The tasting of the year is back again.
By my count this is at least the fourth, possibly fifth time I’ve been to one of Voyager Estate’s annual masterclasses and, again, it remains one of the best benchmarking exercises on the calendar.
There are three reasons why this event is so useful:
1) All the wines are served blind;
2) The wines are high quality;
3) The background information – regions, winemaking, tech. details – is beyond rigorous. The Voyager team contact winemakers for specs, which means you get info like pH and TA that you never get to see otherwise.
It is seriously rare to have all three of those elements come together in a single tasting, let alone an annual one. Stir in professional organisation plus quality glassware and it becomes a must-do tasting.
As ever, the Voyager wines looked good in this lineup too, just to confirm that the host winery is no slouch. Only fools believe that Australia can’t make world-class wines, and these tastings show just how good our best is.
This year there were two brackets, one Chardonnay and one Cabernet. Wines produced by Voyager made up just under half of the wines in each bracket and it was fun to try and pick the family members.
I’ve included as much relevant context in italics plus some thoughts about what the rest of the tasting thought about each wine. The actual tasting notes are as written – blind – on the day, and my guesses are occasionally laughable. I scored this very hard.
1. Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2014
From Nelson, NZ. Vineyard is Mendoza clone on clay gravel. Fruit is handpicked and wild yeast fermented with lots of solids in large oak (just 11% new). 12 months on lees with monthly battonage. 100% MLF and then a further 4 months on fine lees in tank. This was largely well received at the tasting. Nice wine it is too. pH 3.25, TA 6.2g/L.
Milky, whipped butter nose – lactic? Quite toasty. Lovely generous and toasty palate. Open and full, tending to nectarine. Just a fraction warm on the back palate. Perhaps a bit of belly fat? It’s quite a complex beast though. Grows on you that almost cheesy flavour. Maybe a bit too broad? Lovely mouthfeel though. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $68.
2. Hubert Lamy Saint-Aubin Les Frionnes 2013
This was obviously Burgundy from the first whiff. Apparently Frionnes is a very late ripening site and looked it here. Handpicked, wild ferment on solids in hogsheads and half muids, with 15% new. 12 months in barrel. I thought many were a bit hard on this wine, and I’d happily drink it.
Fine and detailed nose. Measured. Sea shells and citrus. Saline and very much a measured cool clime style. This is definitely white Burgundy/Chablis. Not profound but mouth watering acidity. A little underpowered? Still a lovely wine. Long! A little raw perhaps. You just know this will come together in time. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 13%. $110.
3. Voyager Estate Broadvale Block 6 Chardonnay 2014
Previously known as Project 95 (after Clone 95) from a block planted in 2004. Handpicked fruit, whole-bunch pressed, wild ferment in 60% new oak, with 11 months in barrel and full malolactic fermentation. I found this just a bit raw, but important plus signs. I at least picked it as Voyager. pH 3.3, TA 5.9g/L.
Tight vanilla nose. Very restrained and tight. Acidity is in the grapefruit spectrum. Limited malo? Very much the acid driven style. Needs some time to unveil itself, acid a little intrusive. Very drying. Voyager? 17.5/20, 91/100+. 11.5%, $65.
4. Voyager Estate Broadvale Block 5 Chardonnay 2014
Such a different beast to the wine above. All Gin Gin clone (this was the Project Gin Gin) and no malolactic fermentation, otherwise handling similar to wine above. pH 3.25, TA 6.6g/L.
Follows in the last wines footsteps. Perhaps a little more nectarine flesh here? Acidity is still firm and drying finish too. Best days ahead. But I like the extra weight here. A step up compared to the wine before. Some oak tannins on the finish. High quality and long though. 18.1/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $65
5. Voyager Estate Tom Price Chardonnay 2014
Not released until next year, this is the new super premium Voyager Chardonnay. A blend of both Block 5 & Block 6 as this is effectively a barrel selection of the previous two wines. Amazing how much more together it looked. A standout in this lineup. pH 3.23, TA 6.8g/L.
Cheese and even some aldehyde here. Still tight and contained underneath. There’s more depth to this wine though. A different shape to the acidity too. Softer. More generous. This is my pick of the last 3, though it’s a bombastic wine too. Love the weight and late power. 18.5/20, 94/100. 12%, $120.
6. By Farr Chardonnay 2014
This looked overworked. No other way to describe it. Others loved it. There’s quality here – which is why the score is fair – and it would probably be better on its own. Handpicked, whole-bunch pressed, wild ferment and then maturation in 20-30% new oak for 11 months.
Butter and even a suggestion of caramel. Lots of sulphide funk. It’s just a bit heavy and caramel I think, though no questioning the broad satisfaction. Less would be more. 17/20, 90/100+. 13%, $70.
7. Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013
Unusual wine. Would be good to see in another context as it looked a little light compared to this lot. From the Sonoma Coast, this was handpicked and wild fermented in barrel with a portion in tank. 18% new oak for 11 months and full malo. pH 3.45. TA 6.8g/L.
Curious. A very grapefruity, almost not Chardonnay citrus nose. I find the palate odd too. It’s reminiscent of some Hunter Chardonnay but the acidity is quite saline. There’s some nice funk but it’s a little lean. Class in there though. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $80.
8. Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2014
Intriguing that I liked this more than the very acidic Block 6. In time you’d think that situation would be reversed. I didn’t even pick this as Voyager. From seven different blocks, this was handpicked with 85% going through wild ferment. 40% new oak for 11 months. 50% of the blend went through MLF. pH 3.29, TA 6.2g/L.
