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January 31, 2010

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Margaret River's old world elegance

WINE lovers around the world constantly search for the elusive combination of premium wines at reasonable prices. One problem with wines today is that once a region or producer achieves recognition and fame, their prices tend to grow exponentially.

In my numerous wine presentations, I am fond of saying that it doesn't really take a lot of skills or knowledge to pick a great wine if cost is not a consideration.

However, getting quality wines at reasonable prices takes considerably more efforts and knowledge.

One way to reduce the difficulty is to look to the wines of Margaret River in Western Australia.

While no longer cheap, the wines from this region still offer a combination of elegance and value.

Not too long ago this region was best known not for its wine, but for a pristine landscape and superb surfing.

Though wine has been made in Western Australia since 1829, most was high alcohol, low quality.

But starting in the 1970s, a handful of producers started to invest time and money to make premium wines.

Initially, because the Margaret River is surrounded on three sides by the sea, has a maritime climate and gravelly soils that are similar to Bordeaux, these early producers concentrated on the Bordeaux varieties, cabernet sauvignon and merlot for reds and semillon and sauvignon blanc for whites.

Then a few producers, notably Leeuwin Estate, started making chardonnays of extraordinary balance and distinction.

Other producers followed with world-class riesling and shiraz wines.

The one word that best expresses the style of Margaret River wines is elegance.

They don't have the power and concentration of the titans from Barossa Valley and other regions in South Australia, but they offer balance and elegance reminiscent of the old world.

Margaret River wines are beautiful testaments to the fact that, in the world of wine, bigger is not always better.

In Shanghai you can find wines from several Margaret River producers. The best are Leeuwin Estate, especially their ground-breaking chardonnay, Vasse Felix, another pioneer winery with stimulatingly fresh semillon and sauvignon blanc whites and stylish shiraz reds, and Cape Mentelle that makes soft and generous shiraz and cabernet sauvignon reds.

The beautiful balance of fruit and acidity in the whites and fruit and tannins in the reds make them quite versatile in food pairing.

The legendary Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay paired with Shanghai style deep-fried yellow fish work beautifully together as the layers of flavors in the wine act like a sauce that embellishes the delicate flavors of the fish while accentuating the crispy texture.

The more acidic Art Series Sauvignon Blanc goes especially well with shellfish dishes.

Popular meat dishes like lion's head meat balls go very nicely with the medium bodied Vasse Felix shiraz because the wine adds flavor dimensions to the dish while not overpowering the subtle flavors of the meatballs and cabbage.


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