I was delighted to visit the Margaret River region in May on a mission to concentrate on chardonnay and cabernet/blends. The first thing I quickly realised was the abundance of the Gingin clone which originated from the Côte d’Or, France and is the backbone of all most every WA Chardonnay.
The Gingin clone was the first Chardonnay planted in the Margaret River region in 1975. International fame followed when Decanter Magazine gave its highest recommendation to the Leeuwin Estate 1981 “Art Series” Chardonnay made by prominent winemaker Bob Cartwright. The nose expresses pronounced aromas of tropical fruit, citrus, and toasted almond. The mouthfeel is rich and textured yet fresh at the same time. This expression was evident in most of the chardonnays I tasted particularly at the top end.
Conversely it is the Houghton clone which dominates most WA Cabernets. This originated from the Houghton vineyard in the Swan Valley in about 1968. It often displays lower vigour vines, lower yields and smaller berries which give it that wonderful flavour and great intensity. It generally displays less herbaceous characters and a lovely density with classic, blackcurrant and cassis characters and certainly demonstrates that ‘power and elegance’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
With those thoughts in mind lets get on with the job.
Nigel Ludlow, the winemaker started Evoi Wines in 2007 with 2 barrels of Chardonnay and now makes 14 different styles – probably too many – and he does very much everything. His standouts were a 2018 Reserve Malbec, 2018 Reserve Cabernet and 2014, a blend of Cab/Petit Verdot/Malbec all 89/100. all $69. Due to the elevation of a block of Cabernet he is ripping it out and will replace it with Chardonnay.
This huge estate is dominated by a Dutch inspired mansion, similar to those found in Stellenbosch SA. I was told they planted 60,000 trees throughout the property.
Formed in 1978 this certified organic producer had two outstanding wines.
The 2022 Coastal Chardonnay had layers of lemon, grapefruit, citrus and gentle toastiness with a refreshing finish. 93/100. VALUE. $30.
However the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon with just 65% Merlot was one of the best I tried during my 4 day visit. Black currant and chocolate on the nose and a palate of elegance, balance complexity and fruit power. 96/100. $95. Wonderful.
Worth a visit to stroll around the vast estate and look at the kitchen garden.
One of the up and coming wineries in the region with a wide selection of sparkling, whites and reds. I did not try them all but a Sparkling Brut Rose, a 2022 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend, a 2021 Reserve Chardonnay and a 2021 Estate Shiraz full of plum and pepper were enjoyable.
Claire on cellar door duty was great and recommended the 2022 Estate Chardonnay 90/100 VALUE $27. Peach, citrus and salted cashew. Yum. Also the 2018 Estate Cabernet loaded with mulberry and chocolate. 90/100 $50. The 2018 Reserve Cabernet was closed and needs more time to come together. There is also a gourmet shop adjacent which showcased local produce
Renowned local winemaker Mark Warren (pictured below), embraces lesser-known varietals such as Gamay, Fino, Sparking Vermentino, Appassimento and Gros Manseng to Chardonnay and Cabernet, the Margaret River classics. The stand out was the 2022 Verdelho. 90/100. VALUE $25 A young, refreshing wine with abundant flavour and a creamy texture. There is a distinct chalky minerality to the palate which displays flavours of citrus, fig, nectarine gooseberry and lemonade with notes of brioche and passionfruit. Winery not to be discarded when in the region.
Another glorious vista as you enter this expansive estate with a classy cellar door tasting room and an upmarket art gallery. Then you can ponder the quality and extraordinary high prices of the Art Series range. I am not saying that they are not worth it but when you have an elevated pedigree and a reputation with consumers why not?
Kerry Clift, the Cellar Door Manager was quite happy to pour all the range for tasting including the Art Series. Let’s start with those. The 2020 Art Series Chardonnay 96/100. $152 and 2019 Art Series Cabernet 95/100. $96. Both class acts with the Cabernet a reasonable price for the elevated perfumed and fragrant nose, backed up with cherries and black currant. More in my price range was the Prelude range with 2021 Chardonnay 92/100. $39. the pick. Cut lime and pear dominate the nose with evidence of grapefruit, lime and lemon finishing things off.
I was keen to go there due to Robert Gherardi, a 3rd generation Italian has been around the traps – Mosswood, Brown Hill, Cullen and Elio Altare in Barolo in various wine making roles. He bought the distresed winery 2 years ago after it was run down with an objective of producing world class wines.
