My recent trip to Western Australia found myself deep in the south of Margaret River. Beyond where most tourists venture, stand towering karri trees resilient and proud, protecting a hidden cave. This unassuming and somewhat shy cave is one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites, holding evidence of human life nearly 50,000 years ago and some of the earliest records of Australian life. Scientific research and excavations since the 1970s have recovered stone artefacts, hearths, human skeletal remains and numerous animal bone remains including Tasmanian Devil and Thylacine (yes, they did exist on the mainland back in the days), hence the name Devil’s Lair.
In celebration of the inaugural release of Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber Cabernet Sauvignon, a contingent of wine writers (and sommelier of Heston’s The Fat Duck) and myself had the privilege to visit Margaret River, where we learned about the intricate detail of Devil’s Lair winemaking philosophy and tasted their wines past, present and future. But for us to really understand the history behind the wines, we descended and entered into the Devil’s Lair.
Dr Joe Dortch, whose father Charlie Dortch, was one of the early research scientists of this site back in the 1970’s. Joe has followed his father footstep and now his present research interests include Australian Aboriginal archaeology; ethnography and archaeology. He also met his wife in this cave in 1998 during excavations.
Wayne Webb was generous to share the knowledge of his aboriginal heritage and also let us explored the cave, a dwelling where his ancestor used to live.
Wayne’s wife, Toni shows us there are plenty of bush food to be found in the forest. Nyungar people, also known as “the people with plenty”, they weren’t hunters but instead foraged from the resourceful forest.
Nannup means gathering or meeting place, the Nannup Cave was a dwelling cave where the aborigines used to live. Wayne was more than happy to show us this cave, but if it was a burial ground then would be a different story. As they believe there are spirits still living in caves and around the forest, we have to respect them before entering any sacred sites and also leaving this place before dark.
Devil’s Lair Chardonnay Masterclass
I’ve visited many wineries and also attended a few wine tasting sessions, but never had one this intensive. Devil’s Lair’s focus remains on the varieties that we believe fare best in the Margaret River – Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. While their Chardonnay has been highly regarded for many years now, their Cabernet is really coming of age, a complete portfolio that illustrates the distinctive character of Margaret River.
Our first masterclass had us tasting fifteen Devil’s Lair Chardonnay spanned across 20 years, from 1995 to 2014. The Chardonnay is sourced from their Estate vineyards, which are some of the most southerly in Margaret River. The cooling breezes from the Southern Ocean is the perfect condition for Chardonnay. Devil’s Lair doesn’t want to go down the path of linear wines at the expense of flavour, hence their approach to Chardonnay is about capturing the right balance between elegance and fruit. Devil’s Lair Chardonnay is renowned for its taut acidity, excellent minerality, great length and structure and subtle oak influences.
I have to admit I am no expert when comes to wine, after tasting fifteen Chardonnays so no doubt the lines were blurred. But there were definitely a few highlights and personal favourites:
- 2004 Devil’s Lair Margaret River Chardonnay – RRP (N/A)
- 2011 Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber Chardonnay – RRP-$100
- 2011 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Les Charmes, Meursault Premiere Cru, France – RRP-$180
- 2013 Devil’s Lair Margaret River Chardonnay – RRP-$49.99
- 2013 Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber Chardonnay – RRP-$99.99
No doubt everyone’s taste is different and picking a favourite wine is a personal choice. If you are a Chardonnay drinker, I am confident that you will rarely pick a bad Chardonnay from the Margaret River.
The masterclass was held at Lamont’s at Smiths Beach along the Yallingup coastline. We had a pretty good spread for lunch after the wine tasting. Our table was graced with grilled local salt water barramundi, goat cheese gnocchi with pecorino and also melt in the mouth slow braised Angus eye fillet with salt roasted kipflers and inoki mushroom.
Devil’s Lair Cabernet Sauvignon Masterclass
I am a red wine man, so this next masterclass was more exciting to me. Devil Lair’s Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Wilyabrup in the north, where the warmer influence from the Indian Ocean consistently produces elegant and beautifully ripe Cabernet fruit with silky-fine tannins. Devil’s Lair Cabernet Sauvignon is typically complex and layered with lively aromas, fine tannins and subtle oak characteristics. There were fourteen Cabernet Sauvignon to try, started with five back vintage, followed by 2011 and 2013 vintage. The 90s Cab Sav were corked and some already lost its characteristic and very dry. A few that hit the right notes were:
- 2001 Devil’s Lair Margaret Cabernet (cork)
- 2011 Cloudburst Cabernet Malbec – RRP$250 upward
- 2011 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon – RRP$108
- 2011 Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber Cabernet Sauvignon – RRP$119.99
- 2013 Devil’s Lair The Hidden Cave Cabernet Shiraz – RRP$23.99
- 2013 Devil’s Lair Dance with the Devil Cabernet Sauvignon – RRP$24.99
- 2013 Devil’s Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon – RRP$49.99
There were simply no better ways of appreciating Devil Lair’s wines but by tracing back to the roots. No one knows Devil’s Lair wines better than Viticulturist Simon Robertson, who has been with Devil Lair’s for more than 20 years. Simon has worked extensively in both new and old wine worlds in Bordeaux, Central Otago and Northern California. Simon showed us the shiraz vineyard as the chardonnay grapes had already been picked.
As the sun slowly setting behind the vineyards, our evening had only just started. We all gathered at a giant teepee tent where a delightful Twilight Feast had been organised for us. We were welcomed with a glass of Heemskerk Coal River Valley Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2009 and an arrange of appetisers including natural oysters, smoked chicken roulade and Scandinavian crackers with avocado and lime mousse.
It was a beautiful evening sitting inside the giant tent, glowing in candlelight whilst the local musicians serenaded us in the background. We kicked start with bbq scallops, prawn skewers and ceviche, lightly paired with Devil’s Lair Hidden Cave Chardonnay 2014. We then moved on to entree of hot smoked salmon with dill lane, a great pairing wine of Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber Chardonnay 2009. For the main, we dived into the tender sirloin steak and caramelised onion gratin potatoes with some rich bearnaise sauce. There were five different type of wines for us to choose to go with the main, but I was extremely happy with my choice of Devil’s Lair Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 1992 with my juicy, juicy red meat. To cap the night off, we indulged in local cheese and washed it down with a sweet Chateau Rauzan-Selga Margaux, France 2003. Life was good.
Despite the trip was short, it had been a great 2-day wine tasting experience and I got to learn about the wine region on the west coast of Australia.
Margaret River, I’ll be back.