In 1797 the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was taken ill in an isolated farmhouse on the bleak expanse of Exmoor in England’s West Country. There he fell into a drug-induced sleep and dreamed of Xanadu, the summer palace of Kubla Kahn. Upon waking he committed his vision to paper. Later, he explained that he published it ‘rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the grounds of any supposed poetic merits.’
The poem begins:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
In 1968 an eccentric Irish doctor, John Lagan, arrived at what was then the remote hamlet of Margaret River, in the southern section of Western Australia. Here he discovered a magical area with a beautiful river that flowed past giant caves to a wild sea. It was sufficiently close to Coleridge’s image to inspire the doctor, a great lover of literature, to recall the description of Xanadu. At the recommendation of another doctor, the talented Irishman purchased some land and in 1977 planted some vines. Naturally, he felt obliged to call his property Chateau Xanadu. The ‘chateau’ was later dropped but the literary connotation still inspires this most exciting winery.
What is fascinating about Margaret River is that just like Coleridge’s Xanadu it has its own beautiful river and an impressive array of giant caves, the only major difference being a sun-filled, rather than a sunless, sea.
Xanadu is thriving. It is clearly one the most important flagbearers for the Margaret River region, as its fame spreads across the world. The busy appellation lies about 4 hours’ drive south of Perth in Western Australia. In size it is around 70 miles long and 25 miles wide, and it seems to be achieving magical success with almost every variety that is planted there – with the possible exception of the uncooperative Pinot Noir.
Amongst whites, Sauvignon Blanc produces some delightful results, whilst Chardonnay excels, as Xanadu has proven when it was awarded the George Mackey Memorial Trophy for the best Australian wine exported in the year 2000. Out of the huge number of 7,969 different wines exported from Australia, the 1998 Xanadu Chardonnay was placed first. Yet, in my opinion, the Xanadu 2000 vintage is better still. The star white for me was the Xanadu Semillon 2000, which is topped up by a curious 5% blend of Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. This wine has tantalizing hints of ripe grapefruit and roasted cashew nut flavors.
Amongst the reds Shiraz thrives and Cabernet Sauvignon is superb, and, – especially when made from older vines – it is magnificent. During my visit I was kindly invited to dine at home with the erudite physician and his knowledgeable wife Dr Eithne Sheridan, where I was treated to a selection of older examples of Xanadu Lagan Estate Cabernet Reserve, of which the 1992 was a magnificent beast of a wine. It had such depth of color that it could have been used to stain furniture. Having displayed its appearance and weight it then charmed the palate with its elegance and finesse, and a magnificent long finish of rich, mellow fruit.
Perhaps the best news from Xanadu is its Secession Range, for it gives every wine lover the opportunity to taste the winery’s tempting work. The wines are made from grapes grown in the wider Western Australia appellation. For these, Xanadu has cheekily granted its own gold medals. The Semillon-Chardonnay 2000 boasts ‘best wine with snapper and minimum chips’, while the Shiraz-Cabernet 2000 (60% – 40%) claims ‘best wine for fireside snuggling’. These are very approachable fruit-driven wines with delightful mouth-feel.
When you visit Xanadu everything zips into action. There is enthusiasm exuding from every direction. From managing director Andrew Moore, who was prepared to get up at four o’ clock in the morning to broadcast a BBC telephone interview with me, to the inexhaustible marketing manager Kelly Renouf, who constantly bubbles, and on through head winemaker Jurg Muggli, who was officially on holiday, but insisted upon coming into work to show me some hospitality. Then there’s his extremely experienced colleague Glenn Goodall, and in-house artist Robert Lawson, who literally paints individual bottles for visitors to purchase. Robert knew that his role was not really relevant to an international wine publication when his bottles are not for the export markets, but he quickly volunteered to take me around the vineyard to find the best possible photographic opportunities. And I forgot to mention that the now ‘retired’ Dr John Lagan visited the winery 3 times during my 2 days there, as his son Conor was away on holiday and he felt the Lagans needed to be seen and heard!
With that team in force and the superb local terroir, Xanadu is achieving, and will achieve, many more prizes. Try its wines now. Join the fun and experience the style and character that Margaret River can provide.
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