The mofo guide to Margaret River
Far from where most Aussie grapevines grow, Margaret River (aka Margs or Margies) produces some of the most sought after and age-worthy wines in the country.
While the region plays a minor part in terms of production versus the rest of Australia, it plays a big role in the primo end of the market. Margs cabernet and chardonnay are just a couple of the better known standouts. Shiraz has found a more medium-bodied home here, alongside grapes like riesling, sauvignon blanc, semillon, chenin blanc and merlot.
Lucky for us, the Mediterranean climate of Margs allows for Bordeaux-inspired wines, with the finesse and elegance of the latter married to unique fruit richness. The chardonnay commands some of the highest prices in the country too, and with good reason. The region’s best wines have distinct vibrancy and massive cellaring potential.
Although it’s young in comparison to many other Australian wine regions, it’s still managed to attract the interests of the world, with companies like Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) having a gander, and Robert Modavi was even involved in the beginning of Leeuwin Estate - you don’t get that kind of attention without earning it first.
Now, to the nitty gritty…
Soils and climate
Jutting out on the western coast, the Margaret River wine region sits in the middle, surrounded by ocean. A Mediterranean maritime climate, it offers consistent temperatures over the ripening season, with low annual rainfall during this period. An unusually low diurnal range (the daily variation between low and high temperatures) means that there’s no shortage of warmth, which guarantees ripeness for grapes like cab sav and shiraz. This consistency allows for wines of equally consistent, superior quality, year in and year out. With the last sub-par vintage being 2006 (the first in almost 20 years), it’s easy to see how wines from this region have the premium reputation they deserve.
Situated in the greenest area of WA, the gravelly and sandy soils sit above rock, which drain quickly, particularly on the sloped vineyards. These soils contribute to heat accumulation in the vineyards and aid the ripening of the grapes grown there. Unlike other regions, subregional classification is yet to be fully realised but is being explored with gusto.
In a nutshell, a consistent temperate climate region with a strong maritime influence that has specific characters that allow it to fully ripen grapes more commonly associated with warmer climes. It’s special, and in reality it’s only just started to hit the world stage.
Here’s what to expect from the key grape varietals of Margaret River:
Cab sav has found a place to thrive here - producing elegant, medium- to full-bodied examples of the king of reds. Margies cab has the trademark blackcurrant in spades. Deeply flavoured wines with poise and elegance of Bordeaux (you’ll see prodigious blending with the other Bordeaux varietals - merlot, malbec, cab franc and petit verdot) combined with the fruit richness that Australia does so well. Complex and layered, they can last decades in bottle thanks to excellent acid structure. They reach peak ripeness without the herbaceousness that comes from other new world regions. Numerous producers excel with this grape, with Leeuwin Estate, Aravina, Xanadu, Moss Wood and Cape Mentelle all producing top notch examples.
The most iconic of Margaret River whites, chardonnay from here achieves ripeness and richness that isn’t seen in many other Aussie regions. Opulent and fruit rich, expect citrus, stone fruit, nutty oak and a fresh and long finish. Leeuwin Estate is world famous for their chardonnay, with numerous other producers making ace wines, like Pierro, Vasse Felix, and Cullen - wines which are approachable when young, and stellar with some age on them.
Semillon/sauvignon blanc blends
West Australians love a good SSB, and Margaret River produces some of the best going, born from the ‘Classic Dry White’ blend made famous in the 80s (you’ll often see some verdelho and chenin blanc in there too). They’re always teeming with citrus, stone fruit and a touch of freshly cut grass, but their main party trick is their unmatchable thirst-quenching freshness on a hot summer days. Again, Margs maritime climate (FTW!) creates ripe fruit flavours while retaining that all-important high acidity.
Many other grape varieties are grown throughout Margaret River: oft-underrated merlot, medium-bodied and spicy shiraz, as well as chenin blanc, malbec, petit verdot, and riesling.