2010 Vasse Felix Chardonnay | Margaret River | Southwest Australia
Decanter recently featured a piece about Margaret River wines, written by the always articulate Ch'ng Poh Tiong. There appears to be a gradual changing of styles of the wines from this region, with producers more keen on crafting elegant wines with more focus and precision - leaner wines with high acid, more tuned to classic European styles than the big, monstrous nukes the New World has championed. The tide of buttery, alcoholic, overly lees-aged wines has come and gone, and to no surprise, it's the producers who've (stubbornly) stuck to what chardonnay really is, and upheld minerality and finesse over big-ness that remain the standard bearers of this region.
And what a fabulous little corner of Australia this is. Margaret River is a wine producing region in the southwest corner of the Western Islands (shout-out to my New Zealand homies!). The region runs along the coast from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin in the south, featuring a ridge running from cape to cape that undulates with a maximum elevation of 90m. The climate is more maritime-influenced than any other major Australian region, with the lowest mean annual temperature range and with controlled precipitation; only 200mm of the annual 1160mm millimetres falls between October and April. The rainfall and diurnal climate draws comparisons to Bordeaux in a dry vintage.
The region is planted to nearly 5,500 hectares with vineyard, with the majority of wineries producing at a small scale. And this is where Vasse Felix comes in. Sort of a chicken or egg situation; I had bought this bottle a few weeks earlier, but it wasn't until I read Ch'ng Poh Tiong's Decanter piece that I realized how important this producer was to Margaret River. In 1967, Dr Tom Cullity planted the first vines in Margaret River, named the vineyard Vasse Felix, and the rest, as they say, is history. Their wines are known to showcase subtlety, finesse, and varietal character. All the elements that transcend fashion, trend, and fickle consumer tastes.
2010 was considered a very good vintage for Margaret River chardonnay. Moderate spring conditions in 2009 allowed for better flowering and fruit set than in the previous two years. High temperatures in late January and February saw rapid ripening for whites, allowing for healthy, ripe fruit at harvest, with minimal risk of disease. This chardonnay was fermented with indigenous yeasts, with each vineyard parcel handled separately. It was aged for 9 months in French oak, of which about 1/3 is new, with the rest being 1-2 year old barrels. Alcohol at 12.5%, which is wonderful to see.
This is a delicious wine. All the delicacy, the finesse, the beautiful elegance that chardonnay can show. A fine wine indeed. Fresh and lively, all kinds of energy going on. So why can't more chardonnays (and wines in general) be like this? It whispers sweet-nothings instead of shrieks mean-nothings, becomes more interesting with time instead of flashing and fizzling like a firecracker.
I wished for a wine I could drink all night without regret the next day, that could continue to change and develop with air. I got all that, and more. We need to be paying more attention to Margaret River, and not just the white wines . . . the cabernet sauvignon and syrah from here can be very interesting as well. I could go on and on about how we drank it, what we drank it with; the important thing is that these wines belong on the table, with lunch or dinner. We don't need to be talking about these fabulous wines - naw, we need to be drinking.