Wednesday Wines – Episode 184 – West Australian Wine Tour & WAGFG Awards

 

I have just returned from one of my life’s most fascinating and comprehensive Australian tours. In just seven days, I managed to bring myself bang up to date with West Australia’s incredible gastronomic scene while tasting countless world-class wines and meeting many of the heroes of Aussie wine.

The collaborative efforts of Georgia Moore (communications tornado and mind behind the uniquely compelling and internationally relevant WA Good Food Guide & Wine Awards), Liz Mencel (Program Manager of WA Wines to the World; the state’s export growth program coordinated by Wines of WA), Mark Forrest ( Great Southern Wine Producers’ Association), Amanda Whiteland (Margaret River Wine Association), as well as all of the wineries, restaurants and hospitality experts involved, meant that this was as slick, top quality and fascinating as any wine week I have ever had the pleasure of attending. It is worth noting that winemakers Larry Cherubino and Matt Swinney, who personally organised two of the finest masterclasses I have ever had the pleasure of working on, set the standard for this week of phenomenal events. In addition, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with wine writer Mike Bennie and Erin Larkin, two wine scribes whom I greatly admire and see far too rarely, as well as joining Nick Ryan on various co-hosting duties which invariably turned out to be as much bombastic theatre and far-fetched opinion as they did incisive wine chatter. I met a couple of new faces, including head sommelier/buyer for the Kails Hospitality Group, Nina Throsby, who was a joy to chat to, Emma Farrelly (Director of Wine & Beverages at State Buildings https://statebuildings.com/people/meet-emma-farrelly/) who is always worth listening to for the most cutting edge assessments of Aussie wine, and also Cassandra Charlick (https://www.cassandracharlick.com/), wine, travel and food writer whose opinions and palate brought another welcome dimension and fresh set of taste buds to all of our discussions. At a Swinney Farvie event (see below), I called upon no fewer than seven wine experts to give their opinions on the wines during the course of the tasting. Nick and Cassandra led the way, followed by the irrepressible Foni Pollitt (the palate behind https://mayfairlane.com.au/), Paul Edwards (wine writer for The West Australian), Brendan Janssen MW (specialist medical practitioner, wine consultant and wine judge based in Perth), Rob Mann (winemaker at Swinney www.swinnery.com.au and Corymbia https://www.corymbiawine.com.au/) and Ray Jordan (legendary Aussie wine writer https://www.rayjordanwine.com.au/). As you can imagine, it was an electrifying evening with a thunderstorm of opinion on every wine.

Against this background of wonderful people, amazingly organised events, and perfectly prepared food, the wines stood their finest chance of showing their best.

Here is a list of my standout West Australian Wines of the week from each event on my itinerary, plus an A-Z of wines of particular note from one-on-one winemaker tastings.

The West Australian Good Food Guide Wine Awards

You can read about all of the category winners, including the Top 25 wines in a previous episode of Wednesday Wine, here https://www.matthewjukes.com/2023/10/wednesday-wines-episode-181-wagfg-2023/

As a visiting wine fellow, I was afforded the opportunity to award a ‘Silver Bullet Wine’ from the 25 candidates following a blind tasting the afternoon before the awards ceremony. The 2022 Deep Woods Reserve Chardonnay Margaret River was my favourite wine from the line-up. Deep Woods is a stunning setup, and the wines are made under the guidance of Julian Langworthy. These wines show incredible purity and sense of place, and I wish we saw a lot more of them in the UK because they are right at the top end of the Margaret River offering. A couple of others really caught my eye, including, 2022 La Violetta Das Sakrileg Riesling Great Southern (brittle, lime pith and sherbet with a bracingly clean acid finish); 2023 Lowboi Grüner Veltliner Mount Barker (gives top end Austrians something to think about with its precision and accuracy); 2022 Cullen Grace Madeline Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Margaret River (the 2020 vintage is in my 100 Best this year and this vintage is even finer and more pervasive); 2022 McHenry Hohnen Hazel’s Vineyard Chardonnay Margaret River (tasted no fewer than three times on this trip, this is every inch a super-star); 2022 Swinney Grenache Frankland River (Grenache warriors, proving that Frankland is a world class home for this grape); 2021 Cherubino Black Label Nebbiolo Frankland River (the finest Aussie Nebbiolo to date – do anything you can to track some down); 2022 Battles Shiraz Frankland River (rich, hedonistic and indulgent, this is an atypical Frankland Shiraz, and it indeed turns heads!) and 2020 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River (as classic as it gets, this is a standard-bearer Cab and it competes on a world stage). It must be noted that the variety and quality of these wines is nothing short of exceptional, and it underlines that a specialist show like WAGFG is highly effective at highlighting the diversity across the whole of West Australia as opposed to simply rating the biggest and boldest Chardies and Cabs in the region!

I take my hat off to all involved, not least Georgia Moore, who decided to separate the Wine Awards from the Hospitality Awards, which happen later this year and made it a focal point, shining a global spotlight on the finest wines and winemakers in WA.

The Good Grocer, South Perth (https://thegoodgrocer.com.au/) with owners Greg & Holly Brindle

While we are reasonably good at the ultra-deli concept in the UK, we pale compared to outfits like The Good Grocer. I was invited to taste six wines with a group of regulars at this stunning blend of indie wine shop and luxury deli.

