Sunday, March 30, 2008

Margaret River - Western Australia


I want to go back here again! I didn’t have enough time – only 2 days, and it rained one day, but this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has pure white sandy beaches (see photo), a warm turquoise ocean, and over 120 wineries close by. What is not to love? I flew into Perth and drove 3.5 hours south to Margaret River which is on a peninsula in the south part of Western Australia and surrounded by water on 3 sides (the Antarctic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and Geographe Bay).


First stop was the famous Leeuwin Estate Winery with its concert grounds and upscale restaurant. They treated me well and I was able to taste through all of the wines, including the world famous 2001 Chardonnay, which was rated #1 Chardonnay in the World by Wine Spectator at 98 points. The wine was amazing. It actually felt alive in my mouth! – full of fruit, well balanced acid and oak, and richly concentrated with an incredibly long finish. Next stop was Cape Mentelle (owned by LVMH) where I fell in love with their sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Later I was told that Margaret River is known for its varietal integrity – and I believe this is true. Each wine exhibited the extreme essence of its fruit, with very little interference from oak, ML, or other additions. It was pure and exquisite.


The best visit was Ashbrook Estate where I met with owner/winemaker, Tony Devitt, who showed me the vineyard, winery, and let me taste from tanks as well as bottle. I was able to learn all about the fascinating climate and soil of Margaret River, with a focus on chardonnay – their specialty. In addition, I got to taste his Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (quite fabulous) and Shiraz, which was elegant and well-balanced. In fact, I became quite entranced with Shiraz from Margaret River by the end of the visit because it was more similar to the Northern Rhone style with lower alcohol, good acid, moderate oak, and complex fruit. The cooler climate of Margaret River delivers a very different Australian shiraz experience.


That evening I splurged and checked into the fabulous Bunker Bay Quay West Resort (a tip from Colin) and wished I had more time to stay. It is a very posh place on the Geographe Bay with white sandy beaches and very elegant rooms with an aromatic spa. I dined in the restaurant and watched the sunset over the ocean while eating fresh whiting and a glass of Margaret River chardonnay (Juniper Crossing 2005) – sometimes life is just so good! I indulged in a walk on the beach before dinner and after breakfast and took a vow that I would return to such a lovely location. As I was checking out, it started to rain – quite hard – and I worried about the ongoing harvest.


Driving north, I stopped at Capel Vale (suggested by Tony) and tasted through (spitting of course) 10 of their wines. Still having a hard time believing that Australia doesn’t charge for tastings. Became entranced with their 2005 Pemberton Pinot Noir with a fruity cherry nose and gamey finish, so I bought it to take to a BBQ back in McClarenVale on Saturday night. They were very appreciative of such a delightful pinot in shiraz country – and it opened quite beautifully into a fragrant fruity wine. Unfortunately, it is only available at the cellar door, but quite an excellent value at $27.


As I got closer to Perth, I stopped at Peel Estate (also suggested by Tony) and had a wonderful visit with winemaker Will Nairn who introduced me to his huge and flavorful wines and is the maker of the best and most authentic zinfandel I tasted in Australia. Will was a lot of fun and I enjoyed talking with him and seeing the cellar. Harvest was in full process with tanks of fermenting grapes. His shiraz was truly amazing, and I have never tasted such a unique wine as the wooded chenin blanc – both of which I took home with me.


Arriving in Perth one hour before sunset, I had two strong desires – one to see downtown Perth and the other to see the sunset over the ocean. Since the freeways went easily towards downtown, I did this first and was quite impressed. However, after checking on the rates at a cheaper hotel, I decided I would take my chances and drive toward the setting sun and the Indian Ocean. Thirty minutes later, I found myself in Freemantle where I saw an oyster restaurant on the beach. Parking the car, I first took a short walk on the lovely white sand beach and then headed into the restaurant to order oysters and a beer. They tasted wonderful, and I asked the waitress if there was an inexpensive hotel near-by. She suggested Cottlesloe – so I drove 5 minutes up the road and through 2 round-abouts to find a delightful little town right on the edge of the ocean in the midst of a festival with beach sculptures and music. I saw a hotel sign above a bar/restaurant with a great rock band and decided to check it out. Fortunately, they had one room left with an ocean view, so I took it. A little dilapidated, but I had a balcony and a bottle of Ashbrook sauvignon blanc to toast the last descent of the sun with the great music flowing upwards from downstairs. Later I went to look for a restaurant, but found a great take-out fish place and couldn’t resist the catch of the day with more of my Ashbrook. Lovely, lovely day….I want to go back to Western Australia.

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