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Friday 19 November 2021

Two Vasse Felix Wines

Two wines from Western Australia's Vasse Felix

Western Australia was, curiously, the region that first got me into Australia.

Back then, they were the most restrained, elegant and food-friendly wines I had tried from Australia, compared to the ubiquitous over-fruited pantechnicons of Bruce Juice.

Fast forward to today and there are plenty of cool-climate, elegant Aussie wines that you might think were European if you tasted blind.

But I still retain a special fondness for that corner of Australia wedged between two cooling oceans and a five-hour flight from anywhere.

Novice wine-drinking-me also avoided Chardonnay on the advice of no less a figure than Oz Clarke, who opined in the early New Millennium: Chardonnay's problem is that actually it's rather a neutral variety ... that's why Sauvignon Blanc is such a runaway success.

Given that I drank mainly Austrian wines at the time, avoiding Chardonnay was not exactly difficult, as I existed on a steady diet of Gruener, Riesling and Styrian Sauvignon.

So, imagine my surprise when, one evening at some soulless, identikit airport in Mittel Europa, having  managed to make my way into the Business Lounge, I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay and found that ... I rather liked it.

Decades later, I still have the distinct recollection of the delicious savoury, oaky buzz with ripe tropical fruit, all zipped up with a squeeze of lime. "Oz, you lied!" I wanted to shout.

Instead, I found myself a convenient corner with a view of the runway landing lights, opened the business pages and quietly poured myself another glass.

My relationship with Cab is somewhat different; I've rarely had it as a varietal wine, but if I had to pick a favourite red, it would be the Cab-dominated Left-Bank wines of Bordeaux.

The darker wines of Bordeaux and France's south west generally were pretty much the first reds I got into; on a driving holiday to France many years ago, we stopped at a supermarket and filled the boot with various, plentiful inexpensive reds, a pre-Brexit ritual we followed pretty much every year in the form of some holiday or other involving taking the car across the Channel.

Vasse Felix says of these wines:

Two wines from one of the most isolated wine regions in the world. Margaret River is a land that is pure, unique, remote, and distinct in every possible way with its pristine coastline, abundant forests, and ancient soils.

One of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, the region is home to flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world. This is also home to the passionate winemakers of Vasse Felix who produce some of the world’s finest Chardonnays and Cabernets.

Supported by the region’s consistent ‘textbook’ climate and positioned on a cape, the Margaret River wine region experiences a Mediterranean warmth that is cooled by the ocean on three sides: ideal for growing top quality grapes. The region’s wines are respected for their unique quality of elegance and power.

Vasse Felix 2019 CHARDONNAY

Virginia Willcock has been winemaker at Vasse Felix since 2006 and believes the single most important influence is the breeze from the southern Indian Ocean that keeps the fruit cool, so the bunches ripen slower and with balanced flavour and retention of natural acidity and beautiful, vibrant intensity. But there’s something more than that.

The Gingin clone, which forms the backbone of this wine (with a little of the Bernard clone mixed in). Gingin is a unique, yet commonly planted vine, introduced to Western Australia in 1957 (yet it would be 20 years later before a Chardonnay was made from it).

Margaret River’s low yielding ‘heritage’ Chardonnay clone experiences millerandage (hen and chicken) berries that give intensity, wonderful acidity, and depth of flavour. Vasse Felix Chardonnay is produced from small parcels of this fruit, selected from carefully nurtured plots in Vasse Felix’s premier vineyards located in Wilyabrup and Wallcliffe areas of Margaret River.

Most of the grapes are hand-harvested and gently whole bunch pressed and transferred to French oak barriques as unclarified juice for wild fermentation. Each parcel is left on lees in the barrel, before allowing further time to rest and harmonise as the fruit flavours and solids intermingle. The result is a wine, made in a modern style, with elegance, power and restraint and a wild complexity which gives Vasse Felix Chardonnay a distinct house style.


Cabernet Sauvignon is what Margaret River is best known for, and this wine is a leading champion of the region. Almost every wine producer makes one, but the premier Cabernet Sauvignon of Vasse Felix has a distinctive house style that shines through.

Vasse Felix made their first Cabernet Sauvignon in Margaret River in 1972, from the vines planted by regional pioneer Tom Cullity in 1967 when the winery was first founded, and this wine has been made every year since.

Cabernet and Malbec vines arrived in Western Australia in 1854. Known locally as Houghton clone, Tom’s mass selection from the Houghton Vineyard in Swan Valley (Australia’s second oldest wine region) have been propagated in subsequent plantings at Vasse Felix and by other Margaret River wineries.

The grapes are grown in Vasse Felix’s Home Vineyard in Wilyabrup; a patchwork of tiny, premier vineyard plots of exceptional land and microclimates. Harsh and ancient well-drained, gravel-loam soils over clay ensure low yielding vines.

Their aspect ensures optimum access to the cooling ocean breeze for the perfect balance of flavour, concentration, and tannin ripeness. Each vineyard plot is individually fermented using indigenous yeasts with extended maceration and traditional oxidative handling. It is basket pressed and matured in small batches.

A small amount of Malbec is always blended into the wine, to complement and enhance the Cabernet profile, ensuring it remains true to the house estate style. A little Petit Verdot is added to bring a floral tone to the nose and a beautiful tail to the tannin.

The percentage of each variety in the blend varies, sensitive to the vintage. The wine’s distinctive style possesses all the hallmarks of the finest Wilyabrup Cabernet, that of elegance, structure, and age-ability. 

Vasse Felix has a place in Margaret River history as the region’s founding wine estate, and with these two wines, a Chardonnay, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, comes not just the quality but a true and pure expression of the region

Vasse Felix Premier Chardonnay 2019 (£25, Harvey Nichols, Australian Wines Online, Fareham Wine Cellar, Specialist Cellars, Vinvm, Lattitude Wines, The Soho Wine Supply, Frazier’s Wine Merchants, Wine Direct (Sussex) Ltd, Fortnum & Mason, Appellation Nation, Voyageurs du Vin, Fareham Wine Cellar)

white peach, citrus and orchard fruits, with oaky spice, wild herbs and lime zest; melon, citrus, pineapple and lime fruit with almond, ginger, struck match and toasty oak with savoury, brazil nut leesiness; complex, harmonious and long.

Drinks nicely on first opening, improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Very Good.

Match with complex, spiced dishes, such as chili-and-ginger tuna carpaccio or Tom Yum Talay.

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (£30 Direct Wine, Harvey Nichols, Australian Wines Online, Bonafide Wines, Vinvm. Ltd, Wine Direct, Connolly’s Wine Merchant, Averys, Laithwaites, The Secret Cellar)

tarry dark fruits, lifted blackcurrant, violets and complex, oaky vanilla spice with leathery, truffley sous bois; ripe, juicy cassis, bramble fruits, liquorice, tobacco leaf, balsamic and ripe, well-integrated tannins. Supple, adept and harmonious.

Very Good.

This is a wine that has much development to go through; match the blackcurranty fruit to rosemary-and-garlic lamb shoulder or barbecue foods on first opening.

Alternatively, decant for serval hours and match with beef dishes or savoury pates.

Cellar for several years for something to drink with darker game, truffles or mushrooms.

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