Kelly hosted and boy was she enthusiastic in promoting the wines particularly the Nebbiolo ($40) which Robert fell in love with during his 2 years in Barolo. Alas, his objective of recreating a Piemonte classic has much work ahead of it. The Cabernet had a vegetable nose, was green but an undertow of mixed fruit and was overpriced at $90.
One of the 11 wineries owned by the Fogarty Group. Interesting portfolio of wines here ranging from a very light, drink now Cabernet Franc $40, to a Grand Selection Yallingup Cabernet $130. The first that caught my attention was the 2021 Single Vineyard Chardonnay.92/100 $50. It had a nutty and lifted peach aroma with juicy lemon lime palate finishing long and tangy.
The other was the 2020 Single Vineyard G2 Cabernet. 92/100. $55. Inky dark in colour, with bright crimson and purple hues. Powerful and long through the palate reflecting 40 year old vines and from the estate Gibb Road block. I reckon a drink window of only 5- 8 years which suits me fine.
The Cab/Malbec $45 is recommended too.
Winemaker Kane Grove oversees 13 different varieties but overall reflected the regions staple of Chardonnay and Cabernet’s. The best was the 2020 Single Site Chardonnay 95/100. $80 but if you are a member of Costco it is available for $50! This is a beauty. Elegant with aromas of nectarine, citrus and vanilla. French oak give subtle finish to a creamy and stone fruit length. A buy.The other I recommend is the Artefacts Shiraz/Petit Verdot/Malbec/Cabernet blend. 90/100. VALUE $35. Rich berry fruits combine with soft tannins, crisp acidity and hints of pepper. The Heritage $35 classic blend of Petit Verdot/Malbec/Cabernet finished quite dry and a little short.
Great wines from – in my view – an understated vineyard. The premium wines of the Paladin Hill range really stood out. Wonderful. Loved the range. Let’s start with 2020 Paladin Hill Matrix Cabernet Blend. 95/100. $100. Vibrant purple colour, perfumed, with lifted black currants on the nose finishing with a big chewy palate and soft lingering tannins. The French oak is beautifully integrated.
Another cracker was the 2021 Paladin Chardonnay. 95/100. $80. Hand picked, whole bunched pressed directly to barrels and 25% malolactic fermentation. 10% new oak and 9 months in barrel. Bottled in February this year. Pronounced limes with some lemon up front and a palate creamy and savoury. Finishes with pure lingering acidity. An outstanding Chardonnay.
Another two wines to include on your visit are the 2020 Eightfold Chardonnay with slight buttery malolactic fermentation and 2020 Cabernet, years ahead of it, both at $45.
What is Malolactic fermentation? (MLF).
You will have noticed we talk about malolactic fermintation, so let me explain. Nearly all red wines and some white wines (such as Chardonnay and Viognier) undergo malolactic fermentation. One way to recognize MLF in a wine is to note if it has a creamy, oily mid-palate texture. This can indicate malo. Another easy way to identify the malo is to see if the wine was aged in oak since MLF typically occurs while wines age in oak barrels.
It’s not uncommon for white wines to let only a small percentage of the wine have the malolactic conversion. This is a clever way of adding texture and body to the wine without losing too much of the positive floral and citrus aromas that waft off when white wines age in oak.
Clairault Streicker wines
Clairault Streicker has blocks in three of the Margaret River sub-regions – Yallingup, Wilyabrup and Karridale. The wines reflect each area. At the top end in the Ironstone range the old block chardonnay $50 and old block Cabernet $50 were agreeable.
The entry wines 2019 Chardonnay $28 and a 2018 Cabernet Merlot $22 (11% merlot) represent good value.
One of the highlights of the Margaret River visit. Winemaker Bruce Dukes turned on all his best Chardonnay and cabernets for the tasting. 2018 Flagship Morus Cabernet. 96/100. $87. Decorated by many reviewers. Aromas of violets and blueberries, ripe cassis black fruit, rich with a lovely balanced. 2021 Flagship Artus Chardonnay 97/100, VALUE $56. Gingin clone. Grapefruit and nectarine, highly textured with a beautiful finish. Yum. 2021 Flagship Purus Chardonnay. 97/100, VALUE $56. Bruce gives this a 4-8 drinking window. Suits me fine at my age. 2021 Floris Chardonnay.95/100. VALUE $36. Again lovely nectarine and floral notes. 2019 Rebus Cabernet. 95/100. VALUE $36. The same theme of black currents and hints of tobacco medium bodied and smooth all the way through the palate. Throw in the Cabernet Franc blend and you have the complete package from this vineyard.
