his own vineyard. He observes though well-drained ironstone gravel soils occur throughout Margaret River, they predominate in Wilyabrup, hence the preponderance of Marri trees.
Though the investment required Peterkin to practice medicine to support his habit, he shared the aspirations of his fellow doctors whom he says went against the Australian grain. Peterkin describes this succinctly as an agricultural model, with an aversion to luxury goods and expensive wines. Cullity, he says, set the tone with a classy label and pricey wines, distributed rather than sold direct via the cellar door.
Thirty years on, Peterkin remains passionate about winemaking and steps me through the developments at Pierro over the years. During this time he’s experimented with different techniques. He says “it’s easy enough to industralise the process but there’s always quality losses.” For him the traditional, small batch approach is still best – the challenge has been how to implement it “without breaking your back.”
Since an extension in 2000 designed around handpicked fruit, the reception area is much improved. Ten kilo Bryce buckets go onto racks to avoid crushing the fruit, which is then cooled down to 5 degrees centigrade. From 2006 the fruit has gone over a sorting table which Peterkin says has exceeded his expectations in terms of quality dividends – it’s been key to eliminating more leaves and botrytised fruit. The press is on a very gradual modified Champagne setting and fermentation tanks are set up for free run, first press and second press fruit. Reds are transported by forklift rather than pumped (it’s gentler) and are mostly open-fermented and hand plunged, followed by a post-fermentation maceration in closed tanks. For eight years now Peterkin has used a system to score tannins rather than just relying on tasting in the vineyard and, in consequence, has hauled back from “heroic” 40 day macerations, save for in great vintages. He’s also a fan of working with more solids and batonnage for the reds, though it’s labour intensive. Using these methods and with press material for blending the reds, his aim is to avoid the “head and shoulders” upfront profile commonly associated with New World wines in favour of wines of structure – “length and backbone.” Peterkin adds, “the initial impact is not so dramatic, but the flavour profile builds in the mouth.”
Peterkin planted a second Wilyabrup vineyard in 1988, Fire Gully, next to Moss Wood and Fermoy and this vineyard provides the fruit for his more upfront Fire Gully range. Here are my picks of the tasting:
Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blanc LTC 2009 – this is an SSB with a difference – a little touch of Chardonnay (10%) which, together with some of the Semillon is barrel fermented. It’s very aromatic with pear, grapefruit and floral notes on the nose and palate. Unsurprisingly, it’s a little richer and more expansive on the palate than your average SSB. Very good.
Fire Gully Chardonnay 2007 – made in a different style to Pierro, with less oak. It has a nice lick of vanilla and toast on the nose, but the palate is fresh with pretty floral and grapefruit and pear fruit; nice line, length and persistence with some peach coming through on finish.
Pierro Chardonnay 2007 – the whole bunch pressed Chardonnay starts fermenting naturally in stainless steel but Peterkin inoculates yeast to finish the fermentation in barrel, using two yeast cultures for complexity. Pierro’s opulent style is influenced by a full malolactic fermentation and Peterkin tells me that picking with low malic acid followed by batonnage and time in barrel (12 months in 50% new French oak) keeps the buttery diacetyl notes at bay. It’s 95% WA’s traditional Gin Gin clone which Peterkin prefers to his Davis or Burgundy clones and it certainly helps to keep the wine in check, as does picking at different ripeness levels. Ideally he’d like to release the wine after another 12 months in bottle, but demand is high! The nose shows classy, slightly smoky oak which follows through on the rich, complex palate with a good depth of cinnamon-edged white peach and pear and textured creamy, leesy notes. It’s well-balanced with gin gin’s classic spine of acidity at the core. Since 2002, Peterkin has concentrated on improving the longevity of the wine without changing its voluptuous style – gentler handling and the sorting table have helped. See my tasting notes for the 2005 & 2006 vintages together with Andrew Caillard MW’s observations about Pierro Chardonnay here.
