A few tasting notes / tasting vibes from Margaret River, Western Australia (with couple of ringers). The views contained are based on a relatively leisurely taste, but even so, a wine might get 3 minutes, rather than the hour I might give it at home.
Note also that we're quite partial to Margaret River Wines, and the criticisms are based on our perceived standards for the region.
Enough pre-amble, hope you enjoy
Yahava Coffee Works, Margaret River
At the end of the trip down from Perth to Margaret River, a coffee was first priority:
Balinese (Cappuccino): Good persistence and medium strength, possibly not the best choice on our part for the cappuccino as it came across quite bland
Indian Mountain (Caffe Machiato): Good depth and length, dark roast with pleasing bitterness
Sadly a reasonable impression was spoilt when we returned two days later to find the café undergoing serious redecoration and they weren’t able to make us a brew. In itself this wasn’t that bad, but a lack of signage to this effect at the start of the driveway and a fairly dismissive attitude when we asked rather tarnished the image. The first of a number of instances where we felt some in Margaret River were “Fat, dumb and happy” living off a reputation they were contributing little to.
Walking around Margaret River township in the afternoon and next morning also gave a sense of too many hangers on milking the tourist cash. The prices in the bottle shop on Wallcliffe road were somewhat inflated, there were a few gift shops that were tending to tacky and prices in general were high. The restaurants were variable and the township is in danger of becoming an overblown distraction to the real show. The glassblower had some interesting stuff, making good use of unusual colours and at least their value was fair, which was more than we felt was on offer elsewhere. Petrol prices were unsurprisingly high (and this wasn’t even the weekly pay day increase that Perth bizarrely operates).
Rosabrook Winery, Rosabrook, Margaret River
This winery is down in the cooler south-east of the region, not too far out of the township.
Rosabrook Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Very immature clear colour, virtually colourless. The nose shows dominant Sauvignon Blanc and little balance from the Semillon. This felt too young for me and would liked to have tried it a year on
Rosabrook Chardonnay 2004
Still quite a young straw-coloured wine with a lemon and butter nose. The entry is crisp and the finish is quite complex ending somewhat buttery. Maybe there’s more to come, but I sense best drunk over the next year or two
Rosabrook Cabernet / Merlot 2003
A decent quite fruity nose, but this one was really very lean and disappointing on the palate.
Overall, a disappointment.
Brown Hill Winery, Rosabrook, Margaret River
Not far from Rosabrook, just a little further south. The “tasting room” is actually just a table in the winery, but that needn’t be a bad approach.
Brown Hill Rose 2005
Tasted a few rose’s as we needed a bottle for dinner on our return to Perth. This one was a pale peach colour, crisp dry and light. Whilst it’s often difficult to get excited by rose’s (and a little too easy to be disappointed), this was a good example.
Brown Hill Cabernet “Ivanhoe” 2004
Slightly oaky, but also elegant nose. The wine is medium bodied, balanced with good acidity.
No notes for the next two as I had the pen & paper and the boss tasted these wines Brown Hill Autumn Mist 2005 (Late harvest style, can’t recall the grapes)
3 stars was her rating, which is a clear thumbs up.
Brown Hill Firniston Reserve Shiraz 2004
3 stars from “the brains of the operation” as well for this wine. However it must have been a fraction higher rated, as we walked away with a bottle of this.
As a winery everything about Brown Hill gave the impression of understatement. The tasting area was simple but perfectly functional. The wines were elegant without being weedy. The prices were perfectly reasonable. A great antidote to some of the complacency we saw around Margaret River. Watch out for this winery – they’re certainly generating a buzz in Margaret River iteslf.
Voyager Estate, Margaret River
For anyone that’s been to this winery before I have horrifying news. We saw a blade of grass out of place and felt it was our duty to report it to the gardener, who resigned immediately in disgrace.
Voyager Estate Chenin Blanc 2005
Not too many Chenin’s in Margaret River. This example was very pale with a grassy lemon zest nose. There was refreshing sherbety acidity and although quite light at this stage, I suspect it will acquire the little bit of weight it needs over the short-term at least. This one might go for quite a bit longer but on a first taste it’s not a call I can make.
Voyager Cabernet / Merlot 2002
Clear Ruby colour, with faint bricking at the edge. There’s a slight smokiness and some plum on the palate, but the acidity is a little disjointed. The tannins are smooth and the finish quite short. A disappointment.
Voyager Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1999
A cellar door only release (this appears to be a different release to the Tom Price). A charge of $2 was made for tasting this wine, which I’ve no issue with, especially if it means all a company’s wines will be on tasting, not just the quaffers.
