It’s truffle season in Australia, so I’m bringing this story out of the archives. 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.
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.
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.
6. Cheeky Monkey Brewery
Opened in March of 2012, 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, or marron with pork belly), 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.