WINES FOR THE BOOT
2007 Rickety Gate Sparkling Chardonnay, A$40
It’s taken some time yet, in recent years, Denmark is proving to be an excellent area for bubbly with Rickety Gate and Somerset Hill impressing. This is made by John Wade and is fresh, clean and vibrant with creamy texture and zingy natural acidity.
2011 Frankland Estate Poison Hill Riesling, A$27
There are five rieslings in the Frankland portfolio and this is one of the single-site trio that was a stunner in 2011. It stands out for its wild herb and lemon-blossom aromatics, its lemon-lime citrus flavours, tight structure, and mouth-watering natural acidity. There’s a multi-layered quality to the mid-palate: it’s taut with a lingering, dry finish.
2011 Gilberts Riesling, A$25
One of Mt Barker’s best riesling producers, Gilberts excelled in 2010 and this may be even better. There are gentle frag-rances of talc and lemon zest, bright lemon, lime juice flavours, taut structure and refreshing crunchy acidity. There’s a paradox between its finesse and delicacy and its power and intensity. Minerally notes add complexity.
2011 Kalgan River Riesling, A$26
The Great Southern largest new producer is Willoughby Park which has purchased the excellent Kalgan River vineyard in the Albany sub-region and continues to market these wines as its flagship range. There are quite restrained aromatics at this youthful stage but powerful, intense and pure lemon curd and lime zest flavours, tight linear structure and cleansing natural acidity to finish.
2011 Matilda’s Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Chenin Blanc, A$18
Sipping this in the late afternoon sun on the balcony of this Denmark winery, I thought, “Wow, this is delicious”. Looking at it blind on the tasting bench, I was equally impressed. There’s a crispness and a vibrant crunchy feel that highlights the impact of the cool Denmark climate. Expect bright green pea, green bean flavour, a cleansing mouthfeel, and a lingering aftertaste. And it’s their entry-level white.
2011 Singlefile Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, A$25
The region’s most impressive newcomer sources fruit from subregions which most suit the variety; so riesling from Porongurup, shiraz from Frankland River. Denmark is ideal for chardonnay, pinot noir and semillon sauvignon blanc. This has dramatic cool tropical-fruit flavours in the nectarine, white peach, lychee spectrum, good intensity in the mid-palate and zippy acidity. It’s vibrant, pristine and has lingering green-bean notes to finish.
2011 Galafrey Sauvignon Blanc, A$18
Linda and Kim Tyrer continue the legacy of their husband and father, Ian, with one notable exception: they now have their wines made by the capable team at West Cape Howe. The current vintage Sauvignon Blanc shows the chill of Mt Barker to perfection with lightly herbal, snow pea and watercress flavours that are delicate and bright. It’s vibrant and lively in the mid-palate with a crisp, dry finish featuring zesty natural acidity.
2010 Marchand & Burch Gibraltar Rock Pinot Noir, A$70
The best pinots that I’ve had from Western Australia have been sourced from Dr Peter Honey’s mature Porongurup vineyard and transformed by the skill of Burgundian winemaker, Pascal Marchand. It is precise and detailed: pure varietal pinot noir from its ethereal aromas through a complex flavour profile and seductive velvety texture to its long, beguiling finish. There’s brambly primary characters, mushroomy, truffley notes that speak of the forest floor: finesse and elegance too. Delicious.
2009 Ferngrove Dragon Shiraz, A$30
This range named after local orchids offers terrific value for money. In 2009, my favourite has been this Frankland River shiraz: wild brambles, blackberries with licorice and bitter-sweet dark chocolate flavours, lively fleshy texture that seamlessly binds fruit, oak and tannins so that the wine is immediately approachable.
2008 Plantagenet Shiraz, A$45
Here is cool climate shiraz to delight. More restrained than you might expect, medium-bodied, with a flavour profile that hints of black pepper, dark cherries, briar, black plums and dark chocolate. The 2008 is tight, firm and muscular yet appears silky smooth and poised. It balances depth of flavour with richness and drinkability.
2008 Forest Hill Block 5 Cabernet Sauvignon, A$65
Winemaker Clemence Haselgrove and her viticulturist husband, Lee, have transformed the wines from Western Aust-ralia’s oldest cool-climate vineyard since their arrival in 2006. The 2008 Block 5 Cabernet comes from this low-yielding, dry-grown vineyard and so is dense and concentrated, with weight and power. It has restrained savoury characters, briar and black olive, with primary redcurrant and cassis flavours, tight structure, and fine ripe tannins.