Highlights from this tasting were 2021 Idée Fixe, Blanc de Blancs, Margaret River (the 2020 vintage features in my recently released 100 Best Australian Wines Report 2023/24, and this new release is a super-star); 2022 McHenry Hohnen Hazel’s Vineyard Chardonnay Margaret River (see above and below!) and 2019 Plantagenet Wyjup Shiraz Great Southern (a stunningly intense and swaggering wine with old vine complexity and showy oak highlights).

A Tasting of WA Chenin Blanc with Rob Mann (Corymbia), Nic Peterkin (L.A.S. Vino) & Nina Throsby

It is clear that Chenin Blanc is fast becoming a fashionable accessory to many a winery’s offering. Of course, some estates have been concentrating on this grape for a while, while others recognise that this style perfectly fits between light, zesty Sauvignon Blanc/Semillons and Rieslings and richer, more main-course-shaped Chardonnays. Interestingly, of the 14 wines I tasted, a couple were debut releases, including wines from Xanadu and Voyager – further underlining that even the larger and more well-known estates are taking this grape seriously.

My highlights from this fascinating exercise were as follows – 2023 Xanadu Chenin Blanc Margaret River (direct, lean, tart and minty, this is a good effort offering an alternative aperitif style as opposed to a foodier option); 2022 Millbrook Chenin Blanc Swan Valley (a decent, pliable Swan Valley candidate with some traction and silkiness); 2022 Moss Brothers Wild Garden Chenin Blanc Margaret River (more intensity here with balancing acidity, making this the perfect stepping-stone style); 2022 Faber Vineyard CBP Swan Valley (a proper step up in class with firm, long, racy fruit and a distinct beginning, middle and end); 2022 Corymbia, Rocket’s Vineyard Chenin Blanc Swan Valley (grippy, saline, refreshing and pretty, there are another couple of levels of complexity found here); 2022 L.A.S. Vino CBDB Margaret River (using amphora, old barrels, a hint of malo and faint smoky notes, this is the richest of the line-up with intensity and bravado in equal measure); 2021 Windows Estate, Petit Lot Chenin Blanc Margaret River (a more austere and commanding style under violets and musk, this is a youthful wine with an intriguing future).

Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon Masterclass featuring the 2020 vintage hosted by Howard Park

This event was organised for me and a group of international Retail Buyers, which included two charming Brits – Colin Thorne (from Vagabond) and Mark Bedford (from Caviste)

2020 Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon $55 (AUD retail price)

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot; 33% new oak for 18 months

With quite an advanced nose and some noticeable oak and greenery, a lot is going on here for classicists and lovers of fruit-driven Cabernet. This is excellent value for such a complex flavour, and there is sufficient graininess and meatiness to lift it above other tier-one / entry-level wines.

2020 Fraser Gallop Parterre Cabernet Sauvignon $60

86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec; 50% new oak for 19 months

Controlled and somewhat introverted, there is some posh oak used here, and it ensures there is a firm and formal finish. In need of time, this will blossom into a cracker in a year, and the signs are already apparent, given the calibre of the fruit and the freshness of the tannins. One of the stars in the line-up, particularly given its price.

2020 Cape Mentelle, Icon Cabernet Sauvignon $110

91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot; 45% new oak for 18 months

I found this challenging as the fruit seemed muted, and the oak was sluggish and blunt. It is a shame to report this as this is such a famous estate, but this is not a wine I can recommend in this vintage. I expect great things in the future, though, as Eloise Jarvis has returned to Cape Mentelle, so we can expect fireworks before too long.

2020 Oates Ends Cabernet Sauvignon $60

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% new oak for 22 months

Cath Oates is a very perceptive winemaker, and this wine is brilliant. While the exterior is somewhat closed and uncommunicative, there is much to discover under the surface. I anticipate this wine opening slowly over a decade to reveal a fabulous work of art. The persistence of flavour and complete control are remarkable. The only downside is that only five barrels were made in 2020.

2020 Corymbia, Calgardup Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon $71

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; all old oak

Rob Mann’s mantra is fully on display in this wine.  There is no pretence here, just raw earth and wild fruit. The absence of new oak exposes foresty, Bandol-like earth expressions with hints of ozone and wild herbs. It is Cabernet, but somehow a shore-dwelling cousin of the formal red grape found in others’ wines. There is delicious, mouth-watering skin tannin here that gives it a lip-smacking finish, and it weighs in at 13.8% alcohol, so there is a refreshing feel on the finish, too.

2020 Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $90

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 55% new oak for 18 months

There is overt spice and more apparent exoticism and power here, and this is because the fruit is bold and ripe, and the oak treatment is equally dazzling. Modern, swaggering and juicy, this wine is bound to appeal to global Cabernet fans with its glossiness and allure.

2020 Thompson Estate, The Specialist Cabernet Sauvignon $95

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec; 50% new oak for 14 months

I am unfamiliar with this estate, and it certainly showed a different side to the Cabernet story because of its Malbec signature. Herbal and almost stemmy, there is a wildness here that commands the attention, and it finishes somewhat unresolved and a little sour. But this does not put me off because it merely shows you that there is a long way to go. There is no doubt that the fruit is of the highest quality, but patience is required.

2020 Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon $99

98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec; 50% new oak

This is a sensational Art Series Cab. It is certainly my favourite vintage for a long while, and it all kicks off with the most sensitive of perfumes. Cooler on the nose and stunningly civilised on the palate, this is a composed wine with a long-lived stance and a pinch of delightful sourness on the finish. It is all in perfect harmony, and I sense this wine has astounding potential. While I haven’t scored any wines in this review on purpose, a couple of the bottles at this masterclass had me reaching for 19/20 scores, and this was one of them!

