Margaret River wines shine at Gourmet Escape 2017

Cullen vineyards and restaurant (Photo: Cullen Wines)

The Margaret River wine region celebrated its 50th anniversary in style recently with an enlarged Gourmet Escape weekend, which featured several wonderful tastings.

Amid the lunches, dinners, tastings, farmers’ markets, the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate, and many events at individual wineries, I was fortunate to attend the Cape Mentelle International Cabernet Tasting and Cullen International Chardonnay Tasting, both of which are long-standing annual events. The celebration ran from November 16 to19.

My tasting notes from both these events are on the website now, as are my notes on the first event on the program, which was a tasting at Vasse Felix of various local cabernets and chardonnays spanning 1982 to 2017.

The oldest wines, the ’82 Vasse Felix and ’83 Cape Mentelle cabernet sauvignons, were still holding up well, the Vasse showing wonderful aged complexities and the Mentelle, always a tannic wine and still very powerful, its herbaceous aromas having mellowed into an attractive tobacco character. It’s a reminder of how this winery’s back-to-back Jimmy Watson Trophy winners helped put Margaret River in the spotlight at a time few wine-lovers had heard of it.

The Cullen chardonnay and Cape Mentelle cabernet events are both international. The former presented 22 chardonnays from the 2013 vintage from Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Tasmania, Mornington, Adelaide Hills, Beechworth, Oregon, California and Burgundy. The local wines showed extremely well, while the Burgundies were very patchy. The Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru was superb, as was the Domaine Leroy Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières, while a couple of others were disappointing. My top wines among the Aussies were Oakridge 864, Vasse Felix Heytesbury, Giaconda, Leeuwin Estate Art Series, Coldstream Hills Reserve, Penfolds Yattarna, Cullen Kevin John, Xanadu Stevens Road and Fraser Gallop Estate Parterre. As you see, there were many stars.

The 2014 vintage was under the microscope at Cape Mentelle, where 21 cabernet or cabernet-dominant wines were served – all blind, as were the chardonnays at Cullen.

Here, the Margaret River wines stole the show. To be fair, 2014 was a lesser vintage in Bordeaux and a ratty one in Italy (both Sassicaia and Ornellaia showed poorly), while there were two superb Bordeaux (Domaine de Chevalier and Château Pichon-Longueville Baron), a very good Château Cos d’Estournel and a below-par Château Mouton-Rothschild.

From the Napa Valley, Spottswoode was one of the top wines of the day – a truly grand cabernet – and Newton Mount Veeder was also superb.

Serendipitously, the best wine of the tasting – at least on my scoresheet but also many others’ – was the Cape Mentelle. The 2014 is a wine I’ve praised to the skies since I first saw it earlier this year. In this blind line-up, it looked for all the world like a Bordeaux first growth. Hot on its heels were a raft of other Margaret River wines: in my scoring order, they were Xanadu Reserve, Vasse Felix Tom Cullity, Deep Woods Reserve, Cullen Diana Madeline, Woodlands ‘Matthew’, Leeuwin Estate Art Series, while out-of-the-region wines Penfolds Bin 707 and Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No 1 also distinguished themselves.

An interesting ring-in was the new attention-grabbing Chinese wine from the LVMH empire: Ao Yun, produced in a super-remote vineyard in the Yunnan province. This was a good wine, but just too sulfidic for my taste, and slightly bitter – perhaps due as much to its 15% alcohol as its reductive character.

This tasting underlines the fact that the best of Margaret River cabernet is as great as anything the rest of the world has to offer. Having attended a number of these events over their 35-year history, I have never seen Margaret River wines show so strongly. They dominated.

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