2009 West Cape Howe Book Ends Cabernet Sauvignon, A$30
There’s been a lift in fruit quality since the 2009 takeover of Goundrey by West Cape Howe: this red offers remarkable value for money. It has a restrained cool-climate flavour profile – bramble, mulberry and blackcurrant flavours – an edge of cedary oak, tightness of structure in the mid-palate and a finesse and elegance to finish. Will improve in the short term yet plush and pleasingly approachable now.
Great wine drives: Great Southern
From the pristine beaches of Denmark to the dramatic granite outcrop of the Porongorup Range, Great Southern is a vast region encompassing some of the country’s most exciting producers. This three-day itinerary will take you to the top cellar doors and cafes, highlighting the vinous riches of a unique landscape.
This is a destination like no other. It’s the only Australian wine region where the best advice I can give you on one of the days of your drive through is to take a packed lunch. It’s vast; it’s remote; it’s the quintessential Aussie bush! There’s a dramatic diversity of landscape: the lush winter pastures, tall gums and huge native grasstrees of Frankland; giant karris and surging seas at Denmark; the 1200 million year-old granite outcrops of the Porongurup Range, stunning vistas of the bush from the slopes of Mount Barker. More so than in most cases, having a sense of perspective will certainly enhance your visit.
Later this year, Forest Hill will be celebrating 40 years of Great Southern riesling as their first white was made by Dorham Mann at Sandalford in 1972. A report by University of California (Davis) Professor Harold Olmo published in 1956 had recommended the establishment of a premium wine producing area in the vicinity of Mount Barker or Rocky Gully. Ten years later the Western Australian Department of Agriculture responded to that report by planting experimental vines on the Pearse property at Forest Hill, near Mount Barker. This sparked further plantings by John Roche at Frankland River (1967), Tony Smith at Bouverie (1968), and Merv Lange at Alkoomi (1971): the fledgling industry was born.
The Great Southern is isolated, sparsely populated, home to tough farmers. For much of its history, there was little wine tourism and tourists were not seen as a great priority by some of those involved in producing wine. The last decade has seen the wine industry take a higher profile in the region. Many of those who started out viewing viticulture as a sideline have become increasingly involved and it has become the central core of their business. It has also seen an influx of clever, well-qualified young winemakers who are bringing greater professionalism to the region’s wine industry. There has been a substantial increase in the numbers of investors moving into the area keen to establish family vineyards, wineries, and cellar doors. While wine tourism remains cyclical, inconsistent, and difficult, it is on the rise, and cellars doors and cafes (such as Singlefile, The Lake House, Matilda’s Estate, Poachers Ridge and Gilberts) are responding to demand, often with a flourish.
Australia’s largest region is spread over 16,712 square kilometres, about eight times the size of Margaret River. However, its area under vines (3647 hectares) is much smaller than Margaret River (5960 hect-ares). It is divided into five regions: Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongurup, each of which covers just over 1000 square kilometres (except for Porongurup at 394). Frankland River (1812 hectares) and Mount Barker (1400 hectares) account for most of the area under vine, with the other subregions having just over 100 hectares each. Driving between each can be a significant journey: from Frankland to Denmark (one and a half hours), to Albany (two hours), or to the Porongurups (one and three-quarter hours).
The Frankland River subregion has been one of the fastest growing viticultural areas in Australia in the past decade: just 200 hectares of vines were planted here before 1997. This growth has no doubt been fuelled by the show success of the area especially with the 1995 Houghton Show Reserve Shiraz, the 2001, 2004 and 2008 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet and the 2005 and 2007 Ferngrove Majestic Cabernet. Perhaps the dominant force here in recent years has been winemaking superstar, Larry Cherubino with single-vineyard and subregional cabernets, shiraz and rieslings under the Cherubino, The Yard and Ad Hoc labels. He has long sourced fruit from the area. The fortunes of the large managed-investment winery, Ferngrove, appear to have turned around following their takeover by Chinese company, Pegasus, which is helping to open up export markets in China. Alkoomi has been revitalised by the generational change from founders, Merv and Judy Lange, to their daughter, Sandy and her husband Rod Hallett. Wine quality has lifted under bright, young winemaker Andrew Cherry. Generational change is all the go down the road at Frankland Estate as Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam reluctantly step aside for Hunter and Elizabeth Smith and her husband, Brian Kent. The winery’s position as one of the country’s finest riesling producers is assured. Small family producer, Old Kent River, has moved its cellar door to the South Coast Road out of Denmark where marron is a huge attraction at their cafe.
