Know your wine? Then you probably know Margaret River wine. This region in Western Australia’s far south-west is world-renowned for its high quality cabernet sauvignon, merlot, semillon and sauvignon blanc – which you’ll see on restaurant menus not only up and down the state but across Australia and overseas as well.
The best place to see – and taste – it is of course in the verdant cape it comes from. Around the town of Margaret River there are more than 200 producers, from the big hitters to the boutique.
As is so often the case, where there is great wine there is great food. It is not only grapes that grow well in this Mediterranean climate with its rich fertile soils, after all. Open up this extraordinary natural larder and you’ll find locally reared venison and goat, sourdough from nearby Yallingup and organic olive oil, produced in the olive groves around Cowaramup.
Stop off for artisan cheeses at The Old Cheddar Cheese Company and stock up with handmade treats at the Margaret River Chocolate Company.
The Great Southern region
Further east, there’s even more to discover in the emerging food and wine region of Great Southern. For foodies the highlight might just be Manjimup, where the hazelnut and oak forest harbours rich black truffles beneath the soil, dug up by keen-nosed dogs during the May to August truffle season.
Inland at Mount Barker, wine-lovers will find yet more to get excited about, with a range of up-and-coming wineries making good use of the Bordeaux-like conditions to produce riesling, shiraz, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
The best way to taste all that Western Australia has to offer is to tour it yourself, visiting vineyards and calling in to food producers. To be taken straight to the edited highlights, join one of the numerous bus and bike tours from Margaret River, or simply follow your own nose, hire a car and hit the road.
Leeuwin Estate is one of Margaret River’s oldest – and biggest – names, and the perfect place to start your wine tour. There’s extensive free tasting at the classy cellar door; ask to try the spicy, swaggering Art Series shiraz. It also hosts regular outdoor concerts (check the website for what’s on).
This is Margaret River’s oldest winery, established in 1967, and it focuses on the classics: chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and what the region is known best for, its SBS (sauvignon blanc semillon).
Despite the pedigree, there’s no pomp at the cellar door, just friendly staff keen to offer complimentary tastings.
You’ll notice the vast Aussie flag first, but it could never overshadow the wines, a top-quality selection of only the best Margaret River varieties. The Estate range is the focus, with six wines including an excellent chardonnay aged in French oak. Tastings allow just four complimentary samples; make this one of them.
Family-owned and operated Wills Domain is one of Margaret River’s friendliest cellar doors, making it the perfect place for a thoroughly laidback tasting. You’ll find the usual high standard SBS and cabernet sauvignon as well as one of WA’s best roses, all sipped looking out over the vineyard through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Even the entry-level wines are high quality at Watershed, which has a reputation for over-delivering – and winning plenty of awards. Don’t miss the Senses (mid-range) shiraz and Awakenings (top range) cabernet sauvignon when you call in for a tasting here.
This may be casual dining, set right on the beach at the Gnarabup Beach Boat Ramp, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t high quality. Chef Tony Howell is a keen exponent of all things WA, and uses local produce in everything from the burgers to the salads. It’s worth calling in for breakfast, too, which includes smoked salmon and breakfast burgers.
Take a seat overlooking the Indian Ocean and let that watering mouth do the ordering for you, selecting pork belly or chicken from the delicious-smelling rotisserie. Fremantle’s best restaurant serves up produce from local suppliers, try the soft shell crab or a black truffle pizza.
For one of WA’s best gastronomic experiences head into the forest. This farmhouse at Pemberton has turned into a destination restaurant, serving up a four-course tasting menu of seasonal dishes (truffles in winter, marron in late summer). You can stay overnight, in a luxury chalets, studios or the farmhouse, with delicious breakfast hampers that makes an overnight stay even more enticing.
It’s not just the fantastic wines that bring visitors to Wills Domain; it’s also home to one of Margaret River’s best restaurants. Go for the lunchtime tasting menu to really let them strut their stuff through seven courses of dishes from the garden, ocean and paddock. The à la carte runs the gamut from scallops and cured amberjack right through to wallaby.
Executive chef Silas Masih’s Fijian background adds a touch of spice to the menu at the winery restaurant, but never overpowers the quality of the produce. Try the fried Moreton Bay bug with grilled Carnarvon prawns and sambal ketchup or the Cone Bay barramundi with duck fat kumala and coconut flesh salad.
Produced in association with Western Australia.
For further information visit the Western Australia website.