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A Tasting of Leeuwin Estate
© Sue Courtney

Dennis Horgan from Leeuwin Estate visits New Zealand on his 30th anniversary tour.
18 May 2004

Dennis Horgan, a beer drinking surfie from way back, was originally attracted to the Margaret River by the waves. "If I had been from a wine generation family, I probably would not have gone there", he said. No one grew grapes in the Margaret River then, a backwater with a population of 3000, a reducing population with a high rate of unemployment.

Dennis Horgan didnít really know what wine was either. He tripped into the wine business by accident because American Robert Mondavi was on a mission to find new sites in the world where grapes would possibly make great wine. He spotted the Horgan property but he could not persuade Dennis to sell.

After a series of meetings and a trip to France so Mondavi could show Horgan what great wines really were, a compromise was made and the first grapes were planted in the Margaret River on the Horgan property. They called the venture Leeuwin Estate, after the nearby peninsula of the same name. Their aim was to make wines that rank with the best in the world.

Mondavi, the mentor, was spending money like Horgan had never seen. Everything was high-tech and state-of-the-art because Mondavi was taking the risks on Leeuwin Estate before he put the practices into his own winery.

The strategy was that they would promote the wine by word-of-mouth. With food, wine and art the focus, the Art Series labels were there from the beginning and Dennis readily admits to copying the concept from Mouton Rothschild after visiting the winery in France.

There was enormous media interest in the inaugural and the wines practically sold out overnight. The Margaret River wine region was on its way to fame.

"People can copy wine styles and viticultural styles but they can't copy the terroir", says Dennis. The thing that is unique about Margaret River is that oceans surround the neck of land on three sides. Not just one ocean, but three. With warm, medium and cold waters from each ocean there is little temperature change therefore no frosts.

The old granite gravelly soils are ideal for viticulture. There is little rain in the main growing season but with plenty of winter rain to fill the water table, no irrigation is necessary. It's rather a unique environment.

Horgan tells us that 20 percent of all wine in Australia that costs over $20 a bottle is produced in the Margaret River.

The Art Series wines are the premium wines of Leeuwin estate while the Prelude Series are made in a more approachable style to both the palate and the wallet. The Preludes are released each year to coincide with the first of the season's four Leeuwin Estate concerts.

Bottles of Leeuwin Estate wine, photo by Sue Courtney

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2003
Light citrine in colour, quite steely on nose, crisp and steely in the palate with good weight, apple nuances, a hint of lime and a long, dry, clean finish. 12% alc. 8 g/L acidity, 2.6 g/L residual sugar. $28.95.

Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay 2001
Lightly toasty on the nose this is a tight wine with flavours of fig, nuts and melon with integrated mealy French oak, a hint of pineapple, pear and citrus and a long mealy finish. A wine with underlying power. 14.7% alc. $27.95.

A mini vertical tasting of the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay of the last four vintages gave an insight to how this wine evolves.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2001
A young wine, pale gold in colour, there's an attack of citrus in the mouth with spicy oak and a mealy richness. A tight wine with figs, nuts and honeyed oak lingering. A wine that definitely needs time to evolve and let the distinctive Leeuwin character develop. Current vintage release. 14.5% alc. $89.95.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2000
Mealy lanolin aromas at first it becomes quite nutty with nuances of fig and much later nuances of coconut oil from sitting in the glass. A broad flavoured wine with rich, mealy, buttery oak flavours, dry, complex and mouth filling with a nutty, caramel richness and savoury, spicy oak on the long finish. This wine just gets so much better as is opens up with a wonderful sweetness of ripe, juicy stonefruit. This is the wine I chose to accompany my lunch. 14% alc.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 1999
It smells smooth! It's a rich, appealing, dried earth aroma that emits some maturity. A touch of fig too. Oak is still dominant in the palate and the wine is still fairly tight with good complexity, length and mouthfeel. It is quite mellow with nectarine and stonefruit lifted by pineapple and citrus on the biscuity finish that has lots of alcoholic warmth. It has a long way to go. 14.7% alc.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 1998
A rich citrine gold-coloured wine, it's quite steely on the nose with a character of all developed spicy oak. It also shows a little age in the palate. Are rich and powerful strongly flavoured buttery wine with great length. The heat of the alcohol plays a part in this too. 14.3% alc.

Although Leeuwin Estate is famous for its Chardonnay, Dennis Horgan's long term aim is to become known for red wine. With the quality of the reds I tasted, especially the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2001 Shiraz, the reds should be as equally lauded as the Chardonnays.

Leeuwin Estate Prelude Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000
A blend of 85% Cabernet and 15% Merlot from younger vines, this wine shows a medium depth garnet red. It smells smooth and non-aggressive, an appealing meld of fruit and oak with lifted cassis, plums and the subtle mintiness of cool-climate Australia. Good tannins do not intrude. A well-balanced, quite appealing medium bodied red. Just 7% new oak. 4. $13.5% alc. $37.95.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
86% Cabernet Sauvignon , 11% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec Dense colour, blackberry red, youthful. Full-bodied, robust red, sweet fruit, savoury oak, an earthy richness, with lifted cassis, juicy, powerful. Dusty blackberries, juicy mulberry, plums, a hint of leather, earthy richness. An impressive wine. The Petit Verdot, though little of it, makes a big influence, adding flavours of juicy black plums and mulberries. A wine with excellent length and although the alcohol is high, it was not apparent when tasting. Drink or cellar. 5. 15% alc. $62.00.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
The huge tannins in this wine means that it needs to evolve but there is beautiful fruit behind. Clean, with a succulent bright red fruits, classy oak, a touch of liquorice and mint. A lovely creamy wine but it does not have the superlative finesse of the 1999, which was just sensational. 4% alc. $62.00. (Tasted 28th May 2004).

Leeuwin Estate Shiraz Art Series 2001
Mulberry red in colour with savoury oak and a spicy peppery backbone, there's a hint of violet, a little tar, sweet creamy oak, plum and red berries with good acidity, leather, tar and liquorice on the finish and ripe balanced tannins. Lovely complexity. Built to last. Food enhances it and it enhances the food, it is a terrific match to creamy mushrooms. 14% alc. $39.95. (Tasted 28th May 2004).

While Australian Shiraz is usually quite distinctive, this example from WA is more like a Kiwi version from Hawkes Bay or a Surah from the Rhone rather than a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. I like the acidic backbone, which makes it so good with food.

Copyright Sue Courtney
July 2004


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