Western Australia's Cool Climate Wines

An alternative to the powerful Wines Australia has become famous for.


When one thinks of the wines of Australia it is natural to think first of the regions around the heavily populated, and long settled Southeastern corner of the country, Barossa, the Hunter Valley, the Yarra valley. Each are worthy of ones attention, and represent the historic centers of wine production in Australia, but there is more to Australian wine.

While these regions continue to produce world-class wines, there is an increasing appreciation around the globe for some of the co-called cool climate wines that come from Australia. The coastal regions of South Western Australia, and in particular the Margaret River area and the Frankland River region, which lies within the Great Southern Region, are responsible for some of the country’s most detailed, and finely balanced examples of both red and white wines.

Both regions enjoy temperate climates that put them roughly on par with the temperature swings and hours of sunshine typical of some of the worlds greatest wine regions, Bordeaux being the most famous example. The Margaret River enjoys a somewhat warmer growing season, but the conditions across both regions have proven ideal for the production of fresh, fragrant wines that are poised to convince even the most skeptical consumer that Australia is not only about big, jammy, opulent wines.

South West Australia, what to expect.

With the cooling affects of the Indian Ocean having a direct influence on the coastal regions of South West Australia it's no surprise that the region enjoys a climate that sets it apart from the rest of this great big country. The main climatic features of this region are a cooler summer and the ocean induced rain and cloud cover that the area enjoys. All these effects join together to yield wonderfully fragrant, balanced wines that enjoy a long growing season and mature slowly as the fall temperatures take effect before all of the grape are harvested.
The Australian wine industry is suffering through somewhat of an identity crisis. As a whole, the industry has proven so good at producing their more typical full blown reds at affordable prices that they continue to run into increasing resistance for their premium priced products. Caught up in this affect are the wines of regions far from the epicenter of bulk production, giving the savvy consumer an opportunity to experience the finest wines of the country at some very attractive prices.

While I am a fan of some of the greatest wines of South Eastern Australia, in all their rich, powerful glory, I am increasingly being drawn to the wines emerging from the burgeoning SouthWestern region. Being blessed with such a temperate climate has proven a boon to production in the region as well. While there have been serious draught issues here, as have plagued all of the country, the proximity to the ocean provides for both relatively lower temperatures and heavier cloud cover, easing the effects of evaporation on the lands.

The past several vintages have all been excellent for the majority of Western Australia’s wine regions.  Here is a brief rundown of the vintages you are most likely to encounter on your retailer’s shelves this year.

1999 - A very good year with a fine early growing season though the later part of the season was interrupted by several major storms. The whites were harvested while the fruit still exhibited some of the affects from the storm while the majority of reds enjoyed a fine late season allowing them to recover from the storms and emerge well ripened and balanced. ****

2000 - A year dominated by wet conditions that affected every phase of the vines production from flowering through harvest.  There were some issues with rot and mildew and in general the wines were dilute and exhibited signs of uneven and incomplete ripening. ***

2001 -  A decidedly drier vintage with fairly ideal growing conditions throughout the season. Harvest was a bit early but the fruit was brought in under near perfect conditions. A lovely vintage that produced balanced, well fruited wines that only lack the complexity of the the finest vintages. ****

2002 - A dry winter and uneven conditions during bud break resulted in a significant reduction in yields this year. The summer benefitted from well-timed rain and the harvest was conducted under ideal conditions with warm days and cool night. A great vintage that yielded a small crop of perfectly balanced and richly fruited wines. *****

2003 - A vintage that shared a similar start and end to the season with 2002 but that suffered from significantly higher temperatures during the middle of the growing season. The wines are more opulent than those of 2002 yet lack some of the detail and harmony that sets 2002 apart. ***

2004 - A pattern seems to have emerged with the 2004 vintage. While winter rains returned to normal the growing season experienced mild conditions with notably cool nights during harvest that allowed for extended hangtime resulting in finely perfumed and expressive wines with excellent balance. ****

2005 – A virtually copy of 2002 with lower than average rains and erratic weather during bloom resulting in lower than average yields.  Mild summer conditions did not stress the vines and another fall with temperate days and cool night produced wines with excellent balance, ripe tannins and fresh character. *****

2006 - An unusual year that saw the return of ample rainfall during the winter only to see it followed by cool temperatures in spring and summer that severely reduced yields and slowed both the vegetative and fruit ripening stages of the vines. The resulting wines were light and delicate by typical standards with higher than averages acids but very precise and detailed flavors. A vintage that may need a year or two longer than normal to show it’s best but very distinctive and appealing with stronger whites than reds. ***

2007 – Hot and dry can characterize the season and the resultant wines show signs of these stresses. They are abnormally rich and concentrated wines though they retain the fine balance these regions are noted for. ****

2008 - The weather recovered well from the previous vintage with a return of adequate rainfall and a moderating in temperatures produced a beautiful crop of rich, balanced and particularly fragrant wines.  Among the very best vintages. *****

This temperate climate produces wonderfully fresh and precise wines, both white and red.

