Apparently, they make wine in and around Margaret River. Sounds like an opportunity for a day out.
We booked a day tour with A Touch Of Glass, a company which, unsurprisingly, offers wine tours. They asked if we had any specific requirements. My only requirement was to visit Leeuwin Estate, about which more later. Other than that, we’re in your hands, I said.
Our driver, Steve, turned up at 10:00 and we set off for the first of our wineries, Howard Park and MadFish Wines. Like all the wineries we were visiting today, this one has been around for quite a while. The Margaret River wine industry got started in the early seventies, and Howard Park has been going since the late eighties. We tasted a variety of wines, concentrating on the regional specialities of SSB/SBS and cabernet sauvignon. SBS or SSB is a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc – the order of the letters being dependent on which grape is dominant in the blend, and is the signature “drink now” wine of Margaret River, and indeed Western Australia. We also tried some of their rosé, which is made from shiraz, and also had two different styles of riesling. They give you a lot to taste at these places! – typically seven or eight different wines were offered at each vineyard that we visited. We also tasted side by side examples of cabernet sauvignon – one from Australia, one from France, made by the same winemaker, to compare and contrast the flavours. The vineyard has a strong connection and association to a French winemaker, and market under the same name, Marchand & Burch.
In the morning we visited two other wineries, Woodland Wines and Woody Nook Winery, where we stopped for lunch. Both wineries gave us tastings of SSB, chardonnay, and various reds including cabernet sauvignon and various blends. We also tasted several examples of shiraz throughout the day, and each winery was insistent on telling us how their shiraz was different to the typical South Australian shiraz with its strong, peppery flavour – it was more subtle, with a white pepper taste rather than the strong black pepper of SA.
We then took another break from wine to visit the olive oil maker Olio Bello, and sample some of their products. They produce a number of single varietal oils, as well as flavoured oils and other olive oil products and related foods.
The next winery we went to was a little unusual. Adinfern Estate create not only the usual array of wines, but also some sweet and fortified wines, which include a sweet red cabernet sauvignon/shiraz blend, and a port style wine. It was while I was outside trying to get a picture of a parrot that I was subject to what is a common occurrence in spring in the region – I was “swooped” by a magpie. Fortunately it didn’t actually attack, but it came quite close to my head. This is a behaviour adopted to dissuade people near its nest, and they do so very aggressively.
Our final stop was at Leeuwin Estate. Our driver didn’t like this place as they charge for wine tasting, and don’t refund the charge if you buy some wine (maybe they do if you buy a crate, but not for a single bottle). We did, however, taste some very good wines here, including some side by side from different years for comparison – a 2008 riesling with a 2015 vintage, for example, gave a clear demonstration of how it will age over time. Unlike Mornington wines, which vary significantly depending on the weather for each vintage, they expect their wines to be very similar year after year. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that any given year’s wine will taste similar after x year’s cellaring.
We only bought a couple of bottles for immediate consumption, as we’re not planning on taking any of it back to New Zealand. Whilst tasting the cabernet sauvignons, the youth of the wines was very apparent with a mouth-puckering tannin being the dominant sensation – these wines will need several years in the cellar before they will express their full fruit flavour.
Seven vineyards is a pretty full day’s tasting, and my taste buds were feeling a bit worn out by the end of it. I’d spat nearly all the wine I’d tasted, apart from the really expensive ones where I felt it would be a shame to do so, so was able to enjoy a nice glass of chardonnay from Leeuwin at the end of the day.