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THERE are two big events happening this weekend.

First up, unless you live under a rock you’d be aware that the Wallabies are taking on the Poms in the final of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.

As for the second event … well, it is not quite as important as domination of the rugby world, but the great wine estates of Margaret River will create a scrum of its own as eager punters bid for their favourite wines.

The Great Wine Estates auction held in the grounds of Cape Mentelle attracts bidders from around the world and gives an indication as to the value of our leading Western Australian producers. Although there might be a few winemakers or producers bidding for their own wines, there is a sense the prices that fall at hammer time are a realistic indication of the wines’ true value (despite the alcohol-fuelled bravado of some). Reports of record sales at the various Napa Valley auctions are treated with some cynicism.

As the bidding paddles are handed out all indications are that the usual suspects will command the highest prices. The barrel offerings from Leeuwin, Moss Wood and Cullen seem to be the popular choice to attract the highest bids.

The auction will, in some cases, provide bidders with an opportunity to collect wines from some of Western Australia’s most respected vintages, as well as some of the older and more curious wines.

The sale has attracted many wineries to enter vertical lots, as well as museum wines.

At each of the previous GWE auctions wineries have donated a six-litre imperial, which has been labelled with original art works by leading Western Australian artists. The proceeds are donated to the Busselton Population Medical Research Foundation, which was created by the late Dr Kevin Cullen. 

This is Langton’s first ‘live’ in WA, with more than 540 lots up for grabs. The live sale begins at 3pm local time, just a couple of hours before kick off, so we hope that auctioneer Andrew Calliard doesn’t muck around when bringing down the hammer. Fortunately, the online sale for the majority of wines closes on December 1, well after the Wallabies have successfully (I hope) defended their World Cup rugby crown.

The wines on offer this year are from a collection of vintages, from 2001 through to 2003.

Cape Mentelle is offering its 2001 cabernet sauvignon, which comes from the Walcliffe vineyard. With these vines now approaching 30 years of age there is little doubt that Cape Mentelle can produce quality wines. The 2001 vintage was an absolutely stunning year for reds in Margaret River, and if the Trinders 2001 is anything to go by, Cape Mentelle’s will be the first wine you will want to taste at the pre tasting on Saturday.

Winemaker John Durham suggests this wine is possibly the best cabernet Cape Mentelle has produced.

There have been many highlights on the Western Australian wine scene this year, however it was the extraordinary weekend looking at all wines Cullen has produced that remains at the forefront of my mind.

The 2001 Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot is stunning and the 2002 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot is a continuation of the same quality. I would expect this barrel to exceed expectations and set a new benchmark for Cullen.

The 2002 vintage was a long, cool vintage, which most agree has resulted in wines with elegant subtle flavours and expressive perfumed aromas. Cullen cabernet merlot now has the name Diana Madeline incorporated into the label in honour of Diana Cullen, who died earlier this year.

Langton’s described Houghton’s Jack Mann as: ‘A wine that is hard to ignore, It has cut a swathe through the Australian wine show system and has attracted significant interest from the secondary wine market”.

Houghton will offer the 2002 Jack Mann Cabernet Malbec Shiraz, which has been crafted from fruit sourced from the Great Southern. Houghton was one of the first to plant vines in the region and now has extensive contracts to complement their own holdings in the region.

It is a wine that shows powerful fruit that, at present, is tightly bound in oak and tannins.

The winemaking team at Howard Park, led by the impressive talents of Michael Kerrigan, has the fabulous advantage of being able to pick and choose from a range of vineyard sites throughout WA to make their premium cabernet.

Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot is generally sourced from the Lower Great Southern and Margaret River regions, with most components of the wine usually coming out of the same sites each year in Mt Barker and the Porongurups.

One vineyard in particular – the Springview site – would be my choice when I win Lotto. As well as producing stunning fruit (yes it happens in the Porongurups) it has spectacular views. For the past four or five vintages this wine has shown positive vintage variations and, at times, a high proportion of Margaret River fruit. The 2002 wine Michael Kerrigan suggests again shows the attributes of the Great Southern.

Voyager Estate cabernet merlot is a new entry into the GWE. Cliffe Royle has continued the impressive form of Voyager wines in recent times. Beginning life as the Freycinet vineyard, the first vines were planted in 1978.

Viticulturist Steve James is one of the most meticulous in the business and the attention to detail in the vineyard is among the best in the region.

The 2001 Voyager Cabernet Merlot is another ripper from these guys, every bit as good as the 1999. While Voyager doesn’t yet have the iconic name behind it like the Moss Woods and Cullens, there is a belief within that they are heading that way. The wines have hardly put a foot wrong over the past few years.  

It is hard to believe that Moss Wood is concentrated around a five-hectare vineyard in Willyabrup. The vines planted there are, along with Cullen and Vasse Felix, the oldest in the region and the cabernets from these guys have set standards admired across Australia and overseas.

On offer at this year’s GWE is Moss Wood’s 2003 cabernet sauvignon, which is described as showing bright classical cassis/mocha/cedar aromas and flavours, balanced by underlying oak and fine grained tannins, a wine of tremendous finesse.

Somewhat of a quiet achiever in recent times, Pierro has continued to produce wines that show substance, structure and intensity. On offer on Saturday is its 2003 chardonnay, and from all indications it’s one of the best the winery has produced.

Vasse Felix is back to its best. I thought the 2001 cabernet sauvignon was stunning, and the 2002 is a very good follow up.

Fruit is sourced from Margaret River sites and is taken from both estate and contract vineyards. The estate fruit is from the oldest cabernet vines planted in Margaret River.

The pre-tasting begins at 10.30am, and for further information contact Cape Mentelle on 9757 0817.

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