Vanya Cullen’s best known for her iconic cabernet and chardonnay, but her ‘Mangan East Block’, which heroes malbec and petit verdot, is equally deserving of attention. A dark tangle of ripe wild berries, dusky florals and spices are ferried on a palate that has the classic tannic growl of malbec, but with amply generous fruit in support.
This vintage, petit verdot occupies a larger slice of the wine (41%), but malbec is still in majority (49%). There’s a warm generosity matched with a lift of dusky florals and warm spices. Dark forest berries, ripe mulberry and a hint of black cherry sit alongside coca nibs, black spices, pumpernickel and a humus-like earthy note. That spectrum continues on the palate, with fruit generosity well hemmed in by robust tannins, the malbec playing a classic part, with a bitter chocolate grip and mouth puckering dryness, which only adds to the charm.
Themes of this wine
Malbec is a French grape that has become much more synonymous with Argentina, where it dominates the country’s vineyards. In Australia, malbec is typically blended as a minor component, but with better vine material and new thinking, malbec’s personality is emerging from the shadows. With a generally dark fruit profile, plums, dark cherries and blackberries, malbec can range from the deeply fruited and ruggedly tannic to more supple and silky expressions – typically those from Argentina, where the vine material is quite different to everywhere else.
One of the five principal red grapes of Bordeaux, petit verdot is typically employed in the lowest percentages in blends. It is a late ripener, and the latest of the Bordeaux quintet, often struggling to reach full maturity in its home region. When ripe, however, it has intense flavour, colour, tannin and acidity, making it a compelling blending component. That slow maturation cycle also makes it a good prospect in warmer zones, and it is planted in quite high concentration in Australia’s Riverland, even eclipsing the total plantings in France by a significant margin.
If you’re after a wine region with a healthy dose of conspicuous glamour, then Margaret River has it all. Three hours south of Perth, ‘Margs’ is littered with iconic wineries, many with dazzling cellar doors and world-class restaurants. And then there’s the abundant sunshine, and the beaches – oh, those beaches… It’s a beautiful, beautiful place, and for a young wine region it’s very mature, with well-established paths to success built largely on the twin pillars of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon (et al). Names like Cullen, Moss Wood, Woodlands, Leeuwin Estate and Vasse Felix feel like they’re etched in stone, but in the last little while, smaller players have been making their mark.
An organic farming method created by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, biodynamics is a slightly mystical approach, employing elaborate organic ‘preparations’ to restore the natural balance of the soil and encourage microorganisms. It also observes the lunar cycle to prescribe actions in the vineyard and winery. Why some of it works is not clearly understood, but it is used by some of the world’s greatest producers.