Friday, December 28, 2012

as the peregrine falcon soars

2010 Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot | Margaret River | Western Australia

Dr. Tom Cullity trained a peregrine falcon to guard his vineyards from pests. Unfortunately, it flew away as soon as it was released to do some work, the winged bastard. The falcon logo has been used on every Vasse Felix label since the 1971 vintage. And story aside, it perfectly encapsulates what makes these wines some of the most exciting to come out of Australia, and possibly, the new world. 

The peregrine falcon is one of the fastest animals on earth, reaching up to 322 km/h (200 mph) during its high speed dives. It's an efficient hunter, striking and capturing its prey mid-air. These qualities have lead to several cultures associating it with aggression and martial prowess. Native Americans of the Mississippian culture used the peregrine falcon in imagery as a symbol of aerial (celestial) power and buried men of high status in costumes associating to the ferocity of these birds. In the late Middle Ages, the Western European nobility considered it a royal bird - more armed by its courage than its claws.

The wine is simply stunning. I'm a firm believer that a true mark of a great producer is the quality found in their least expensive wines. And now that I've tasted both the basic chardonnay and this estate level cabernet merlot, it's pretty obvious to me that Vasse Felix possesses all the characters I look for in a great wine. Varietal and vintage character; depth and complexity; texture and structure; drinkability and ageability. Above all, the wines are quietly intense, full of nuance that asks a lot from the drinker, but also offers great rewards for those that take the time to listen. The wines find a great balance between old world character with new world brightness and purity.

The notes for the wine show a blend of primarily cabernet sauvignon, but with good amounts of merlot, finished with malbec. It comes together to give the graphite minerality and dark fruits of the cabernet, with an initial sweetness from the merlot, ending with a fine and elegant structure. Handled beautifully in the cellar, with only 7% new French oak, with the rest being aged in 1-5 year old barrels. I'm not dogmatic about alcohol levels, but I am quite sensitive to anything above 14% abv. At a listed 14.5%, the alcohol in this wine is imperceptible, a testament to the ripeness of the fruit, and how well it was managed in the cellar. The skill of the winemaking team clearly in play. Fresh, vibrant, energetic, with all the character and backbone you want in a cabernet blend. Bravo!

I could be accused of getting a bit carried away, but after that disastrous tasting of red syrup at Catch the Wave, I needed to remind myself that sometimes philosophy about winemaking counts more than raw materials. Australia is clearly capable of producing true, authentic red wines - so why aren't more producers doing it? Why do they insist on nuking their fruit and making wines out of dead grapes - to only try to convince you that that's what red wine should be? Elegance and subtlety aren't contradicting characters to soulful, exciting wines. So will more Australian producers begin getting it already?!


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