It was not surprising the standard of wines submitted for this year’s Guide was so high. Coming off the back of some superb vintages, such as 2014 and 2015, the wines rose to impressive heights, yet again reflecting just how good wines are in Western Australia.
Needless to say it was a battle royale in deciding which of these wines would be my best of the best. As always the decision was an agonising one as I went back over the second bottles in the taste-off to decide my ultimate choice.
For Vasse Felix it was the case of so near-so far yet again as its outstanding Heytesbury chardonnay 2015 was just pipped by the amazing Deep Woods Reserve cabernet sauvignon 2014.
Now here’s the thing. In both cases – Deep Woods and Vasse Felix – I am convinced neither has produced a better wine than these two. In the case of Vasse Felix, this is a journey that started 50 years ago in 1967.
This year it was the reds that excelled. The cabernets coming from a number of regions are quite superb, with the Margaret River deluxe names being joined by some excellent examples from Frankland River.
But the chardonnays were not far behind, once again demonstrating that in Margaret River, WA has one of the truly great chardonnay regions of the world.
I think you’ll find some pretty decent wines in here to enjoy until next year’s Guide.
It was a close tussle with the great Vasse Felix Heytesbury chardonnay but in the end this marvellous wine just snuck in. Stunning.
Runner-up: Vasse Felix Heytesbury chardonnay 2015 ($75)
Deep Woods Reserve cabernet sauvignon 2014 ($65)
The wines of Deep Woods have been steadily improving since the place was acquired by Peter Fogarty, who was able to build on the excellent site and fundamentally sound vineyard. The reds from this site are brilliant and this cabernet has pushed the boundaries of excellence.
Runner-up: Houghton Jack Mann 2013 ($100).
Vasse Felix Heytesbury chardonnay 2015 ($75)
With this exceptional chardonnay Virginia Willcock and the team have taken things to an altogether new plane of excellence. The degree of palate complexity and intensity combined with how it delivers through to a long finish is brilliant. A modern chardonnay with underlying Margaret River power.
Runner-up: Flowstone Queen of the Earth chardonnay 2013 ($55).
Castelli Frankland cabernet sauvignon 2014 ($32)
This isn’t a budget priced wine – the recommended retail is about $32 – but when you consider how good it is, then it has to get the nod. It is an exceptional wine that points to the emergence of Frankland River as a cabernet producing region of the highest order. Great wine for the price.
Runner-up: Houghton Crofters shiraz 2014 ($20).
It was another big tasting this year with the 600 wines crammed into about three weeks. Challenging, because it takes a lot of time to taste each wine and then enter all the important data and parameters into my database, but also a good thing because it brings the tastings together into a tighter format.
One of the problems of tasting wines so close to when they were bottled is they could be suffering bottle shock, but I was pleased I saw this in only a few wines. Any I thought weren’t showing their best because of the impact of recent bottling were brought back and a second bottle tasted.
As always second bottles of each wine that scores very high points are set aside for subsequent taste-offs to choose the best in each category. Yet again, the number of exceptional wines in most made it a very difficult exercise.
It is important to do this because, unlike a wine show which takes a couple of days, I taste over quite a long period and I want to make sure variables, including how I feel on the days and tiredness, are taken out of the equation.
The end result is a collection of fabulous wines that I trust you will enjoy.
Higher Plane fiano 2016 ($25)
Often wondered why more of this southern Italian variety has not been grown in Australia. It works so well and suits our cuisine. This is lovely with its crisp flavoursome palate showing some nice spices and good fruit intensity. Lingers long in the mouth with a minerally purity. Nice crunch on the finish after a subtle creamy middle palate.
Runner-up: Vineyard 28 arneis 2016 ($22).
Vasse Felix Heytesbury chardonnay 2015 ($75)
Oh my, this is seriously good. The chardonnays at Vasse Felix have been on the up for a number of years but it’s hard to remember a better one. Such intensity, such power and yet such elegance and poise. The fruit is expressed with exquisite precision on the palate with the pristine nectarine and crunchy lemony pear and subtle grapefruit a compelling combination. A smidgeon of toasty oak completes a stunning wine.
