Recently the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown singled out “eight stellar” Western Australia producers “who are killing-it when it comes to innovation, quality and coaxing the terroir into the bottle: Cloudburst, Cullen, Frankland Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood, Peccavi, Plantagenet and Woodlands.” (Western Australia Killing-it, 4 March 2016, eRobertparker.com)
To see Margaret River pioneer Leeuwin Estate on this list is, of course, no surprise. Still owned by its founders Denis and Tricia Horgan and now under the direction of their children and grandchildren, Leeuwin Estate has enjoyed an enviable reputation for its world-class wines for over 30 years. Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine, for example, lists a staggering 16 vintages, dating back to 1987, as top vintages for the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay – one of only 21 Australian wines ranked “Exceptional” in the classification.
But while Leeuwin Estate has stuck to its knitting, so to speak, by keeping the focus on what does it best – chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon – innovation is still at the forefront of their winemaking approach. Indeed, one of the highlights of a recent Vintage Cellars Double Bay Masterclass with winemaker Phil Hutchison was a single variety not usually associated with Western Australia – the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Sauvignon Blanc 2014.
Typically, Margaret River producers blend sauvignon blanc with semillon to create a Bordeaux-style white wine. But the 2014 Leeuwin Estate Art Series vintage is 100% sauvignon blanc. As Hutchison explained, the sauvignon blanc grapes are actually sourced from an 18 year-old vineyard about 20 km south of Margaret River. Here the evening southerly winds dramatically cool down the vineyards overnight, extending the ripening period just enough to significantly lift the subtle lemon, lime and apple aromatics in the wine. Innovative winemaking techniques, like 50% fermentation in 1-2 year old oak barrels with regular battonage or lees stirring, create a wonderfully seductive mouthfeel for this fresh but sophisticated style of sauvignon blanc. Definitely a reason to look twice at Western Australia next time you’re in the market for sauvignon blanc!
Hutchison described the 2013 vintage of the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay as one of the cleanest he’d seen. By this he meant that the hen and chicken berries of the low yielding Gingin clone were correctly balanced, with the little pea-size chicken grapes imparting a lively acidity to the wine and the perfectly golden ripe bigger hen berries giving phenolics and length. The Art Series Chardonnay 2013 is a gorgeously rich but still elegant wine, and its complexity of flavours and textures continued to unfold over the course of the tasting.
My pick of the evening was the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. The consensus in the room was that it was absolutely stunning. American wine critic James Suckling calls this wine “the Mouton-Rothschild of Australia…Incredibly complex aromas of black currants, spice, cigar box and berry. Full body, fantastic palate with round and polished tannins. Goes for minutes. Better in 2017.” (97 points James Suckling, jamessuckling.com, March 2016).
Hutchison couldn’t resist mentioning that the Art Series Cabernet Sauvignons costs about the 10th of the price of a Mouton-Rothschild! I think for quality and pedigree all of the Art Series wines represent excellent value for money!
by Merrill Witt, Editor