2020 Credaro, 1000 Crowns Cabernet Sauvignon $100

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% new oak

Another new name and, gosh, I adore genuine, medium-bodied, firmly fruited Margaret River Cabernet. This is the definition of this style of wine, and I love the discreet sourness, the bloody hints, the ‘Saint-Estèphe structure’ and brisk, savoury, mouth-watering tannins. It is the essence of Cabernet, and I cannot wait to see this wine again. While it is a couple of years off drinking, this is set to be a classic in the 2020 vintage.

2020 Xanadu, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $120

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot; 40% new oak for 14 months

This wine was one of the Top 25 at WAGFG, and it was also one of my favourites in that collection, so it was nice to see it again this week, this time not blind! The fruit is superb, silky, ripe and bold, and the oak shows faint hints of coffee, chocolate and sweet spices, which works so well with the heady Cabernet tones. Xanadu is a consummate pro with this grape, and while the wines always look precocious, they have incredible staying power, so I do not doubt that this wine’s engine will still be ticking over perfectly in a decade.

2020 Howard Park, Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon $150

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% new oak for 18 months

Bang – the door slams on the palate as the tannins loom, but there is much to admire before this wine warns you off. There is more volume here and a multi-layered feel coupled with stern oak and boisterous tannins. Built to age, this is a somewhat square wine right now, but it has all the ingredients for the long run!

2020 Woodlands, Eleanor Cabernet Sauvignon $199

95.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.2% Malbec, 0.2% Cabernet Franc; 100% new oak 

Very oaky and powerful, with some sappy tones that concern me a little, but given that I have seen seven vintages from Woodlands in the last couple of days, I need not worry! Not as black-fruited as some, this is an aromatic wine, and while the tannins are raw, there is a mass of cherry and plum fruit here that is unlikely to soften for nigh on a decade.

Chardonnay Exposé – Single Vineyard Margaret River Chardonnays from the 2022 vintage at Frui Momento

Host Larry Cherubino invited nine of the top Chardonnay producers in the region for an open debate on the virtues of single vineyard Chardonnays in Margaret River. Nick Ryan (pictured above), Cassandra Charlick  (also pictured above), and I took the 50-strong guests through the wines accompanied by a fabulous lunch cooked by award-winning chef Seth James.

Here are my brief thoughts on the wines. 

I have noted down the Aussie RRPs for each wine. In conclusion, it was not surprising that the room was of one voice that Margaret River makes some of the greatest Chardonnays on earth and that single vineyard wines were a vital element in each winery’s offering. Every wine tasted entirely different from the next, and even those wines made 50m apart showed the kind of diversity we have come to expect from the feted wines of Burgundy. With a unique maritime setting accompanied by sunny days and cool nights, one gets the feeling that Margaret River might, hopefully, be a rare climate-change-proof wine region of the world, at least for the foreseeable future. Those wines utilising sensitive oak regimes and blessed with low natural alcohol levels and pristine fruit, accompanied by stunning acidity itself affording intrinsic age-worthiness, are already shining on a world stage. It is clear that the future is very bright for Margaret River Chardonnay. It is incumbent on the wineries in this unique part of the world to tell their story and pour their wine. I, for one, think that they cannot fail to attract consumers worldwide with their superbly well-made and entirely unforgettable wines.

2022 Cloudburst Chardonnay Wilyabrup 250AUD

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It was a joy to start with Will Berliner’s incredible wine. As I mentioned in my commentary, you do not want to ride a roller-coaster mute with your hands in your pockets. This wine makes you, metaphorically, wave them in the air and scream because you want to go faster.

2022 Flametree SRS Chardonnay Wallcliffe 75AUD

40% new oak for 10 months, 13% alc.

I noted in my A-Z that the 2020 was my favourite SRS Chardonnay to date. Well, this wine builds on the magnificent 2020 with even more clarity of fruit and drama.

2022 Xanadu Stevens Road Chardonnay Wallcliffe 90AUD

20% new oak for 9 months, Gingin clone, 13% alc.

A perennial favourite, Stevens Road is scalpel-sharp, and it brings so much high-tensile citrus and sea spray to the fore it defies belief. This is an excellent wine with flair and an indelible identity.

2022 Voyager Estate MJW Chardonnay Wallcliffe 140AUD

37% new oak for 9 months, Gingin clone, 13% alc.

My favourite Voyager wine of all time, this is a glorious paean to the great Chardonnay grape and Voyager’s finest plot of vines. Sensitively handled and graciously regal, this alluring wine sets the course for this voyager’s future.

2022 McHenry Hohnen Hazel’s Vineyard Chardonnay Karridale 80AUD

30% new oak for 9 months, Gingin clone, 13% alc.

The third encounter of the week, and no more notes are necessary – I barely had to think while describing this wine because its flavours are saved forever on my taste hard drive. I cannot wait for it to make it over to the UK.

2022 Stella Bella Luminosa Chardonnay Wallcliffe 100AUD

27% new oak for 10 months, Gingin clone, 13.1% alc.

Bolder and fuller-framed than many, this was a more solid, statesmanlike creation built for the long distance with shivery acidity and lip-smacking ozone details.

2022 Vasse Felix DHJ1 Single Plot Chardonnay Wallcliffe 75AUD

1–3-year-old oak for 8 months, then 6 months in tank, Gingin clone, 12.5% alc.

