Each year Voyager Estate do a masterclass that is not to be missed. Pitting their own Cabernet and Chardonnay against the very best in a blind tasting, it’s one of those events you don’t miss – if for the quality of the wines alone.
More than just wine selection, this tasting is notable for the other details. For starters, the background information is excpetional. I have a whole booklet here covering off info for the wines tasted, covering off things as varied as harvest dates right through to oak choice. Invaluable information (and super insightful).
Then, you also have a good tasting environment. Steve James (who heads the Voyager team as Manager of Winemaking and Viticulture) runs the tasting, with Winemaker/Winery Manager Travis Lemm and Vineyard Manager Glen Ryan in support. They don’t try to ram home that the other wines are inferior, which makes the tasting more of a celebration of great wine (as opposed to just a Voyager tasting).
Finally, the glassware was top rate. I thought the wide-mouthed Riedel Chardonnay stems were almost too massive this year and I could stick my whole face in them, but they’re still proper glasses. Heck, there was even good sourdough on hand.
I know it sounds like a ridiculous indulgence to be banging on about glasses and bread. But when these things are covered off (and the wine are good), writing about wine seems like the best job in the world…
What’s even greater in this lineup is that, by tasting blind, I don’t feel like I was overly kind or harsh to the Voyager wines at all. And, as ever, they definitely didn’t look out of place in this lineup – especially not the excellent standard Chardonnay.
The format here is that all were served single blind, and as you can see my guesses are often way off. Still, it’s a fun game. I’ve included my ‘post reveal’ notes in italics with the wine info. Notes otherwise as written on the day. The scores are probably hard in the scheme of things – these are quality wines.
Bracket 1: Chardonnay 2015 (plus 2 x 2014)
Seville Estate Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015
From the Seville Estate vineyard in the Upper Yarra. Harvested 26th Feb ’16. Handpicked, whole-bunch-pressed, wild ferment in barrel. A range of oak formats (300L-500L) used, 30% new barrels and matured for 10 months. No malolactic fermentation. I thought this looked just a bit too firm and lean to be a superstar, but there’s excellent freshness and vibrancy, so the future is assured. Quality, just not for drinking yet. pH 3.13. TA 9.4g/L!!!
Tight, vaguely milky and brimming with citrussy acidity – though still a thoroughly ripe style. It’s a little shy, but awfully linear. Maybe too clinical? Clever use of solids to build impact, no malo? Voyager for sure. High quality but too angular for mine. Best drinking: 2018-2024. 18/20, 93/100+. 12.7%, $70. Would I buy it? Not yet.
Henri German Mersault Charmes 1er Cru 2014
Distinctly Burgundy. This took a while to build, but every time I came back to it, more lobbed up. Definitely the best is yet to come, though its already a delicious wine. Super high quality. All wild ferment, no enzymes and not even any battonage. If the lees are clean it is never racked, 22 months in barrel! Unfined and unfiltered. The primary ferment apparently takes 3-12 months. 20-30% new oak.
This feels much more Burgundian. More grilled nuts, chewy extract and has some pomp and swagger to the palate. Alcohol a notch up here too. Cool and tight, but great length. High quality. Burgundy? Every sip reveals another layer. Superb wine. Best drinking: 2018-2026. 18.7/20, 94/100+. 13%, $190. Would I buy it? Someone buy me some.
Voyager Estate Broadvale Block 6 Margaret River Chardonnay 2015
The wine formerly known as Clone 95 Chardonnay. I thought this looked every bit the complete style. It’s modern, yet not lean, with richness and length. The whole package. From a block planted in 2004 to Clone 95. Fruit was picked on the 5th and 6th Feb ’15, chilled overnight, wild fermented in barrel. Definitely some malolactic fermentation here. Battonage every 4 weeks. 11 months in 41% new, 59% one year old barrels. pH 3.12. TA 6.8g/L.
Whipped butter the first impact here. It’s a much more toasty style but with grand power and bready, leesy length. A rather classic full tilt Chardonnay here, without falling into overt flab. The acid seems soft and the fruit ripe. Penfolds? Best drinking: 2018-2024. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $55. Would I buy it? Absolutely.
Voyager Estate Broadvale Block 5 Margaret River Chardonnay 2015
I thought this looked a tad too blocky just now, as if it it’s not composed quite yet. All arms and legs. Great power, lots of flavour though – and definitely driven more by acidity. This is the old Gin Gin Clone Chardonnay. From a block planted in 2003 to Gin Gin clone. handpicked on 3rd and 4th of Feb, the winemaking as above but with no malolactic fermentation. Just 17% new oak too.
