Introduction By Ray Jordan

Introduction by Ray Jordan

When the depth, consistency, range and quality of the wines Western Australia is producing these days is considered, there is strong evidence and justifiable claim that this state is making Australia’s best wines. For me the evidence is compelling, based on the 600odd wines submitted for this year’s Guide.

It seems these days quality and consistency of WA wines are almost taken for granted given the succession of excellent vintages – although 2016 did present some challenges (see the Vintage Report on page 16), the maturing vines and the attention to detail in the vineyard and wineries.

While that may be true, there are subtle things happening which point to an exciting future for the industry.

Much of this has to do with the styles of wines being produced these days. To illustrate this, it is best to highlight a few varieties and the changes.

Chardonnay, especially coming from Margaret River, has for some time shown a lightening off in weight, but at the same time it has not compromised the intensity and power of these wines. There has been a definite trend around Australia in recent years towards finer and more delicate chardonnays. Unfortunately, many of these wines have been so stripped back in palate weight and structure, they have appeared sour and insipid.

It is almost impossible to do that with Margaret River chardonnays, so winemakers have simply tweaked things to refine and modernise the style, while maintaining the integrity of the style. The great names are producing great wines but even more encouraging is the emergence of new names, which simply adds to the depth of the region and provides so much wonderful expression of this great white variety.

Cabernet is another variety that has seen some changes and this was clearly evident this year in the tastings for the Guide.

The power and awesome richness of the cabernets of Margaret River is well documented. But there has been a refinement and polish that has taken these to another level. Winemakers and vignerons are continuing to push these great wines to another level.

But further south exciting things are happening, particularly in Frankland River and Mount Barker where some exceptional cabernets are being made. The Frankland region as a whole has come of age with the benefit of mature vines, and I suspect changes to winemaking that have captured the terroirs and

regionality of this area to provide a point of difference with those from the warmer Margaret River area.

Shiraz too was very good this year. Winemakers in Frankland, especially, are making wines that display poise, and vineyard and regional character that is getting closer to that of the great wines of Rhone they once were. More often than not it was as if I tasted a direct connection from the palate back to the source in the vineyard with distinct vineyard characters and differences.

The shiraz of Margaret River has also shown marked improvement, while maintaining their own individual regional style that is quite different from Frankland and other areas further south.

Pinot noir is another red variety that has shown great recent promise. It is a tricky variety and some submitted this year are exceptional and promising.

A surprising feature this year was there were not many basic unwooded classic blends of semillon and sauvignon blanc submitted. Winemakers are still making these as an entry point but increasingly are also producing wines that use a little oak and sometimes wild yeast and extended lees ageing to produce wines of greater complexity and interest.

Some of these have been really impressive and remind us that when made well with quality fruit and a little more winemaking influence they can be very appealing wines for ageing over five to 10 years.

Of course, quality is one thing. The challenge remains reaching the consumer. Competition continues to be intense at all levels with the bigger retail chains squeezing margins to get the best deals into the market. It makes it tough for producers.

The number of online selling sites has created another important outlet for wines, but to a large extent it is a product of the times and the result of the difficulty producers have in getting their wines to market.

Many producers would rather take a haircut on their prices with these online sellers to at least get some money for their stock than let it sit in the winery. Many of these wines sell for less than it would have cost to grow, make and bottle. The problem with selling through these channels is it resets price expectations and effectively devalues the brand. It is a problem many wineries also faced in the past through traditional retail outlets, and the challenge is in reclaiming lost brand equity and getting prices back up where they should be.