The first iteration of a parcel that just ‘didn’t fit into Heytesbury’, according to Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock (pictured above) and we are the winners because this is a fine-tuned, carefully chiselled beauty with epic minerality and character. I hope this label continues because it was a real talking point on the day.

2022 Deep Woods Single Vineyard Chardonnay Karridale 50AUD

30% new oak for 9 months, 13% alc.

Having praised the 2022 Reserve wine at WAGFG, it was nice to see a single vineyard wine that could not be more different and this wine, once again, underlined that there are unlimited characters hidden in the soils of this incredible region and they must be allowed to make themselves heard. I asked myself the question – do I prefer the Reserve label? It is a complicated question to answer!

2022 Cherubino Dijon Clone Wychwood Vineyard Chardonnay Karridale 55AUD

60% new oak, Dijon clone, 12.9% alc.

This is an awesome example of a single vineyard wine showing charm, individuality and flair. If this skill level can be deployed at fair pricing overseas, the clamour for elite Margaret River wines with identity will reach epic levels before too long.

Swinney Farvie International Benchmark Tasting

Opening your most prized wines for a collection of wine journalists, buyers, expert collectors and lovers to pour over and rip apart is either brave or foolish. It is even more dangerous to do so against a no-upper-limit collection of international superstar creations, but that is what Matt and Nells Swinney did on the last night of my tour. The Farvie wines (see the link to my website above) are made from the finest fruit on the Swinney property in Frankland River. Launched in 2018, they are the epitome of pure Grenache, Syrah and, more recently, Mourvèdre. This event showcased a current vintage of each variety, an international collection of great wines and then the as-yet-unreleased 2022 vintage of the three Farvie wines. I will not list detailed notes on every wine here (not least because notes on the 2022 Farvies are embargoed until next year). Still, I will say that I was not alone in thinking that the Farvie wines enjoyed their position on the table next to the world’s great reds, and not one person felt that they looked out of place. I have never seen this happen before, especially for such a young wine brand, but it goes a long way to proving that Frankland River has an extraordinary climate for growing a vast array of grape varieties at the highest possible standard and that Matt Swinney’s (young) bush vines love the kid glove treatment that Rhys Thomas (viticulture captain) and his team employed.

Here is the list of the wines –

2019 Swinney, Farvie, Frankland River Grenache

2018 Alvaro Palacios, L’Ermita, Priorat, Spain

2020 Comando G, El Tamboril Garnacha, Sierra de Gredos, Madrid, Spain

2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Crau, Domaine du Vieux Télélgraphe, Southern Rhône, France

2022 Swinney, Farvie, Frankland River Grenache

2021 Swinney, Farvie, Frankland River Mourvèdre

2020 Casa Castillo, Pie Franco, Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain

2020 Château de Pibarnon, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France

2020 Domaine Tempier, La Tourtine, Bandol, Provence, France

2022 Swinney, Farvie, Frankland River Mourvèdre

2019 Swinney, Farvie, Frankland River Syrah

2018 Côte-Rôtie La Turque, E. Guigal, Northern Rhône, France

2020 Côte-Rôtie, Domaine Jamet Northern Rhône, France

2021 Hermitage, Le Gréal, Domaine M. Sorrel, Northern Rhône, France

2022 Swinney Farvie Frankland River Syrah

A-Z of Individual West Australian Wine Highlights

2020 Alkoomi, Cultivated Collection Shiraz Frankland River (tasting at Alkoomi above)

With stunning density and grandeur and a Grand Cru sense of style, layering fruit and big-budget oak, this wine takes Syrah from a Rhône peasant style to the Royal Court. Velvety, sooty, stemmy, epically oaky and with mighty tannins, it is tempting to say this is a wine of excess, but everything is in proportion. You must like full-framed wine to be granted an audience, but there is a lot to enjoy in this wine. Born of vines planted in 1971, the fruit quality is not lost in the forest of oak, and with a few more years to mellow, I am confident this will be a superbly enticing wine.

2022 Amato Vino Space Girls Savagnin Margaret River

Amato Vino wines are all small batch, low-fi, wild fermented, un-fined, un-filtered, minimal adjustment, no adornment and no messing around wines. I am sure many wineries preach the same mantras, but here, these tenets appear to live within the flavours of the wines. With a touch of skin ferment and some old oak, only 74 dozen bottles of this salty, near-tropical, creamy, yeasty wine were made, and it is brilliantly balanced, haunting and genuinely diverting. One final point – it also tastes like Savagnin.

2021 Amato Vino The Pig Cabernet / Sangiovese Margaret River

Named after one of winemaker Brad Wehr’s paintings, this is a ‘Super-Lo-Fi-Tuscan’ blend of 45-year-old Wilyabrup Cabernet Sauvignon and 25-year-old Yallingup Sangiovese. True to form, the fruit is crisp, teasing, active and involving and while the flavours are ripe and smooth, this is a genuinely medium-weight wine with a full stop of bitterness at the end of the sentence.

2023 Amato Vino Tramonto Margaret River

Meaning sunset in Italian, this wine was to be bottled the next day, so it is a rare tank sample in this list. Best served chilled, this is a Tempranillo, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Verdelho blend with a bright rose and liquorice core that seems pale, discreet, refreshing and uplifting.

2023 Amato Vino Trousseau, the stars baby….the stars, Margaret River

I cannot remember writing up a Trousseau before, so this may be a first! Only 35 dozen bottles were made of this insanely attractive ‘cocktail’ of a wine. Picked early and boasting Negroni-style bitterness and wild herbals, this wine is all about crunch and perfume. Very pale in colour with green and pink peppercorn details, this is as far removed from a traditional wine as it gets and yet it works a treat. Once tasted, never forgotten.