Pierro Pinot Noir 2007 –Margaret River is a little warm for Pinot but this is one of the region’s best, made from vines now almost 30 years old – traditional upright and droopy clones. There’s good typicity, with sweet red chocolate-edged cherry and silky fine tannins balanced by fresh acidity.
Pierro LTCF 2006 – the little touch here is 10% Cabernet Franc, though Petit Verdot and Malbec have now joined the party – a recent regional trend. Peterkin didn’t make the reserve wine in 2006, the coolest vintage on record and so this wine benefits. It has the hallmark relative paleness of the vintage, the upside (if colour matters to you) being nice present but ripe tannins. Again, true to 2006, the emphasis is on red fruits – cherry and berry with some leafy hints. There’s a lick of chocolate but this is a pretty wine. Good.
Pierro Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2004 – aged for 18 months in French oak, the Reserve is released after 4 years with potential to age another 10 years plus. It certainly fulfils Peterkin’s brief – it’s not an immediate impact “head and shoulders” wine, mid-weight and intense not dense, it shows red cherry and earthy blackcurrant with chocolate and builds in the mouth, showing ripe, savoury tannins. Very good.
It’s pass the parcel day today and I’m collected from Pierro by the chatty Kaye Nobbs of Settlers Ridge. She and her husband, winemaker and viticulturist Wayne, planted vines in 1993. Chemical induced asthma had forced Wayne’s retirement from the airforce and so the approach here has been organic from the off, with certification in 1997 for both the vineyard and winery. Settlers Ridge make a number of preservative free wines too, particularly aimed at asthma sufferers who have a low tolerance for sulphur.
At the pretty and very welcoming cellar door in Cowaramup, fronting onto the Bussell Highway, I taste through the range with Kaye and Wayne. They’ve won lots of accolades, especially for the Shiraz though I found it a little traditional for my taste, with its American oak and sturdy frame. Wayne tells me he’s been pulling back from winemaking owing to health reasons and this year has seen some big improvements now Clive Otto of Fraser Gallop is consulting.
Settlers Ridge Chenin Blanc 2008 – this is no Marri Wood Park Chenin but it’s a good commercial wine, with honeyed, tropical fruit and judicious acidity to balance the residual sugar.
Settlers Ridge Lantana 2008 – a light semi-sweet red, made from a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Malbec. A bright, pale pink, it’s sweetness is deftly off-set by bright fruit. Another well done quaffer.
Settlers Ridge Merlot 2000 – a sound, mellow Merlot drinking well now with its developed, Christmas cake spice and plum.
Settlers Ridge Malbec Merlot 2007 – this is the maiden vintage of this 50:50 and my favourite of the range – deep aubergine, it has a lifted, floral nose with a dark but juicy black berry and plum palate showing (attractively) bitter chocolate, liquorice and hint of bay leaf/tobacco. Good length.
Sangiovese Novello 2007 (now just called Sangiovese) – this wine won the best Aussie/NZ preservative free wine award and it’s got good varietal character – drier and more savoury than the Bordeaux blends, it has firm chewy/sinewy tannins to its sweet liquorice-edged core of plum fruit. It just lacks a bit of definition (fruit clarity), but that’s the trade off here given it’s a preservative free wine.
Serventy Organic Wines
My final appointment before heading to McHenry Hohnen for a couple of days, Serventy was sold around two years ago. With a switch to biological farming Merops-style (see above) and a new winemaker this year, it’s not possible to taste up-to-the-minute wines, so I’ll keep my powder dry on this one and see how the new regime fares another time.
Days 9-10 McHenry Hohnen
McHenry Hohnen is a stone’s throw from Serventy so there’s time to get stuck into a Chardonnay vertical before dinner. There’s a clear-eyed quality that I admire about co-founder David Hohnen and winemakers, daughter Freya and son-in-law Ryan. It tracks deliciously into their vinous output.
Verticals of Calgardup Brook Chardonnay and 3 Amigos White offered vignettes of each vintage, for example, the light and shade of 2007 versus 2006, while a blind horizontal tasting of Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro blends from South Australia and the Rhone put their own McH H 3 Amigos Red into perspective. Aged in old oak barrels with no “varnish” of new oak to detract from varietal and vineyard character, it more than held its own.
