Australia's Margaret River: The Vineyards to Visit and Bottles to Try
Looking for ancient forests, delicious food and Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay worth traveling the globe for? Right this way...
From what I have been able to deduce, Margaret River is nearly as far from my home in Philadelphia as possible without being somewhere in the eastern Indian Ocean. It’s a three-hour drive south of Perth, which is a four-plus-hour flight from Sydney, which is still a 16-hour haul to Dallas, nearly three hours by plane from Philly International Airport, half an hour from my house. So it’s pretty far away.
And yet it was more than worth the journey. Frankly, it would have been worth a voyage of twice as long. Because the wines produced there are simply breathtaking.
This is Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay country, and while there are certainly other varieties being successfully grown and vinified, the big two find a depth of expressiveness and an elegance of longevity that is rare anywhere in the world.
I’d been invited to not just explore the region and visit producers in the lead-up to the Gourmet Escape, an annual showcase of all that the region has to offer, from cultural heritage to a world-class food scene, but to attend an epic tasting of Cabernet and Chardonnay going back four decades, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the wine region.
Of course, like seemingly everywhere I went in Australia, there were delicious surprises. Juniper Estate’s Aquitaine Blanc 2016, a classic Bordeaux-style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, was savory, textured, and very long, with great concentration to the earthy yet floral flavors. It’s not available yet in the United States, but indicative of the breadth of excitement in Margaret River. That beauty primed my palate for a stellar line-up of Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Bordeaux-style red blends and varietally labeled bottles. I’m still thinking about Voyager Estate’s “Broadvale Block 6” Chardonnay 2015, which showed fennel bulb alongside lemon curd and flinty minerality. Flametree “SRS Wallcliffe” Chardonnay 2014 danced with yellow and pink grapefruit, seckel pear, and gun flint. The Xanadu Stevens Road Chardonnay 2015 was exotic with shiso, kaffir lime leaf, and grapefruit, as well as a lime-blossom lift. Its precision was amazing.
That sort of precision, in fact, as well as the structure of both the best Chardonnays and Cabernets, contribute to their incredible ageability. The Cullen “Kevin John” Chardonnay 2007, for example, was still vibrant with oyster-shell minerality and mouth-watering acidity; my notes have it aging easily for another decade and a half.
The reds fared just as well. Vasse Felix’s Cabernet Sauvignon 1982 still haunts me with its peppermint tree, dried violet, porcini, and sandalwood notes, and the almost tea-like finish that lasts for a seeming eternity. Cape Mentelle’s 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon is perfectly mature, with roasting coffee beans, chamomile, black currant, and a pulse of floral pink peppercorn. Yet for all that potential to age, these are also reds that generally deliver immense pleasure in their youth.
Margaret River is a region of stunning, ancient forests, varied terroir, excellent food, and winemakers who have, on the far side of the planet from the East Coast of the United States, been painstakingly and lovingly making wines that have become a benchmark for me since visiting. Like so much of the Australian wine industry these days, the wines of Margaret River are deeply tied to their terroir, coaxed to fruition by growers and producers with distinct visions for their wines, and utterly, unforgettably delicious.