Day 3 – Margaret River

Let-the-liver-off day. We head south to see the caves, the forest, some beaches, Augusta and Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. Lake Caves 1Lake Caves is our first stop. A very steep track takes us down to the cave entrance and into the mystical netherworld of dolomites, stalactites and many other-ites.

Karri TreesThese caves are enchanting and more so for being surrounded by the magnificent towering karri trees of the Boranup forest. These giants grow to 90 metres, making them the third tallest tree in the world.

Hamelin BayWe brave the blustery wind and take a walk along Hamelin Bay – only sorry it’s too miserable to navigate more of what looks like a very scenic pathway over the cliffs. Cape Leeuwin LighthouseWhale-watching plans thwarted by the weather, we pop into a bakery at Augusta for a very hearty potato and leek soup and square up to the elements to get some snaps of Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and the old water wheel.Cape Leeuwin Augusta Water Wheel

The drive to Jewel Caves from here takes us through some of the most gorgeous countryside I’ve ever seen (including Scotland). These caves are significantly bigger than the Lake Caves, with more formations and vast chambers. Each is unique though and I recommend doing both. Nature’s galleries often really are the finest.Jewel Caves 4

Day 2 – Margaret River

Wanting a day for both of us to kick back without driving and get a decent orientation of the area, day two is spent in the good company of Harvest Tours.

General VineyardWe are collected from our chalet by Jamie, co-owner, tour host and son of a local dairy farmer. Knowing that Harvest Tours is family-owned, devoted to personal attention and devoid of big tour company hustle, we’ve booked the wine tour for foodies – encouragingly affordable and great value.

After collecting 2 other couples, we start at Adinfern wine estate, just south of Cowaramup (which oddly is named after a bird, not a cow). Here we are introduced to the craft, passion and challenges of the winemaker before supping the results – with some gentle guidance on the art of wine-tasting sans the snobbery.

Next we head into Cowaramup for delightful delicacies made by the resident Italian chef at Margaret Riviera. Here you can sample home-made pesto, dukkah, flavoured oils and stock up for those evening platters in front of the fire. Directly next door is a gorgeous gift shop and across the road is a bottle store dedicated to the region’s wines.

MR Providore is our next stop. ProvidoreMy husband and I have this little joke. I’m irrevocably addicted to little jars – notably those filled with jams, salt rubs, nuts, tappenades, pickles, marinades, sauces … you get the picture. I have a pantry full of the little buggers. If we ever had a famine, we could live for months on them. Well, this is little jar (and big jar) heaven and my poor man has hardly finished groaning before I mentally clear out the first aisle.

My picks – the lemon curd, shiraz sauce, Moroccan couscous and raspberry jus. Don’t worry – you can taste most of them first. His picks – dark chocolate liqueur and macchiato liqueur. Do not miss tasting these – even if you think they will be too sweet. For those as useless at baking as I am, this is a great way to finish a dinner party. I’ve already done it and will be ordering cases of the stuff for Christmas gifts.

Vasse Felix Fireplace BarAppetites armed, we’re off to Vasse Felix for more wine tasting and lunch. This is the first (and only) Sauvignon Blanc Semillon that I enjoyed. I’m sure there are some exceptional varieties around, but I’m not a Semillon fan and Vasse Felix has got this blend to perfection for my palate. Probably as much to do with the subtle oaking to add a touch of spice and tannin as a deft hand. The Chardonnay is everything you’d expect from the exceptional care taken to produce a wine with very satisfying texture and depth but remarkable purity. You could stop there and you wouldn’t be disappointed, but don’t miss the chance to taste the Heytesbury Chardonnay, especially if you can get the 2010 vintage. This one snagged 12 gold awards for good reason.

For an everyday ready-to-drink-now red the classic dry is entirely quaffable. For winter perfection and with one of those delicious venison racks I mentioned earlier, try the Shiraz. Very different to a Barossa Shiraz, with more white pepper than black but a gorgeous hit of spice and a hint of jasmine, vanilla and coffee. The Cab Sav is outstanding too, but I must stop or risk sounding like they’re paying me to write this (which they’re not).

Vasse Felix has a warmVasse Felix Pork Belly, inviting cellar door and this theme is carried through to the restaurant. Situated upstairs the view of the luscious grounds and the creek is a perfect backdrop to the stone and wood interior kept toasty with an impressive hearth. The food is hearty too. The lamb shanks are substantial though a little lacklustre, but the pork belly is outstanding.

Nothing better after a little (or big) lunch than a little chocolate. Especially when it’s dark, organic, freshly crushed and tempered from the best cocoa beans in the world. I’ve been to Belgium. I’ve gorged on Belgians chocolate made by boutique chocolatiers in Brugge and Brussels. Until now, I would have bet anything that you’d not find better chocolate in the world. And forgive me, but at the very least I would not have expected to find it in Australia. Aptly named after an angel (and my grandmother), Gabriel chocolate is – pardon the pun – heavenly.

Well fed and bouncing off the walls from our sugar hit, we brave the hammering rain and puddle-hop into Windows Estate. It’s all about subtlety and finesse here. Our tasting comes with perfectly paired local cheeses and a lovely history of the winery. The basket pressed Cab Sav is gorgeously earthy, while the Chardonnay balances fresh citrus notes with a creamy nuttiness to perfection.

