Wines from Western Australia - here are some of the best

Vanya Cullen, biodynamic winemaker.Vanya Cullen, biodynamic winemaker.
Vanya Cullen, biodynamic winemaker. | other
Vasse Felix winemaker Virginia Willcock ponders pre-history

“We are not really sure whether the Margaret River peninsula has the same structure as the rest of Australia, or if it is a piece of Indonesia that crashed into Australia millions of years ago,” she says.

Certainly the square edged region of Margaret River sticks out into the Indian Ocean, almost like an afterthought, and its position gives the region a unique climate that makes it one of the best places in the world to grow grapes.

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This is a stunningly beautiful part of Australia. The drive from Perth to Margaret River should take around three hours, but if you stick to the coast road, the scenery is so breath-taking it is worth planning several stops just to take in the views of the rolling ocean and wild scrubland. The coastline is largely uncluttered and stark – apart from the surfers who flock here in their thousands to enjoy some of the best waves in the world. When visiting vineyards there is always the chance that the winemaker may be late for your appointment because the surf is just too good to ignore.

Felix winemaker Virginia WillcockFelix winemaker Virginia Willcock
Felix winemaker Virginia Willcock | other
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My pick of the best white wines on a £10 budget - Christine Austin

Unusually for an Australian wine-growing region, Margaret River manages to get just the right amount of rain, with between 600 and 1,000mm falling each year, always in wintertime when it can replenish the soil’s reserves without damaging the crop.

Sixty years ago, the short, stubby promontory, 100km long and 30km wide, was just cattle country. Then a government agronomist, Dr Gladstones, surveyed the region and decided that the climate here was suitable for grape-growing. He inspired a few local professionals to turn a few acres of their land to vines, and the region has gone from strength to strength. Small and exceptionally beautiful, this region makes only three per cent of Australia’s wine, but provides 20 per cent of its premium wines.

It means that Western Australian wines will never be the bargains of the wine shelves, but they offer a range of superb flavours. Here are some of my favourite producers...

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Cullen: “I feel very blessed to have been able to work on this land for 30 years,” said Vanya Cullen as she poured some of her extraordinary wines for me, while we sat on the veranda overlooking the vineyard. It was established in the 1960s by her father, Dr Kevin Cullen, but Vanya has developed the estate and winemaking to the point where it is internationally renowned for its biodynamic methods and its carbon-negative status. “I believe that the microbiological balance of the soil leads to balanced wines,” said Vanya. Like many advocates of biodynamics, which takes the movement of the moon into account when dealing with agriculture, as well as the use of various plant remedies, Vanya is a great one for grabbing a handful of soil and sniffing it. It smells like the soil you might have dug in your garden as a child. Earthy, rich and full of so many aromas, there is not a whiff of chemicals in it. Even if you are not a fan, yet, of biodynamics, Vanya’s wines definitely need to be tasted for their vibrancy, longevity and balance. Head to Harrogate Fine Wine for the bright, lemon and lime style of 2017 Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Semillon (£23.99). The Wine Society has stocks of Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2018 that manages a delicate balance between ripe blueberry fruit and a touch of freshness (£25), but for a real taste sensation save up for a bottle of Kevin John Chardonnay 2014 (£65) and don’t be in a hurry to drink it. I tasted through several vintages of this wine, named after Vanya’s father and they just got better with age. Made from old vines grown on a loamy hill, this is a low-yield, wild ferment wine, aged in top-class oak. The wine has that spark of individuality that normally comes from Burgundy with a depth and complexity that is intriguing and persistent.

Leeuwin Estate: This estate should be on everyone’s visit list, not just for the wines but also for the restaurant and if you get the chance, for the concerts too. Still family-run, Leeuwin makes exceptional wines, in particular the Art Series Chardonnay that shines through with quality and depth of flavour. Tim Lovett has been winemaker here for 13 years and he believes that it is the warm climate with a cool edge that gives his wines their longevity and character. Head to Harvey Nichols for The Art Series Chardonnay 2016 (£85) for an absolute pinnacle of balance between white peach fruit, crisp apple and long, evolving complexity.

Vasse Felix: Virginia Willcock is one of Australia’s most awarded winemakers. Margaret River is in her DNA and she has an ability to explain this region clearly in terms of climate, soils and grapes. She also makes some of the more affordable wines in this region and Waitrose is the place to go to find her bright, lively, melon and white peach Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2018 and the light, leafy notes and savoury balance of Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (both £12.99).

Cape Mentelle: “There are four great Cabernet regions in the world; Napa, Bolgheri, Bordeaux and Margaret River,” said Fredérique Perrin, of Cape Mentelle. It is a bold statement but as a winemaker for the great Moet Hennessy group, she has experience of making wines in many parts

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of the world. I love the grapefruit and lime style of her classic Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend (£18.99), but the Cabernet Merlot 2014 (Martinez, £23.99) is a textbook example of the freshness, density and clarity of Western Australian reds.

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