A winery I had not heard of before but certainly had a majestic cellar door. Jeremy Gordon, the winemaker has received numerous awards throughout his career including the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy and the James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge. Along with these awards, he has won multiple trophies at high calibre wine shows such as Decanter World Wine Awards, National Wine Show of Australia, and the Margaret River Wine Show.
He was not available to host so Mike and Bree stepped up to the plate. They make 350,000 cases a year and on tasting were 24 wines covering 13 varieties. Prices ranged from $18 – to one at $50. All were in the $20 – $35 range. I was told elsewhere that the prime market is mostly pubs, cafes and bistros. I may be wrong.
The Fraser Gallop Estate suite of wines comprises Estate, Parterre and Palladian ranges. The winery was established in 1999 with the impressive cellar door added in 2008. Clive Otto the Chief winemaker, started his career in the West spending 16 years with Vasse Felix, so he knows his stuff. The 2021 Estate Cabernet with 13% Petit Verdot 92/100. VALUE $35 had a very attractive bouquet of red fruits, raspberry, redcurrant, cassis and cherries. Fresh, long, succulent and good length. Worth seeking out. The 2019 Parterre Cabernet. 89/100. $60 was overpriced compared to many Cabernets found elsewhere. In the top Palladian range the pick was the 2021 Chardonnay 95/100. $140. Dig deep for this one but you will be rewarded with a lemon focus and a citrus zing. Toasty oak is slightly present but not overdone. Great balance. Another expensive offering is the 2019 Palladian Cabernet. 88/100. $140. I had heard that this was outstanding but for me was green and stalky. May have been opened for a couple of days. Pity.
Always a delight to be in the hands of one of the regions elite vineyards. Here’s why. Maya, a French student who is studying a business degree in wine, traveled the 3 hours from Perth on a Sunday to open the cellar where all the tasting are conducted on a small table amongst the barrels and also the shed where the wines are packed and sent all over the world. You cannot just rock up as it is appointment only.
The popularity of Moss wood Cabernet holds no bounds. All flag ship Cabernets were sold out – usually within 6 weeks of release so get on the mailing list. Instead Maya showed tank samples of the 2023 Semillon and barrel samples of 2022 Chardonnay release Sept 2023, 2022 Pinot Noir release 2024 (grubby, harsh and unusual length), 2021 Cabernet release 2024.
What was available was the second tier Ribbon Vale range. Two stood out. 2020 Ribbon Vale Merlot 93/100. $76. Ripe plum and red rose lead to cassis, cherry/berry flavours with a backbone of ripe tannins and refreshing acidity. Needs a couple of years to blossom. 2020 Ribbon Vale Cabernet. 93/100. $76. Black fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. Medium to full-bodied, with chocolate and cedar. Probably a 5-8 year window.
Another vineyard with great outstanding examples of Margaret River Chardonnay and Cabernets. Maria hosting on the cellar door explained that winemaker Mike Peterkin was not completely satisfied with the first three vintages of Chardonnay(1983-85), made using standard Australian winemaking practices, so he decided to make some radical changes and the Pierro Chardonnay style was born in the 1986 vintage.
Today there are three distinct blocks of chardonnay on the property. About 95% of the Pierro Chardonnay is the Gingin clone, which, as explained at the top of the Blog produces the best quality wine in the region. I was not disappointed with the flagship.
2019 Vintage Reserve Chardonnay. 96/100. $120. Worth every dollar. Peterkin holds back this wine for release in 2 years which shows how the wine can benefit from extra time in the bottle. this wine is now showing toasty butterscotch character with a lift of lemon and grapefruit finishing a minerally acidity. 10 year max drinking. The 2022 Fire Gully Chardonnay. 90/100. $36. Showed a sweet but fragrant nose more evidence of oak but was all butterscotch, pineapple and lemon. Of the reds the 2020 Fire Gully Cabernet Reserve. 96/100. VALUE $48, was lovely. Rich, long, medium drink now body, with layers of tobacco and olives.Finished long and lingering. Don’t pass the 2020 Cabernet/Merlot by either at $39.
I just adore wines from this producer and I was not disappointed. Sarah who hosted, was happy to show the whole range including the top end expensive Chardonnay and Cabernets.
Established in 1973, the vineyard specialises in Bordeaux blends and uses the same first plantings in 1973. I noticed that they are on Langton’s Classification of Fine Wines – if you believe in that stuff. The Houghton (see at top of Bloclone dominates the red wines.