Denmark is the tourist hub of the Great Southern with pristine beaches, timeless forests, and a population in which alternative lifers, the artistically inclined and hyperactive retirees are more than adeq-uately represented. At present, it has the best accommodation and the most stylish cellar doors in the Great Southern as well as some good places to eat. It boasts substantial wineries – Forest Hill, Howard Park, Willoughby Park, Castelli and Matilda’s Estate – although none have more than 10 hecatres of vines in the Denmark subregion.
Albany is the largest town in the Great Southern, a thriving comm-ercial centre and a popular tourist destination. It has excellent beaches and, in King George Sound, one of Australia’s great natural harbours. All the winegrowers in the Albany subregion are small family conc-erns. Newcomer, the biodynamic producer, Bunn, make their own wines as does the subregion’s largest and best-known winery, Wign-alls. The other vineyards include Oranje Tractor, Phillips Brook and Mongomery Hill. Wignalls operate the only cellar door opened daily.
Time is of the essence in any visit to the Great Southern because of the great distances involved and so the alternative to a four and a half hour drive to and from Perth, a one hour plane flight with Skywest from Perth to Albany, is the ideal way to start the adventure. The early morning flight fits the schedule best so after collecting your hire car, it’s off to the York Street Cafe (184 York St, Albany, 08 9842 1666) for the most delicious breakfast in town. If you are here Monday to Thursday, you might buy a lunch box to help you survive midday in the Porongurups.
You’ll need to see the views of King George Sound, Albany’s spectacular harbour. For many departing Anzacs back in 1915, it was the last sight of their homeland. Proceed via Marine Drive to one of the lookout spots on Mount Clarence en route to Middleton Beach before heading out of town and a stop at Wignalls (448 Chester Pass Rd, Albany, 08 9841 2848) on the outskirts of town. The picturesque grounds and stone cellar door are welcoming. The most famous Wignalls wine is the pinot noir and it’s looking good these days. Also try the sauvignon blanc and the chardonnay.
Then, there’s a 30-minute drive to Castle Rock (Porongurup Rd, Porongurup, 08 9853 1035). As you get close, admire the Porongurup Range, at its peak 670 metres above sea level, which was formed of granite more than 1200 million years ago. Check out second-generation vigneron Rob Diletti’s profile as finalist for this year’s Winemaker of the Year Awards on page 90. It’s likely that one of his folks, Angelo or Wendy, will take you through a tasting of their stunning range of wines at this unprepossessing cellar door. This has been a tiny family operation since the vineyard was planted in 1983 and is quintessentially Porongurup – it’s all about the wines.
Now it’s time for action. The Porongurup National Park is a great place for bush walking. It’s at its most enchanting during the wildflower season from September to November when there’ll be hund-reds of species of wildflowers in bloom. It also has giant karri trees more than 70 kilometres from the state’s main karri forests. A spectacular option would be taking the Porongurup Granite Skywalk. It is a three kilometre / two hour return walk from the car park and requires reasonable fitness levels and a decent head for heights. As an alternative, there is a five-kilometre drive along Angwin Park Road between Bolganup Road and Woodlands Road which offers outstanding views of granite outcrops and of Stirling Range to the north. It is an unsealed road with steep sections but worth the effort.
If you are in the area on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, stop off at Maleeya’s Thai Cafe (1376 Porongurup Rd, Porongurup, 08 9853 1123), just down the road from Castle Rock, for lunch. It’s part of the Hillside Bamboo Nursery and, uniquely, it stands alone in the middle of a large paddock. Excellent fresh authentic Thai food.
Then it’s into Mount Barker for a coffee at Tracey and David’s The Grocer Store (41 Langton Rd, Mount Barker, 08 9851 1029) before fronting up for a tasting at pioneering winery, Plantagenet (Albany Hwy,Mount Barker, 08 9851 3111). The old apple shed has gone through a couple of transformations since it became the Great Southern’s first winery in 1974. Since then, Plantagenet has been pivotal to the region’s growth as a contract winemaker and as a leading brand. Overall, their strengths have been riesling, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon with shiraz being their flagship varietal.