Waterfalls Pinda RoadSurprisingly, after all this, we have time for a little detour en route to Yahava coffee; and Jamie takes us to an enchanting waterfall off Kevill Road. Worth the few minutes it will take you to get there off the main road.

An idyllic day that you would think could get no better. Until we arrive back at our chalet and glimpse a woman walking by with a roo in tow. Thinking we’ve had too much wine we continue staring until curiosity gets the better of my husband and off he goes for a chat (as he does). Turns out this dear lady is a roo rescuer and has a baby joey slung around her mid in a blanket. The roo following her is one she saved a couple of years ago and has not been able to release back into the wild. The little joey is only 6 weeks old and so needs 24/7 nurturing – for a total of six months. The world needs more people like this. And hats off to Willy Bay for offering their resort as a “soft-release” area for these bouncing beauties.Baby Joey

Day 1 Margaret River

Fermoy EstateLiterally down the road from our resort is the estate that produces one of my favourite summer drops – Fermoy Estate’s Sauvignon Blanc. Their Cab Sav has scored well but it was the Sav Blanc I discovered first so I’m partial. That said, the 2012 lacks a little of the edge of the 2009 vintage, but it still sits close to some of my favourites.

From here it’s a short skip across the road to Evans and Tate. I’ve always enjoyed their everyday range (their classic and Gnangara labels) but was blown away by their Artisan range.  Their 2012 Sav Blanc is beautifully balanced with a dash of Semillon and old French oak barrelling gives it the complexity, texture and length that I adore. For now this is only available at the cellar door and online.

Around the corner on Caves Road is Lenton Brae. This is a special smaller family winery and their wines  are exceptional. You’ll likely find Jeanette (the winemakers’ mother) at the cellar door and the family dog keen for a scratch out front. A must-try here is the award-winning Wilyabrup Chardonnay & the Cab Sav. Neither of these award-winners are cheap but they are worth every cent and be warned – if you start here you’ll be setting off from a high bar. Thankfully they also offer a delightful,  more affordable Brightside Chardonnay – not as complex but just as delicately crafted.

Venison ShopFrom here it’s off to the Venison farm/shop. Here you can taste (and of course buy) anything from venison chorizo, liverwurst and kransky to full venison racks and steaks. It’s places like this that make me glad I so often go for self-catering. I highly recommend trying the rack (and the chorizo, and the kransky, and … well as much as you have time for). I marinated the rack in a mixture of lemon zest, olive oil and finely chopped rosemary and roasted it for about 25 minutes on 180˚C. I served this with a gorgeous Shiraz sauce (also from the Venison shop). On another night I sliced up some chorizo which I mixed in with tagliatelle and a simple sage butter.

XanaduI digress … from the Venison shop we headed to Xanadu for another wine tasting and some lunch.  This was undoubtedly my favourite food experience in Margaret River. The restaurant is perfect for a cozy winter lunch. Stone interior, blazing fireplace, timber floors and the food is exquisite.

Xanadu Oxtail CanneloniWe shared the oxtail cannelloni as a starter (and immediately regretted not getting one each). All the  flavour you’d expect from a properly slow-cooked oxtail but with hardly any residual fat and off the bone in a silky smooth cannelloni tube with mushroom broth and manjimup truffle.

Xanadu Pork Belly Terrine RilletteFor a main I combined two entrees. Great idea and so glad I didn’t miss either of these masterpieces. Pork three ways – hock terrine, confit belly and smoky rillettes with pickled veg and treacle bread; and the perfection of the scallops with feather-lightness ofXanadu Scallops goats curd delicately encased in a maple pumpkin tube nearly brought me to my knees.
Xanadu SteakMy husband’s beef fillet with mushroom ketchup and potato boulangere was buttery perfection and substantial enough to keep him happy.

We both loved the Chardonnay, the Cab Sav was outstanding and we had a couple of surprises here too. Roger was really taken with the Viognier – unusual for him as he’s not normally partial to too much wood. I wasn’t expecting to find a Graciano, nor such a good one. Not surprising is that Xanadu’s chief winemaker, Glenn Goodall, is up for winemaker of the year.

With tummies well-lined it’s off to Stella Bella in anticipation of their Tempranillo. What a lovely cellar door – and I’m talking as much about the ambience and delightful duo of ladies in attendance. Very knowledgeable, very relaxed and happy for a chat. Just as well too – as they have many wines worth tasting and taking your time over. The Tempranillo was honest, but I especially loved the Chardonnay and their Sangiovese Cab deserves a nod too.

Coffee time. By now a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but worth it regardless. Look no further than Yahava coffee works. All organic, freshly ground and the first coffee I’ve tasted that stands up to Brunetti’s in Melbourne. They do coffee tastings too. I strongly suggest trying their iced coffee. First sniff is syrupy sweet and close to off-putting, but do try it with a little milk. We tried this on our tour the following day (coming next) – nearly all of us had the same initial reaction – and nearly all of us bought a bottle to take home.