You can read my detailed report on my visit here, including my day on the farm finding out about David Hohnen’s rare breed sheep and pigs (pictured). His free range pork and lamb products and McHenry Hohnen wine will be sold at the new Caves Road cellar door, farm shop and café just west of Margaret River township.
This morning I take a break to walk a leg of the Cape-to-Cape track to Redgate beach, a surfer’s favourite. The rain just holds off, so I’m able to enjoy the white sands and blue skies in high definition. With only a handful of walkers and surfers and no tacky tourist developments, it’s a glorious broad sweep of natural, wild beauty.
John Brocksopp, Lillian
That afternoon, I’ve made an appointment to meet up with John Brocksopp, Leeuwin Estate’s former viticulturist. I loved his Rhone whites in particular when I tasted Brocksopp’s Lillian label at Picardy in 2007, so I was really looking forward to meeting him. At his pocket-sized winery perched atop of a hill near Leeuwin Estate, I taste wines as characterful as the man himself. Brocksopp’s take, shared by plenty of the producers I’ve met, is that Australian winemaking tends to be overly protective and wines don’t get enough air.
The Lillian line up used to include a Shiraz Mataro but he’s now focusing on the Rhone whites, a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and I’m happy to give lots of airtime to these wines! The Burgundian varieties come from the oldest vines in Pemberton, planted in 1982 by his neighbour, upright and droopy for the Pinot and gin gin clones for the Chardy then. Brocksopp’s own Pemberton vineyard, on coarse sandy soils with a silt and gravel topsoil, is the source of his Viognier (planted 1992), Marsanne (planted 1993) and Roussanne (planted 1998/99). On the reds, he says he head-grafted the Mataro to Viognier because he couldn’t get it ripe every year. Here are my tasting notes, with some 2009 unfinished wines first up:
Roussanne 2009 – this unfinished sample has the classic floral and green tomato notes that I associate with this variety. In the mouth it puts me in mind of a good Soave (i.e. one made with Garganega), with its green almond, suavely textured palate.
Viognier 2009 – two samples here, one with no malo (round but limpid and cooly mineral with pronounced fennel/aniseed), the other barrel fermented and aged with malo in barrel (richer with musky apricot and candied citrus to the nose and palate though balanced a fresh).
Lillian Marsanne Roussanne 2008 – this weighs in at 12.8% abv. It’s delicate, floral and honeyed with that limpid, mineral quality on the palate and lovely dancing freshness. Some fennel here too on a persistent finish.
Lillian Marsanne 2001 – Brocksopp first worked with Marsanne back in his youth and tells me that it was one of the best wines he made for Seppelt in Rutherglen – “Marsanne’s the guy for me!” He reckons St Joseph can be on par with Burgundy and he’s got a point. Though there’s good freshness still, this shows lovely developed creamy, noisette (brown not black butter), praline, roasted hazelnut and spice to its stone fruit.
Lillian Viognier 2008 – a lifted nose with rose petal and lychee. It’s ripe and juicy on the palate with a lovely spicy fresh ginger bite to its succulent lychee fruit.
Lillian Viognier 2005 – a creamy peach and apricot palate with a developed, toasty, autolytic edge. Good.
Lillian Chardonnay 2008 – he says 08 was a terrific year in Pemberton and this has a Meursault-like richness and structure, with roasted hazelnut to its classic gin gin clone pear and grapefruit. Brocksopp observes that Pemberton produces more structured wines than Margaret River so it’s important to flesh them out. Great balance here.
Lillian Chardonnay 2006 – lemony with good life and lift this reflects the cool vintage. With 50% mao (the 08 had no malo), there’s a richness to the palate and a lovely silky texture.
Lillian Pinot Noir 2009 – two barrel samples, one fresher with red cherry and fine tannins, the other bigger and grippier with black cherry and cinammon. Good.
