Trade tastings can get pretty tough.
Imagine going to a wine festival and having hundreds of wines to choose from. What do you go for? The region? The grape? The producer? Or indeed, which ever bottle happen to look the most appealing when you extend your tasting glass for a pour? The choice is mind-boggling.
Well scale that down and imagine, say, just 50 wines but you have to taste all of them. That’s still a lot right? With tastings generally starting at around 10am, you can imagine that by lunch time the palate is as confused as the head.
A recent tasting of Margaret River’s Voyager Estate, however, was spot on.
The Australian winemaker makes a selection of red and white wines in a relatively young area – the first of Voyager Estate’s vines were only planted in 1978. But the area boasts a maritime climate with grapes ripening in a similar way to Bordeaux. This means that it’s the perfect environment to make premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. And indeed, Voyager Estate is perhaps best known for their Cabernet/Merlot blends.
The company’s head of winemaking, Steve James, was in town and headed up a tasting of their portfolio for scribes at Vinoteca, Clerkenwell.
We tasted a total of 12 wines consisting of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends between 2004 and 2010. What was interesting about the tasting was that as well as the vertical tasting (same wine, different vintages), we also had a wine by another wine maker for the most recent vintages to compare against. Essentially, a small horizontal tasting (same vintage, different wine of the same variety).
This was particularly interesting because the wines chosen were premium wines designed to create contrast but not necessarily to show up Voyager Estate as the superior choice. In fact, one comparison wine was double the price of the Voyager Estate wines. That’s a decision few winemakers would be brave enough to make.
We started with Chardonnay and tasted the 2009, 2008 and 2006 vintages. 2009 Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay from Kumeu in New Zealand provided the comparison. The Chardonnay actually varied substantially between the vintages in terms of mouth feel as well as of course flavour profile. It seems that as well as the changes in climate year on year, Voyager Estate has also been pulling back on the oak to allow the ageing vines to express their potential. The result is a move from the thick and heavy 2006 to something much lighter and much more refreshing found in the 2009.
Moving on to the reds, we began with the Shiraz in vintages of 2010, 2009 and 2007. I had almost expected big, powerful Shiraz that’s so characteristic of Australia but instead found restrained fruit, rounded spice and even a little of something floral – the 2010 Voyager Estate Shiraz had around 1% of Viognier (a highly aromatic variety). The most expensive wine of the night was the 2010 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier from Canberra District in New South Wales presented as a comparison to Voyager Estate’s 2010 Shiraz. Though Voyager Estate’s Shiraz did display elegance, I found myself much more drawn to the obvious perfume and red berry of the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier.
The final set, and no doubt hotly anticipated by everyone at the table, was the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. We tried 2008, 2005 and 2004 vintages and compared it against the 2008 Wynns Coonawarra John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra in South Australia. The Voyager Estate wines were noticeably more green against the Wynns which was very on the cassis-heavy side. And while Voyager Estate wines proved to be heavier on the palate, owing to the high tannins, they displayed much more complexity. A complexity that would enable the wines to rest happily in the cellar for 8 to 10 years. Factoring in the tannins in the wines we tried, it really needed the rest.
The result of the tasting? Well the Voyager Estate wines would certainly be worthy of investment but it’s a case of patience is a virtue as most of the wines we tasted would ideally be rested for a little longer. Lucky visitors to Margaret River Gourmet Escape later this year should certainly make a stop – Voyager Estate are hosting one of the lunches. It also proved an interesting exercise to sit down and consider the character and style of one of the biggest winemakers of the region against their competitors. And it’s definitely nice to know that they’re still making changes to improve the complexity of their wines despite their success so far, whether it’s stripping back oak or moving away from heavy eucalyptus influences.