Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Voyager Estate Masterclass and Dinner
Meanwhile, at the bottom end of the market, the country still provides bucket-loads of cheap, fruity quaffing plonk that is usually on special offer somewhere, but taxes and currency movements are making this harder to sustain.
The solution for Steve James - head of winemaking at Voyager Estate in Western Australia's Margaret River - is for the country to focus on its higher-end wines and its terroir.
That's certainly the approach at his own winery where the philosophy is "the best of everything" and the wines are priced well above the retail points of supermarkets.
Steve started by explaining a little about Margaret River - 5 hours' flying time from the major population centres on the east coast and three hours' drive south of Perth, the word "remote" springs to mind.
The climate is warm-maritime, with cooling sea breezes from the Southern Ocean often taking night-time temperatures down to low teens, meaning a long growing season and higher natural acidity as a result.
With the first vines planted only in the late 1960s, he describes Western Australia as the New New World. And yet with a climate similar to Bordeaux, the resulting style is much more European Old World, a fact that was not lost on an appreciative audience.
The wines were in three flights of four - each with a wild-card / benchmark from another producer for comparison.
2009 Voyager Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River, WA (12.8%) a slightly pungent nose of complex oak and tropical fruit; the palate is extremely precise and structured with ripe fruit, toastiness, some vanilla sweetness. There is a nutty, oatmealy creaminess and good palate length with a persistent finish.
Low-ish alcohol and just 30% new oak, medium toasted, with wild yeast fermentation help to give balance and depth to this wine. Very elegant and poised.
Kumeu Rive Mate's Vineyard Chardonnay Kumeu, NZ (13.5% £29.95 BBR) by comparison, this benchmark kiwi chardie felt less precise, less structured, a bit woolly. Well made, but not as thrilling as the Voyager Estate.
2008 Voyager Estate Chardonnay (13.3%) from a warmer year, this feels fuller and plumper; still good acidity and toastiness.
2006 Voyager Estate Chardonnay (13.3%) from a very cool year, this has lots of fresh acidity and still feels quite youthful, developing in the glass over time. There is some funky spice on the nose with citrus and refreshing tropical fruit acidity.
During the Masterclass, I found the Shirazes a little restrained and elusive - later over dinner, I found them much more expressive. I am at a loss to know quite why that is, but my notes here are from the Masterclass and I don't feel fully do them justice. In any case, they showed great deftness and elegance - and a food-friendly versatility to rival Pinot Noir.
Voyager Estate Shiraz, Maragaret River, WA 2010 (13.5%) rather elusive nose, dark fruit and pepperiness with savouriness on the palate; good acidity and tannins, feels full and soft, not the usual raisiny style. Good length.
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District, NSW (14%, Liberty Wines, £52.99) expressive, herbaceous nose with minty oleander; on the palate floral and oleander aromas, with ripe elderberry fruit. Very poised and precise. Impressive for sure, but very expensive and I don't know that I would want to live with it.
2009 Voyager Estate Shiraz (13.9%) again, slightly elusive nose, dark fruit and some menthol hints; dark fruit, pencil shavings, vanilla spice and savouriness on the palate with soft, full perfectly-ripe tannins.
2007 Voyager Estate Shiraz (14%) with a bit more age, this feels softer, mellower and more harmoniously integrated.
The Bordeaux Blends
The precise blend varies year-by-year, but generally these were around 80% Cab, 15% Merlot and a small amount of Petit Verdot or Malbec.
Oaking is 18-24m in 50% new oak and 50% 2yo.
2008 Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Margaret River, WA (13.6% £31) complex and intense nose of tobacco, earthiness and spice. Mouthfilling palate with good fruit, balanced acidity and soft, grippy tannins. A dead ringer for a Cru Bourgeois Bourdeaux, it was agreed.
2008 Wynns Coonawarra John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, SA (14%) ripe and blackcurranty with sweet liquorice. Good, well-made and impressive but a touch monolithic.
2005 Voyager Estate Cabernet (14%) mintiness, coffee, spice and pencil shavings on the nose and palate; more aromatic than the 2008.
2004 Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (14.2%) bramble fruit, leather and spice on the nose, cool mintiness and fresh acidity with ripe fruit. Balanced acidity and tannins, mouthfilling with a long palate. Harmonious and fresh, drinking very nicely now.
With a trend for lower alcohol levels and less oak over the years, the youngest wines often felt the most balanced, classical and elegant.
That said, at this stage in their evolution, they lacked the harmonious mellowness of the older wines - particularly in the case of the reds.
In all cases, I found myself preferring the Voyager Wines to the benchmarks. Within the flights, favourites were:
- Chardonnay 2009 for its precision
- Shiraz 2007 for its soft harmoniousness
- Cab/Merlot 2004 for its complex secondary aromas
Voyager Estate wines are sold in the UK by Justerini and Brooks - not all vintages currently available.
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