Lillian Pinot Noir 2007 – quite a big wine with good spicy depth of plum with chocolate and plush supporting tannins. Nice length with a menthol hint to the finish.
Lillian Pinot Noir 2006 – a lovely wine from this cool vintage and it’s Brocksopp’s maiden Pinot Noir….Beautiful purity and definition of red and black cherry fruit with riper cherry stone notes. There’s a cool tinge to this wine with a fine spine of underpinning tannins.
A magic visit.
Days 12-14 Howard Park
It’s off to Howard Park, somewhat nervously because I’m speaking the next morning and my brief is yet to be confirmed. Anyway, it all goes well, indeed I’m chuffed to find out that I’ve been quoted on the local radio by one of Perth’s leading wine merchants. You’ll find my detailed report about Howard Park’s annual International Riesling Tasting here. It also covers several other exciting tastings I enjoyed whilst there – a blind international Pinot Noir tasting, some golden (well Cabernet) oldies from WA’s finest (HP 88, Cullen 78 and Vasse Felix 74), top notch Burgundies and a catch up with HP’s recent developments, including:
* Howard Park Reserve Riesling, a feisty single vineyard Rizza
* Howard Park Riche Riesling, a Euro-centric Riesling
* Madfish Premier and Gold Turtle labels, Madfish goes posh
* Marchand & Burch Pinot Noir, happenings in Burgundy and Great Southern
* developments in the vineyard (the picture is a clue) and, indeed, a new vineyard.
Tom Cannavan is also a guest at Howard Park and we’ll both be judging at theQantas Wine Show of Western Australia in Mount Barker, Great Southern. I join Tom en route down to Mount Barker via Stella Bella, Voyager Estate and Leeuwin Estate – it’s a trip down memory lane for me because I visited all three in 2004. Then, we were driven around by a local. This time it’s just me and Tom and it all goes horribly wrong from the off with confusion about whether the Stella Bella tasting is at their cellar door, which our timings suggest, or a good half hour further south at the winery. It transpires it’s the latter and, in our bid to make up time, we overshoot and are half way to Nanup before we realise the error of our ways. Fortunately, probably the only general store for a 50 mile radius confirms where to look and Stella Bella’s Stuart Pym is very forgiving when we arrive 45 minutes late.
I had a very memorable visit to Stella Bella in 2004 featuring a vertical of my favourite wine from their line up, Suckfizzle Semillon Sauvignon. It’s a terrific, complex barrel-fermented and aged Bordeaux-esque style that develops beautifully – I bought a six bottles of 2002 when I came back but they’ve long since disappeared!
First time around I met the other half of Stella Bella’s dynamic duo, Pym’s wife Janice McDonald. Dynamic because their wines cover the spectrum: Skuttlebutt for quaffing, Stella Bella mid-priced premium wines (c £10-15) and Suckfizzle, the flagship Bordeaux blends and quality is written through the range like Blackpool through a stick of rock. And with 6 vineyards, mostly on ironstone gravel, with some sand and loam, the couple work with an unusually wide spread of varieties. Here are my highlights from the range.
Skuttlebut Sauvignon/Semillon 2008 – a dry Sauvignon/Semillon/Chardonnay blend – the chardy gives mid-palate weight, the Sauvignon a vibrant pea pod nose and palate and the and Semillon brisk acidity. Good.
Stella Bella Semillon/Sauvignon 2008 – once barrel fermented (with 15% new oak for the Semillon) this is aged in stainless steel tanks. It’s tight and lemony with a sweet herbal/hashish notes on the attack, with some juicier, rounder fruit on the palate. Very good. Pym shows us a 2003 which has developed lovely lemon curd and toast notes as the Semillon does it’s thing; nice and flinty too.
Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – Barrel ferment adds a bit of structure and complexity, as does picking at different ripeness levels. This shows passionfruit, pea pod and fresh cut grass with steely grapefruit lending a mineral note. Very good.
