Vasse Felix Alternatives Range
Barry Weinman: 6th February 2020
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the heart and soul of Margaret River wines and producers are typically trying to make ever finer wines in a style that we know and love.
But there is more to Margaret River, and Sauvignon Blanc (often in conjunction with Semillon) and Shiraz are also important varieties for the region.
Unlike Cabernet and Chardonnay however, there is not a regional style that defines these wines. This gives winemakers the opportunity to explore techniques that are, perhaps, less mainstream.
With Sauvignon Blanc for example, the trend is towards increased barrel fermentation, lees and oak characters, resulting in more complex and savoury wines that is particularly suited to food.
This trend appears to be mirrored at Vasse Felix.
Virginia Wilcox and her winemaking team maintain an unrelenting focus on making the best possible wines from Chardonnay and Cabernet. This is exemplified by the Heytesbury Chardonnay and Tom Cullity Cabernet.
With the main focus firmly on Cabernet and Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and Shiraz are being repositioned as the alternative range, allowing an evolution of their styles.
The winery has been producing experimental batches of Sauvignon Blanc for ten vintages now, with the lessons learnt being implemented in the Estate wines. The experimental Shiraz program is now up to its fifth vintage.
In 2020, the winery will be releasing limited quantities of these experimental wines in a new “Black Label” range, and they are definitely worth seeking out.
The current SBS and Shiraz give a clear window to where the winery is taking these wines.
At a different price point entirely, but also embracing the small batch ethos is Cullen’s Legacy Series Chardonnay from 2016. Vanya Cullen has been producing tiny quantities of quite exquisite Chardonnays for the last few years, and the current Fruit Day version is a brilliant wine.
Vasse Felix – Blanc IX – Sauvignon Blanc – 2019. $39. Unfined and unfiltered, with a cloudy appearance, though the wine is clean, fresh and attractive. The initial nose is incredibly floral, showing blackcurrant, stone fruit, melon and citrus, along with supple lees work. The palate is complex, lemony and bright, with the mouth-feel a highlight. Very approachable and quite delicious.
This is the tenth vintage of this series. Initially started as a SSB blend, but has had gradually increasing proportions of SB in the blend. From 2017 this moved to 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine spends ten days on skins and seven months in one year old French oak.
Vasse Felix – Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – 2018. (17.6/20pts – $26). The nose is a bit funky (in a good way), with lees, oak and wild yeast characters adding depth. The palate is fine and elegant, with citrus fruit balanced by herbal notes typical of Sauvignon Blanc. Lemony acidity drives the textural, almost steely finish. A wine that is eminently suited to food.
Vasse Felix – Shiraz – 2018 (18/20pts – $37). Superb vibrant colour. Silky, fragrant aromas of Satsuma plum and dark cherry, with hints of chocolate and spice. The palate is fine and elegant, with feathery tannins and subtle, texturing oak. Refined and elegant, this has immediate appeal, but is also cellar worthy, as with air, this gets quite serious and sinewy.
Cullen – Kevin John Chardonnay – Legacy Series – Fruit Day – 2016 (18.9/20pts – $250). The intensity of this wine is quite remarkable. Initially appears modern and taut, yet the fruit power building in layers. The superb winemaking, supple oak (50% new) and fine acid balance confer instant appeal to what is a long-term aging prospect. Outstanding!