There is no doubt the 2018 Margaret Blend 80% Cab/10% Merlot/10% Malbec. 96/100. VALUE $59 was great. Deep colour with blackberry prominent on the nose followed by a palate that was powerful exhibiting more blackberry but a long and velvety finish. The classy 2018 Ruby Jane Cabernet is $169 and the 2016 Clementine Eloise Cabernet $189 are for those who want to impress.
To save on the rack price you must be a Wine Club member. Now be warned, there are so many options to become a club member that it was confusing with all sorts of different categories and entry price points. It was a heavy sales spiel accompanied by an equally confusing colour brochure.
I hope you are still with me!
An old fashion style cellar door, not like the flash modern tasting facilities which dominate the region. I popped in here for a very generous platter lunch and to reacquaint myself the 2018 Gallagher’s Choice Cabernet 94/100. $55. which I purchase most years. Hand picked from 30+ year old vines, this is a classic, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. It is vibrant and complex comprising blackcurrant, eucalypt and well integrated French oak. They also have an ‘Adopt a Vine’ program. And 13 wines to suit all tastes.
Winemaker Peter Thompson was in Adelaide but took the time to conduct a tasting by video from his car! Brilliant innovation.
Two wines from a stable of 16 stood out. the 2022 Specialist Chardonnay 89/100. $38, minimum oak treatment showed big early development while the 2018 (that year again) Estate Cabernet 90/100 VALUE $44 had all the hallmarks of the region. Another, the 2019 Specialist Cabernet 95/100. $76 deep crimson red and here comes that black current, jucicy flavours again topped with chocolate.
This wine has won 6 gold medals from various Australian wine she and was the best cabernet at the 2021 Royal Melbourne Show.
I am told Vasse Felix contributes just 3% to Australia’s total wine production, however commands over 20% of the premium market. It has four sites around the region from which the range of Icon, Premier, Filius and Classic are made. Vasse Felix is Margaret River’s founding wine estate first planted in 1967.
A friend of mine organised vertical tasting of 8 wines in The Vault, an underground cellar with a flash, well decorated tasting room opposite. So let’s check out some of the wines.
2021 Icon Heytesbury Chardonnay, 90/100 $88. Only 6000 bottles made. Pronounced slight oak nose but carries the fruit right through the palate and will go for 15 years. 2021 Premier Chardonnay. 92/100. VALUE $36.
Immediately crisp, and clean with bright acidity and a nice fruit line with a dry finish. Five year window, drink now. 2022 Filius Chardonnay. 89/100. $24. Bottled in January this year so has some development to go. Gingin clone, 36% new oak, friendly wine without too much length. 89/100. $24.
2019 Icon Tom Cullity.95/100.$160. 78% Cabernet, 22% Malbec. 56 year vines. Beautifully balanced, fruit explosion of black currant, chocolate and sweet aromatic oak finish which lingers. Needs time to open. Plus 10 years. If only I had the money. 2020 Premium Cabernet. 87/100. $44. 13% Malbec. Finishes very dry, and length drops away quickly. 2020 Filius Cabernet 87/100. $24. 5% Malbec. Made for a price point. Bright colour and fruity.
Mark Messenger the winemaker has a stable of 27 wines across 6 ranges. Naturally I concentrated on the top ranges of Cornerstone and Heritage. 2016 Cornerstone Wiyabrup Cabernet. 87/100. $68. Full of chocolate and liquorice, too big and tannic. 2018 Heritage Aquitaine Cabernet Blend. 92/100. VALUE $34. Dense purple red in colour. Rich, ripe aromas of dark chocolate, with cherries lead into a medium-bodied palate. Plenty of cellaring potential. 2018 Karridale Cabernet. 93/100. $53. Deep red in colour, showing, vanilla, spice and cedar. Medium-bodied with dense blackberry and tremendous length. The 2021 Cornerstone Wilyabrup Chardonnay $45 was clean but dry and the 2020 Karridale Chardonnay had a slight barn yard nose. Very obliging cellar door who readily agreed to ship my assorted wines back to Melbourne.
There is no doubt that this is the place for great Chardonnay and Cabernet. 2018 was one of the greatest years in Margaret River so always look out for wines of that year. Beware, almost all cellars charge a tasting fee per head – some $15, but refundable on purchase. Almost all will encourage you to join their Wine Club which does make the unit price per bottle much cheaper. That is of course you if don’t mind being bombarded with emails and telemarketers trying to sell you ‘specials’. Some of the Club membership offers were confusing such as the Woodlands experience so tread carefully. Vineyard of the trip goes to Domain Naturalist for quality and price.
Let me know what you think by responding in the comments section of the page.