One more stop for the day: 19 kilometres north is Gilberts (Albany Hwy, Kendenup, 08 9851 4028). Bev and Jim Gilbert planted vines in 1985 to supplement the income from their apple orchard. The wine industry has gradually taken over their lives so that they run a cafe to attract customers to the cellar door, a culinary garden and a stone fruit orchard to service the cafe and lots and lots of pumpkins to make soup. Pumpkins grow well in Kendenup. The Gilberts Riesling is consistently among the region’s finest with 2010 and 2011 outstanding examples of the varietal. Both cabernet and shiraz flourish in Mount Barker and so are worth tasting.
Then it’s home for the evening to Kendenup Lodge (7 Moorilup Rd, Kendenup, 08 9851 4233). Expect a warm welcome, a comfortable stay and delicious food from chef, Scott Spicer. When booking your stay, you should request a packed lunch for your trip to Frankland River. Confirm that on arrival.
After a leisurely breakfast at Kendenup Lodge, there’s a one and a half hour drive to Ferngrove (278 Ferngrove Road Frankland River, 08 9855 2378) blinking as you drive through the township of Frankland River. You’ll know it’s the corporate world when you see the remarkably palatial cellar door and offices on the front of the modern winery shed. Visitors to this subregion are rare and so you can expect a warm welcome. The corporate body may have had its troubles with the recent Chinese takeover but there’s been no apparent dip in wine quality. There are bargains to be had in the cheaper price brackets, especially with the ‘Symbols’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon but the heart of the portfolio is in the Orchid range: subject these to scrutiny.
Next, it’s over the road to Alkoomi (Wingebellup Rd, Frankland, 08 9855 2229) where three generations of the Lange family have attended the Frankland Primary School. The need to diversify drove Merv and Judy Lange to plant one of the region’s first vineyards in 1971. Alkoomi now boasts 102 hectares of vineyards producing more than 80,000 cases of estate-grown wine, making it one of WA largest family-owned wine companies. Pricing here is keen: the entry level wines at $13.50 represent great value, especially the sauvignon blanc and shiraz, while the mid-price range ($18–$22) can be excellent, in particular, the riesling, shiraz and shiraz viognier. The flagship Blackbutt cabernet blend has more flesh than previously and has the weight and depth of flavour to manage its bold oak. This is a very beautiful property especially with the green of winter: no wonder the locals are content in their remote locale.
Next it’s a 40-minute drive down the road to near neighbours, Frankland Estate (Frankland Rd, Frankland, 08 9855 1544). Time to bring out the packed lunch and chat with the friendly team here. Started by sheep farmers, Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam, in 1988 after they became smitten with wine during a vinous odyssey to Europe with Bill Hardy, Frankland Estate has become one of the most influential wineries in the Great Southern. Perhaps the lunch needs to be accompanied by one of the Frankland rieslings. In fact, with the cheapie, Rocky Road, three bone-dry single-vineyard rieslings – Isolation Ridge, Poison Hill and Netley Road – and the sweet Smith Cullam Riesling with 30 grams of residual sugar, any tasting of the varietal at Frankland Estate becomes an opportunity to workshop its possibilities.
After an exhaustive tasting, it’s time to hit the road for the one-and-a half hour trip to Denmark and your accommodation at Karma Chalets (1572 South Coast Highway, Denmark, 08 9848 1568). There are 10 comfortable chalets in secluded bushland close to town with picturesque views of the countryside to the ocean. Other excellent accommodation is the Chimes Spa Retreat (Mt Shadforth Drive, Denmark, 08 9848 2255).
The sporadic nature of the tourist trade has been underlined in recent times with several key business experiencing difficulties and/or being forced to operate on reduced hours. Even in a prime tourist destination like Denmark it can be difficult to recommend somewhere to eat at night time mid-week. Your best bet may well be the new Boston Brewery at Willoughby Park (678 South Coast Hwy, Denmark, 08 9848 1555), four kilometres down the South Coast Highway in the direction of Albany. Monday to Thursday, they close at 7pm, later on weekends. It’s a big space but there are great pizzas and a satisfying eclectic menu. The other possibility is Ravens (1/7 South Coast Hwy, 08 9848 1163) which has a dozen freshly prepared dishes available for take away or dining in: prawn and avocado rice paper rolls, green papaya salad, pad thai. They are open till 6pm.
If you are in town on Friday night, book for Salt and Pepper at Matilda’s Estate (18 Hamilton Rd, Scotsdale, 08 9848 3053). It’s close to town, just off Scotsdale Road, where chef, Silas Masih, flaunts his Fijian-Indian heritage adding a dash of spice to transform seasonal local produce in imaginative ways.
