Here we go again.
An absolute pleasure each year is the tasting hosted by Voyager Estate as they travel with their winemakers and their bottles from capital to capital to show not only their skills but to compare them with some of the best wines in the world.
The Founder of Voyager, Michael Wright, always encouraged his team to measure their efforts against wines they respected. As do the present owners; they know that improvement comes from constant comparison with your peers.
Welcome to the Wines of the West
Steve James, manager of winemaking and viticulture, opened proceedings with a line or two about continuing to focus on the varieties they believe they do well in Margaret River, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Believe? Oh yes, we believe too, Steve.
Preparing for this event we found a quotation in our notes from quite a few years back by an eminent West Australian wine appreciator:
“I won’t be here when the rest of the world bows its head, so I’ll say it now ‘I have seen the future of Cabernet and it is Margaret River.’ ”
A bit one-eyed perhaps, possibly based on the famous Springsteen rock-n-roll quote but probably just as close to the mark.
The Voyager Masterclass is impeccably presented. The booklet itself is a treasure with stacks of information on the wines of the day, their countries, their vineyards and their vintages.
Just twenty-five or so of us are around the table including three of their winemaking team. Steve, Travis Lemm and James Penton will take us skillfully through the wines.
Let us begin
First, we have nine glasses of chardonnay glowing with shades of pale gold in front of us. We have fifteen minutes of quiet tasting and evaluation. We know which wines have been poured but not in which order.
After our deliberations all is revealed. Our tasting skills and prejudices exposed. Well, not to the whole table, unless you wish to speak up, but our notes tell us secretly how well we did. We remind ourselves it is not an exam, but an appreciation and an education.
(The recommended retail prices give an indication of how generous our hosts have been.)
Unveiled, here are the Chardonnays (with a combination of comments from TML and the winemakers) in order of reveal, not ranking. There was a range of opinion through the day, but a consensus would put them all well into the nineties, some high nineties.
2015 Seville Estate Reserve ($70) from the Yarra Valley.
Bright, fresh, a mouthful of super white fruits. Nice florals, clean and crunchy. One of our favourite Aussie chardonnays.
2014 Henri Germain Meursalt Charmes ($190) from Burgundy.
Natural and organic. Minimalist winemaking. Complex, fine and lean from the higher slopes. Midweight and brisk, sherbet and mandarin peel.
2015 Voyager Estate Broadvale Block 6 ($55)
Small parcels of fruit (Clone 95), hand-harvested. Malolactic fermentation and batonage builds texture. An evolving block, each year delivering extra ripeness and flesh.
2015 Voyager Estate Broadvale Block 5 ($55)
Gin gin clone, natural ferment, requires no malolactic. Lovely lifted rich fruitiness. Fresh and harmonius with hints of lime and grapefruit.
2015 Sorrenburg ($70) from Beechworth, Victoria.
A bigger wine. Ripe fruits on the nose and in the mouth. Peachy and rich from full malolactic. Generous textures in an older school style.
2015 Penfolds Bin 15A ($100) from the Adelaide Hills.
Bright intense and nutty. Complex florals, crisp bright citrussy with a pretty finish. Beautiful fruit underpinning.
2015 Sacred Hills Riflemans ($70) from Hawkes Bay, NZ.
Smouldering smokiness on the nose. Deep broad palate with rich pineappley notes. Soft and smooth like peaches and cream.
2014 Flowers, Camp Meeting Ridge ($150) Sonoma, California.
Biodynamically farmed. Lovely lifted nose. Rich ripe pears and peaches. Almost salty oyster shells on the long crisp finish.
2015 Voyager Estate Chardonnay ($45)
From eight separate blocks of different clones. 50% malolactic. Slighlty warmer season. Ripeness and generosity with tight acidity.
Bring on those reds, cabernet here we come.
We take a break, the chardys are tidied, and when we resume we have nine glasses of red in front of us. Heads down, concentrate for quarter of an hour, then heads up as the covers come off.
2013 Leoville Las Cases ($300) from Bordeaux
Smokey cherry, violet spicy red berries. An elegant lighter style. Extremely impressive from a difficult vintage year.
2013 Yerringburg ($90) from the Yarra Valley Victoria.
Very fine, light but lifted sweet fruits. Nicely savoury and long. Really elegant style, well made from a hot and early vintage.
2013 Voyager Estate North Block U12 ($90)
Planted in 1995, hand-harvested up to five passes. Startlingly fresh and vibrant, perfumed. Touch of gravel and earth. Very fine.
2013 Voyager Estate Old Block V9 ($90)
Planted in 1978. Matured for 18 months in 50% new French oak.
Ripe and confident. Touch of earthiness. Poised over soft tannins.
2013 Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot ($70)
Super generous wine. Juicy mid palate, drinking beautifully now but will age well.
2013 Vasse Felix Tom Cullity ($160) Margaret River.
A blend of cabernet, malbec and a lick of petit verdot. Solidly ripe but minty and savoury with dusty oak and a dry finish from the malbec.
2013 Corison ($150) from the Napa Valley, California.
100% cabernet sauvignon, pure and deep on the nose. Elegant but chunky. A bit greenish but complex and firm.
2013 Sassicaia ($220) from Tuscany, Italy.
85% cabernet, 15% cabernet franc. One of the stars of modern Italian winemaking. Rich deep velvety, but with elegance and edginess.
2013 Spottswoode Estate ($260) from St Helena, Napa Valley CA.
88% cabernet sauvignon. Ripe and smokey. Big blackcurrant flavours. Juiciness with marked tannins, needing more time.
Again no numerical scores were awarded but all agreed a few bottles of each in the cellar would be a very fine asset.
How the good get better
As we are summing up the cabernet tastings Steve shares a couple of stories about their year at Voyager which demonstrate just what modern winemakers need to do to improve, even by a tiny percent, what they deliver to your glass.
Walking a block of some 3500 vines the boys inspected each one and chose just three which appeared to be perfectly formed, perfectly vigorous and whose grapes tasted best in the field. “We named it the Top Gun Project as we were searching for the best of the best. The vines code names were Maverick, Goose and Slider! Much more fun than assigning a number!”
They then made a tiny batch of wine from each of those three to compare with the wine made from all the other vines in the block. Yes, they agreed, if all the vines could be cultivated to be as good as those three there would be a perceptible uplift in the overall flavours.
In another experiment they were wondering about the effect of the hot Western sun on the ripening grapes. So the lads went into the field and erected 80% shadecloth over every second row on a small block. Over the next few weeks they noticed no shriveling and no raisining of the protected bunches. Back in the winery the wine made from the shaded rows displayed some superior nuances every good winemaker is striving for. So next year they’ll try shading more rows.
Top producers are learning all the time. It takes time. And investment. It’s not for the complacent or the cost cutters.
It’s why you pay a little more for the best.
You can read lots more at www.voyagerestate.com.au