The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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Page 32 of 112

32 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2015 I HAVE TO CONFESS THAT THE ONLY wine regions I know at all well in Australia, apart from quick visits in the early 1990s to Victoria's Yarra Valley and Tasmania, are South Australia's Adelaide Hills and Western Australia's Margaret River. Over three weeks in Australia in February, expe- riencing superb weather for what turned out to be an early vintage, my wife and I renewed acquaintance with friends and their wines first in Margaret River and later in Adelaide Hills and found both con- fidence in recent vintages and optimism for the future. Over three weeks in Australia in February, experiencing superb weather for what turned out to be an early vintage (compared to England where the winter pruning on our Bride Valley Vineyard in Dorset was just finishing), we renewed acquaintance with friends and their wines first in Margaret River and later in Adelaide Hills and found both confidence over recent vintages and optimism for the future. Margaret River One of the largest wine regions in Australia, with currently just over 5,000 hectares planted, production averaging 60% white to 40% red, the climate is Mediterranean with almost ideal growing conditions without excess summer of winter tem- peratures. To the west, the Indian Ocean provides freshness, rainfall is adequate but humidity not excessive and the nights cool down to allow the grapes to reach a good balance of sugars and acidity. The wine focus of my visit was a tast- ing, arranged by Margaret River Wine Association CEO Nick Power for Decanter magazine's July supplement on the region, of ten Chardonnays with a vintage dif- ference of three to nine years, and more particularly a Cabernet Sauvignon–domi- nated tasting from 23 estates with a vin- tage difference of four to ten years. For the Chardonnays, the two stars were the well-established Pierro, whose vigourous 2013 was only just beaten by Leeuwin Estate's Art Series still tight but very ele- gant 2012, while in 2005 Pierro took the crown back. Then came three estates new to me: Higher Plane in the lemony, Chablis style, Hutton Triptych with a lovely 2009 and the floral, summer fruits Hay Shed Hill. While plantings of both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon currently surpass that of Chardonnay, the Burgundy grape justly commands a much higher price in the right hands, which was later proved by three single-vineyard2013s—Calgardup, Rocky Road and Burnside—from McHenry Hohnen (David Hohnen being one of the founders of the now LVMH-owned Cape Mentelle), a fine 2011 Allingham Vineyard from Howard Park and a lemony yet rich "Kevin John" 2012 from Vanya Cullen. The Cabernet Sauvignon tasting proved beyond doubt that this region is a good home to Bordeaux varietals which showed, for the most part, a fine ability to age with no loss of freshness. Originally considered as a stand-alone varietal, what became plain was how well Cabernet Sauvignon, as in Bordeaux, adapts to a small propor- tion of other Bordeaux grapes in the blend. Indeed, tastings at Cullens and at McHenry Hohnen showed how well both Malbec and Petit Verdot can perform— Cullen's Mangan Vineyard 2012 54% Petit Verdot/ 46% Malbec being a very excit- ing wine, totally justifying its Silver Medal at 2014 DWWA—and even Merlot, when backed up by these more robust Bordeaux grapes, shows firmness to add to its easy charm. But Cabernet Sauvignon remains the backbone to Margaret River reds (Cabernet Franc is still a rarity), differ- ences in style and in longevity being quite marked from wine to wine. Although Margaret River was one of the first three regions in Australia to have its geographical boundaries legally defined by its federal government, the first vines were planted less than 50 years ago, the wines being made figuratively by the seat of the owner's pants, so a Cabernet Sauvignon profile only began to emerge in the 1980s, as knowledge was acquired while the vines matured. Lunch at Cullen Wines ended with one of the last bottles of Cabernet/ Merlot 1983, tawny red in colour, but with lissom, ripe fruit, still showing elegance and vigour from this historic vineyard. One week later, dining chez Michael and Stacey Hill Smith with Brian and Anne Croser, a Brane-Cantenac 1924 (re-corked at the château in 1995), showed some of the same characteristics at 90 years old. In the world of wine, Cabernet Sauvignons in Margaret River are only in their 'teens.' From the fascinating tasting, the estab- lished estates—Moss Wood, Cullen (whose Diana Madeline 2012 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, with two decades in front of it, took my highest mark), Leeuwin Estate, Capel Vale, Cape Mentelle, Evans & Tate and Howard Park—showed consist- ently well, with a nicely grippy Xanadu 2007 beating their smoother 2011, with very good younger vintages being Voyager 2010, Lenton Brae 2012 and Fraser Gallop "Parterre" 2012. The common theme amongst the younger vintages, mirrored across the intelligent wine world, was more vineyard expression and less work in the cellar. Alcohols were modest at between 13.5 and 14.5, oak blended in { steven spurrier's letter from london } Cracking Wines from Cooler Climates

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