There’s a slight balsamic touch to the nose, joining the blackberry and dark cherry fruit. The wine has a good bold colour and this not surprisingly leads to a full bodied palate. There’s a touch of mintiness, which together with a savoury biscuitty note, adds good complexity. The acidity is in balance, fully supporting the wine. The tannins are still firm, but fine. It’s not always easy to predict the future of a wine, but this one feels like it could have a very long and respected future. I could see it making 20 years.
It was a really tough decision not to buy a bottle of this wine. We’d only got room for 6 bottles to take back and two were already earmarked for Woody Nook’s “Nooky Delight” port style wine. At $58, it’s not cheap, but does manage to undercut the $80-$100 charged by the Margaret River “elite”. Personally I think it’s a bargain and I’d happily pay £25 in the UK if it became available.
The cellar door was very slick and this is obviously a favourite tourist destination, favoured by general tourists as well as wine enthusiasts. A fairly sizeable selection of gifts/t-shirts etc. and a good restaurant, plus decent option for a coffee and cake provides further evidence that the wine is just part of the business plan. Having said that, the reserve cabernet was one of the best wines we tasted in Margaret River and the prices are fair across the board.
One of the founding estates of Margaret River, whose wines have led the way. I’m a fan of their wines.
Cullen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Very pale - almost colourless. The nose is dominated by pungent varietal Sauvignon Blanc and the acidity is very crisp. At this stage this wine is little more than a refreshing quaffer, but experience with this wine suggests there’s a much more complex wine to develop over the next 4-5 years.
Cullen Chardonnay 2003
Pale straw colour with a slightly buttery nose. One the palate lemon and grapefruit are the dominant flavours with good palate depth and a fine finish with refreshing acidity to finish. Personally I’d rather see another 2-3 years on this before trying again.
Cullen Cabernet Franc 2004
This may be a cellar door only wine – certainly not one I’d heard of before. It had a cherry and raspberry nose and was pleasant if not inspiring. I’d rather take the Ellen Bussell red over this.
Cullen Cabernet Merlot “Diana Madelaine” (stupid me didn’t note the vintage – I think it was the 2003!)
This appears slightly lighter in colour than previous editions. There are somewhat unusual (for this wine) raspberry notes and velvety tannins. As it stands, I find this a disappointment, though I’ll caveat this by mentioning this was tasted at the end of the day (we arrived about 10 mins before the cellar door was due to close). Perhaps the wine was a little tired, or maybe we were! I’d want to retaste this before I considered buying any.
Cullen’s set high standards, and for us, this time the wines didn’t scale the usual heights. Maybe it’s the curse of expectations, but if I’d have tasted these wines blind, I reckon only the chardonnay would have interested me.
Howard Park, Margaret River
Last time we visited Howard Park, the new Margaret River Winery and Cellar Door had recently been completed and much was made of the “feng shui” principles employed. Well perhaps they should have paid a little a little more attention to the workmanship, as the floor of the tasting room was being replaced.
The tasting was conducted in the barrel room, which is normally ok, though in this instance there was too little space and the tasting thus felt rushed and cramped.
Howard Park Riesling 2005
Very pale light straw with a lovely bright rounded acidity to finish. I’ve heard accusations of excessive acidity in previous vintages, but this one seemed spot on to me.
Howard Park Best Barrels Merlot 2003
Another with a tasting fee, but considering the price, again no issue.
This has a very dark colour, with hints of tobacco on the nose, with sweet, slightly “port-like” fruit on the rich liquerish nose. The palate shows good depth to the fruit and the tannins are firm. However the acidity felt a little too prominent and it just seemed to be lacking in the complexity you’d expect at the price.
Only two wines tasted as it was too cramped. We popped back the following morning, to try and get something from the “merchandise”. Disappointingly this seemed to be beyond the hassle involved for the staff. I guess they were also fed up about being in the barrel room, but it didn’t give the best of impressions. So different to our first visit.
Margaret River Chocolate Company
On our last visit we picked up some excellent nectarine jam, plus a few chocolates. This visit revealed a somewhat trimmed down product range and an operation that felt like a tourist cash processing machine. In Margaret River you hope to see artisan production values, but this operation is squeezing the tourists and I sensed a dip in quality as well as breadth. Worth avoiding now.
A lovely setting and a decent café/restaurant to match. We sensed the winery was starting to get a little more “commercial” though.
Woody Nook Chenin Blanc 2005
Very pale with a strong fruity nose of lemon, lime & sherbet. The acid was strong and coupled with the fruit depth, suggested a good balance. Some potential.
Woody Nook Merlot 2002
Strongly oaky, medium bodied with good structure and moderate length. Nothing special.
Woody Nook Gallaghers Choice 2002
We’d previously picked up some of the 99, which was excellent (much better than the 00 Shiraz bought at the same time). This is their top label and offers great value when conditions are right.
The 2002 is still quite dark but medium bodied, with a strong oaky nose. There’s good body to the wine and it has decent length, but the oak is a little overpowering at the moment. I much preferred the 99 at the same stage, but this is still a fair wine and if it can hide some of that oak it would be more enjoyable.
