Last Monday I had the distinct pleasure of eating lunch and drinking wine (okay, tasting wine… drinking will come in a couple months!) with Marc Anderson, Sales Manager at Vasse Felix winery in Margaret River.
For those of you not familiar with Margaret River, I’ll give you a quick overview. While the majority of Australia’s wine growing regions are clustered in the Southeastern part of Australia (South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales), a little slice of winemaking heaven exists over on the South Western tip of the country. The most well-known and top quality region in this area is Margaret River. With a Mediterranean climate similar to that of Bordeaux, Bordeaux varieties have thrived here. Cabernet Sauvignon, on its own or in a blend, creates structured yet elegant wines, with a delicious balance of herbs, fruit and structure. We talked a bit about Margaret River Cabernet vs. Coonawarra Cabernet – Marc mentioned that Margaret River has those savory herbs (rosemary, sage, etc) while Coonawarra often shows more herbal notes like mint and eucalyptus. A good way to describe “herbal” differences. On the white side, they’ve take up with the Bordeaux varietals of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, as well as crafting a few decadent and highly regarded Chardonnays – Leeuwin Estate’s Artist Series is a must for any Chardonnay lover.
In Margaret River, there are a handful of wineries known as the “founding five.” They include Cullen, Cape Mentelle, Vasse Felix, Leeuwin and Mosswood. I have had wines from four out of these five (have yet to taste Mosswood) and they definitely make some of the best wines I’ve had from Australia. Vasse Felix lays claim to being the first (and therefore the oldest) winery and vineyards in Margaret River. It was founded in 1968 by Dr. Thomas Cullity, who, after reading a report highlighting the potential of Margaret River as a premium wine growing region, decided to seek out ideal viticulture sites and set down some roots. For the past 23 years, the winery has been owned by the Holmes a Court family, a wealthy family originally from Great Britain who now focuses on three things in Australia: wine, cattle and horses (I know, what is it with wine families and horses? They seem to go together…).
2009 Vasse Felix Chardonnay – If you love CRISP Chardonnays that still taste like Chardonnay, this is a wine for you. Good stone fruits on the nose, and on the palate the first thing that hit me was the acid – it was so deliciously crisp. yet there was this excellent texture as well. Marc called it “crunchy” acid, which I think fits perfectly. He also mentioned that 100% of the wine is aged in French oak, 40% new, BUT, the wine does not see any malo-lactic fermentation, which explains that heavier texture behind the crunchy acid. A great choice as this is the kind of Chardonnay I crave. For about $20, this is a great value for GOOD Chardonnay.
2010 Vasse Felix Chardonnay – We tasted on a Monday and the wine had been bottled the previous Wednesday, then shipped over to the states. So we’re talking some prime bottle shock here. It was a just a preview, as this bottling will not come to the markets for another few months. But from the taste, I sensed a wine that will show similarly to the 2010 – crunchy acid (I do love this term), great stone fruits and a nice finish. It was a little closed, but there was great potential here.
2006 Heytesbury Chardonnay – The Heytesbury name comes from the town from where the Homes a Court family hails. It is a barrel selection Chardonnay, and it’s fantastic! We tasted the 2006, which Marc was excited to open, as they have been out of the 2006 in Australia for some time. But there is some to be had here (and we’re getting our hands on some soon, so give me a shout if you are interested in finding out more). The nose has a toasted nut quality (like hazelnuts), a bit of spice and baked apple. The palate has a creamy texture (100% wild yeast fermented), and was much rounder than the Margaret River Chardonnay, but with a backbone of great acidity. Even though it was 7 years old, it still tasted very fresh, giving me reason to think this is a wine that can evolve in the bottle. Lots of layers of complexity here and an excellent finish. Someone else called it a mini-Meursault. Well put.
2007 Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon – I typically love Margaret River Cabs and this was no exception. This wine is 92% Cabernet, with 8% Malbec. The nose is full of herbs, cedar and black fruit. The palate had firm but well-integrated tannins and great structure. Overall a well-built Cabernet that tastes like Cabernet – no over-the-top fruit, but also no bitter tannins. A good strong finish had me thinking, I’d love a steak right now. Definitely a great wine for a lover of classic Cabernet.
2005 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon – Rounding up lunch so tasted this wine too fast, but it was one of those “wow” Cabernets. Everything singing together in harmony and lingering on the palate. My notes don’t go much further than that (sorry!) but if you like good Cabernet worth holding a few years, this is one to try.
On your next visit to Wine.com or when you see it on a restaurant list, check for any wines from Vasse Felix. My hunch is you will be delighted.