Runner-up: Flowstone Queen of the Earth chardonnay 2013 ($55), Woodlands Chloe chardonnay 2015 ($90), Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber chardonnay 2013 ($100), Leeuwin Estate Art Series chardonnay 2013 ($104).
Bella Ridge chenin blanc 2011 ($28.50)
Here is compelling evidence why this variety is often drunk too early. Gets a little bit of oak in the making and has been held back before release. The result is a rather wonderful expression of the variety. Has an exotic mix of tropical fruits laced with minerals and a little toasty nuttiness. Rich and flavoursome, but still with a piercing fine acidity.
Runner-up:Peel Estate Wood Matured chenin blanc 2012 ($25), Aravina Estate Single Vineyard Block 4 chenin blanc 2015 ($34), Houghton White Classic 2015 ($15).
Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2015 ($40)
Another thrilling example of Frankland’s great Riesling from this outstanding vineyard. Crunchy vibrant and so lively. Dances across the tongue with lemon zest and a lift of wet slaty minerality. Very long and clean in the mouth. Great drinking now but with plenty of cellaring potential.
Runner-up:Castle Rock Estate Porongurup Riesling 2016 ($21), Clos du Tertre Single Vineyard Riesling 2016, Abbey Creek Riesling 2015 ($25).
Flowstone sauvignon blanc 2014 ($32)
A really interesting take on sauvignon blanc with old oak fermentation and then extended time in oak with lees stirring. You can see this immediately in the palate which has a more old-worldly feeling and character. Tends to mute the primary fruit characters and create something significantly more interesting and appealing. Love the style.
Runner-up:Watershed Senses sauvignon blanc 2015 ($29.95), Brash Vineyard sauvignon blanc 2015 ($22.95), Glenarty Road Karridale Fume Blanc 2016 ($30).
Moss Wood semillon 2015 ($38)
Quite simply consistently one of the finest semillons produced in Australia. It comes from old Wilyabrup vines in the heart of Margaret River. Lemony and racy with a super intense and very long palate held with controlled precision. Lightly herbaceous but the fruit has a delicious purity.
Runner-up: Myattsfield semillon 2015 ($20), Barton Jones The Box Seat semillon 2015 ($24), Ashbrook Estate semillon 2016 ($25).
Sittella Methode Traditionnelle chardonnay pinot noir 2012 ($32 )
This excellent sparkling wine from chardonnay and pinot noir has spent 50 months on lees so is starting to show that autolysis character of meaty mealy biscuit. It’s an excellent wine with a deep and complete palate and an impressively long finish. This is a high-class sparkling wine.
Runner-up: Smithbrook The Yilgarn blanc de blancs 2011 ($35), Old Kent River Diamondtina 2006 ($50), Myattsfield Blanc de Noirs 2012 ($30).
Faber Vineyard verdelho 2009 ($42.50)
This is a re-release of a wine I originally liked on release some years ago. It’s why the guys in the Swan have always championed this variety as a drink now or cellaring proposition. This is so good. Developed a hint of toasty character but there is still primary verdelho in there. Just a gorgeous example of a mature Swan verdelho. I just wish I had kept some.
Runner-up: Mandoon Estate verdelho 2015 ($22.50), Sittella The Calling verdelho 2016 ($19).
Domaine Naturaliste Sauvage sauvignon blanc semillon 2014 ($30)
Really impressive blended white with which winemaker Bruce Dukes uses French oak fermentation and maturation to create a complex wine of deep intensity and layered palate structure. Has a delightful fresh ear and lemon character with a little vanilla bean interest. Excellent wine as an alternative to the norm.
Runner-up: Vasse Felix sauvignon blanc Semillon 2015 ($24), Streicker sauvignon blanc semillon 2012 ($30), Cullen Vineyard sauvignon blanc semillon 2014 ($35).