Sao biscuits over a slightly sour and lactic palate. Holy moley the acid kicks up a notch here – it’s tangy and potent, long and distinct. Lots of everything here. Packs a wallop. Voyager? Best drinking: 2018-2025. 18/20, 93/100+. 13.5%, $55. Would I buy it? I’d slightly prefer the Block 6.
Sorrenberg Beechworth Chardonnay 2015
Others loved this more than me, though still lots of appeal. Maybe it looked too much, too broad in amongst these more restrained wines? Harvest 1st March 2015. Barrel fermented, 25-30% new oak for 18 months. pH 3.35. TA 6.2g/L.
Immediately more honeyed and toasty; even the colour looks darker. Almost marshmallow lactic creamy flavour, and a bombastic palate. Is it just a fraction overdone? Lots of power, not so much grace. Flowers? Best drinking: 2017-2022. 17.8/20, 92/100. 13.8%, $70. Would I buy it? No.
Penfolds Bin 15A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2015
A polariser. I like the precision behind this wine, but I’ve always been a fan of the ‘A’ Penfolds Chardonnay line. It’s definitely a winemakers wine, however, and others at the tasting hated it. Handpicked, whole-bunch-pressed, some wild ferment, lots of solids. 9 months in 40% new oak. pH 3.12. TA 6.7g/L.
Very classic. A big twirl of toasty vanilla and sulphides then leads to a palate that you’d expect to be bigger and riper than it actually is. Malo looks to have been pulled back from the finish, and in some ways it’s welcome. Makes for a wine of two halves perhaps, but quality all the same. Penfolds? Best drinking: 2018-2024. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $100. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Sacred Hill Riflemans Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015
Just a bit round for mine. Handpicked on 25th March ’15, whole-bunch-pressed, goes through malo with battonage, 12 months in barrel. pH 3.5, TA 6.1g/L.
Marzipan and butter, a fuller, toastier style. Big impact of flavour – and fulfils the buttery quotient, but perhaps a less complex wine underneath in this lineup. Quality, but not intrigue. It’s a little broad. Flowers? Best drinking: 2017-2023. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.5%, $70. Would I buy it? I’d go a glass.
Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014
Curious wine this. I kept coming back to it waiting for something to happen. But nothing ever did. Odd, reductive and sullen yet oaky in this company, and I couldn’t spot the balance. Handpicked, 24 hours in tank, then transferred to barrel, where it matured for 17 months (30% new) and went through malo. pH 3.47, TA 6.3g/L.
Cool, lean and tight. Shaped by acidity, it’s a rather shy wine but also one where the oak sits on top of the fruit. It’s a bit overt that caramel flavour and the leesy richness too; I’m less a fan of this. I find it really quite lean despite the fatness too. Kiwi? Best drinking: 2018-225. 17/20, 90/100+. 13.7%, $150. Would I buy it? No.
Voyager Estate Margaret River Chardonnay 2015
To think this is the standard Chardonnay. I found this a complete style and I really liked it. A standout – possibly even more complete than the single Block wines. Steve James said, on this wine that ‘We’ve moved our ripeness dial slightly to more ripeness. A few days more of ripeness’ to nail the balance. This is perfect for what it is. A blend of blocks and clones, harvested 31st Jan to the 12th Feb ’15. 40% new oak. Half the wine went through malo. pH 3.13, TA 7.4g/L.
Classic indeed. Lemon balm, lovely acidity and really has a classic feel to it. That acidity feels very graceful, the subtleties of the style excellent. Best drinking: 2017-2024. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $45. Would I buy it? Sure would. Cheap in this context.
Bracket 2: Cabernet Merlot styles from 2013
Leoville Las Cases 2013
A pretty classic Bordeaux this one. I didn’t pick it but really classy. I wasn’t totally sure it was Bordeaux, but coming back I should have just read my notes. Drrrrr! I like this, but it’s a wine for the future. From a pretty mixed vintage, this blend of 74% Cabernet, 14% Cab Franc and 12% Merlot was picked from 2nd – 17th Oct ’13. Fermented in a variety of different vessels, 18-20 months in barrel. pH 3.69, TA 3.76 (measured as sulphuric).
Mulchy and distinctively Bordeaux blend. Distinct aromatics. Slightly sour, graphite and herbs style that errs slightly on the lean and very dry end of the scale. Very good length, but maybe a fraction too leafy and firm to be glorious. There’s a lovely distinct definition to the character here, though maybe a little raw. Cool clime+. Best drinking: 2019-2040+. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.1%, $400. Would I buy it? I can’t afford it, but would be ok to have some in the cellar…
Yarra Yering Yeringberg 2013
The odd one out. Struggled in this lineup, though has never been my favourite Yeringberg vintage. 65% Cabernet, 12% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot. The vintage decides the blend at Yeringberg. Picked from 11th – 25th March ’13. Fruit is handpicked, open fermented and hand plunged every eight hours for first 7 days, then some post ferment maceration. Basket pressed. 40% new oak, ‘two winters’ in wood. Unfined. pH 3.58.
