If world class riesling and peppery shiraz make your taste buds tingle, head to the Great Southern for a weekend of winery touring in Mount Barker and the Porongurup Range.
Warm days and cool nights are not just ideal travelling conditions, but perfect for the happiness and wellbeing of riesling and shiraz vines. In the Mount Barker region, these are the drops to watch out for. The long, cool ripening period gives both varieties an intensity of flavour that consistently impresses wine judges around the country. Which is not to say that chardonnay, pinot, cabernet and other varieties should be passed over on the cellar door trail because this wine-growing region, which is one of the oldest in the Great Southern, has perfected more than a few tricks in the past 30 years.
Gilberts Wines is a good entry point to the wine trail in the Great Southern. About 18km north of Mount Barker on the Albany Highway, you can ease into the experience here, not just sampling wine (pit the Reserve Shiraz and the lighter Three Devils Shiraz against each other, and definitely try the riesling) but filling up on hearty, seasonal fare at the cafe, which is the only winery restaurant in the region and opens daily between 10am and 5pm.
The rest of the Mount Barker wine-tasting experience should feature visits to the big guns – Goundrey, Plantagenet and Goundrey’s stablemate, Fox River. At Goundrey, free winery tours offer an insight into the winemaking process, from picking to the bottling line. And while many of you have undoubtedly tried the unwooded chardonnay, take this opportunity to taste the new internationally acclaimed Offspring range, plus the reserve riesling and the cabernet – “one of WA’s biggest kept secrets”, according to the marketers.
At Plantagenet’s charming cellar door, the stainless steel liquid chalkboard tempts with a range of riesling, chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet and Eros rosé among others. Some of these wines are made in comparatively small quantities so they don’t flood the restaurant wine lists. Make the most of the access to the whole range including some very good cool weather fortifieds, which are only available at the cellar door.
It’s worth overshooting the Porongorups turnoff to visit Tower Hill on the other side of town, where the modestly priced range includes some stunning flavours, especially in the chardonnay. Tip: here’s where to pick up a sweeter style riesling if you’re heading out to enjoy a fabulous meal at Maleeya’s Thai on the Porongorups Road.
And just before you get to Maleeya’s, Duke’s winery has the perfect drop to help any celebration. They’re the first in the Great Southern to produce a sparkling riesling, and the 2004 Sparkling Shiraz is also new.
The flavours of the wines produced in the Porongurup Range differ from winery to winery due to climactic conditions, which vary dramatically within this tiny region. A series of microclimates dictated by rain shadows, height, slope and aspect give a subtle uniqueness to each of the vineyards from Jingalla to Spring View to Zaraphath. At Castle Rock, 300m above sea level and east facing, the dry winter and cool easterlies have meant a longer ripening period and greater fruit intensity. The riesling, which has always been a flagship here, is facing some competition from the pinot, a big performer at the recent wine shows. Eight other vineyards have their wine made here by Rob Diletti. And if you choose to visit a few of them during your day of Porongurup wine touring, you can also order a picnic hamper from Castle Rock to enjoy either in the grounds or on one of the many walk trails along the way.
Jingalla departs from the script a bit with its cabernet rouge, a fruity, chilled wine favoured by the young. Its sauvignon blanc verdelho blend is also popular, and if you’re looking for an experience you can’t get in the bottle shops, just ask at the cellar door and you’ll be treated to a few aged rieslings and verdelhos from the archives that aren’t available elsewhere.
Who to call:
Castle Rock, Porongurup Road, Porongurup, (08) 9853 1035.
Duke’s Vineyard, Porongorup Road, Mount Barker, (08) 9853 1107.
Fox River, Albany Highway, Mount Barker (08) 9851 2464.
Gilberts, Albany Highway, Kendenup, (08) 9851 4028.
Goundrey, Muirs Highway, Mount Barker, (08) 9892 1777.
Jingalla, Bolganup Dam Road, Porongurup, (08) 9853 1103.
Plantagenet, Albany Highway, Mount Barker, (08) 9851 2150.