Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Little Love for Leeuwin Estate

Knowing that our stay in Margaret River was, sadly, going to be such a short one, I needed to do a bit of homework to decide which wineries needed to be "absolute must visits" on our list. Virtually every person that I spoke to immediately said Leeuwin Estates. Even with my limited knowledge of the region, I'd already known of Leeuwin's pre-eminent stature. I'd been aware of the name for some years; however, I actually had an opportunity to try some of the winery's Art Series Chardonnay 3 or 4 years ago at an Australia Wine Appreciation Society tasting back in Vancouver. The AWAS event was "The Great Chardonnay Taste-Off" where 15 or so Chardonnays from Australia and the world were blind tasted and ranked by society members. The Leeuwin Estate bottle was, by far, the favourite of the evening - both on my card and by the group.

I was hoping to enjoy a good dose of Leeuwin during our little trip. Getting there, however, was a bit of trial. We were taking advantage of an intriguing car service program that operates in the region. You drive your own car out to the event, but no one needs to commit to being a designated driver because a sober third party driver comes by to chauffeur you home in your own car. In essence, you only need to be concerned about the cost of a cab one way, plus your car is there for you in the morning. Ingenious.

But that service was for the way home. Just as we started out on our journey to Leeuwin, it started to rain - and I mean monsoon-like rain - and here we were driving unknown country roads, in the dark, hardly being able to see the road ahead of us, all the time worrying about kangaroos jumping out in front of the car (as everyone had been warning us). Luckily, Marco (our handy dandy GPS) worked his wonders and we made it in tact. But, wouldn't you know it, the rain was coming down torrentially as we pulled into the parking lot. Despite running Olympic qualifying times to make it to the building, we were all completely soaked as we were greeted at the door. Oh yes, we have a lovely table for drowned rats right over here.

1124. 2008 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River - Australia)

As drenched as we were, we all needed a little something to wet our whistle and we decided to go straight to the top. Why not? Often called the best Chardonnay in Australia, I figured we deserved it and I can guarantee you that you'll never be able to enjoy a bottle of it in a restaurant for a better price. The winery restaurant actually charges the same price as they do at the cellar door.

Still owned and operated by the Horgan family, Leeuwin Estate was established in 1969 when the lands were purchased and converted from cattle station to vineyards. As Margaret River was only just starting to be developed as a wine region, the Horgans engaged Californian top dog, Robert Mondavi, as a consultant when he indicated interest in developing the area's potential.

Leeuwin's flagship wines are all released as part of the Art Series, a tradition that was based on the Château Mouton Rothschild collection of wines and labels. Since the first Art Series label was released in 1980, Leeuwin has showcased over 100 paintings and artworks - pieces that were both commissioned and discovered in galleries. All the pieces were created by leading contemporary Australian artists and the winery has a gallery to showcase the pieces used on its labels.

There are five varietals made with Art Series labels - Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay - but it is the Chardy that is the most acknowledged star. This is a quality Chardonnay, made for ageing - or, as we found out, immediate enjoyment. I'm not a point chaser and would never claim to posses a palate that can differentiate a 96 point wine from a 94, from a 93+, but I do know a well made - and tasty - wine and I'll just have to accede to the fact that a particular wine is right up there when every single wine writer seems to shower it with praise and high scores. This is one of those wines. Fruit, body, integrated oak, cutting acidity - it's all there.

Enjoying it at the winery itself is just a bonus.

1125. 2005 Leeuwin Estates Prelude Vineyards Cabernet Merlot (Margaret River - Australia)

In honour of Merlot Boy's attendance, we ordered up the Cab/Merlot blend next. The Prelude Vineyards label is somewhat more affordable (certainly when compared to the Art Series) - closer to a $30 range. Made very much in a style more reminiscent of Old World Bordeaux than a fruit forward New World Aussie wine, we quickly ploughed our way through this as it proved a worthy companion to some very tender beef.

1126. 2009 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Shiraz (Margaret River - Australia)

Perhaps a little bit to our server's dismay, we still had dessert and some time to go before our driver was scheduled to come by. Guess that could only mean another bottle. Back to the Art Series and, this time, to Shiraz. Once again, the cooler climate of Margaret River shone through in that this is a Shiraz quite distinct from the much bigger wines we'd encountered in the Barossa and even McLaren Vale. The tannins were more subtle and the fruit more red than black. When drawn together with some savoury spice notes, it presented quite a contrast to the bigger Shiraz wines that I've come to associate with - and indeed enjoy from - Australia. It's a contrast that I may need to mull over some before making any decisions about. I'd would like to see what the wine is like with a bit of age on it though. This was still quite fresh.

The only unfortunate aspect of our visit to Leeuwin (other than our original waitress who seemed in a determined rush to get us through dinner) was that we didn't get an opportunity to take in the winery itself. I had hoped to visit the winery during the day as well to check out the grounds, the tasting room and the Art Series Gallery. The winery is supposedly quite stunning but we didn't get a chance to experience it all in on our dark and stormy night. Despite the possibility that we could make it happen, I wasn't going to hold my breath regarding the chance of making it back during the next day but the hope will always be there that I can revisit Leeuwin for a more encompassing stay.

For the mean time, I was quite content with our little visit. It was a great way to finish off our initial foray into Margaret River.

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