Redcurrant and plenty of red meat in this slightly gamey style. Fractionally astringent, its classically shaped but has just a little hardness too. Rather sour though. Good, without being great. Best drinking: 2019-2030. 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, $70. Would I buy i? No.
Voyager Estate North Block U12 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Distinctively Margs but just a bit too lead pencil shaving dominant for mine. Doesn’t quite have the carry this vintage, but then I think this might just be an awkward phase. 100% Cabernet from a block planted in ’95 to the Houghton Clone. Picked 2nd April ’13. Open fermented, hand plunged, 18 months in 50% new oak. pH 3.49. TA 6.4g/L.
Composed and leafy with a lead pencil edge. Feels like a mid weight wine this, and more like Margs than anything. Hints of gum leaf in there too. Slightly sweet and sour perhaps? Voyager? Best drinking: 2020-2035. 18/20, 93/100+. 14%, $90. Would I buy it? I’d take the other block.
Voyager Estate Old Block V9 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
I really like this. Proper Cabernet, with a regal air to it. This has the extra power and weight that the U12 misses. It needs more time to come together, but still quality. From the 1978 old block, Similar handling to the U12. pH 3.56, TA 6.4g/L.
Slow burner. Maybe not 100% Cabernet, the hedgerow characters and rather firm acidity here a counterpoint to the core of ripe fruit. Great power through the middle though. Really classic even and classy. Has the richness that the last one lacked. Best drinking: 2020-2035. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $90. Would I buy it? I’d go a bottle.
Voyager Estate Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2013
This is another smart release from Voyager. It didn’t look out of place in this lineup, and I liked the extra flesh that it had over the slightly more severe North Block. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot. This comes from both Block U12 and Block V9. Picked from 30th March – 8th April ’13. Almost identical handling to the single block wines. pH 3.56, TA 6.4g/L.
Fresh and maybe a little minty but there is excellent composure here. Voyager? There’s just a fraction more grandiosity in context, the flavours a bit riper and more oak. Classy and rich, though maybe not up to the same tier as the previous wine with just a little jam. Classy though. Best drinking: 2017-2032. 18/20, 93/100. 14%, $70. Would I buy it? I’d take the Old Block in the Voyager stable first. But this second.
Vasse Felix Tom Cullity 2013
This continues to be a polarising wine for some (and Gary sitting next to me hated it), but I really like it. Classic Margaret River leafy nose, some real mid-palate (the Malbec helps) juiciness and a dry and long finish. What’s not to like? 76% Cabernet, 20% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot. All from the Vasse Felix home vineyard. All wild fermented in closed and open fermenters. 61% new oak for 18 months. pH 3.45, TA 6.9g/L.
Lifted and even quite juicy, despite the mintiness. Lovely tannins though also raging mintiness. Such a long term aiming style – very firm and long. I like the flavour difference here – more rich purple fruit. Best drinking: 2017-2033+. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.5%, $160. Would I buy it? It’s above my price bracket, but nice wine..
Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
A new name to me, and boy what a wine! Has that real Napa richness to it, but without excess (and look at the alcohol as reference to that). Delicious. Each sip impressed me more. Spends 22 months in 50% new French oak.
A different beast. Black olives, dried herbs, a blackness too. That licorice and tapenade character is very appealing, the flavours full of volume, but still not overt. Really outré interest here. Best drinking: 2017-2033+. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.5%, $150. Would I buy it? Sure would.
I love Sassicaia. Love the tannins, love the power. I still can’t work out why a few people at the tasting were calling this an average vintage – doesn’t resonate with what I picked up just before harvest in 2013 (though I was in Barolo, not Bolgheri). 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc. 24 months in French oak.
Lots of black olives and a large wall of tannins. Perfectly judged ripeness, exceptional Cabernet tannins. Holy moley this is the real package. Really drying and almost leathery. Super classy. I love this style. Best drinking: 2017-2035+. 14%, $300. 18.7/20, 95/100. Would I buy it? I’d have some but can’t afford it.
Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
This is a superstar. No question about it. It’s the biggest wine in this lineup, but I didn’t notice the heat. Reminded me of Cos d’Estournel in a top year, yet with a different flavour. Extravagant richness. Superb wine and top of the tasting. 88 % Cabernet, 8% Cab Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. 20 months in French oak, 60% new.
A huge wine. Dark purple, super rich, ultra classy tannins. Has to be American. A massive wine. That length and width is reminiscent of the best modern classified growth Bordeaux. Superstar length and a hugely decadent style. Best drinking: 2017-2040. 19/20, 96/100. 13.9%, $350+. Would I buy it? Please everyone buy some and send it to me.