Why not go off the beaten track and try some of the lesser-known wine varietals next time you’re in the Margaret River region? Lizzy Pepper has rounded up some fascinating local drops. Images: supplied.
In the Margaret River region’s 50 years of winemaking, producers have sussed out that their cabernet and chardonnay game is particularly strong. But it’s great to play with different varieties – they give colour and diversity to our region’s offering. So, what is an alternative variety wine, and what inspires our winemakers to make them?
Alternative varieties in the Margaret River region are the lesser-known grape types, the ones we’re not (yet) famous for. That’s everything from the gewurztraminer planted in Margaret River back in the 70s when it was groovy, to the Yallingup-grown petit manseng from south west France.
Each winemaker had a different reason for going off piste with varieties. The recurring theme is that they’re having fun, experimenting and indulging their natural curiosity. And we’re lapping it up, giving alternative varieties a great reception at cellar door and in restaurants, according to Mark Warren of Marq Wines.
“There is a growing interest in this region for both alternative varietals and winemaking techniques. It’s really exciting to see winemakers stepping out of the box of convention.”
So if you’re keen to explore and try something different, take an alternative tour of the Margaret River wine region.
FRASER GALLOP ESTATE
The parterre chardonnay is next-level, but if you’re keen to try something different, then our money is on the misceo, a full and fragrant mix of cabernet franc, malbec, merlot and petit verdot.
“We have always blended these varieties in to our cabernet sauvignon, but they are so impressive as a group-of-four that they are now a standalone entity” says winemaker Clive Otto.
If you love cabernet, try the Misceo, says wine critic Campbell Mattinson. “Lovers of cabernet would enjoy this wine. It has structure, it has fruit, it has a seriousness and yet it simply drinks well.”
493 Metricup Road, Wilyabrup.
SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS
Sometimes it’s happy luck that leads to the release of a new wine; the team at Swings and Roundabouts were tasting individual wines ready to make a cabernet blend. The malbec was particularly delicious, and had enough panache to make it as a standalone wine.
The malbec nouveau is reminiscent of a beaujolais nouveau; light and fruity. If you love pinot noir, or you’re not fond of tannins, give it a whirl.
It’s available exclusively at Swings Taphouse, so why not stay for lunch or dinner?
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River.
Sparkling Vermentino and Petit Manseng
Mark Warren loves to experiment with different grapes and styles. Working with varieties such as vermentino, petit manseng, malbec and fiano, Mark makes the sort of food friendly wine he loves to share with friends.
Two years ago he started work making a sparkling wine, and decided to use vermentino for its light, fresh character. “It was very much an experiment and we weren’t sure if we’d release it, but we’re thrilled with the result.”
The sparkling vermentino is smooth, dry and pairs beautifully with oysters.
Mark also teaches wine science in Margaret River, and it was a student who put him onto the French grape petit manseng. By chance he found it growing in Yallingup. It’s a dry, chardonnay-esque wine, fermented in 25% new oak but still retains a unique fruit flavour. Perfect with Asian food or any dish with fresh ginger.
860 Commonage Road, Yallingup.
For Stuart Pym it’s pure serendipity that he’s making alternative wines; his first job in the wine industry was hand-picking gewurztraminer grapes in Margaret River in 1983, back when most vineyards in the region had some in the ground.
The gewurztraminer is beautifully perfumed; try it if you love riesling.
By appointment: 11298 Bussell Highway, Forest Grove.
Mangan East Block and Amber
Famous for their Diana Madeline, it’s worth visiting to taste these two lesser known beauties. Better still, stay for lunch and taste the wines with food.
Winemaker Vanya Cullen says the Mangan East Block came about from applying the principles of fun and good taste. Made from biodynamic petit verdot and malbec, she makes the wines separately, looks at the different personalities and blends accordingly. It’s hard to resist with venison, root vegetables and black pepper sauce.
The amber is made from semillon and sauvignon blanc in the centuries-old style of orange wine. Normally, white wine is taken off skins, but amber skins are left on the grapes for up to 40 days, giving the wine that beautiful amber blush.
4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup.
Wild Fermented Marsanne and Zinfandel
Spike Fokkema has a special claim to fame; at age 13 he cycled from Perth to Prevelly. Prevelly Caravan Park let him camp for free on the condition he handed out flyers once back in Perth. Margaret River always held a special place in his heart.
Spike, wife Lanie and son Ray did plenty of research before choosing which grapes to plant on their Wilyabrup vineyard. “We picked some classics, but also chose some different varietals. We loved the Rhone Valley blends and tasted plenty of French and Australian examples,” said Ray.
Our picks are the wild fermented marsanne, an aromatic white wine made with organic fruit, and the zinfandel.
8 Gale Road, Metricup.
Take a walk on the wild side with these alternative varieties. These wineries don’t have a cellar door, but look for them in the liquor stores, bars and restaurants listed below.
Amato Vino Skinnydip – Sauvignon blanc, but not as you know it. Skin fermented in amphorae.
Dormilona Skinnie – skins are left on, giving this sauvignon blanc a pink hue.
Mr Barval Mistral – Viognier marsanne blend, named after the Rhone Valley breeze.
Mr Barval Nebbia – inspired by Robert Gherardi’s vintages in Barolo, where nebbiolo is king.
Oates Ends Tempranillo – the quintessential BBQ wine; great with smoky, grilled meat.
You’ll find many of the wines here –
Settlers Tavern – 114 Bussell Highway, Margaret River
Settlers Liquor – 110 Bussell Highway, Margaret River
Dunsborough Cellars – 58 Dunn Bay Road, Dunsborough
Cape Cellars – 170 Bussell Highway, West Busselton
The Fire Station – 68 Queen Street, Busselton
The Pour House – 26 Dunn Bay Road, Dunsborough