Western Australia, with its capital city of Perth, lies around 1,500 miles west of the famous wine growing regions of South Australia like the Coonawarra, Barossa or Clare valleys. This largely dessert state has a fairly long tradition of making strong red and fortified wines in the small area around Perth, but it is only in the last few decades that fine table wines have started to emerge, thanks largely to new plantings in cooler coastal areas.
Western Australia may only be responsible for around 4% of Australia’s wine grape crush, but remarkably it produces closer to 20% of the country’s premium wines. Quality is the keyword of Western Australia with producers like Cape Mentelle and Howard Park having established global reputations. Daddy of them all, arguably, is Leeuwin Estate based in the Margaret River sub-region. Established in 1974 by Denis and Patricia Horgan, who are still at the helm today, Leeuwin has carved an enviable name for its extremely fine varietal wines.
Top of the range is the ‘Art Series’, with an outstanding Chardonnay and superb Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz. The ‘Prelude’ range is lower priced but still offers handmade wines of very high quality and capable of cellaring, whilst the most recent ‘Siblings’ range (not yet in the UK) features inexpensive, ‘ready to drink’ wines.
This small tasting of three white wines from the Leeuwin portfolio proves this is an absolutely superb estate, producing intelligent, beautifully structured wines. All wines are available from their UK importer Domaine Direct, and from specialist wine merchants.
Leeuwin Estate (Australia) Art Series Riesling 2005
When I judged Australia’s National Riesling Challenge in 2005 I was excited by many of the examples tasted from Margaret river, not an area I had previously associated with great Riesling. One that did always stand out was the Riesling from Leeuwin, and this 2005 screwcapped release does not disappoint. The nose offers aromas of gently toasty and buttery fruit, with a touch of waxiness and plenty of lime. There’s a delicate floral character too. On the palate this has a rapier-like thrust of pristine lime and lemon fruit, with an intense minerality and a fine depth of flavour. There’s just a suggestion of that rich, toasty weight beneath the dazzling clarity of the fruit, and the dry grapefruity acidity leads to an elegant finish. Delightful Riesling. Around £11.00, Domaine Direct.
Leeuwin Estate (Australia) Prelude Vineyard Chardonnay 2004
Little brother to the Art Series Chardonnay, the Chardonnay in the Prelude range has a similarly refined oak treatment on the nose, with honeysuckle and cashew, but also a delicately minty note. Clean orchard fruits emerge in a subtle, stylish profile. On the palate this has a real sweetness of fruit, with more of that ripe apple and pear, and a hint of tropicality. It lacks a little of the Art Series’ depth and layered concentration of flavour, but it is a lovely wine, with plenty of pithy grapefruit character keeping the finish crisp, and decent length too. Around £13.00, Domaine Direct.
Leeuwin Estate (Australia) Art Series Chardonnay 2003
Leeuwin’s Art Series Chardonnays have a huge reputation, made in a very Burgundian style with only French oak barriques employed in fermentation and ageing. This 2003 has a typically seductive cashew nut and oatmeal quality, with intelligent use of oak layering warmth over ripe, succulent peach fruit. On the palate that sweetness and ripe, almost pineapple-edged quality of orange and peach fruit is wrapped in that meally, nutty framework, but there is such decisive lemon and pithy grapefruit acidity that this stays sharp and focused, even though it is fairly thick textured and dense on the mid-palate. Very long too, this is exemplary stuff. Around £38.00, Domaine Direct.