2021 Capel Vale Regional Series Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

Drawing on fruit from Miamup Road and with a touch of Merlot and Malbec in the blend, this tastes like a super-clean Médoc, with barriques and steel in perfect balance. Bright and refreshing, this modern Cabernet should bring legions of new palates to this grape and this region.

2023 Capel Vale Regional Series Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River

With a tiny hint of new barriques for four months (10%) and 10% Semillon in the mix for a sliver more mid-palate weight, this is a somewhat floral and tropical wine, dotted with dried flower and sea cucumber notes. I like the salty, tangy and oyster-shell tones that lend an unmistakable Margaret River signature to this wine.

2023 Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon, Margaret River

This wine is a flashback to the Eighties when I first tasted this Cape Mentelle SBS. With just over 91% Sauvignon Blanc in the mix, this is a delicious, leggy, vibrant wine with lashings of crunchiness and a spankingly clean finish. With the merest hint of guava in among the citrus fruit, this is a beautiful creation that signals a new dawn for Cape Mentelle. I cannot wait for it to be available in the UK.

2022 Cherubino Black Label Chardonnay Pemberton

This was one of the most erudite and impressive wines of the entire week and it was opened on a whim one evening and not part of the formal program. There is no doubt that Pemberton’s potential is completely untapped, and on account of the brilliant sunshine and extraordinary natural acidity inherent in its wines, I cannot possibly imagine what the future holds.  If Larry’s Margaret River wines are impressive (which they truly are), then the wines from Pemberton, given time, might rival the greatest in the country. This is a vital wine for all die-hard Chardonnay enthusiasts to track down and taste.

2019 Cherubino, Riversdale Vineyard Budworth Cabernet Sauvignon Frankland River

Not wanting to withhold information about this wine, but equally excited to point interested parties to my recently released 100 Best Australian Wines Report 2023/24, this wine is a star in my report; garnering a new-perfect score. Suffice it to say, it was one of the highest-scoring wines of the entire week.

2022 Cherubino Shiraz Frankland River

This wine confounds the senses with rose petals colliding with blueberry and plum notes and Italianate acidity. It is crisp and tangy, with Nebbiolo-like tannins that gently rake the palate, scattering yet more fruit drenched in mineral-soaked acidity. With a vast array of clones from Australia, France and New Zealand, there is considerable stamina and ripeness here, but no new oak is present. Instead, half sees in 7-year-old foudre and the other half lounges in terracotta. Whole bunches add electricity, and the entire experience is spectacular.

2020 Domaine Naturaliste Le Naturaliste Cabernet Franc Margaret River

This is yet another tremendous Cabernet Franc, this time with an extraordinary perfume and a super-silky and seductive palate. Violets always lead the way, but there is arresting minerality and spice this time.  Nestled in 500L puncheons, little to no prominent oak clouds the view of the blue- and purple-hued fruit. Evocative, layered, teasing and complex, this is a beautiful wine.

2022 Domaine Naturaliste Purus Chardonnay Margaret River

This wine draws on Bernard clone fruit from 51 Road in Karridale. Winemaker Bruce Dukes reckons it is as pure a translation as possible of the fruit to the wine given its low sugar levels (12.8% alc.), and it only spends 10 months in low toast oak with zero battonage. After a quick transfer to steel and a stir, it is bottled, and the result is a keen, stunningly balanced and bright wine with resonant fruit, superb precision and just the right amount of phenolic tension. Bruce told me he “keeps the first part of the bottling, the ironstone dust, aside and only bottles the heart, unfined and unfiddled”. This is one of the wines of the week – do all you can to track it down.

2020 Flametree SRS Wallcliffe Chardonnay Margaret River

There is a great deal of polish here, with silky fruit, blanched almond-style oak and faint hints of peach blossom. A louche palate gives way to refreshing lime zest on the finish, and it all ends with precision and verve. Great now, but finer in a couple of years, this is my favourite Flametree Chardy to date.

2022 Forest Hill Vineyard, Block 1 Riesling, Mount Barker

Made from one hectare of vines, 2022 was a cooler and later season, and this is displayed in the softer, quieter entry, which ratchets up the drama on the palate, with extraordinary lime juice tension and continues building through to an incredibly long finish. This is one of the finest Rieslings I have tasted from WA.

2021 Forest Hill Vineyard, Block 9 Shiraz Mount Barker

This is an epic wine with all the hallmarks I adore from a top Northern Rhône wine and none of the traits that annoy me. Add to this the singular purity of fruit that Block 9 possesses in spades, this is an iodine, cracked pepper, meaty, bloody, spicy, damson and black cherry-stuffed wine with whole bunch hints and enormous joie de vivre. I love it.

2022 Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Riesling, Frankland River

I know this wine well, having bought it on and off for nearly 30 years, and it was great to taste this tremendous 2022 vintage. Super-lively and bright with discreet sherbet tones among the forests of lemons and limes, this is a thrilling wine and one that draws the palate in and never lets it go.

2022 Hay Shed Hill Block 1 Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc Margaret River

Michael Kerrigan is a superstar winemaker, and while he does his best to cultivate his dishevelled and somewhat haphazard appearance, his skills are unquestionable. His wines are couture creations, and this SSB is a classic case in point. Made from 50-year-old vines, planted in 1973, this is an early-picked, barrel-fermented ‘Bordeaux Blanc’ style, picked on the same day and co-fermented. It steers clear of exoticism with the merest hints of almondy oak. The fruit characters are key lime pie-pure, and the tangy acidity is simply superb.