Stella Bella Chardonnay 2007 – this is a rich style of Chardonnay, toasty and smoky with good depth of peach, nectarine and cashew with gentle balancing limey acidity. With full malo, it’s creamy but in a silky, slippery way, rather than fat and buttery. Pym (who used to make Devil’s Lair Chardonnay) has reigned back on the oak (this is c. 15% new) and uses lots of solids for texture. Good. He pulls out a 2002 with nutty/noisette developed notes, again creamy but with good balancing freshness. I like 2002 Margaret River Chardys.
Stella Bella Viognier 2007 – interestingly this comes in a flute shaped bottled and Pym uses a range of techniques to buffer Viognier’s irrepressible fruit: it’s fermented in old oak (c. 3yr old) with medium solids and Pym sometimes blends back the pressings. Though the nose is cedary with KFC spices, there’s bouncy fruit on the textured palate, with apricot and lychee and well-integrated but mouthcleansing acidity to the finish. Really well balanced – nice wine.
Suckfizzle Sauvignon Semillon 2008 – yep, another great Suckfizzle SBS, this is flinty and steely, like a Pessac Leognan (Pym visited Domaine Chevalier in 95 and has applied the principles to his fruit), but with a sweeter Margaret River hashish note and vibrant lemon zest. An imposing, poised, well-structured palate reflects the nose flavourwise. Lovely, gravelly and mineral finish. Pym also shows the 2005 – and another one – tight, with a really focused girder of Semillon at its core and that gravelly, mineral undertow. Great mouthsluicing finish.
Skuttlebutt Cabernet Shiraz 2007 – a serious wine for the junior range with tobaccoand chocolate-edged dark plum jam and black cherry supported by firm sinewy tannins.
Stella Bella Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – (15% Cabernet) – I’ve always found this to be one of my favourite Australian Sangioveses. It comes from 6 rows of 10 year old vines in Augusta and another vineyard – all planted to the grosso clone which tends to overcrop, so Pym green harvests around half the crop. Since 2007, the vines have started to settle down and find their balance so yields are higher but so is quality. More often than not the Italian grape is blended with a generous variety like Shiraz or Grenache, but I like its affinity with Cabernet Sauvignon. It amplifies the varieties’ cool elegance and structure. This is a pretty but serious wine with berry and currant fruit, tea leaf, liquorice and flowers, well supported by firm, sinewy tannins.
Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – picked in 2 tries, this is a complex and powerful wine with dried herbs, especially sage, to its black currant and berry fruit – reminds me of Jancis Robinson’s description of Napa Cabernet – a tennis match between the fruit and herbs. Tannins somehow sinewy and slightly smudgy too (?) provide ample means for ageing though it’s approachable now. Very accomplished.
Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – showing a few more years under its belt, this is a little bloody with the savoury meat pan juices I associate with Bordeaux. The sage is really pronounced on palate and there’s hints of eucalypt too to its core of sweet red and black cherry and plum. Ripe tannins provide ample support. Good.
We finish up with some cheeky semi-sweet quaffers for the chiller:
Skuttlebutt Savvy Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – there’s a real trend in Australia for these fun and frivolous styles and this is Schloeur with alcohol with its spritz and fresh-picked grape fruit and 80g/l of residual sugar.
Stella Bella Pink Muscat 2009 – this is a cracker, that always gone down well at tastings – with 2% Traminer it shows turkish delight and gingery, juicy grape and lychee fruit. Much more subtle than the Savvy, it’s a very pretty wine and wears its 90g/l of residual sugar very lightly, tutu style.
This is another estate I first visited in 2004 and again in 2007. Since Cliff Royale moved on, Steve James, the estate’s long-serving viticulturist has taken on the newly created role of ‘Manager – Winemaking and Viticulture’ with Royale’s former assistant, Travis Lemm focusing on the winemaking. So there’s continuity at Voyager, the only change that I picked up on thus far being the use of American oak and pulling back on acid in the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. It makes it less hard-hitting (my preferred style), but more commercial.
