Margaret River: In vino veritas!

31 Mar

Margaret River… where to start???!?

Bushtucker Winery and Brewery Tour

Britt and I decided to start off our escapade in the wine region with a proper tour to ensure that we were well informed before venturing out on our own. The Bushtucker Winery and Brewery Tour picked us up from our hostel around 10am (1st dibs on seats!) and then made a loop to pick up the rest of our 14 person group from each of their respective accommodations. We lucked out with Silvano was our tour guide… Not the most politically correct Aussie in the world, so obviously I loved him!!!! Our group consisted of visitors from all over Australia, as well as England, Germany, and Canada. It was quite refreshing having an Aussie make fun of the Canadian rather than picking on us Americans… we get plenty of that! As soon as she told Silvano she was from Quebec, he responded with “Oh, Quebec! The gay part!” Pause for laughter from the bus, then adding with a sense of nostalgia: “Ah the days when gay meant happy and pansies were flowers.”

our tour guide, Sylvano

Bushtucker tour group

Now for a brief background… Margaret River is possibly the most well known wine region in Australia, located about 4 hours driving distance south of Perth. In comparison to other wine regions around the world, this area is still relatively new to the industry. A professor by the name of John Gladstone actually discovered the areas favorable climate while performing research on the soil. The average temperature in MG is about 28-30 degrees Celsius with zero frost in the winter. It’s also surrounded by 3 different oceans, which ensures that a breeze will flow continually from at least one of these. Professor Gladstone also discovered that the soil composition closely resembled that of Bordeaux, France. Backed with scientific data, many families moved to the area to start their own Bordeaux-like vineyards. Vasse Felix was the first vineyard to open in MG as recent as 1967. Similar to Bordeaux, the winemakers of MG are most successful with their Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz varieties.

Bettenay’s Wines

This was our first tasting of the day. Silvano started us off by teaching us the proper way to sample a wine: Holding the wine glass with your thumb and forefinger pinching the stem and your other fingers on either side of the base, you swirl the glass in order to let the wine breathe. This allows all the complex flavors to surface so that you really get the full effect. After swirling, you stick your nose into the glass and take a nice deep whiff. Then you take a big ole swig and let it rest in your mouth for 3-5 seconds before swallowing.

I’m not sure if it was just because I had a fresh palette, but this was my favorite winery of the day! Desiree, a French woman, was our hostess. She talked us through 2 of their whites, 2 reds, a white dessert, a red dessert, and 2 ports (1st flush and hot flush). I’m not very big on dessert wines and I’ve only tried a port once before, so that was different for me. However I loved their Sem Sav and Cab Sav! I would be confident in ordering any of their wines if I were to see Bettenay’s listed on a drink menu.

Bettenay's Wines

Bettenay's Vineyard

Knotting Hill Vineyard

The vineyard takes its name from the unique knots used in its fencing. With over 600km of fencing, there are roughly 1,200 figure-8 knots that were individually tied by hand. Quite a lot of work!

Sandra was our hostess for this particular tasting. She was very cute and friendly, but she rushed through the tasting a bit and let us rely on pre-written tasting notes rather than explaining them to us. These wines were a bit too sweet for me, but of the lot, I strangely think I preferred the Verdelho best (yummy hints of pear) and their award-winning Cab Merlot. (They also won awards for their Shiraz and Cab Sav).

Knotting Hill Vineyard tasting entrance

Knotting Hill Vineyard

Bushtucker Lunch at Knotting Hill Vineyard

KH hosted our delicious lunch prepared by the Bushtuckers tour. We were given roast beef, wild turkey, and cured kangaroo meats, accompanied by pumpkin bread made with tomato, herb seeds and melted cheese on top. The highlight for me was what aboriginals call “bill-yun-gah” (I’m not really sure how to spell it) which translates to “hot in, hot out.” It’s a spread made with Tasmanian bush peppercorn, olive oil, and cashews. The anticipation made it seem far worse than it was in actuality. The real interesting part was the 2 desert limes (miniature bush limes) that each of us were given to finish our meal. The grape-sized “limes” are known to serve multiple functions by the aboriginals: it’s a palate cleanser, breath freshener, digestive aid, and even a tooth whitener! Certain to shock your senses, the lime was super condensed with sweetness, but also tasted more like the chalkiness of the lime zest rather than the citrus itself. Very curious!

