Margaret River is often likened to Bordeaux because of the shared moderate, coastal, maritime climate with comparatively high rainfall. With roughly 200 producers and 5,000 hectares of land under vine, Margaret River and the wider Western Australia region accounts for no more than 5% of the country’s production, but they’re often the winners of 30% of the medals.
Negociants New Zealand, a fine wine import and distribution company with a range of Australian and New Zealand wines, recently held a portfolio tasting in Wellington. Some of the winemakers there were from the esteemed Margaret River. When asked about their frequent alignment with the climate of Bordeaux one winemaker was quick to dissociate himself, wanting the region to stand on its own. If you’re set to be bolstered by the might of another region, you could do a lot worse than the great Bordeaux, but each to their own.
In New Zealand it’s hard to get your hands on the wines of Margaret River. Firstly, because production is small to the point that not much of it is exported at all. And secondly, because it’s pricey. The opportunity to taste a whole flight of them together was a real treat.
Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Semillon 2014 RRP $35
The acidity on this is truly racy, thanks to the roughly 58% sauvignon blanc. On a fresh palate it’s aggressive. As you get accustomed to the high acid you start to see the full-bodied weight and waxiness that both semillon and a 7% barrel fermentation bring to the blend. The wine becomes more layered and textured. Stone, tropical and citrus fruit all have a showing: melon, mango and lemon peel. There’s also the grassy herbaceousness of Sauvignon. The wine wraps up with a stony, mineral finish.
Moss Wood Semillon 2011 RRP $54
The depth of flavour, the varied complexity and the overall age-ability all shine through. The nose is fresh green apple, ripe melon and mango, and there’s a slight honeyed aspect to it. The grapes are picked in successive tries, which helps to craft the range of aromas and flavours. The dry and very weighty and textured palate shows more of the savoury. Roast potato and rosemary, preserved lemon and a lovely mineral finish. A well-balanced, well-crafted wine.
Xanadu Chardonnay 2012 RRP $45
A butteriness and structure sums up this wine. 100% of the wine was aged 9 months in oak, 25% of it new. All that oak is a lot to integrate. The round, full-bodied nature of the wine is rich and creamy. The oak leaves its mark not only on the texture but with a pronounced lashing of vanilla, cloves and toast. It’s not all oak – the fruit comes through as a hint of lemon, fleshy apricots and peaches all doused in Christmas spice. If you like your Chardonnay big, bold and creamy, this is the wine for you.
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2013 RRP $75
Seen alongside the Xanadu, this is a totally different beast. Far more in the way of smoke and flint, a nod towards the heavy (45% new) oak use. The palate is soft and round, but not fat. The calibre of fruit stands up to the huge amount of oak, with plenty of juicy peach and apricots and the tang of green apple. It’s hard to know how to place this wine. Ultimately, it’s still a baby and needs to be put away for a wee while.
Circle of Life Shiraz 2013 RRP $25
A case of you-get-what-you-pay-for. This is a fresh, fairly simple and cheerful example of an Aussie shiraz. However, coming from the Margaret River with the cooler, more maritime climate means this is less of the jammy, fruit-bomb coming out of the Barossa. Cooked red and black plums and cherries, a healthy mix of savoury, pungent and sweet, baking spice and a touch of cedar. A hint of florals lends an attractive flourish to the finish. If you’re looking for the uncomplicated, this is not a bad way to go.
Leeuwin Art Series Shiraz 2012 RRP $52
Compared to the previous shiraz this is about three steps up the quality scale. The fruit is concentrated, deep and plummy. The nose is dark violet florals and bits of sweet baking spice, mint and oak. The palate has more in the way of the savoury spice with sprigs of bay leaf and a good amount of dark chocolate and menthol. The oak is even more apparent on the palate, showing as vanilla, cloves and sage. This wine sits more with the elegant characters associated with syrah rather than the burlier, jammier shiraz characters. This is a great wine.
Cape Mentelle Zinfandel 2013 RRP $55
A very big wine with plush, rich fruit. Completely dry with very big alcohol, firm tannins and soft acidity. Cooked black plum, raisin and chocolate come through with a bang. There’s a candied quality akin to red liquorice, pleasant Christmas spice and the minty, eucalyptus character that is often found in Australian reds. The 5% shiraz in the blend lends a peppercorn spice. At 16-months in French oak, 25% new, you would expect it to be more apparent. The depth and concentration of the zinfandel fruit stands above the oak treatment.
Cullen Cabernet Merlot 2013 RRP $55
89% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Merlot. There’s not too much in the way of fruit on this one. It opens with more of a vegetal and herbaceous character. Broccoli stalks was one of the most on-point descriptions of the night (I had to borrow it). Drying, chalky tannins and plenty of alcohol. The grippy, dusty nature of the tannins points to the youthfulness of the wine. Dirty and earthy on the palate, loaded with cedar character. All this along with a pungent green capsicum, dark cocoa and a full catalogue of spice: thyme, bay leaf, sage. The medicinal, vegetal quality wasn’t to everyone’s liking. But for a baby, this wine is very agreeable to my palate.
Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 RRP $98.50
This wine is made to age. A hugely structured wine with firm, meaty, drying tannins and big alcohol. The wine spent 18-months in French oak, 50% new. The wine comes through very compartmentalised: the fruit, the savoury, the structure. You need to step back and look at the wine as a whole and think about where it’s going over the next two to three decades. Dark, brooding cassis and sweet jammy plum. The oak is cloves, cedar and vanilla. There’s some pleasant black liquorice and fennel spice and plenty of cocoa. All rather serious. One to watch while it ages and comes into its own.