2020 Hay Shed Hill, Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

While Mike Kerrigan’s Block 6 Chardy loses the sun in the afternoon, Block 2 keeps it through the afternoon, and this means that the Cabernet berries here are beautifully ripe. With bold swathes of oak cutting into the glossy flanks of cassis fruit, this is a smooth, civilised and layered wine with superb length and potential.

2022 Hay Shed Hill Block 6 Chardonnay Margaret River

The 2020 vintage of this wine was shortlisted for my 100 Best Australian Wines Report this year, and it is a stunner. This 2022 is every bit as expressive, with a touch more oak and a serious level of intensity and class. It comes from a steep plot that sits in the shade from 4 p.m. each day, giving it stern acidity and inbuilt depth of flavour coupled with verve and dynamism. I love this style of elite Chardonnay, and the value afforded here is remarkable.

2021 Hay Shed Hill, Block 8 Cabernet Franc Margaret River

Only 150 cases of this wine were made, and it forms part of a growing band of Cab Franc wines that are catching the zeitgeist. Perfumed, stylish and sexy with violets and fresh herbs in harmony, this is a clean and refreshing wine with silky smooth fruit and a great backbone of cleansing acidity.

2021 Lenton Brae Cabernet Sauvignon Wilyabrup, Margaret River

With 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot on board, this is another tiny production wine (2100 bottles), and it shows trademark Lenton Brae crispness and bounce in the form of Italianate acidity, under lovely ripe Cabernet fruit. Controlled and refined, this is a wine with genuinely tense tannins and superb accuracy, and while it needs some time, as one would expect from a two-year-old Cab, it is going to even out nicely, showing the balance and breeding found in top-flight Wilyabrup wines.

2022 Lenton Brae Wilyabrup Chardonnay Margaret River

Made from 100% Gingin Chardonnay clone and 50% new oak – a combination of puncheons and barriques. Only 2600 bottles were produced, showing beautiful purity and fruit volume. Some orange blossom notes and hints of exoticism stay the course and never tip over into flamboyance, making this a smart wine with relatively bold oak and a crisp and refined finish.

2020 LS Merchants Jolliffe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Wilyabrup Margaret River

The LS Cabernet mantra follows their other wines in that it is unruffled, relaxed and calm. However, its fruit notes are more formal and ordered. The result is a wine with creaminess and graphite in equal measure, making for a forward-drinking creation with pinpoint accurate flavours and honed tannins.

2022 LS Merchants Chenin Blanc Margaret River

Made from a vineyard on the property that neatly splits into two distinct soil profiles – floral and fresh and deeper with more density. The result is a foudre-aged, 13.4% alcohol beauty with a delightfully grainy texture spiked with pineapple husk and citrus. Lively and balanced, this is a delicious wine.

2021 LS Merchants Petit Verdot Margaret River

This fascinating wine is unlike any PV I have tasted, and it draws its energies from around three months spent on skins, with smooth, blueberry fruit-soaked fruit punctured by Parma violets and fresh herbs. This is a cultured and silky wine, and the flavour profile is unlike anything I have tasted – while it is bonkers, I like it!

2021 McHenry Hohnen Hazel’s Vineyard Chardonnay Margaret River

2021 is a slightly cooler vintage than the wonderful 2022, which was awarded at WAGFG, and it is yet another terrific wine from this superb estate. Suave, smooth and shimmeringly clean, with a tightly wound core of acidity keeping it real, this is a lime-juice-centred wine with lovely oak integration.

2020 Passel Estate Chardonnay Margaret River

Wendy Stimpson, owner of Passel Estate, explained that a passel is a collective noun for possums. Wendy and her husband run a conservation program for Western ringtail possums on their property. Made from the Gingin clone and weighing in at 12.5% alcohol with zero malolactic fermentation and one-third new Allier and Vosges oak, this is a lean, energetic, keen-edged wine with stunning balance and poise. Sprightly, cleansing and perfectly balanced, this is a stunning new find for me and one I will follow closely from now on.

2017 Passel Estate Lot 71 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

Made from certified organic, 100% Cabernet and subjected to a particularly long hang time in the 2017 vintage, there is not the obvious oak imprint or discreet green hints that I find on the 2018 Cabernet from this property, and this makes it a wonderfully gorgeous creation. Seamlessly smooth and with rather more volume of fruit than I expected, there is tenderness here, and the careful winemaking shows off the Houghton clone of Cabernet to a tee. It is also drinking well now at six years old, which was a rarity on this trip, given that most reds were at least a couple of years younger.

2018 Passel Estate Lot 71 Reserve Syrah Margaret River

Made from 29-year-old vines and sporting a robust 14% alcohol, there is a genuine earthy tang here derived from hand-picked fruit that is treated to ‘whole-bunch-cake’ treatment, and this layering of stems and fruit imbues both plush fruit and thrilling acidity in the core of this wine. There is Barbera-like, plummy purity here and with one-third new 500L puncheons employed, there are some direct carpentry tones on board, and with peppery spice completing the picture, this is a gorgeous, modern wine which is perhaps not necessarily a classic Syrah, but it is certainly a Passel Estate GPS-centric wine.

