The Margaret River valley is one of the best wine-growing regions in Australia. The wine-tasting trail is an amazing romp through rolling green hills that stretch along the coastline of Western Australia all the way to its southernmost cape, where the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean collide.
Wine-wise, the area is best known for Chardonnays and for Semillon-tempered Sauvignon Blancs. The Cabernets are great, too. What a lot of people might not realize is that this region also produces some of the world’s best black truffles. They’re the exact same species as the famed black truffles from Perigord, France, and they’re just as good (harvested in Australia’s winter, our summer), as chefs such as L.A.’s Josiah Citrin will attest. (Actually, he thinks Australia’s truffles are more consistent than France’s.) The region also boasts a burgeoning beer industry. Here are 10 essential stops along Margaret River’s wine and truffle trail.
1. Vasse Felix Winery
This might be the best winery in the whole region, a gorgeous estate nestled on the banks of Wilyabrup Brook in Cowaramup. The entire roster of wines is fantastic, but the one to pay most attention to is the Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon, which is incredibly sophisticated — not what you might be expecting from a big, New World-style Cabernet but rather much more Bordeaux in character. I highly recommend a “tutored tasting” with chief winemaker Virginia Willcock, if you can catch her.
2. Vasse Felix Restaurant
Like the winery itself, the restaurant at Vasse Felix is also very likely the best in the entire valley, serving elegantly rustic, farm-to-table wine-country fare. The service is impeccable. And just about everything on the menu is sourced from within a few miles of the kitchen’s back door, including fabulous duck, venison, ocean trout and grass-fed wagyu beef. In winter, there’ll be a nice fire crackling in the floating hearth at the restaurant’s entrance.
3. Wine & Truffle Co.
You’ll find the town of Manjimup at the southernmost edge of Margaret River, and if it’s truffle season (June through August) this truffle farm on the outskirts of town will be the most important stop on the tour. Step inside the truffle shop and café, and the pungent aroma of fresh Perigord truffles is almost overwhelming, in a dizzying, intoxicating sort of way. Once you step foot inside the building, there’s little chance you’ll be able to resist buying a truffle or two. And, yes, you can have the truffles shipped back home to the States.
This is a world-class gourmet/wine shop in Wilyabrup whose café was just recently expanded and remodeled to include a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the Coward & Black vineyards. All the café’s produce — beets, eggplant, tomatoes, squash, figs, herbs — is grown in a garden just outside the door. The wine shop cherry-picks the best of the region. The fig tarts are fantastic.
Located in downtown Margaret River, this is probably the second best restaurant in the valley, along with one of the best regional-focused wine cellars as well. After eating here (char-grilled lamb steak with Shiraz jus, for example, or duck confit with crispy black pig bacon), you’ll want to pick up a signed copy of chef/owner Russell Blaikie’s beautiful cookbook, Must Eat, which is filled with great little stories about local farmers and ranchers.
6. Cheeky Monkey Brewery
Opened in March, the Cheeky Monkey is a great new brewery and tasting room with a nice selection of tapas and pizzas. There are seven craft beers and ciders on tap each day, everything made on the premises. Best plan: Order a sampler of all seven and a big bowl of beer-steamed mussels. And save room for the fantastic fruit tarts and carrot cake.
7. Cape Lodge
This is the closest thing you’ll find to five-star lodging in the region, a collection of quaint lodges positioned around a small lake in the middle of a forest near Yallingup. The restaurant here is very good, too (local venison paired with roasted beets and black truffles), although the service can be amusingly slapstick. Welcome to the countryside.
8. Knotting Hill Estate
There are two reasons to visit Knotting Hill. One is the wine. The Cabernet Merlot blend is quite nice, as is the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. But the other reason is even better: fresh marron. Marron are freshwater lobsters indigenous to the region, and the estate sits next to a 5.5 hectare lake teeming with marron. Their flesh is snowy white and remarkably sweet — a brilliant, not-to-be-missed pairing alongside venison chorizo and a glass of Cab Merlot.
9. Margaret River Chocolate Company
Every road trip requires chocolate, so this chocolate factory/café is a necessary stop. The softball-sized hunks of chocolate-covered nougat are truly amazing. And they make a killer cappuccino, too.
10. Karri Valley Resort
The term “resort” is applied rather loosely here, so adjust your expectations for luxury. That said, this is one damn cool retreat. It’s like summer camp with lakeside cabins and hidden in a lush forest (à la Friday the 13th) just outside of Pemberton. There are incredible hiking trails and waterfalls. They have bicycles and sailboats. You can swim in the lake, and you can fish from your balcony. The restaurant is not exactly great (far from it), but the beer is always cold and the staff, utterly charming.