Check out the cellar doors and explore the tastes of this burgeoning Western Australian region.
The Great Southern wineries are a four-hour drive from Perth through wheatfields and paddocks, interspersed with tall marri, karri and tuart trees. Orderly rows of vivid-green grapevines announce your arrival in Mount Barker, the gateway to this largely unexplored area of Western Australia. A car is a must, as the country’s largest wine region is quite scattered, comprising five subregions – Frankland River, Mount Barker, Porongurup, Albany and Denmark – with the chilly Southern Ocean lapping at the latter two coastal towns.
It’s this Antarctic influence that differentiates the Great Southern from the better-known Margaret River region, which benefits from the warm waters and gentle breezes of the Indian Ocean. The Great Southern’s cold maritime climate is perfect for producing lime-fresh riesling and spicy, mid-weight shiraz. Chardonnay and the cabernet family also respond to the Southern Ocean’s cooling influences.
The area’s first vines were planted in 1965 in an experimental plot at what is now Forest Hill Vineyard. A decade later, Tony Smith of Plantagenet Wines built the region’s first winery.
The Great Southern’s early wines were made in the Swan Valley under the auspices of Jack Mann of Houghton Wines fame. The label’s tribute to the winemaker, the Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon, first released in 1994, is sourced from the Justin Vineyard in the somewhat cooler Frankland River subregion. The vineyard is also responsible for some outstanding rieslings that pop up under numerous brands and labels.
Like many pioneering wine regions, take-up in the Great Southern was initially cautious. As momentum gathered during the 1980s, Howard Park, Castle Rock Estate Wines and Frankland Estate Wines joined Alkoomi Wines and Galafrey Wines, both founded in the 1970s. And there has always been interplay (and sometimes fierce rivalry) between the Great Southern and Margaret River regions, with producers such as Houghton, Howard Park and Larry Cherubino Wines maintaining a foot in both vinous camps.
One of the joys of the Great Southern is its slower pace; vineyards are spread across the region, visitor numbers are modest and vignerons have time for a chat about the weather, life and, of course, their wines. The towns of Albany and Denmark offer good eating, drinking and accommodation. And the drive from Cape Leeuwin to Albany is a must-do for the awe-inspiring beauty of Madfish Bay (which gave its name to Burch Family Wines’ MadFish range) and the towering eucalypts of the Valley of the Giants in the Walpole Wilderness. Just remember to buy a few bottles of local wine to take home the experience.
Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward
2014 / $85
This bordeaux-inspired red is named after Californian professor Dr Harold Olmo, who identified Frankland River as prime viticultural land back in the 1950s. Cabernet franc leads the way with red-liquorice and dark-plum highlights, backed by deep, savoury tannins. Lamb backstrap, please.
Laissez Faire Chardonnay
2015 / $40
Larry Cherubino “lets it be” with his playful Laissez Faire series, which includes an energetic pinot blanc, a nashi-pear-flavoured fiano and this texturally rich, savoury chardonnay. With hints of white nectarine and oatmeal biscuit, it would go perfectly with a chicken tagine.
Howard Park Scotsdale Shiraz
2015 / $46
Janice McDonald produces two sets of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon to clearly demonstrate the regional differences between the Great Southern and Margaret River. The Scotsdale Shiraz (Great Southern) tells of red berries, dark cherries and warm spices. Team it with beef bourguignon.
West Cape Howe Hannah’s Hill Cabernet Malbec
2015 / $22
Gavin Berry has hit the bullseye with this intense blend. Classic cabernet sauvignon blackcurrant meets the earthier dark-plum flavours of malbec. The tannins are fine and smooth, with sufficient oomph to match a Wagyu burger with the lot.
Castle Rock Estate Porongurup Riesling
2016 / $21
Second-generation winegrower Robert Diletti brings purity and precision to his wines. His 2016 riesling has citrus-blossom and fresh lime aromas, with tangy lemon sorbet flavours and a fine thread of mineral acidity. It’s well suited to fish and chips.
This is where Great Southern winemaking began. Check out the trophy cabinet, which tells the story of the region and its wines.
Drink now Three Lions Riesling
Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon
There are two cellar doors where you can taste Alkoomi’s benchmark wines: at the Frankland River vineyard and on Stirling Terrace in downtown Albany. Don’t miss the opportunity.
Drink now White Label Riesling
Even the resident geese walk in single file at this great cellar door just seven kilometres from Denmark.
Drink now Great Southern Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
Cellar Single Vineyard Frankland River Shiraz
The Tudor-style architecture is at odds with the landscape but the wines are sophisticated and immensely drinkable.
Drink now Empirica Uvaggio GMS
Cellar Il Liris Rouge
Winemaker James Kellie cut his teeth at Howard Park. His Harewood Estate range offers an extraordinary quality-for-dollar quotient.
Drink now Denmark Pinot Noir
Cellar Reserve Shiraz
SEE ALSO: One Perfect Weekend in Margaret River
Top image: Castelli Estate winery on the scenic slopes of Mount Shadforth, near Denmark. Bottom image: Harewood Estate.
Photography credit: Guy Bailey (wines)