The best of the west - and lots more

West Australian Wine Guide 2009- Ray Jordan

By Robyn Lewis
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Margaret River in Western Australia produces many award winning wines

Margaret River in Western Australia produces many award winning wines

Autumn vines, Margaret River vineyard, Western Australia
Ray Jordan's WA Wine Guide 2009

Ray Jordan's WA Wine Guide 2009 - his 7th annual guide to West Australian wines - is a must-have for anyone buying or interested in the wines of Western Australia.

Ray Jordan is a wine author of nearly 30 years' standing, writing for The West Australian and The West Australian Saturday Magazine, and contributing to Winestate magazine.  He also co-authored a book on Margaret River. 6 PR radio wine show host,  judge at the Swan Valley Wine Show, Barossa Wine Show, Perth Hills Wine Show, Geographe Wine Show and the Sheraton Wine Awards, Ray was also the winner of the WA Wine Press Club wine writing award and in 2006 was awarded the George Mulgrue Award for contribution to the WA wine industry. Whew. Apparently he's a great bloke as well.

So we can expect his recommendations to be good, and his regional coverage comprehensive.

2008 was generally a good vintage in the west. Some areas suffered from a heatwave at Christmas 2007, and from sporadic hail in parts of Margaret River. But according to Jordan, most reported near-perfect conditions, especially in the south. Many whites are already on winestore shelves; the reds are mostly still maturing. The wines in the 2009 guide are mostly from previous and (for 2006 especially) more challenging vintages.

Like Tasmania, Queensland and parts of Victoria, WA's wine industry is comprised of mainly smaller winemakers, and they are certainly well represented in the 234 producers contained in this year's guide. This is about half of those listed on VisitVineyards.com; however the book would be too big for the glovebox/handbag if double in size. It's already pretty heavy - and it packs a powerful punch.

Jordan tasted nearly 1000 wines in a five-week period for the tasting notes, including as many of the current releases as possible. This challenge means that not every wine can be covered, and some had only recently been bottled, but Jordan stresses that 'everyone gets a fair go' - and no reason why not.

In his introductory section there are tips on tasting wines, and a section of value-for-money wines - for some time WA wines have had the reputation for being expensive, but according to Jordan the increase in plantings and new players entering the wine scene has meant more well-priced, good value wines are now available. He lists his picks of five reds and five whites under A$15, with Houghton's Chenin Blanc White Classic 2007 (Swan Valley) scoring a top 89 points, and nine reds and ten whites between A$15-20, with Brown Hill Estate Shiraz Chaffers 2007 from Margaret River scoring 92 points - his best value wine of the year - and Scotts Brook Chardonnay 2007 from Blackwood Valley 90 points; all excellent value for money indeed.

Then to selecting the 'best of the west', a task in which Jordan has had plenty of practice.  However in the varieties in which some say the west excels - chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon especially - he says the task was very difficult, whereas other categories produced clear winners. His red wine of the year is Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, and the white Pierro Chardonnay 2006, both from Margaret River and against some pretty serious contenders.  You'll have to buy the book to read the rest: for the reds, the best merlot, alternative variety (nebbiolo for the curious), shiraz, shiraz-viognier, blended red and pinot noir.

On the latter, there is something of a tendency in the eastern states to forget that the southern regions of WA - especially around Denmark, Pemberton, Mt Barker and Albany -  are cool-climate and can produce very fine pinots indeed, Wignalls being one of the better known. I've recently attended both a global pinot noir convention and an international cool climate wine show; at neither was there a WA pinot in sight (lesson - turn up and show the flag, guys, or at least submit your wines, unless of course you can sell all your production in the west or overseas).

Ditto Riesling, more often associated with the Clare and Eden Valleys, NE Victoria and Tasmania. Other whites are well known from WA, including semillon, sauvignon blanc, SSB blend, verdelho, chenin blanc and viognier - indeed my standout Australian viognier to date is a WA example, capturing the apricot nuances of Condrieu better than other regions in Australia have so far managed. Then of course there is a huge lineup of chardonnays, in which Margaret River excels, and even a muscat from John Kosovich in the Swan Valley, whose rare wines I have also been fortunate to taste.

And I'm only on page 19! New is a section on matching five wine varieties to food - perhaps a bit general, but a useful guide with some interesting suggestions to try out. The balance of the guide is divided into nine colour-coded regional sections, from the oldest wine region in WA only 20 minutes from the city, Swan Valley, then south through Perth Hills, Peel and Geographe to the massive Margaret River, which by necessity takes up nearly half the book, with 118 producers including many Australian icons like Leewin Estate, Moss Wood, Cullens, Voyager Estate, Cape Mentelle and more, plus many new names.

Then it's round the cape (Leeuwin) to Blackwood Valley, Pemberton and Manjimup, and to the sub-regions of Great Southern. All regions have tourist information, and all entries have cellar door opening hours, restaurant and contact information, making this book useful for the wine tourist as well as the urban wine drinker. The directory ads add, rather than dominate or detract, and right at the end are regional maps,  with Margaret River's having as many wine glass symbols per square cm as you would see anywhere. Such is the importance of wine to WA's tourism industry and indeed its non-mining economy.

In my wine book collection I also have The Wine Traveller's Guide to Western Australia (2003) by another journalist Mark Mentiplay and A Guide to Touring the Wine Regions of Western Australia (2001) by Duncan Gardner and Julie Williamson. The former is not dissimilar to Jordan's guide, but is more a directory with lots of information and fewer wine scores and recommendations. For me it's more a useful backup reference than one I would carry around the regions - especially if hand-luggage weight were a consideration - although it does list nearby accommodations and attractions. Gardner and Williamson, who stress the independence of their guide,  took this one step further and include restaurant information, local history and lots more, although both are probably a bit dated by now.

To fully research the west, or if you are fortunate enough to live there, all three may well be useful (for those who enjoy print), but Ray Jordan's WA Wine Guide 2009 certainly does it for me. It's well designed and illustrated, and sure makes me want to head not only to the bottleshop to see if I can score some finds, but west again sometime very soon.

 

Ray Jordan's WA Wine Guide 2009  is published by The West Australian (2009). RRP A$29.95. VisitVineyards.com/Winepros Archive Subscribers can purchase this book at 12.5% discount from our book partners, Seekbooks (postage extra).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regions

  • Albany (WA)
  • Blackwood Valley (WA)
  • Denmark (WA)
  • Frankland River (WA)
  • Geographe (WA)
  • Great Southern (WA)
  • Manjimup (WA)
  • Margaret River (WA)
  • Mount Barker (WA)
  • Peel (WA)
  • Pemberton (WA)
  • Perth Hills (WA)
  • Porongurup (WA)
  • Swan District (WA)
  • Swan Valley (WA)
  • South West WA (WA)

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April 10th, 2009
 
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