2004 Cape Mentelle Margaret River Shiraz
Wonderfully fragrant on the nose with notes of pepper, earth, leather and spice all complimented by a flush of floral tones over a base of ripe plum and black raspberry fruits.Delcious and wonderfully complex.

2007 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling

Classically taut and tight lemon, lime fruits, with incipient petrol and slightly vegetal forest undergrowth notes, rise from the glass. It's got cut and definition to spare on the palate, with excellent purity to the fruit and a lovely emergent mineral tone on the finale.

Additional wines tasted for this report.

2006 Leeuwin Estate Siblings Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon
The nose here was very complex with a deep, pith quality to the citrus fruit tones that were underlayed with classic notes of grass, jalapeno and gooseberry. In the mouth this starts out focused and rather crisp before filling out across the midplate with quince, grapefruit and passionfruit tones that lead to a tactile, almost slightly tannic finish with good mineral cut and fine, sneaky length. This has just lovely balance, complexity and mouthfeel and is a bargain at this price. 92pts

2006 Leeuwin Estate Riesling Art Series

The nose here gives the faulty impression that this might be a bit on the sweet side since it's full of honeysuckle and orange blossoms in addition to more typical lemon/lime citrus fruits. In the mouth though, this is dry yet rich and layered across the palate with more of the floral notes and an almost Seville orange marmalade tone that carries through to the long finish. A lovely, rich bottle of Riesling that will benefit from a year or three in the cellar. 90pts

2007 Capel Vale Unwooded Chardonnay
This is full or tropical flowers and fruits on the nose with a lovely lifted, almost spicy passionfruit tone. In the mouth it's moderately rich yet fairly lightweight with a huge rush of soft pineapple, guava and papaya toned fruit that is delicious if a little short. Perhaps tiring just a bit, this is still a crowd pleasing, very easy to appreciate style of wine that has very few detractors. 87pts

2007 Frankland Estate Shiraz Estate Isolation Ridge
The nose on this wine is a veritable spice box with notes of ginger, mace, and allspice over notes of pepper, earth, tobacco and blue fruits. All of this spice also translates to the mouth but here it is joined by a wall of rather aggressive and drying tannins. the finish gains a bit of sweetness from the wood with a mocha, almond note and shows a resurgence of the fruit promised on the nose but this is a wine that needs additional cellaring to allow the tannins to soften and recede. The balance appears to be here and this has a particularly dense feel to it but it;s best to let it rest for 2-3 years before trying again. 87pts

2005 Capel Vale Shiraz
A wonderfully intriguing nose sets this apart from many Shiraz. There are the typical notes of fruit and spice but underlying it all is a taut floral note and the whole thing is just so well focused and balanced that I keep coming back for another sniff. That focus translates wonderfully to the palate where this achieve a wonderful sense of harmony among the components and lets the very clear blackberry and boysenberry fruit really take center stage. This is just lovely, balanced and with the subtle evolving complexity of a great wine. 94pts

2004 Leeuwin Siblings Shiraz
This is bright and fruity on the nose with notes of blueberry and black currant lifted by subtle notes of smoke and spice. In the mouth it's fairly soft and resolved with a deep, round, smooth core of fruit but lacks a bit of complexity and detail. The finish is decidedly fun and fruity yet the wine shows good balance and is ultimately a restrained style of fruit bomb. 87pts

2004 Wilberry Estate Shiraz
This is full soft and juicy in the mouth with aromas of plum, blackberry jam, vanilla and oak induced spice all in balance. This mouthfeel remains nicely fresh though there's not a lot of structure here to support all this fruit so I would opt for drinking this sooner rather than later but it still is a big yet balanced example of Shiraz. 88pts

Mentioned in this article


  • I am unable to save this page in Windows - it has happened many times before - anybody have any ideas?

    Oct 14, 2009 at 1:27 PM

  • Snooth User: jennym
    183722 9

    Our daughter lives in Perth, and it has been a delight to go to visit the Margaret River region several times--and taste their wonderful wines. At the moment, we have wines in our rack from Churchview, Adinfern, Amberley and Knotting Hill wineries--as well as ones from the Jane Brook winery in the Swan River Valley. Thanks for finally mentioning the offerings of Western Australia!

    Oct 14, 2009 at 2:31 PM

  • Snooth User: nvansicklen
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    211788 549

    Great article. I did not have the chance to visit this region on my last trip to Australia. Will bookmark for future trip.

