Wilyabrup; the Rock Star sub-region of the Margaret River!
Picture: Wilyabrup Bluff
It’s the most planted grape varietal in the world and despite its European origins, Australian cabernet sauvignon is widely regarded as being as good as just about any on the planet. From the white pepper jubiness of the Coonawarra to the more robust styles from Padthaway, the Limestone Coast in south eastern South Australia earns international acclaim for the quality of the cabernet it offers. But if you prefer them perfumed and elegant rather than the tannic and bold, there’s no happier hunting ground than Western Australia’s Margaret River region.
Ask any Master of Wine where the world’s best cabernet comes from and I suspect that most will tell you that it’s the left bank of the Gironde River in Bordeaux in France – but ask a parochial Aussie aficionado and I reckon that many will tell you to look for wines from the Wilyabrup sub-region in the Sandgroper’s premier cabernet district. With headline acts like Mosswood, Cullen, Juniper Estate and Vasse Felix, the Wilyabrup story is as impressive as it is irresistible. Located only about 20 kilometres north of the Margaret River, the area enjoys a Mediterranean climate thanks to the cooling south westerly and westerly breezes. Its coastal proximity means that it avoids the extreme temperatures that can make winemaking more challenging and the ancient gravelly loams, wet winters and dry summers make for perfect conditions for cabernet production.
For wine consumers, the success and brand of the region has led to an unfortunate creep in prices for the premium product. Who’d have imagined 20 years ago that local wineries like Cullen would be offering their best cabernet (The Vanya) at a $500 price point? But the good news is that there are lesser known local producers who are making exceptional cabernet that’s available at a fraction of the cost of that of the better established vignerons.
I recently had an opportunity to sample a range of wines by Thompson Estate, an estate that was established by Jane and Peter Thompson in the 1990s. These days, they have over 20 hectares under vine and make a range that includes chardonnay, merlot, semillon, sauvignon blanc and of course, cabernet. Rated a five red star winery by James Halliday, the Thompson wines are regular awardees at well-regarded wine shows. While their chardonnay is sublime, their estate level cabernet is “to die for”! The Thompson “Estate” cabernet sells at $40 to $50 a bottle, but even at that price point, it’s well placed compared to similar wines from the big name competitors.
Pour yourself a glass, give it a swirl and the perfumed nose strikes you in a flurry of fruit pastilles and violets; perhaps due to the integration of 5% cabernet franc. On the palate it’s only medium bodied and offers persistent luscious red berries with hints of mulberries, cassis and a lashing of olives. Through the finish there are fleshy tannins which somewhat pleasingly don’t overwhelm the concentrated red fruits and their savoury edges. It’s the style of wine that works well enough on its own but would be perfectly suited to lamb cutlets on a bed of pine nut cous cous.
The Margaret River is rightly regarded as one of Australia’s best cabernet producing regions, but Wilyabrup is the Rock Star sub-region and if you ask me, sets the benchmark for non-Bordeaux cabernet sauvignon.