Chardonnay 2007 – very much the early picked, well-structured Voyager style that I really rate. It shows smoky oak with tight lime, lemon, grapefruit and pear. There’s great texture and length with plenty of lees work/solids lending a savoury tang. Very good.
Chardonnay 2006 – I love this cool vintage’s Chardonnays. This has a floral Puligny Montrachet heady character and fine lemony acidity, though more exotic lime zest sets it apart from Burgundy. Lovely.
Shiraz 2006 – Voyager has always made a creditable Shiraz with a bit of oomph while being more savoury than sweet. This has fleshy, juicy black berry and cherry with lifted floral notes and a grunt of pepper.
Cabernet/Merlot 2005 – a cracker, with a lovely purity and depth of succulent cassis, blueberry and blackberry fruit backed by gravelly tannins. Great balance and length.
Tom Price Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2004 – this limited edition wine (made from the top 10 barrels that vintage) is deeply coloured and made in a sexy, flamboyant style with lush earthy raspberry and coal-dust-edged cassis. Long and powerful with seamless tannins, it’s very good indeed.
Established in 1974, Leeuwin Estate is one of Margaret River’s pioneering estates and home to the Art Series Chardonnay, one of Australia’s most iconic wines. We’re late and lunch beckons so, after a speedy tasting, we sit down to eat with winemaker Paula Attwood and owners Denis and Tricia Horgan and assorted family members. The Horgans are renowned for their warm hospitality and you can find my review of the restaurant on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages here.
Though Leeuwin’s relatively cool Margaret River location south of the township in Witchcliffe pays great dividends for the whites, it can be more challenging for their reds, which I’ve found a touch austere, both in terms of fruit and tannin profile. Though they’re released with bottle age to counter this, in my experience, they benefit from more time still. So it’s good to hear that, since 2003/2004, Attwood has been working to address this with increased fruit exposure (via leaf removal) and, in the winery, is using a more oxidative approach with open ferments, micro-oxygenation and splashing better to polymerise (soften) tannins. A modern basket press also makes for more gentle extraction and Attwood says Malbec plays an important role, soaking up oak. The yet to be released 2005 Art Series Cabernet shows a nice purity of fleshy black currant and cherry fruit with powdery tannins. The still raw, way off release 2007 includes around 15% Wilyabrup fruit which, from further north, probably accounts for its blueberry notes.
Here are my notes on the finished white wines:
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2008 – as with the Willespie reviewed above, this is closer to Clare Valley than Great Southern Riesling in style – very talcy/powder puff with a good depth of limey fruit in the mouth. One of Margaret River’s consistently good Rieslings but call me an acid freak, I prefer my Rieslings a little edgier.
Leeuwin Estate Siblings Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2009 – Siblings are Leeuwins most forward wines. The SBS was a new addition to the range in the previous year and the 2009 is already a step up, with greater depth. A lifted talcy nose leads onto a bright citrus palate with attractive lemon curd notes (the Semillon is barrel fermented in 5 year old oak barrels).
Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay 2007 – not shy on the biscuity/toasty oak but, nonetheless, its pear and melon fruit is bright and precise, marshalled by vibrant lemony acidity. With good length and balance, as always, the Prelude is a satisfying Chardy to drink while the Art Series does time in the cellar.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2006 – well you know my thoughts on the 2006 Chardys already and, unsurprisingly, the Art Series is a tour de force. Just a quick word about the unique ingredients behind its success: it hails from the oldest vines planted in 1976, notably Block 20, described by Attwood as “the banker.” Its old, leached soils provide excellent drainage and deep root penetration so yields are moderate, never more than 2.5 tons to the acre (c40hl/ha), especially taking into account the gin gin clones “hens and (small berry) chickens.” This produces fabulously balanced fruit on the vine with high sugar ripeness and a whopping 8-9g/l of natural acidity providing the structure and richness for long-term ageing.
