David Pike reports on the development of a devilishly good drop from the Margaret River region.

EARLIER this year winemaker Stuart Pym treated me to a tasting of Devils Lair reds back to the 1995 vintage. It was an opportunity to see how the wine has developed in the bottle and how vintage conditions affected wine and the selection of final blend.

It was interesting to see the range of fruit flavours within each of the wines and how you find more red berry fruit characters, something not seen in many of the cabernet-style wines from vineyards further north in Margaret River. The tannin and acidity structures in most of the wines, backed up with the generous fruit, show that in good vintages this wine will age gracefully for up to 10 or more years. The wine is based on cabernet sauvignon and, depending on the vintage, portions of cabernet franc and merlot are added.

Devils Lair was established by Phil Sexton in 1981 and named after an archaeological dig close to the Forest Grove site. The dig site was called ‘Devils Lair cave’ and some of the fossil remains included Queensland fruit bats and the Tassie Tiger. In 1997, Southcorp Wines purchased the property and continues to operate it to this day, despite rumours the business has been on the market for a number of years.

The winery is situated in a fantastic location and is crying out for a cellar door facility to be added, with the accompanying associated funky merchandise. I was told recently that a survey of visiting tourists placed Devils Lair as one of the most asked about wineries in the area.

There are only four wines in the Devils Lair portfolio – the Estate Cabernet and Chardonnay and the workhorse red and white wines under the Fifth Leg label, with the past few vintages of the Fifth Leg wines marked by a dramatic lift in quality.

The fruit for the majority of these two wines is supplied by contract growers, many of whose vines are now producing mature fruit under careful management, which I suspect has led to this improvement.

The Fifth Leg White 2001 is showing strong varietal characters from a difficult white grape vintage and is due for release towards the end of the year. The Fifth Leg Red 2000 is not quite as rich as the ’99 but you will find it very drinkable. It has soft elegant fruit and is due for release this month.

The Devils Lair Chardonnay 1999 is quite succulent and worth seeking out. It has plenty of lively citrus, nectarine and melon flavours with refinement throughout.

Devils Lair Margaret River Red 1995 rating 19/20

Showing some aged characters in its appearance, aromas of black cherries, chocolate, cassis with slight cedar/tobacco touches. The palate shows redcurrant fruits, the fruit is soft, elegant, ripe and sweet, yet some restraint is shown. This wine still has plenty of life and shows the strengths of the vintage.

Devils Lair Margaret River Red 1996 rating 17/20

A relatively warm vintage which, due to a rainy spring, didn’t quite get the depth of flavour. It has crowd-pleasing aromas of cedar, blackcurrant and blueberries and is perfumed with an edge of cigar box and black olive. The palate, while rich, has less depth of flavour than the ’95. Redcurrant and blackberry fruits sit on top of soft elegant tannins. While this is a sound wine, it lacks definition.

Devils Lair Margaret River Red 1997 rating 16.5/20

With the season having plenty of rain and harvest beginning much later than usual, this wine shows the structure of a cooler vintage. There are restrained redcurrant fruits with tobacco hints, a fleshy palate with mint and chocolate entwined with red berry fruits. Soft tannin structure but with better fruit weight than the ’96.

Devils Lair Margaret River Red 1998 rating 18.5/20

There was quite a bit of rain about and some cyclonic activity for about 10 days, so this is a funny vintage with a bit of botrytis fruit around. There was a fair bit of good luck rather than good management with this vintage. The ’98 is a powerful wine with redcurrant, chocolate (mint), prunes and cedary aromas. Tantalising fruit on the palate that is soft and supple, with cassis, plums, redcurrant and mint flavours. A great length of palate that still has plenty of time on its side.

Devils Lair Margaret River Red 1999 rating 19+/20 New Release

Great vintage conditions for reds. This is a stunning wine that is powerful and elegant. Aromas are complex and include mint, cassis and savoury dark chocolate. The palate ignites the powerful viscous fruit that is structured and supple. Complexity flows through the wine. It has a seamlessness that will be around for some time. Make sure you get hold some of this vintage for the celllar.

Devils Lair

Margaret River

Rocky Road

Forest Grove

No cellar door sales

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