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Friday, September 18, 2009

Margaret River Wines of West Australia

I spent a few days last month in the main winemaking region of Western Australia, Margaret

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River (a vibrant tourist destination thanks to viticulture and exceptional surf breaks in the Indian Ocean), tasting a lot of its trademark Cab Sauvignon and Shiraz and Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends. We got to taste more than we expected .. it's amazing

“I have nothing to declare except my genius.” Oscar Wilde can get away with such a quip, when it came time I declare that I had “a couple” of bottles of Margaret River wine in my groaning suitcase. A couple, as in a half-dozen, but hey, close enough.

Margaret River, about 280 kilometers south of Perth, offers interesting comparison points for followers of Virginia wine. The WA industry is about 40 years old and plays second banana in many countrymen’s judgment to the older and dominant South Australia region, home to Clare Valley and Barossa Valley. But, though Margaret River yields a surfeit of perfectly good same-like wines—especially of the high-alcohol, highly extracted variety—there are some real gems that reward careful attention.

The no-nonsense operations at Moss Wood “Tourist destination,” arranged a private tasting, since Moss Wood, the second-oldest winery in Margaret River, is among the few wineries there that doesn’t run a robust cellar door business. Young Alex Coultas, an assistant winemaker who let it be known that he does his share of surfing, was an able the very plummy 2007 Merlot a hearty thumbs-up. The Moss Wood reds definitely met his standard.

Many people in Margaret River get into their career through the intensive viticulture and enology programs at Curtin University. Sound familiar? In another decade Central Virginia could have scores of PVCC- and Virginia Tech-trained wine professionals running around its wineries.

Another outstanding winery experience was Vasse Felix, the granddaddy of them all, first planted by the famed Dr. Tom Cullity in 1967. Fun times were had watching the bottling line and the screw cap automation at what is also one of Margaret River’s largest producers and exporters (China and the South Pacific are fat markets for all Aussie wines, as are England and the U.S.). But the best times were had in the tasting room (hello, 2005 Heytesbury Cab. Nice structure!) and at the posh restaurant upstairs. Indeed, gorgeous restaurants and tycoon-worthy service and dining are a central aspect of the Margaret River experience, and in that it’s closer to Napa than to Central Virginia.

Other noteworthy wineries we visited include the completely biodynamic Cullen (which, like a lot of places we stopped at has a woman in charge of the winemaking operations—something that’s still anomalous though changing here) and Happs and Three Hills, which fascinated with its Petit Verdot, a bottle of which now sits on a shelf in my house awaiting age and a comparison with a more local version of same. We also tasted a lot of great stuff at Cape Mentelle, another of the originals, which I relieved of a couple bottles of its curious Botrytis Viognier dessert wine.

Most Margaret River wineries have U.S. distributors, though it takes some digging to locate their presence in Virginia. Still, it’s worth the effort if you don’t plan to cross the International Date Line anytime soon. Good on ya, mates!

Austrade are excellent supports for WA Exports

WA Wine exports - see

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