Margaret River: Vintage 2020 report & wine reccos to go!
Just as the Western Australia Government announced the temporary closure of the Western Australian border, from midnight this Sunday, cheering news came in from Margaret River Wine Association Inc. about the quality (if not quantity) of the 2020 vintage. You’ll find the vintage report cut and pasted below and a link to a video vintage 2020 discussion featuring Vasse Felix’s Virginia Willcock. First, let me focus on the ‘clink clink’ type of cheers….
Here are a couple of top drops for current drinking from Margaret River, together with details of stockists who are delivering, followed by links to my Decanter Premium reports on some very special Margs’ vertical tastings, with links to stockists.
Margaret River current releases – top tips
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2017 (Margaret River)
Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay (widely available – Waitrose, Majestic) is a steal and firm favourite in my household but, in the current climate, out of stock at both retailers. Snap it up if you find it. However, this brilliant flagship cuvée is worth shelling out for. Let’s just say, the words ‘Grand Cru’ sprang to mind when I recently re-tasted it, despite the Premier Cru price….It is compellingly contrapuntal, with terrific citrus backbone and twang, wed to savoury depth. All in all, wonderful palate presence. Lanolin and ripe lemon set the tone on the nose, with roast lime and great drive of steely grapefruit chiming in on a mouthwatering palate, with nuances of mushroom, earth and light textural, mineral grip, like licking sandstone – a crystalline quality. Incredible length. Engages from tip to toe – outstanding. 13% £44.99 at Majestic (£39.99 when part of a mixed case of six), £51.80 at Hedonism
Cullen Red Moon 2017 (Wilyabrup, Margaret River)
Turn that frown upside down, this entry-level red from Cullen’s certified biodynamic, carbon negative vineyard will bring an instant smile to the face. Sourced from the Mangan Vineyard, Red Moon is a blend of 57% Malbec, 37% Petit Verdot and 6% Merlot. Putting the emphasis firmly on fruit and vineyard expression, it spent 9 months in French oak barriques, just 10% new. Vivacious and aromatic, this Moon has a sunny character and a distinct hint of planet earth! It reveals violets, bright pippy, brambly fruit with terra cotta and ironstone gravel notes. Juicy acidity and fine tannins provide line and nice length. WA freshness, restraint and fruit intensity. Lovely – mission accomplished! 12%, £24.99 Oz Wines.
You can also find my tasting notes on top current release Margaret River drops in the following Decanter Premium reports of vertical tastings:
A vertical tasting of 19 McHenry Hohnen single vineyard releases from Hazel’s Vineyard, including the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon & Rolling Stone Bordeaux blend.
Margaret River 2020 Vintage Report
“At the start of the 2020 growing season, no one would have believed the situation we are in right now. However, it is during challenging times like these that we look for a silver lining, and the silver lining for the Margaret River region is the exceptional vintage we have just wrapped up.
The Margaret River wine industry finishes one of the most unusual harvests to date, the region raises a collective sigh of relief to have been able to complete the 2020 vintage undisrupted; without significant rain, lockdowns or the impact of bushfires and losses that sadly, some regions in other parts of Australia have had to endure. We are humbly counting our blessings.
The region enjoyed an early start to the season, with warmer than average spring temperatures evolving into the perfect summer growing conditions. Low disease pressure, timely flowering of native Marri trees to keep the birds at bay and little to no rain meant that growers could literally “take their pick” when they wanted.
Compared with the challenges of cooler weather and significant bird pressure in 2019, the 2020 vintage in Margaret River was a real treat for viticulturists. The only downside of note has been the lower than normal yields across all varieties, resulting in one of the smallest harvests in recent years.
Yet here is another silver lining… the lower yields have resulted in exceptional fruit that is physiologically ripe and shows divine concentration of aromas and flavours.
While the 2020 vintage from Margaret River will be in scarce supply, it will be a very special vintage to look out for.
After a significantly wet winter with rainfall 30% above average, temperatures gradually crept up to above long-term ranges while rainfall fell well below norms as spring commenced. Regular heat-waves through the months of October, November and December saw maximum daytime temperatures regularly in the mid 30’s. These periods of high temperatures caused an acceleration in grape development, fortunately without the related sunburn which can occur if such heat occurs after veraison.
Chardonnay was first out of the blocks with an early budburst at the end of August. This allowed the soil to dry and warm, providing ideal conditions for early root growth and optimal access to nutrients. As other varieties commenced their growth, we saw development of healthy, wellbalanced canopies across the region. The growing season overall offered ideal conditions for a wide range of varieties, from early to late ripening. The beautiful weather and lower yields gave sufficient time for fruit to reach its
best without the pressure of a premature harvest date due to disease or poor conditions.
Harvest began at the end of January, the earliest start on record, brought on by lower yields and warm, dry weather which ripened the fruit more rapidly than is usual.
The warm daytime temperatures saw the first half of the vintage race along with all white grapes harvested by the end of February, a very early finish for the white’s harvest.
During this period, the season’s regular dry, sunny days provided a natural impediment to any development of disease which can thrive on humid, cloudy days. Marri trees blossomed extensively, keeping the birds away from the vineyards. A weak, cold front brought approximately 35mm of rain in late February to early March and
daytime temperatures moderated in mid-March which was very beneficial in slowing things down and allowing softening and ripening of tannins and great flavour development. The small amount of rain was also considered a positive by those who own dry-grown vineyards. By the end of March to early April most of the region had finished their Cabernet Sauvignon harvest, the latest ripening varietal in the region.
The 2020 yields are below the long-term average due to several factors, rather than a specific incident. There were colder than average spring conditions in 2018 when the fruit load is determined in developing buds for the next season. In the spring of 2019, isolated patches of hail, widespread winds and rain caused damage to vine shoots and impacted flowering and fruitset with varieties which were at a sensitive growth stage on exposed sites in the region, creating low bunch weights. The dry growing season also contributed to lighter than average bunch weights across most varieties.
It has been a sensational Chardonnay vintage, with wonderful complexity, balance, concentration of flavours and clean, pristine fruit. With the accelerated ripening, there is incredible retention of natural acidity, texture and loads of energy.
Sauvignon Blanc is showing excellent early floral characters while the Semillon shows richness and roundness. The other whites have also been sensational with fruit displaying purity, freshness and excellent varietal expression.
Shiraz loved the warmth with good depth of flavour, a bright fruit spectrum and lovely tannins with medium weight.
Cabernet Sauvignon is showing excellent potential, with loads of colour, concentration, dark fruit vibrance and the standout feature of lovely fine soft tannins.
Across the board the quality is outstanding.”
Virginia Willcock on video
Following the publication of this post, I moderated a Wine Australia video about the 2020 vintage and you can catch up with Virginia Willcock of Vasse Felix’s take on Margaret River, together with those of fellow winemakers Louisa Rose (Yalumba) and Sarah Crowe (Yarra Yering) on the Barossa and Yarra Valley respectively here, under the ‘Watch the replay now’ link right at the bottom of the linked page – keep scrolling!