Deep Woods Reserve cabernet sauvignon 2014 ($65)
These reserve Deep Woods cabernets have been on the top shelf for some time now and this is another cracker that is as good as any produced so far. A striking feature is the balance and how well the oak tannin and fruit have come together into a powerful collective that effortlessly punches out to the long finish. The most elegant and stylish yet, and a marvellous statement of what this part of Margaret River can do. Outstanding.
Runner-up: Houghton Jack Mann 2013 ($100), Moss Wood cabernet sauvignon 2013 ($125), Castelli cabernet sauvignon 2014 ($34), Woodlands Benjamin cabernet sauvignon 2013 ($150).
John Kosovich Rare muscat ($110/375ml)
Thankfully I tasted this at the end of the day and needless to say I didn’t leave much in the bottle. Glorious statement of this famous Swan Valley style. Multi-layered complexity of toffee and luscious honey and raisins. There’s stone fruit, vanilla bean and licorice swirling through the thick unctuous palate. Has been freshened with some younger material to add some zip to the finish. Average age of the wine is 25 years with the base blend of vintages between 1974 and 1996. Quite simply outstanding.
Runner-up: Talijancich Julian James White Liqueur ($38/500ml).
Talisman merlot 2014 ($35)
This is a breakthrough merlot for Talisman. It’s come from an excellent year and the use of three different clones. The result is a wine of extreme elegance and stylishness. Highly perfumed notes of red fruit and violet with a beautifully cedary oak infusion. The palate is a glorious combination that captures the variety with its refinement and poise. Super wine.
Runner-up: Moss Wood Ribbon Vale merlot 2013 ($60), Higher Plane merlot 2011 ($38).
Karriview Vineyard by Paul Nelson Wines pinot noir 2015 ($62)
What a gorgeous pinot noir this is. Lifted and quite beautifully fragrant violet and cherry notes on the nose. The palate is medium to light bodied but it has poise and structured presentation with firmish chalky tannins, fine grained oak and silky smooth fruit. Outstanding release from a guy we are going to hear a lot more from.
Runner-up: Robert Bowen Pemberton pinot noir 2015 ($45), Castle Rock Great Southern pinot noir 2015 ($32), Batista Estate pinot noir 2012 ($50).
EVOI The Satyr Reserve 2013 ($55)
Stunning wine that opens with beautiful floral perfumed notes on the nose. The palate shows characters of blackcurrant and subtle black olive. It is a work of art with a complex weave of tannin and oak in support. So beautifully balanced and poised with those chalky tannins holding things perfectly.
Runner-up: McHenry Hohnen Rolling Stone 2013 ($90), Cullen Diana Madeline 2014 ($125).
Bella Ridge Bella rosé 2012 ($26)
This is anything but a stock standard rosé. It’s made from tempranillo, a variety that is well suited to the style. It gets some barrel fermentation. It all stacks up so beautifully with a spicy and slightly gingery character. Great texture and rich mouthfeel with tremendous length on the palate.
Runner-up: Glenarty Road Karridale rosé 2016 ($23), Willow Bridge Estate Rosa De Solana tempranillo rosé 2016 ($25).
Amelia Park Reserve shiraz 2013 ($29)
Seductive floral blueberry lift on the nose takes this excellent shiraz into another heady zone. It’s from Frankland River and those characteristic powdery graphite tannins are clearly evident. So lavish and smooth with the integration of oak and tannin superbly managed. Has a dry gravelly character that balances the sweet fruit of the palate.
Runner-up: Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge shiraz 2014 ($40), Voyager Estate shiraz 2014 ($38), Swinney Tirra Lirra shiraz 2015 ($35).
Upper Reach tempranillo 2015 ($30)
The fruit for this first-rate tempranillo is sourced from the Chittering Valley. Has a lifted cherry and light raspberry character with a touch of savoury oak. The palate is medium bodied with a linear mouthfeel of savoury dry tannins and subtle oak adding to the cherry and raspberry flavours of the fruit. Thoroughly enjoyable wine for the short term.
Runner-up: Woodgate tempranillo 2014 ($24), Willow Bridge Estate Solana tempranillo 2014 ($25).