Woody Nook “Nooky Delight”
No notes taken, just a quick taste to confirm previous editions and pick up 2 bottles to take home.
Lunch was taken at Woody Nook and it offers a good variety of good food at good prices.
An established winery that’s all of a sudden started getting some amazing press – we thought we’d better see what they were made of. It seems they’ve had a bit of a run on the wines and a few had run out.
Woodlands Merlot 2005
Good rich colour, medium bodied with slightly prominent acid (not surprising this young) and quite soft tannins. Could be worth another look when it’s settled down
Woodlands Malbec 2005
A similarly rich colour with a whiff of violets and seems more in balance than the merlot. Already pretty good.
Woodlands Cabernet Merlot “Reserve du Cave” 2004
Dark and again very rich colour, with excellent structure, good plumy fruit and smooth but far from excessive tannins. Very impressive.
Woodlands Cabernet Merlot 2003?
This was the basic model that had sold out at cellar door. I picked up a bottle at Cloudwine in Melbourne and we BYO’d it at Centro Citta on Bourke St. Unfortunately I left it in the fridge too long and it was pretty cold when it got to the restaurant. However the last two glasses hit perfect drinking temperature.
No TN (we were eating alright!) but I can see what the fuss was about. The wine was nicely put together and offered great balance and just a hint of leafiness which added to the complexity. Not a stunner, but at $20 pretty difficult to fault.
We walked away with a bottle of their “Margaret” Cabernet Merlot 2003 (or was it the 2004). Based on the other wines, it felt worth gambling on this wine that wasn’t on tasting. Overall an impressive range and whilst not cheap, have a quality to justify the prices. Even more impressive because (cellaring) wines as young as this tend not to impress me as it always feels something isn't quite in balance yet.
I’d tried their wines a while ago at an Adnams tasting and was frankly underwhelmed. The (bought in fruit) Juniper crossing wines were pretty plain and the Juniper Estate Cabernet was better, but still lacking something special. However I’d heard good things (that and the prospect of some decent artwork from Robert Juniper) so we gave them another go. Sadly there was little artwork there, but the wines were worth it.
Juniper Estate Semillon 2002
Light bright straw colour and legs evident (this is not Hunter Semillon after all). The lemony nose is very appealing and there’s touches of butter and vanilla coming through. The acidity is refreshing and the buttery finish is quite long. A nice wine that’s developing well and may have further positive development to come.
Juniper Estate Shiraz 2001
Rich bright purple with a strong complex nose of liquerish black fruits and some mint. There’s good depth and a decent savoury finish. A good wine.
Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
A dark purple colour, with an opaque depth to it. The trace of oak on the nose isn’t overpowering. It’s nicely structured and savoury, but the slightly plummy fruit has decent depth. Very much enjoyed this.
Overall a pretty impressive tasting and so different to the wines I tasted 3-4 years before. We picked up some Cabernet, Shiraz and Semillon from Adnams on our return.
No tasting notes from Rockfield, but we enjoyed the elegance of the wines.
Finally some notes from
Sampson Hill near Eltham on the edge of Yarra Valley (a visit timed nicely to avoid would you believe it a “childrens fashion show” at the cellar door).
Samson Hill Estate Verdelho 2004
Very pale for an 04, near colourless in fact. The nose was quite floral and oily. The zesty lemon sherbet palate was balanced by some sweetness. Not my thing!
Sampson Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2001
Surprised to see such an old Pinot Noir on tasting at cellar door, so couldn’t refuse tasting it. The nose was slightly reminiscent of Nebbiolo and their was a hint of liquer in the relatively rich palate. Despite this the wine was quite savoury with some smoky bacon notes and just a touch of bitterness. Not a bad wine at all.
I also tasted the 03 Reserve Pinot, but preferred the aged character of the 2001 estate version
We also visited Kings of Kangaroo Ground whose cellar door also doubles as the post office. Ken King, the owner stepped in when the post office was flagged to close and offered to run it from the winery. Apparently this is very useful for when he’s asked to mail wine to customers. Amongst serving the post office customers, Ken was talked us through the wines and winemaking techniques including hands on demonstration of techniques and a tasting of a wine still undergoing fermentation. We also saw a wine that had just started fermentation via wild yeasts (not entirely intentional!). One aspect that came across watching Ken at work, was how important the sense of community is there and how the post office (with a little help from the winery) can be a real centrepiece to the various activities of the locals.
As for the wines, I think they were pretty good, but the serving temperature was a little too warm to judge properly. Again I didn’t take notes, and as such don't feel my memory is up to fair assessment of the wines we tasted. This was however a personal highlight for the hands on demo Ken gave us.
I hope you find these notes interesting