Leeuwin Estate Anniversary Tasting

The anniversary in question is Tim Lovett’s, celebrating 10 years in charge as winemaker at Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River. On this tasting he was joined by Simone Horgan, CEO and part of the owning family. Simone recapped the story of Leeuwin’s beginnings, when Robert Mondavi visited the region in 1972 and identified their site as ideal for the production of premium wine. She stressed that there have been only three winemakers and two viticulturists on the team in all of that time.

Tim had taken an hour off as he was in the middle of the Art Series Chardonnay harvest. Leeuwin’s fame rests largely – or at least began – with their Chardonnay, particularly the iconic Art Series. Tim talked about the suitability of Margaret River for viticulture, but also the micro-climates across the region, bounded as it is on three sides by ocean. Comparing the sometimes extreme Continental climate of Burgundy (which has suffered hail damage for four years in a row) he says the Indian and Southern Oceans that surround Margaret River have a huge moderating influence.

As one of the five founding wineries of Margaret River, Leeuwin was the first to plant Chardonnay, when everyone was planting Bordeaux varieties. “It has a beautiful varietal expression,” says Tim, “but it seems to absorb the environment it grows in, which gives a great diversity depending on where it is grown.”  He also says “My winemaking style overall is reductive, as it’s all about nurturing and protecting the fruit,” and that includes not using malolactic in any of the white wines, but fermenting with high turbidity – plenty of ‘solids’ in the fermenting juice.

The Chardonnay here is mostly the Gin Gin clone, which came originally from Meursault, went to California, and from there cuttings were distributed to various places including Perth in Australia, close to Margaret River. Famous for its ‘hen and chick’ tendency of having small and large grapes on the same bunch, it is highly regarded in Western Australia and elsewhere. Tim talked of their Block 20, Chardonnay from the original plantings, which has “incredible power, the epitome of what we seek in Chardonnay.”  A team of 60 pickers is dedicated to hand-harvesting the fruit. “The jewel in the crown,” he says, “continuing the heritage of a wine first made in 1980.”

For their Sauvignon Blanc, a small percentage of barrel-fermentation is used, “to give dimension to the wine.” Tim says the Bordelaise varieties, red and white, excel in their vineyards, with similar climate and gravel soils as Bordeaux, but stresses that picking date for Sauvignon is crucial “24 hours can make such a difference. It’s a variety where you have to be walking the vineyard every day, waiting for the perfect moment.”

The Wines

(2021) There's 7% Semillon in the blend here, and 30% of the wine was barrel-fermented in used, tight-grained oak. There is a punch of green leafiness, but it has a waxy lemon and quite itense, almost lemongrass character. In the mouth a great surge of energetic, intense fruit - again the lemon verbena, lime zest and pithiness drives the wine, where malolactic was blocked to retain that biting freshness against the layers of citrus.
(2021) A combination of 70% Gin Gin clone, along with Davis and Bernard clones for this wine, fermentation partly with wild yeast, in Burgundian-coopered barriques, where it aged for 10 months, 35% new, with no malolactic. Lovely crushed almond and oatmeal, quite subtle oak, but it marks this wine with a touch of buttery softness, creamy and feels like a touch of background flint, even talcum notes. Lovely fruit on the palate, with very juicy and ripe pear, a sweetly-fruity tangerine quality too, then a much more incisive lemon zest and grapefruit acidity, touching on salts, a little nuttiness from the oak adds to a balanced finish.
(2021) All barrel-fermented in new French oak barriques with lees stirring, followed by 11 months in barrel, 100% new Bordelais barriques. From the original 1970s plantings, the fruit absorbs the oak easily, retaining a floral edge to the perfume, cool but dense white fruit, and then a nutty, very lightly smoky barrel note comes through. In the mouth there is real substance here, a real grip with some skin-contact notes, but driving acidity of minerals and lemon pith, a lovely tension in this wine, the oak again just lying quietly beneath, and the tingle and tang of souring lemon acidity along with fresh fruit pushing the finish.
(2021) There's also 3% Malbec in the blend here, fermented in both open and closed fermenters with 20% whole bunches. The wine was run to new, one, and two-year-old barrels and after six months the various components were blended and matured in barrels for a further twelve months. Bold crimson/violet in colour. Very pure, gently lifted aromatics, cool blue-black fruit, the violet and crushed black berries and almost pot-pourri fragrance is deliciously inviting. The palate follows through precisely, staying dense and compact in terms of its sweet black fruit, medium-bodied and a racing, very refined axis of acid and taut tannin, but its a generous, smooth and ultimately very satisfying Shiraz.
(2021) Merlot makes up 8% of the blend here, with nine months of barrel maturation for around 30% of the blend, then separate parcels blended for further maturation in Bordeaux-coopered barriques. It spent twenty months in total in oak. Seeply coloured and relatively youthful, there's a real cassis lift to this, flirting with floral, and lightly herbaceous, perhaps green olive aromas. It certainly has a cool climate feel to it. On the palate it is cool and assured, that savoury but also sweet-edged fruit nicely defined by acidity and gentle, tugging tannins. There is juiciness here, though it finishes quite dry. Probably for drinking over the next 5 years.
(2021) Just 1% Malbec in the blend here, and again nine months of barrel maturation before blending and further maturation in Bordelais barrels, 50% new, for a total time in barrel of 22 months. From a dry-grown vineyard, the gravelly Block 8, which is the original 1975 planting. More luscious aromatically, a deeper, more plush black fruit character, some tobacco spice and curry spice notes, a touch of herbaceous character way in the background just to add an edge. In the mouth it is supple and luscious again, but there's a tart, firm and grippy plum-skin grip to this too, very tight tannins, and a lovely cherry acidity that adds tang and juiciness. Lots of substance here, great balance, and should be a wine for extended cellaring. A beautiful wine.

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