In the winery, the grapes are crushed and given around 8 hours skin contact to enhance texture and longevity. It sees 100% new oak, with lees stirring and battonage and malo as appropriate for the vintage. Attwood tells me the 06 saw an unusually high degree (25%) of malo to add weight in this the coolest vintage on record. It’s a tightly coiled, muscular Chardonnay with classic gin gin pear, dried pear and pear skins, though such is the charge to this wine, there’s hardly time to savour this, though you’re left in no doubt of this wine’s power and presence. I’d stick it away for at least 3 years if the also cool vintage 2002 is anything to go by – see my notes from a tasting in May for the 2002 and 2006 here.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005 – a warmer vintage more expressive on the nose and palate with pear, grapefruit and lingering cinnamon notes on the palate. Plenty of power in reserve.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 1989 – all the library stock was rebottled 18 months ago, with 50% lost to oxidation. This survivor has a developed nutty edge to its pear and pear skin fruit but there’s still plenty of va va voom. A tight spine of acidity drives a long finish. Impressive.
Days 14, 15, 16 & 17 – Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia
After Leeuwin, Tom and I (pictured in our natty judge’s apron) sped south for Mount Barker where we’re due to attend a judges’ dinner. Dusk is when the kangaroos come out to play and, with a good four hours of heroic driving, Mr Cannavan does well to more or less retain a straight line, despite the best efforts of our marsupial friends.
Once in Mount Barker we get lost down Z roads (a.k.a. dirt tracks) trying to find Tom’s lodgings. We pitch up late for dinner and a tad stressed, but it’s good to meet our fellow judges who soon put us at our ease, as do some rather nice wines – I think I can be excused for not taking notes!
Next day we’re given a pep talk by Chief Judge, Vanya Cullen. The beauty of this show is that, unlike say the Perth Show, it focuses exclusively on Western Australian wines. Excited by a run of three great vintages – 2007, 2008 & 2009 – Cullen told us we could expect to find some wonderful ambassadors for Western Australia’s diverse and characterful wine regions.
The show certainly reflects the growth spurts of WA’s youthful south western wine industry, shooting up from only six classes in 1978 to over 40 classes in 2009. And with 53 gold, 114 silver and 325 bronze medals, not too many pimply teenagers at that – there were plenty of sophisticated, well made wines among the 1132 entries, many of which were new to me. Click here for the full results and this is the list of trophy winners:
- Best Wine of Show – Brookland Valley Chardonnay 2008
- Best Red Wine – Knee Deep Wines Shiraz 2008
- Best White Wine – Brookland Valley Chardonnay 2008
- Most Successful Exhibitor Overall – Houghton Wine Company
- Most Successful Exhibitor processing under 250 Tonnes – Harewood Estate Wines
- Winery with Highest Aggregate for their three top pointed wines – Vasse Felix
- Best and Most Distinctive Regional Characteristics – Xanadu Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Margaret River
- Best Shiraz – Knee Deep Wines Shiraz 2008
- Best Cabernet Sauvignon – Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
- Best Pinot Noir – Castle Rock Estate Pinot Noir 2008
- Best Red Blend – Houghton Wine Company C.W. Ferguson Cabernet Malbec 2007
- Best Fortified Wine – Lilac Hill Estate Wines Fine Old Tawny
- Best Older Red Wine – Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
- Best Chardonnay Brookland Valley Chardonnay 2008
- Best 2008 Riesling – Bellarmine Dry Riesling 2009
- Best White Blend – Hamelin Bay Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009
- Best Aged Riesling – Palandri Riesling 2006
Being a great fan of Great Southern Riesling, I was sorry not to judge the Riesling class which had a 65% success rate medal-wise. Of those classes I did judge, other traditional WA strengths showed impressive consistency – Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Semillon blends which, with a few notable exceptions, I prefer to the straight Sauvignons, also Chardonnay. Though the class was small, I loved the fortified trophy winner, Lilac Hill Estate Wines Fine Old Tawny. WA Shiraz has yet to convince me – it can be a bit middle of the road and lacking structure/character for my taste, though oddly enough at the wine show, strapping tannins, big oak and not enough fruit let the side down! Maybe I should keep stum and, since I’ve reached the end of my marathon report, now I will! Until next time…