Margaret River has been a favorite holiday destination for wine connoisseurs since the establishment of its first vineyards in the late 1960s – long, long before I was born. With a seemingly endless river of wine, and an abundance of beautiful accommodation options available, booking Margaret River hotels for a winter weekend getaway has never been easier. That’s why it’s target #1 for my winter escape from the smog and nastiness of the city.
As a bit of a wine connoisseur myself, I’ve read that the wines of Margaret River are causing quite a stir on the international scene. Marg’s is now producing around 20 per cent of Australia’s premium drops, which is rather impressive for such a small place.
But because of the hot Western Australia climate, it’s best suited for dry whites and big reds – the latter being my poison of choice. This means you have no chance of finding an elegant Pinot Noir or a sweet Riesling in the Margaret River area, but what winemakers do there, they do well.
Are you a Wine Virgin?
If you’re not a confident wine-taster and have a rather limited wine knowledge, the idea of a wine-based weekend may be somewhat intimidating. Fear not; wine is a drink that can and should be enjoyed by everyone – regardless of level of experience or wine education. I say this as someone who generally purchases wine based simply on the look of the label.
The following is an introductory guide to Margaret River’s four top wine varietals: chardonnay, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, with relevant tasting notes and information around who is cleaning up the awards in the Margaret River scene. Remember, every palate is different; it is up to you to decide what you like!
As people tire of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, they are beginning to reassess their white wine options, and chardonnay is leading the pack as a favored replacement. The great thing about Margs is that the area isn’t tied to a particular “Style”, i.e. big and oaky or fruitful with crisp acidity, meaning you have the opportunity to sample all different styles of drop. Chardonnay is a very diverse style of wine. It’s great by itself on a hot Western Australian evening, but also a great match for food, particularly fish, poultry and duck. According to celebrated Australian wine writer, James Halliday, the places doing it the best in the Margaret River region include Brookland Valley, Cape Mentelle, Chalice Bridge Estate, Chapman Grove Wines and Clairault.
The answer to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with its crisp green acidity and herbaceous tropical fruits, Sem-Sauv blanc is a great pairing for white seafood, including light fish, calamari and oysters. Due to its lighter style, it’s a well-suited entry wine for previous non-wine drinkers or less confident tasters to start on. According to Halliday’s 2013 list, the Margaret River wineries who are leading the pack for this particular variety include Cape Mentelle, Cullen Wines, Lenton Brae Wines, Moss Wood and Pierro.
Although Margaret River started off big with Cabernet Sauvignon, they are making some massive inroads with Shiraz and are currently leading the Australia red wine scene with various international accolades. A good Shiraz should be powerful and full-bodied, with dark berry flavors and a hint of spice. Shiraz is best paired with winter roasts, summer barbeques and homely stews. James Halliday has credited Margaret River wineries Amelia Park Wines, Cape Mentelle, Churchview Estate, Deep Woods Estate and Gralyn Estate as producing some of the best Shiraz in the country for 2013.
Cabernet Sauvignon was what Margaret River became known for in the Australian and international wine scene. The big brother of the previous three varietals, Cab-Sauv is a heavier wine with dark fruit, liquorice and even tobacco characteristics. Margaret River Cab-Sauv is particularly delicious with hearty dark meats, such as a peppered New York steak and wild game. Halliday rates Hay Shed Hill Wines, Heydon Estate, Houghton, Pedestal Vineyard Wines, Woodlands, Stella Bella Wines and Moss Wood as being on the cutting edge of Cab-Sauv production in Australia.
Ever been to Margaret River, or simply tried some of the wines from there? Think I messed up royally on the selection? Whatever your feelings, go ahead and share them in the comments below, as I would love to hear from you. There’s rarely a time when I *don’t* feel like discussing wine.
(Photos by Jameson Fink)