The day begins with a return or first visit to Ravens: for a coffee and hearty breakfast. Ravens is a specialty coffee roaster with a superior deli and a kitchen large enough to cope with the dine-in trade as well as keeping the shelves stocked for take-away. Nick Raven is a coffee nerd who sources his beans from Melbourne Coffee Merchants and is on a mission to produce great coffee and increase the public’s awareness of coffee origin (and more). What better place to start the day.
No wine lover can visit Denmark without meeting artisan chocolatier John Wade at his Darkside Chocolates (2/10 Hollings Rd, Denmark, 0407 984 820). Celeb-rated winemaker, Wade, made his reputation during his 12 years at Wynns before coming West in 1986 where he worked for Alkoomi, Goundrey and Plantagenet. He then left to work full-time on the label he created, Howard Park. These days he moonlights with local winery Rickety Gate but devotes most of his creative talents to handcrafting complex chocolates. These are impeccably balanced, detailed, and boldly flavoured chocolates.
Next it’s off to Scotsdale Road which has arguably the most beautiful scenery of any winery road in the country. Howard Park (Scotsdale Rd, 08 9848 2345) is a large multi-regional family winery whose wines are widely distributed. Why spend precious time while you’re on the road visiting its cellar door? Well, it’s an elegant building and a stylish space in which to taste. More importantly, the staff are keen to provide a focus on the Great Southern wines that they produce; such as the subregional Howard Park Porongurup Riesling, the good-value Flint Rock Pinot Noir and the superb, plush Scotsdale Shiraz. One of the most exciting viticultural developments in recent times has been the planting of the Burch Family’s Mount Barrow vineyard including a block of high density pinot noir for the Marchand & Burch label. The vineyard is in the Mount Barker subregion near the boundary with Porongurups – and has more of the feel of the latter. The pinots it has produced even at this young age have been exceptional and the 2010 is on tasting at the cellar door.
Then it’s on down Scotsdale Road for about 14 kilometres, regrettably missing Estate 807 and Matilda’s because of time, to James Kellie’s Harewood Estate (1570 Scotsdale Rd, Denmark, 08 9840 9078) one of the region’s finest vineyards. Planted to chardonnay and pinot noir by Keith and Margie Graham in 1988 and tended by them until they handed over custodianship to James Kellie in 2003. He built an impressive 300-tonne winery and has proved to be an exceptional contract winemaker. For the Harewood label, Kellie sources fruit from many parts of the Great Southern as well as the estate vineyard. The cellar door, situated in a rustic cottage on the property with an abundance of natural light and a long jarrah-topped bench, is open only from Friday to Monday.
Lunch beckons at one of Denmark’s newer operations – Singlefile (90 Walter Rd, Denmark, 08 9840 9749). Geologists, Phil and Viv Snowden made a fortune in South Africa and since buying this vineyard in 2007 are doing their best to spend it. The Snowdens are involved in the business but leave the hard work to son-in-law Patrick Corbett (CEO) and daughter, Pam and the 21 vineyard minders or geese who stroll in singlefile around the stunning property. The new cellar door building is stylish and works admirably for tastings and for serving as a cafe.
After lunch, call in to The Lake House cellar door (Turner Rd, Denmark, 08 9848 2444). The lakeside garden setting with a backdrop of native bush make this one of Denmark’s most popular cellar doors. The entry-level He Said She Said label is a bit of fun while the Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are seriously good wines.
Then it’s on to the classy cellar door for the region’s oldest vineyard (planted 1966), Forest Hill (cnr South Coast Hwy & Myers Road, Denmark, 08 9848 0000). The winery is based in Denmark although the vineyard is about half an hour’s drive away in Mount Barker. It’s a beautiful setting with extensive ocean and bushland views. Stars of the show at Forest Hill are their riesling, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon with the Block series being among the finest examples of these varieties produced in Australia.
Afterwards, it back to Karma Chalets (120 metres down the road) for a well-earned rest. Your dinner options are the same as last night.
Head to town for breakfast at Mrs Jones (12 Mount Shadforth Rd, Denmark, 08 9848 1882) outdoors if the weather allows. It’s a pleasantly casual cafe with very good food.
There’s plenty more to do in Denmark and the Great Southern but it’s off to the Albany Airport – a 40 minute drive away). The Skywest schedule enables you to get to Perth in time to make a same day connection with the eastern states.
TEXT PETER FORRESTAL PHOTOGRAPHY LAKE HOUSE.
This article is from the August/September 2012 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.