    Oct 14, 2009 at 2:50 PM

  • Snooth User: bobzaguy
    251522 15

    can't save in Windows? Get a Mac.
    Or send your email address and I will fwd to you.
    bobzaguy at gmail dot com

    Oct 14, 2009 at 4:06 PM

  • I have tried wines from Voyager Estate Margaret river and they are remarkably complexgreat value . Have not seen this brand much in the states.

    Oct 14, 2009 at 4:37 PM

  • Snooth User: Pia57
    231347 1

    Tech difficulties -Copy and paste this article into a Word document and save etc. I just did it (PC Vista - the worst!) and it worked fine. Worth having a good read - and do try this region - it is one of our favourites: try Goundrey's Unwooded Chardonnay, Moondah Brook Verdelloh.. and the list gows. Have lived in Victoria, best reds.. the Hunter Valley.. and still WA is our pick for whites, apart from Pykes Reisling from the Claire Valley in SA. Just beautiful! And then there are the Reislings from Tasmania - where it is much cooler.. and so I could say more... Enjoy the exploration.
    Regards from Sydney Australia

    Oct 14, 2009 at 7:03 PM

  • This is a wonderful wine region and deserves its day in the Sun.
    I would also recommend the verdelhos from Margaret River region, Willespie and Sandalford in particular, as great exotic whites year after year.
    Sandalford have, sadly, stopped shipping their wines to the UK. I can only thank them for many excellent rieslings, cabernets and especially the verdelho vintages.
    Evans and Tate, Cape Mentelle, and smaller wineries as well as Shirazes, are always worth trying from this region.

    Oct 15, 2009 at 6:09 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 225,524

    There ar so many great Australian wnites, Verdelhos and Semillons for example, that we never see here in the states. I can't wait to get the opportunity to try them all!

    It least we get our fair share of Rieslings.

    Nice to see a lot of love for Australian wines here. I think they are just about ready for a renaissance.

    Oct 15, 2009 at 11:24 AM

  • Its great to see the appreciation of wines out of the South Western Australia.
    Being from Margaret River myself I am always introducing wines to my friends in the USA.
    Have Just found another great wine which is Windows Margaret River and the its just about to arrive in the USA.
    The importer is http://www.newworldwineimports.com they also have some other great new world wines as well.

    Out of the Great Southern Region try Plantagenent Wines.

    Oct 15, 2009 at 2:08 PM

  • I'm a big fan of the Western Australian take on traditional Bordeaux blend - and recommend taking a look at Cullen as a great example of a winery producing this sort of wine.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 3:54 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 225,524

    there are so many great wineries in South West Australia. I look forward to trying more and have had great bottles from Cullen and Plantagenent in the past but have not seen them recently at my local shops.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 11:08 AM

  • Enjoyed a recent trip through Margaret River and wrote about it for the wine column in C-VILLE Weekly (Charlottesville, Virginia). Read it here: http://tinyurl.com/yau4ljb

    Oct 16, 2009 at 11:51 AM

  • Speaking as a Western Austraian in temporary exile, may I recommend the wines of Moss Wood, Cullens, Cape Mentelle, Pierro, Happs (Three Hills), Windance and Lenton Brae from Margaret River, Picardy from Pemberton, and anything from the Houghton stable.

    Oct 17, 2009 at 9:20 AM

  • There's a new kid on the block! Knee Deep Wines in Wilyabrup (in the margaret river region) is producing Gold Medal Shiraz(Sheraton Wine Awards 2009 and Qantas Wine Awards 2009) with the 2008 Shiraz.
    Windance Shiraz is another in the region again winning Gold Medals.
    Let's acknowledge those newer wineries striving for excellence in a tough environment as well as lauding the well deserved icons of the area.

    Phil Childs
    Perth W.A.

    Oct 18, 2009 at 10:29 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 225,524

    Learning more every day. Several producer i am nor familiar with, which is not surprising by certainly helpful in expanding my understanding of the region.

    Great info, thanks very much.

    Oct 19, 2009 at 7:14 AM

  • Snooth User: hoges
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    573364 10

    The Great Southern region is the largest, in area, of all wine regions in Australia and produces 37% of wine grapes produced in Western Australia.
    The five sub-regions of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and the Porongorups have vastly different climatic conditions which means a visit to the Great Southern can be an exciting experience as the visitor moves about our diverse region.

    paul hogan

    Sep 06, 2010 at 8:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    Margaret River Cabernets are some of the best in the world and the region has had at least 3 Cracker Vintages in a row - 2007, 2008 and 2009. Try Moss Wood, Woodlands, Cape Mentelle and Cullens in the top echelon. The "2nd wines" of these brands are great vlaue as well. Had a 1995 Moss Wood the other day and it "had the lot". Can see why a hard marker like Jancis Robinson gave it 19/20. Oddly enough it is also a great region for Chardonnay - look for Leeuwin Estate Art Series (arguably Australia's best), Pierro and Cullens "Kevin John".

    Aug 03, 2011 at 8:36 PM

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