by Fred McMillin
for April 10, 1997
When Cape Mentelle Rang the Bell
Prologue: It was 1973 in Sydney. Australian Wine Whiz Len Evans gave me an autographed copy of his new book which said, "Western Australia has not been important in terms of quantity of wine production, although the first vines were planted there in 1840 by original settler Captain John Septimus Roe...[however] the area has a unique climate with a very long, cool growing season. It is possibly better suited to the production of table wines than any other area of Australia." He was talking about the Margaret River District on the southwestern tip of the continent.
The Rest of the Story: As we were talking, winemaker David Hohnen's first vines were growing on the Margaret River. Exactly 10 years later he would shock the Aussie wine world with a red that was voted best one-year-old wine in the land. Must be a fluke. His Cape Mentelle Winery couldn't be THAT good...or could it? Well, the next year Dave accomplished the impossible. He won again! That put Cape Mentelle and Western Australia on the world wine maps, and they're still there.
If you want to taste some of the Hohnen magic, his 1994 Shiraz (Syrah) is available in the USA. It's a purple powerhouse that my tasters rated above 11 competitors. ...a robust wine to serve with robust food like a pesto pizza.
1994 Shiraz (Syrah), Margaret River, Western Australia
Postscript: The Hohnen red that first shocked Australia was his 1982 Cab. I teach wine history to visiting Fulbright scholars and an Australian professor brought me a bottle in 1992. In spite of its 10 years, the Mentelle was still a huge mouthful which clearly was going to be going strong for another four or five years. Dave makes 'em big.
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