© Wine Australia | Western Australia is the country’s biggest state, but its wine production is tiny.
Western Australia will be unfamiliar to most people, but it has a long wine history and a great future.
When it comes to wine from the Land Down Under, Western Australia often lives in the shadow of Victorian and South Australian based wine regions.
Understandably so, considering it is geographically challenged as one of the world’s most isolated wine regions. But the west coast is gradually making its way as a premium Aussie wine region.
WA may cover a third of Australia, with baffling rock formations, ancient Aboriginal sites and more than a hundred different species of snakes characterizing the landscape, but the winemaking industry is small – WA contributes just 2 percent of the country’s grapes. But that hasn’t prevented wine production and consumption from ingraining into the culture here; in 2014 a giant 15 meter-wide “goon bag” was floating off a Perth beach as a part of the Cottesloe Sculptures by the Sea exhibition, created by West Australian artist Norton Flavel. A container usually reserved for the bulk production of wine of mediocre quality, the piece of art was contrary to what the state producers in terms of wine quality. Nearly one quarter of Australia’s fine wine originates from WA, an impressive ratio to that original 2 percent.
Exploring a case of wine from WA’s finest will take you on a tour through regions of great environmental variety, all of which are concentrated to the southwest corner, where the climate and soil types are an ideal combination for viniculture.
Contrary to tradition, we start with sweets in the Swan Valley, a 30-minute drive west of the state capital Perth – a tiny distance in Western Australian standards. Home to some of the oldest vineyards in the country, the viticultural and winemaking knowledge here is derived from multiple generations producing sticky wine of premium quality. Talijancich have been producing a range of fortified wines from their estate since 1932. The 1974 Solero Rare Pedro may be tricky to find, but worth the hunt for the dimension and complexity that reflects more than 30 years of blending through thesolera method.
From here we head south, into the Geographe Bay where things get distinctly crisper in terms of climate as well as the style of wines on offer. Geographe Bay itself is a long curve of white sandy beaches and turquoise ocean that rivals the best that the Amalfi Coast has on offer. A fitting landscape to introduce Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, a staunch contender for the most famous style of white wine from Western Australia. Willow Bridge Estate Bookends Fumé Sauvignon Blanc Semillon with aromatics of passionfruit and ginger and a textual palate of kiwifruit and citrus, its the tangy finish on this wine that compliments the sea breeze off the bay.
The importance of Margaret River to the WA wine industry is hard to overstate. Two-thirds of the state’s wine is produced here, a majority of which is of premium quality with Chardonnay, Shiraz, Semillon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon faring particularly well.
The absence of phylloxera here has allowed the selection and propagation of high-quality heritage clones of grapevines. This has had an important role in creating the distinct styles of wine here, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This is perfectly illustrated with Voyager Estate’s Estate Chardonnay. The 2019 vintage has a complex blend of nine different clones of the variety, creating a layered texture to the finished wine, complemented with a flint-like, mineral character.
It is the soil that creates the terroir of Margaret River so suitable for viniculture: a complex network of granite, gneiss and schist-soil types that are amongst the oldest in the world. These soils are low in nutrients creating low yields and vigor in the vineyard – ideal for producing high-quality, premium wines.
Akin to Geographe Bay, the trademark blend here is Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, which has been hugely successful and helped to put the wine region on the map. Moss Wood produces an exceptional example with the Ribbon Vale Sauvignon Blanc Semillon that has notes of lemon zest, cut grass and subtle tropical fruit. One of the leading producers of the region in terms of quality and accolades, Moss Wood has created a reputation distinguished by their consistency over each vintage and their ability to produce wine well-suited to ageing. The Sauvignon Blanc Semillon is no exception, with each vintage suited to cellaring for up to five years.
© Wikimedia Commons | Huge karri forests, full of eucalyptus trees and snakes, surround the vineyards of WA.
Leeuwin Estate is one of the founding wineries of Margaret River as a region. Once a humble cattle farm, in 1972, it was Napa Valley winemaker Robert Mondavi who identified the Leeuwin Estate as a potential site for premium wine production. Forty years later, this is proving true with the Leeuwin Estate Art Series collection receiving multiple international accolades over the past decade. Wine Spectator has included the Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay among its Top 100 Wine of the Year on multiple occasions. The Leeuwin Art Series Riesling is a personal favourite, a bright and crunchy drop with a distinct note of lemon sherbet that always leaves me wanting more.
Natural, or minimal intervention wine with organic and biodynamic growing practices are gaining some strong momentum in this corner of the country. Plenty of producers are opting for natural fermentations and Si Vintners are leading the way with the Si White. A blend of Semillon and Chardonnay that is bottled unfiltered and unfined, the adventurous consumer will be rewarded with notes of apricots and tropical fruits. A very supple and easy-drinking wine.
Rounding out Margaret River is the Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most popular wines from the grape variety for the region on Wine-Searcher. Easily understood with a tangy and bright palate, cherry aromas and savory notes of mushroom and oregano, this Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard is just 2.5 miles (4km) from the coast, receiving sea breezes from both the Indian and the Southern Ocean. This creates a long growing season and ideal conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Heading east, to a more continental climate, Manjimup is known for forestry as well as viticulture. Named after the Noongar word “Manji”, which is an edible reed grown amongst the huge karri forests that fringe vineyards here. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz do exceptionally well here, with the two varieties produced with elegance and finesse. Peos Estate Four Aces Cabernet Sauvignon is an ideal example. After spending 14 months in new French oak, it has aromas of forest floor and sandalwood, it perfectly exemplifies the terroir of Manjimup.
Heading down to the Southern Ocean coastline, Denmark is home to a high caliber of cool-climate wineries. As a wine region, Denmark is still relatively young and small. But pockets of granite-based soils planted to Chardonnay and Shiraz are producing some exceptional varietal wines.
The Singlefile Estate Family Reserve Chardonnay is fermented in French oak barriques at the perfect proportion to be an exemplar of modern Australian Chardonnay. Not over-ripe or over-oaked, it will pair well with almost whatever you serve at your dinner party.
Cool-climate Shiraz is often herbaceous and spicy, a stark contrast to the bold and rich style of the variety that put the Barossa Valley on the world-wine map. The Ironrock Shiraz from Willoughby Park is no exception with soft tannins and a hint of dark chocolate. After its establishment in 2000, Willoughby Park have gone on to be a pivotal producer for putting the Denmark wine region on the map.
Finally, to tick one of those snake species off your to-do list, the Great Southern Distillery in Albany offers the Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whisky, named after one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Using a classic grain bill of corn, rye and malted barley, and occasionally including the hybrid grain triticale, all of which are sourced entirely from Western Australia. Expect a full-flavoured drop with notes of vanilla and caramel and some elegant spices to add a bite to this whiskey – a perfect nip to finish a case from Western Australia.
We would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land throughout the South West and Peel regions of Western Australia/Noongar Boodjar. We pay our respects to the multiple Aboriginal communities and their culture; and to Elders past, present, and emerging.