2018 Plantagenet Icon Tony Smith Shiraz, Great Southern

Made from a single vineyard planted in 1968 and from a single block, this is a tiny production wine with a super luxurious feel. It is named in honour of Tony Smith, who first planted the Bouverie Vineyard from which these grapes were harvested. Big and powerful with obvious grip and potential, there is an impressive balance here with plush, layered, expressive cassis and blackberry fruit, amazing length, and tannin.

2020 Snake & Herring Corduroy Chardonnay Margaret River

This superb wine is made from fruit drawn from Karridale, using three clones (Gingin and the Dijon Clones 95 and 96), and it is matured in puncheons (50% new oak) for ten months. It limbos into view with a 12-ish% alcohol chassis and slender lines of teasingly refreshing fruit. Old-school, it reminds me of a 1970s Chassagne with its refined stance and perky acidity. A welcome break from the fuller-framed styles, this flashback wine will appeal to those with less hectic palates.

2022 Snake + Herring Outshined Cabernet Sauvignon Wilyabrup Margaret River

This was another ludicrously generous preview wine given it has only just been bottled, and it showed incredible energy and class, coupled with superb acidity, which seems to have pushed any obvious tannins aside to underpin the gloriously tangy Cabernet fruit. While it is too early to make any more detailed predictions, there is no doubt this is a fascinating wine that will show another side to the standard Margs-style Cabernets on account of its crispness and red-fruited theme.

2021 Swinney Farvie Syrah Frankland River

I am not being lazy, but I saw the Farvie wines twice on this trip and here is a link to comprehensive tasting notes made earlier in the year.  https://www.matthewjukes.com/2023/05/wednesday-wines-episode-160-2021-swinney-farvie-preview/ 

2021 Swinney Farvie Mourvèdre Frankland River

(see above) https://www.matthewjukes.com/2023/05/wednesday-wines-episode-160-2021-swinney-farvie-preview/ 

2023 Swinney Riesling Frankland River

The new vintage of Swinney’s dynamic Riesling is the best yet. Vital, lime-juice-soaked and pumice stone-dry, this sensational wine is drinking like a dream!

2023 Swinney Mourvèdre Rosé Frankland River

Perhaps it was inevitable that a stunning rosé would emanate from the celestial Mourvèdre vines at the Swinney vineyards in Frankland River. Well, this is it – and it is nothing short of breathtaking. I have never tasted a finer Australian Rosé, and it is all the more gripping that it is not made from Grenache!

2021 Voyager Estate Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

With a fantastic nose and initial fruit impact, this certified organic Cabernet offers superb value with its just-ripe, crunchy, refreshing flavours. I love the mid-weight, bright feel and the crisp tannins fit the overall dynamism and flair found here. It certainly seems like a new model for this famous estate and will surely attract interest.

2022 Willow Bridge Estate Gravel Pit Shiraz Geographe

With nicely balanced, fit fruit backed up by a dry, spicy finish, this is a modern, gluggable Shiraz with energy and earth. It is not dark or tannic but red and vibrant, making it ready to drink at only 18 months of age!

NV Wills Domain Cuvée d’Élevage Rosé Margaret River (owner Darren Haunold pictured above)

– While I enjoyed tasting a couple of white sparklers at Wills, this shockingly pure, extremely pale rosé stood out. Perhaps this is because it is made from an unusual combination of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc! Regardless, this is a floral wine with a faint raspberry perfume that is deliciously balanced. I didn’t expect to see many sparkling wines on this trip, but this has stuck in my brain ever since.

2022 Wills Domain Eightfold Semillon Margaret River

I tasted a 2015 Semillon after this wine and was struck by how evenly and beautifully it had aged. With a riper framework than most Hunter Valley wines and a leaner chassis than a white Bordeaux, this is an intriguing wine with a hint of French oak over a perfectly poised palate. Given a further year in bottle, this will be a fascinating wine with a different stance to every other Sem I tasted.

2021 Wills Domain Palladin Hill Matrix Margaret River

Made from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Petit Verdot, this is a cool, calm, collected wine with succulence offset with carefully managed oak integration. It is more restrained than expected, offering genteel enjoyment coupled with discreet tannins and a long, even finish. I have no doubt this will age well, but it is showing amazingly well already on account of its impressive balance.

2021 Wills Domain Mystic Spring Shiraz Margaret River

I found a good number of punchy, inexpensive whites and reds on this trip, and this is another wine that turned my head. Packed with juicy red fruit and more than enough spice and traction on the palate to give it a more serious attitude, this is a delicious Shiraz with none of the muscle or tannin associated with warmer climate versions of this variety. Forward-drinking and weighing in at a 25AUD retail price, this is a superb slice of winemaking with more than enough class to sit on a smart restaurant list ‘by the glass’.

2022 Wills Domain Paladin Hill Chardonnay Margaret River

I tasted a single-barrel sneak preview of the 2023 vintage of this wine, and I was shocked by its grandeur and complexity. In the meantime, having seen a lot of 2022s, it is clear that this is another wine with glorious exoticism and flair. The oak is a little dominant right now, but there is so much class and finesse here.

2022 Wines of Merritt Mourvèdre Margaret River (Nick James-Martin pictured above)

These vines were indeed Shiraz before they were grafted over a year before this vintage. As it turns out, they clearly love this change of identity because the Mourvèdre flavours are stunningly accurate and deeply plummy and ripe earthy notes accompany them, with no discernible tannin. Destemmed and foot-trodden, only one hogshead was made (which is a travesty in itself), and it is another example of Nick’s love of bright red wines punctuated with magical, dried herbs and spice details. It is drinking now, and I cannot imagine there is enough to go around, but I will be in the queue if any ever makes it to the UK.

