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Margaret River Turns 50

Top 50 Margaret River Buys

December 2017
by Peter Forrestal

MARGARET RIVER is celebrating 50 years of winemaking in style: the region has never made better wines. It’s Australia’s premier Cabernet region, its Chardonnays are among the country’s finest, and many of these are world-class wines.

No one else in Australia is making better everyday whites than its Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends, and the experimentation of the past decade has led to a raft of Bordeaux blanc lookalikes that have critics and the general public salivating. The show record for the wines of Margaret River in the past decade is stunning.

There are some irritations too, such as a swag of young winemakers stirring up trouble and challenging orthodoxies, making small­batch wines that charm only sommeliers. Still, it wasn’t so long ago that most of the region’s best producers were doing that kind of thing themselves: often working unconventionally to finesse their handcrafted wines.

Margaret River was legally delineated in 1996 following a blueprint of AustraIia’s foremost viticultural research scientist Dr John Gladstones. He responded to a request from Vanya Cullen and Keith Mugford in 1999 to draw up proposed sub-regional boundaries. This has been the subject of much discussion by winemakers who have been keen to explore the possibilities of particular localities. And there has been similar interest in the production of single-site wines.

While there has been a great deal of experimentation across Australia with new grape varieties, this trend has not taken root in Margaret River. Tempranillo is an exception and there are some impressive examples of the variety. A few growers are attempting to revive interest in Chenin Blanc and helping to erase the memory of sweet Chenins of yesteryear.

The real key to the region’s success, however, has been its climate, with consistent wet winters and dry growing seasons. One has to go back to 2006 to find a difficult vintage and even that produced many exemplary whites.

The character of Margaret River remains pretty much unchanged today as it was at its birth in the 1960s, with the majority of the wineries family-owned or driven by families. There is much more investment than before, but the region still boasts many small cellar doors to delight visitors. What has changed is the quality of accommodation, winery restaurants and tourist facilities – and consequently visitor numbers. 1f you haven’t been to Margaret River, make a plan, and until then taste through a few of my 50 best buys.

#6 – 95 pts Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2014
Complex aromatics of grapefruit, oyster shell and shale minerality suggest power and energy. Carefully integrated, classy oak and tight-knit flavours. Lingers on the finish.

#12 – 93 pts Cullen Vineyard (Ephraim Clarke) Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015
Biodynamic, 74% of the Sauvignon Blanc aged in new oak. Tight and fine on the nose, pristine tropical flavours, greengage and white peach; zesty, lemony acidity to finish.

#23 – 97 pts Cullen Diana Madeline 2015
The Cullen flagship red has an intriguing note of violets and is so soft and plush that it demands attention. Vibrant blackcurrant and mulberry flavours, impressive weight and restrained power. Sublime.

#33 – 94 pts Cullen Mangan East Block 2016
A ground-breaking blend from Vanya Cullen: 51% Petit Verdot and 49% Malbec. Shows a brooding quality that has immediacy in its beguiling blackberry and pastille flavours. Ageworthy yet hard to resist.

#37 – 94 pts Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Ripe blackcurrant fruit that is wonderfully concentrated, with impressive weight. This has elegance, great finesse and finishes gently firm.

#43 – 93 pts Leeuwin Estate Art Series Shiraz 2014
Sourced near Witchcliffe in the cool south. Attractive spicy fruit, medium bodied and concentrated. Restrained and approachable.

View the full list here.