Linear and quite evocative too. Modern and swish. Quite a deal of fine nutty oak. Acid is just a bit firm but high quality and has a real swagger. Clever modern Australia? 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $45.
9. Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2014
The longer I looked at this the broader and more forward it looked. Someone else mentioned they could see some botrytis in this which is about right. Drink now. From the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the vineyard is very close to the sea, with low vigour, stony, clay and shale soil. 86% fermented in barrel, the rest in foudre and stainless steel. Maturation in 26% new oak for 8.5 months. pH 3.07, TA 6.9g/L.
Back comes the fruit. Quite a dominant lees character here too. Oatmeal aplenty. Then a broad palate of citrus fruit. Good, complex if a bit chubby. 17/20, 90/100. 13.15%, $50.
1. Matthiasson Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Others liked this, I thought it looked very raw. 90% Cabernet, 10% Merlot, this comes off loamy alluvial soils in the Oak Knoll district. Fruit was fermented at low temps and pumped over gently during a slow ferment. 20 months in 20% new French oak. pH 3.67, TA 6.2g/L.
Leaf mulch and a suggestion of mint. Really dry and drying raw finish with a dollop of dried meat. Expansive but acidity is raw and tannins are raw. 17/20, 90/100+. 13.2%, $85
2. Voyager Estate Project North Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
‘Single Wallcliffe’ according to Steve James of Voyager. North Block was planted in 1995 to the Houghton clone. Hand harvested, with open and static fermenters for a full 37 days. 20 months maturation in 50% new oak. I thought the mint was a distraction here, but the wine is high quality. pH 3.37. TA 6.5g/L.
Menthol and dark dusty fruit. Quite a warm finish. Good ripe fruit but not a bombastic wine by any means. Slightly minty tannins. Just the slightest hint of green pea, but there is no aggression to the tannins. Voyager? 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $90.
3. Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2012
‘We’ve been doing a lot of work on our Merlot. Expect to see the proportion increase in the future’ says Travis Lemm, Voyager Estate Winemaker & Winery Manager. This looked just a little too green for mine, but it will no doubt improve in bottle (because it always does). 91% Cabernet, 6% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot. Similar handling to wine above. pH 3.49. TA 6.3g/L.
Shares DNA with wine no. 3. A little lighter and more open in a gentler style. Has some nice red fruit characters but just a little distracting mint on the finish. Nice tannins again, but is it too lean. Voyager? 17.5/20, 91/100+. 13.5%, $45.
4. Woodlands ‘Thomas; Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
I was convinced this was Bordeaux judging by the oak alone. It tastes like expensive Bordeaux oak because the Watson’s use similar oak to the Bordelais. Others didn’t love it as much as me. 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc. From the original vineyard in Wilyabrup. Handpicked, hand sorted and 35 days on skins post ferment. 19 months maturation in new French oak barrels.
Chocolate milkshake new oak. Extremely tight and framed by oak. Chocolate oak. Has an old world structure and less raw finish, but very much new world oak. Impressive power though. Perfect structure underneath that oak. Get beyond the oak and this is majestic. Bordeaux? 18.5/20, 94/100+. 13.5%, $150.
5. Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2012
‘Question mark about whether the oak will outlive the fruit’ said Rob Geddes MW. I was one of the few outliers on this wine and I’m totally ok with it. The tannins seduced me in every way, while others could only see the faults. Don’t blame them, but I liked this. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. Handpicked and matured in 70% new oak barrels.
Very different. Leaf litter. Bacon. A hint of moo cow. Lovely tannins and drive though! Ornellaia? Long and chewy. Flashy oak. The tannins here are almost sticky. The most serious wine so far. What power! 18.7/20, 95/100. 14%, $450.
6. Voyager Estate Project Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
From the original Old Block planted in 1978. Similar handling to the North Block. I definitely preferred this to the North Block. pH 3.63, TA 5.7g/L.
Choc mint. Varietally correct complete with a decent whack of mint. It’s a bit minty and dour on the finish, but great length. Longer and bigger than some wines in this lineup. Classy wine, just waiting to come together. Maybe another Voyager? 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $90.
7. Voyager Estate Tom Price Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
A barrel selection from the different blocks with similar handling to the other Voyager super premium releases. Easily the standout too. pH 3.53. TA 6.1g/L.
Eucalypt gives the game away. Aussie all the way. Quite a relaxed wine. There is plenty of red fruit and drying tannins. It gradually draws you in. Slowly slowly with the hint of red fruit and mulch. No greenness in sight. Quite delicious really. Voyager? 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $150.
8. Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
I think we had an average bottle of this as it looked volatile and pongy. Others have raved about this wine previously. 85% Cabernet, 10% Cab Franc and 5% Petit Verdot from St Helena in the Napa Valley. This spent 23 days on skins and 20 months in 61% new oak. pH 3.67, TA 6.2g/L.
Milky oak. Volatile as hell. Underneath it’s both horsey and thin, cranberry and then very sticky and very serious tannins. There’s just a hint of glory but it’s also not perfectly right. What is this? Odd. American? 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.1%, $245.
9. Ornellaia 2012
Ah Ornellaia. So mercurial. I can see glory in this ’12 though. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc, 7% Petit Verdot. Handpicked, double sorted and spends 10-15 days on skins post ferment. Matured for 18 months in French oak, 70% new.
Volatile and a bit mulchy but has some meritorious tannins to finish. In a slightly odd development phase and the oak is dominant as hell, but the tannins are superb. Wow those tannins are pure sex. American? 18/20, 93/100+. 14%, $300.