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From Wise Wines to Mad Bay at Café Living Room

Last week’s tasting focused on the Margaret River area of South West Australia and John had gone to great lengths to ensure that the evening was as authentic as possible. The previous week he traveled to the region and brought back several fine wines with him.

The format is the same every week; John talks the group through the smells, tastes and flavors of the six wines and provides a lively commentary on the history, heritage, science and skills
which go into the creation of each bottle.

This Thursday was another packed house, with lots of old faces and some new. The chatter and hubbub quiets down as John pours everyone a glass and there are muttered whispers of appreciation as we sip the first choice, a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Wise Wines. The bubbles are fine and delicate, and although the flavors are complex, the wine has a pleasant creamy characteristic. Peachy hints of fruit and honey are with aromas of tropical fruit. On the palate it is clean and refreshing and perfect for enjoying in Phnom Penh’s steamy climate.

Next, a Chardonnay from Mad Bay. Chardonnay has become somewhat ubiquitous in recent years and wine fans have recently tired of its omnipresence, even forming the ABC Club (Anything But Chardonnay). However, its initial popularity is not without basis - the Chardonnay grape produces crisp green apple or tropical fruit flavors that are impossible to dislike.

John explained however, that a craze for introducing an oaking process to the method of producing Chardonnay) trend in the ‘90s for heavy oaking had lead to many misconceptions about Chardonnay; that it can be smoky and spicy with toasted aromas, but in fact, these flavors are a consequence of the oaking and not a characteristic of the grape. The wine we tasted was unwooded and brought brilliant flavours of citrus zest and notes of stone fruit, with a crisp acidy. It was perfect evidence of Margaret River’s boast that it creates some of the best Chardonnays in the world.

The last bottle of white was truly stunning and also originated from the Wise Wines vineyard.

The estate is famed for its gorgeous location and John painted a glorious picture of the views from the tasting room; the vivid vines and red soil reaching down to an azure sea, edged with silver eucalyptus. Australia might be perceived as too hot to produce a lively, crispy Sauvignon but this example from Margaret River was truly spectacular. On the nose, it is aromatic but it is the glorious, juicy mouthful of fresh, fruity flavor that’s totally unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Hints of winegums, bubblegum, eucalyptus and passion fruit create an unusually synthetic, but utterly delicious, flavour (that is all fun.)

On to the reds and the highlight was a Shiraz from Howard Park. Margaret River Shiraz is unusual in that is does not exhibit the usual peppery qualities of an old world Shiraz, rather, it might better be compared to a Merlot. Like all the reds from Margaret River, this wine is intensely herbatious with hints of eucalyptus as well as black fruits and an earthy flavor that filled the mouth. Delicious.

Next, a wine from a vineyard with an interesting name, a Bordeaux blend from the Mad Fish winery. The vineyard is named after a local myth about a nearby bay, where according to local folklore the tranquility is sometimes broken when two tides meet. In a state of confusion, the fish will leap into the air as if wild with madness. There is something unusual about the wine produced here too, although the grapes are the same as those (picked) grown in Bordeaux and the climate is similar, the Margaret River terroir has generated remarkably different flavours. This is a deep wine with full fruit and typical Margaret River herbatious features as well as a savory edge.

Last, but by no means least, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Vasse Felix. It should be mentioned that Margaret River deserves credit for its determination to take on the big Cabernet Sauvignon producing regions and to have met challenge. Producers here are creating truly glorious wines that are as good as any you can buy from France or California. This particular Cabernet Savignon is packed with fruit and tannin, making it a perfect accompaniment to red meat and will no doubt age brilliantly for many years.

The residents of Phnom Penh were greatly impressed by John’s choice of wines this week but the real accolade came from the visiting Australian couple, whose son and daughter-in-law are winemakers in Barossa Valley, just down the road from Margaret River. David and Cheryl were delighted by the tasting and applauded John’s knowledge, praise indeed from a pair of Aussies to a Pom.

Next date: Champagne Tasting, 6pm Saturday April 7. Go to for details.



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