2021 Wines of Merritt Rouge Margaret River

As most readers know, I love my Syrah Cab blends, and yet I was not expecting to find many in WA. It turns out that winemaker Nick James-Martin loves this blend, too, only he makes it with a lightness of touch that is both ethereally teasing and downright smashable. Made from just over half Syrah from Rosabrook plus Cabernet from Wilyabrup, this Rouge is pretty, spicy, peppery and bright with plum and red cherry fruit and stunning weight. Pure and crunchy, with peppery highlights and hints of wild herbs, it is a downright winner.

2020 Wines of Merritt Syrah Margaret River

The third wine that really caught my eye in the WoM portfolio was this whole-bunch-layer-cake Syrah. Drawn from sandy Wilyabrup soils, this is a finer and more perfumed wine than many, with calm, smooth fruit and a noticeable absence of oak artefact. The purity and resonance hit the mark, making this another gentle and wholly enjoyable wine from this mercurial fellow.

2019 Woodlands Vineyard Margaret Margaret River

2019 Margaret is made from a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec and 9% Merlot, and it was my favourite Woodlands vintage in a fascinating vertical. It sees a generous 56% new oak for 19 months, yet the flavours are already completely integrated. Stylish, with an authentic, unabashed tannin structure that frames the wine with skinsy grip and energy, this is a long-lived wine that will follow a classical Cabernet life of firmness before relaxing into mellowness and calmness.

2022 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

Treated to a sneak preview by winemaker Glenn Goodall, this is a wickedly brilliant vintage for Xanadu Reserve Cab and having some idea how these wines evolve, this stands a chance of being a superstar in time. With a little more structure and oak detail than the 2020 (q.v.) and stricter tannins, the overall picture is a wine with enviable class and potential.  Needless to say, it gained an immense score in my notes.

Matthew Jukes WA Directory

Air

I flew Qantas (www.qantas.com) directly from London to Perth, saving a good few hours in transit elsewhere.

Hotels

I stayed in the COMO The Treasury, Perth (https://www.comohotels.com/destinations/perth), voted the best hotel in Australia by Condé Nast Traveler, and I have to concur, it was utterly incredible from start to finish: unfussy, super-luxurious, incredibly spacious and quiet with elite service to match. I also stayed at Quay Perth (https://quayperth.com/en/)which, like The Treasury, is very central. This hotel was a superb hotel for the business traveller, spotlessly clean, modern, functional and with a lovely café on the ground floor, which was great for breakfast and strong coffee. Once again, service standards were sky-high.

Coffee

Telegram Coffee, State BuildingsPerth Situated in the same building as the COMO The Treasury, along with a host of other top-end emporia and a stunning wine shop, this was the top coffee of the tour. A close second, however, was a gorgeous little café/restaurant called Lagoon, Yallingup (https://www.lagoonyallingup.com.au/) which also came up with the finest poached eggs on toast!

Wine Bar

Vincent Wine, Perth (https://www.vincentwine.com.au/) is as close to the perfect wine bar as imaginable. Elite wine list, stunning décor and brilliant small plates. A special mention to owner Dru for his exceptional generosity and Rahuul Prasad, wine director – his wine knowledge and palate acumen were astounding for such a young man.

Restaurants

There are so many to mention, including the sublime Madalena’s Bar, South Fremantle (https://www.madalenasbar.com.au/), which was inventive (see scallops above), original and utterly delicious. I very much enjoyed dropping in on Il Lido, Cottesloe (https://www.illido.com.au/), not least because the Italian wine list is one of the finest I have ever seen anywhere in the world, and the buzz, late afternoon, of people enjoying long lunches was incredible. I cannot wait to return. I hosted an amazing Swinney Farvie wine event at the superbly positioned Indigo Oscar, Cottesloe (https://www.indigooscar.com.au/), and while I only ate canapés and soaked up the fantastic view, this is also a vital stop for anyone’s tour. Likewise, The Shorehouse, Swanbourne (https://shorehouse.com.au/) hosted me for a morning wine tasting, and while I managed to squeeze in a quick fish and chips while perusing the phenomenal wine list assembled by elite Sommelier Nina Throsby, I must go back for a deep dive and also a swim!

In the Margaret River wine region, three restaurants fired up my palate.

 

First, Wills Domain (https://willsdomain.com.au/pages/restaurant) which was the only ‘ultra-fine dining’ stop on my tour (see image above), and it must be noted that the dishes, while looking exquisite, as one would expect, were all sublime and sensitively assembled from local ingredients. A lot of thought has gone into this offering, making Wills Domain a special treat on any wine tour. Second, Yarri Restaurant & Bar, Dunsborough (https://yarri.com.au/), was an old-school, action-packed and great fun local restaurant with generous portions of delicious grub and a superb bar. Service was spot on, extremely friendly and this is the sort of place you can pop in for a quick dish, or set up camp for the night.  Finally, Frui Momento at Cherubino, Wilyabrup (https://www.fruimomento.com.au/) won the New Restaurant of the Year 2023 in the WA Good Food Guide, and it was easy to see why. While I was hosting an event during this lunch, and so was up and down throughout, the service, food, setting and wine list here are all exquisite. The attention to detail is sublime, partly due to its owner, winemaker Larry Cherubino, whose gastronomic experience is tip-top. This is a must-visit restaurant when you are next in Margaret River.

FIN