The Grove Liqueur Factory

This was without a doubt the most entertaining stop of the day! My expectations were set high because even before we departed from the bus, Silvano fed us stories about one of their employees being in the witness protection program, and another one who stocked their pond with piranhas (which then ended up eating their stock of crocodiles). I honestly still have no idea whether he was joking or not.

The Grove Liqueur Factory

Regardless, I was definitely thankful for our massive feast because The Grove certainly took good care of us with their ports, liqueurs, and cocktails. Nicholas was our host for this tasting… again, such a funny guy! Blasting through the list, the Semillon port was a zinger but nice, the Shiraz port was sweet but soft, and the chocolate port tasted exactly like a dark chocolate filled with cherries. All the liqueurs were made with natural fruits with no additives or extra flavoring. And they still use foot crushing! We sampled their strawberry liqueur, first by itself and then with ginger ale. I thought it was quite nice by itself to be honest. Then Nicholas busted out the macadamia nut liqueur. YUM! On top of the macadamia nut, he added coconut liqueur, milk chocolate liqueur, and cream. It was beautifully layered, but he had to serve it to us stirred because apparently shots and shooters are now illegal in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia. (Pretty sure they still serve them everywhere though!) Up next was the Turkish Delight, which tasted like rose water. Interesting, but not my favorite. Finally, we ended with a Lemon Cheesecake: Lemoncello, white chocolate, and vanilla liqueurs. This can also be served with cream, or lemon and lime bitters. Nicholas wasn’t shy to add that it’s “nice on ice cream… served on your partner.” I wonder what else he slid in there when I wasn’t fully listening, HA!

lemon cheesecakes

Churchview Estate

This tasting was especially cool because our host was “young Greg,” the winemaker himself! I wasn’t absolutely in love with these wines, but we got to try some really interesting varieties, including Chenin Blanc (which I’ve never even heard of before!) and a Noble Riesling. He even opened bottles of 2009 St Johns Vintage Brut (only 200 cases made) and 2009 St Johns Zinfandel (only 150 cases made) that usually are not allowed for tastings. Talk about special treatment!

Chocolate and Cheese Factories

I’m not too keen on chocolates myself, but most people seemed to relish in this little detour. There are milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate tastings as soon as you enter the door. Then there is an entire world of chocolates available for purchase, including everything from rocky road brownies to chocolate massage oils… weird!

The cheese factory was quite a bit smaller than I expected. They laid out a couple trays of cheeses for us to try… my favorites of which were the garlic and herb crumbled feta as well as the chili cheddar (similar to pepperjack). Short but sweet.

Bootleg Brewery

In the spirit of our tastings, Britt and I decided to grab a sampler tray of the Bootleg’s beers. The Sou’ West Wheat was my favorite beer. It’s pretty basic, but I think I prefer basic when it comes to beers. I also really enjoyed the Wild Ginger Wheat Ale, which was a seasonal beer, only on tap! Britt’s favorite was the Hefe (Hefeweizen – German style of beer), which was also my absolute least favorite. We discussed my taste-buds with the brewer, and I learned that it’s not the hops I dislike but rather the particular type of yeast used in German-styled beers. Hence the reason I can’t stand Heineken, Hoegaarden, etc. To each his own. Perhaps our greatest effort of the day was trying the Raging Bull (7.1%). Silvano described it best: 1st sip is like a coffee bean in animal feces, 2nd sip is like burned rubber, but then 3rd sip is intensely flavorful with hints of malt, chocolate, coffee, yada yada. It was super heavy but I can see how some people might like it.

The tour definitely kept us busy all day, but it was a nice way to learn about the region and sample some really good wines. Tomorrow we will fill in the blanks with some of the other wineries we were hoping to see. Perfect!


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