By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 11 June 2022
Western Australia produces less than 5% of Australia’s wines, but despite its small volume the quality is remarkably high.
What is intriguing about Western Australia is not only its incredible beauty with its dramatic coastline, but the way it has managed to carve out a regional stamp for itself as a fine wine region.
Today it is known as one of the best places in Australia to find Bordeaux-style Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends, particularly those from Margaret River region. Added to that, the quality of both Riesling and Shiraz from the five subregions of Great Southern is improving at a dynamic pace.
Margaret River, three hours drive south of Perth, is the best-known wine region and now a modern classic in the fine wine world. This surfer’s paradise was first identified by Dr John Gladstone in 1965 as a potential wine area, with first commercial plantings in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity at Vasse Felix. Fifty-five years later it has 150 producers, with wineries like Leeuwin, Cullens, Vasse Felix and Domaine Naturaliste regularly scooping golds and trophies at wine shows with their signature Bordeaux-style blends.
“Margaret River is so special due to its Mediterranean climate and strong maritime influence, its ancient gravelly soils and long gentle ripening season which help the region’s winemakers craft distinctive renowned wines”, says Australian wine expert Sarah Ahmed.
Today the region has 5,840 hectares of vineyards, with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes making up an astonishing 37.5% of the crush. In the last 25 years its whites have moved from tutti-frutti ‘drink-now’ simpler blends to refined purer styles made with wild yeasts, whole berry ferment, some using amphorae and oak puncheons instead of barriques. Margaret River’s white blends are also showing better longevity, some able to age for a decade, particularly with more focus on Semillon in blends.
Lesser known, but considerably bigger in size is the Great Southern, the largest and coolest of Western Australia’s regions. The first commercial modern vine plantings were at Capel Vale in 1965 with a prime focus on Riesling, which had been selected as one of the most appropriate varieties for planting in Mount Barker due to the Southern Ocean influence and diurnal temperature shifts from day to night.
Great Southern is a vast, remote, wild, undiscovered landscape, but despite its huge size, vine plantings are at 2,545 hectares with 70 wineries, with a mix of small and large producers. It has forged its own identity with Riesling (8.5% of Great Southern’s crush). Pictured above is Frankland River Estate in Frankland River subregion.
“For some years Riesling was out of fashion, but it is now back and it is an exciting place to be with fascinating diversity amongst subregions”, explained winemaker Vanessa Carson of Plan B winery. “From Frankland River (most westerly), Mount Barker and Porongurup down to cooler coastal Albany and Denmark, there is a huge variation in style from Mount Barker’s floral lift to Porongurup’s limey acidity”, she says.
It has taken time, but growers have worked out which soils are best for Riesling, now choosing granite rock and laterite soils rather than heavy clay. The result is beautifully sleek linear bone-dry Rieslings which represent good value in comparison to other regions – in a style they are steelier and more citric quality compared to warmer Clare Valley’s riper Rieslings in South Australia.
In celebration of the superb 2021 vintage in both Margaret River and Great Southern, Wine Australia hosted a tasting of crisp summer white wines with six wineries participating: Cherubino, Capel Vale and Plan B in Great Southern – to Lenton Brae, Flametree and Domaine Naturaliste in Margaret River.
As winemaker Larry Cherubino in Frankland River explained: “2021 was one of the best vintages for Riesling in living memory with excellent spring rain and a beautifully mild long gentle season. Yields were low and volumes small, but the wines have fabulous freshness, purity and intensity”.
Frankland River, Great Southern: AD HOC WALLFLOWER RIESLING 2021 (12.2%)
£14.50 Strictly Wine; Vinvm; Corking Wines
Dry taut delicate Riesling with pure limey fruits, minerally undertones and a good backbone of razor-sharp acidity made from 10-15 picks from Larry Cherubino’s Riversdale estate vineyard.
Mount Barker, Great Southern: CAPEL VALE REGIONAL SERIES MOUNT BARKER RIESLING 2020 (12%)
£20 Frontier Fine Wines
Hints of kerosene on the nose, an aroma which emerges earlier in Riesling in very warm vintages like 2020. Very attractive palate with a rich textured leesy style and salty acid spine.
Frankland River, Great Southern: PLAN B! DR RIESLING 2021 (12%) ***STAR BUY***
£17.99 Lanchester Wines; Simply Wines Direct; Wine Treasury
Lovely floral aromas, rounded, beautifully balanced and approachable style – shows how sleek and refined Frankland Rieslings can be.
Margaret River: LENTON BRAE SEMILLON SAUVIGNON BLANC 2021 (12%)
Lenton Brae’s 35th consecutive vintage has 52% Semillon and 48% Sauvignon Blanc in this classic unoaked Bordeaux-style blend; minerality acidity freshens the smooth forward-fruit palate.
Margaret River: FLAMETREE SAUVIGNON BLANC/SEMILLON 2021 (12%)
Pungent lychee and peach notes with a rich leesy textured palate, ripe citric fruits, herby undertones and fresh zesty acidity.
Margaret River: DOMAINE NATURALISTE DISCOVERY SAUVIGNON BLANC/SEMILLON 2021 (12.5%) ***STAR BUY***
Classic blackcurrant bud on the nose in this Sauvignon Blanc-dominant blend. Grapefruity flavours, zippy zesty, guava notes and smoky undertones from oak fermentation.
Join Rose’s Margaret River & Great Southern wine tasting in Edinburgh 8 September www.rosemurraybrown.com