Which grape varieties are suited to Margaret River?

Posted: March 11, 2020

– With Peter Bourne –

The Margaret River wine region is a unique one – being coastal, warm climate and having porous sub-terrain soils (due to limestone caves along the coastline). Marked by some of Australia’s biggest industry names like Leeuwin Estate, Cullen Wines, Moss Wood, Vasse Felix and many more premium labels, the region draws many wine lovers attention on the shelves of bottle shops… but what exactly should you buy after perusing the aisles to find a Margaret River gem?

Margaret River and the Bordeaux region of France are geographically similar. Both are on the west coast, and both are heavily influenced by the ocean—the Indian and the Atlantic. So it’s more than just chance that the native grapes of Bordeaux succeed in Margaret River —semillon and sauvignon blanc blends and reds made with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.

There’s also no doubt that Margaret River cabernets are world class – think Moss Wood, Cullen, Xanadu and Vasse Felix . The annual Cape Mentelle International Cabernet Tasting proves the point, pitting the best from the west alongside other top Australian cabernets, with those of the Napa Valley and the home of the variety, Bordeaux. The locals walk away from the tasting very proud  indeed.

So where does chardonnay fit in, for it is undoubtedly the region’s great white. Timing is everything and, when Margaret River moved to a larger scale in the late 1970’s, chardonnay was both scarce and highly sought after. The local winegrowers ‘gave it a go’ with spectacular results that re-defined Australian chardonnay. Rich and intense with peach and pineapple flavours, the Leeuwin Estate Art Series is the epitome of the style.

Shiraz has re-emerged in recent years. It was unpopular in the 1980’s when many of the region’s vineyards were being planted—the Margaret River style being more subtle and savoury. Mediterranean reds like tempranillo and sangiovese are gaining traction, but it’s the Bordeaux reds (and whites) that have taken Margaret River to the world.

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