Forest Hill: A Block of History
Review by Barry Weinman: 22nd March 2022
When it comes to pioneering vineyards in the Southwest of Western Australia, people automatically think of the stalwarts of the Margaret River region. But plantings in Mt Barker actually precede this Margaret River (by a year or so).
In 1965, a five-acre experimental vineyard was planted on what is now the Forest Hill vineyard and the first wines were produced in 1972. The Cabernet was made at Houghton by the Legendary Jack Mann, whilst the Riesling was made at Sandalford by Jack’s son Dorham.
Fast forward to 1996, and the Lyons family purchased the vineyards from the Homes a Court family (Vasse Felix). Over the subsequent years, vineyards were rejuvenated, new vineyards planted and, in 2004, a winery and cellar door built in Denmark.
On a recent trip to the region, I took the opportunity to sit down with winemaker/general manager Guy Lyons to taste through the range and hear a little about the philosophy that he, and senior winemaker Liam Carmody are trying to capture in the wines.
My overarching impression of the wines was that of restraint and elegance. Beautifully expressive fruit, yet reserved and age worthy. The Cabernet, for example, has more in common with fine Bordeaux that it does with a traditional Australian red wine.
If I had to choose one word to describe these wines, it would be exceptional. Exceptional quality and exceptional value.
Forest Hill – Riesling – 2021. 2021 was a good year for Riesling, and the fruit was harvested over multiple picks, with the parcels kept separate to ensure typicity. Fragrant citrus blossom with gentle talc and mineral/spice. Gentle phenolics add texture, whilst the taut acidity adds a lemony tang. Excellent length to close. 94pts – $30.
Forest Hill – Riesling – Block 2 – 2021. From the 1975 plantings. 15% matured in old oak with 9 months on lees. This is different to the standard wine. Finer, more elegant, almost ethereal in nature. There is also greater length and intensity, yet the phenolics are a lot finer. The textural components are a highlight. Seamless, yet possessing amazing intensity, this could be enjoyed any time over the next 10 – 15 years. 300 cases produced. 96pts – $38.
Forest Hill – Riesling – Block 1 – 2021. From the original 1965 vineyard. This is a step up again in intensity compared to the Block 2, with a core of minerality running the length of the palate. Lime, lemon and steely acidity combine on the close. This is a powerhouse that needs years to reach its peak, yet is superb drinking now. A statement wine. Only 100 cases made. 97pts – TBC.
Forest Hill – Chardonnay – 2020. The fruit for this comes from the lower part of the vineyard, with a cross section of clone planted. Matured in 20% new oak and underwent wild yeast fermentation. This leads with citrus, with supple stone fruit in the background. There is a degree of richness which reflects the vintage. Balancing acidity and supple winemaking inputs make for a very enjoyable wine to drink now. 93pts – $32
Forest Hill – Chardonnay – Block 8 – 2018. The power here is palpable, but the fruit is cloaked with restraint. Citrus notes and lemony acid abound, the oak (25% new) and lees work have been absorbed by the fruit adding texture and depth, without over flavours. Very fine and elegant, with incredible intensity. The style here is getting ever finer, and cellaring is recommended. 95+pts – $50.
Forest Hill – Shiraz – 2020. This is all about the fragrant fruit. Cherry, plum, and even berry, with the gentlest of cedar. The palate is defined by its minerality and texture, and the chewy finish has a sprinkling of black pepper. A small proportion of the fruit underwent whole bunch fermentation, and the wine was matured in seasoned oak. 94pt – $32.
Forest Hill – Shiraz – Block 9 – 2020. Wow, the intensity has been turned up here. The minerality again is a feature, with the perfume more subdued, and gentle savoury notes (including chocolate and coffee.) build. Great length, but this needs 10+ years to reach its best. Block 9 was planted in 1985. 95pts- TBC
Forest Hill – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2019. The dusty fruit (a good thing) is really taut and drying and is reminiscent of fine Bordeaux, but at a fraction of the price. This took two days to open up, but I was rewarded with bright fruit and supple textural components. 93-94pts – TBC.
Forest Hill – Cabernet Sauvignon – Block 5 – 2019. The best parcels of fruit (Houghton clone) from a vineyard at the top of a ridge. The perfume is more notable here, with hints of berry and even a touch of violet. The palate is briary, textured and closed, but the potential is palpable. Give it 10 years and be rewarded. A classic Cabernet and proudly different to the wines coming from Margaret River. 95+pts – $65.