Now Vasse Felix is a Margaret River winery which really goes the whole nine yards to impress the tourists. There's an impressive restaurant featured above an art gallery, pond, creek bed, sculpture walk and one of the region's largest souvenir shops.
The cellar door (pictured) is beautifully set into the ground. Inside, the tasting bench is really pushed away to a corner, as around 90% of the room is dedicated to souvenir sales. I joked with the staff as to what piece of Vasse Felix merchandise was coming next. They told me they were considering new ideas and I came up with one; Vasse Felix fluffy dice for your car? They found the idea humorous but largely impractical (which I found most of their merchandise ironically). How about a 'Vasse Felix supports the Eagles' bumper sticker? I think I'll stop here.
To be honest for every 1 person at Vasse Felix tasting wine I saw at least 4 doing something else. There were more people snooping around the souvenirs than sampling Margaret River wines, yet even more strolling through the sculpture walk taking photos of the various artworks. It was obvious a lot of people visited here without even trying more than a wine or two.
I guess Vasse Felix draws on the benefits of its relationship with the Holmes a Court family.
The ladies behind the tasting bench were very friendly. We talked for ages on a variety of topics as people came and went, with the conversation rarely moving towards wine. They did tell me an interesting tale about one of Vasse's more marketable bylines though.
Anyone familiar with Vasse Felix knows their line; 'The Margaret River's First Established Vineyard.' I couldn't help but ask, just to see what came out. I was informed that Cullen had a vineyard planted the same time as Vasse Felix, in 1967, but Cullen's vineyard mysteriously died out while Vasse's thrived. There were even rumours of foul play supposedly, which led me to another interesting Vasse story involving vineyards.
Vasse Felix presently make a Cane Cut Semillon dessert wine. I asked why the preference of cane cut over botrytis and was told that Vasse Felix used to make a botrytis semillon, which was their preferred style. Unfortunately, the botrytis infection in their semillon vineyard started to affect a neighbouring vineyard in a very unwelcome fashion. So the botrytis wine was abandoned in favour of the more controllable cane cut method.
I was aware that Vasse Felix had been playing around with tempranillo and viognier wines and was keen to give them a try. The tempranillo in particular I was hoping would be worthy, so I could take this relatively rare yet potentially brilliant Margaret River style to research further. Unfortunately neither of these wines were that compelling, especially the tempranillo which heavily reflected its 4 year old vine source with a lack of depth or textural interest. At this point in time $25 seems a bit steep for the Vasse Felix Tempranillo.
On the plus side Virginia Willcock continues to fashion some delightful white wines. The 2009 Semillon, one of the only 2009's I tasted all trip, is another success which captures all the racy intensity and clarity required from such a young semillon. The highly rated sauvignon blanc/semillon was regrettably sold out, but the newly released 2007 Heytesbury Chardonnay was available. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Virginia Willcock's talents, the 2007 Heytesbury Chardonnay, which I believe to be the first made by Virginia, is outstanding.
To me the reds were a bit lackluster, but the shiraz and cabernet from the relatively poor 2006 vintage were still kicking around. The 2007 Cabernet Merlot really could've been a lot better, but I'm still keenly anticipating the release of their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (January I'm told) and perhaps even the 2007 Shiraz. At its best I think the Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon is the most under valued red in the Margaret River. The 2005 (94pts) was excellent, the 2004 (95pts) was unbelievably good.
The sparkling wines were of little interest and decidedly over priced at $35 for the white and $40 for the shiraz.
Vasse Felix Silver Knight NV Extra Brut ($35)
Nutty, biscuity notes show developed character, as the palate is round, creamy and in need of more finesse and effervescent drive. 86
Vasse Felix Semillon 2009 ($25)
Restrained, very clean nose contains melon/lemon aromas with a prominent note of gooseberry. Its palate is initially soft and round, but goes on to reveal great shape and brisk acids in its assertive finish. This remains right near the front of Australia's best non-Hunter semillons in my opinion. 91
Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2008 ($25)
Good, easy drinking example of a lightly oaked chardonnay with honeydew melon characters at the fore. More great value under this label. 90
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2007 ($48)
Pronounced toasty cedar oak with mineral accented fruits on the nose. The palate takes things a step further, with a fantastic interweaving of fruit and oak combining to produce a most enticing, complex and savoury flavour profile with great length and sensitive, refreshing acidity. 94
Vasse Felix Theatre White 2008 ($15)
Unwooded, moscato style chardonnay with obvious residual sugar. Intent for cheap cellar door sales, at which I'm told, it succeeds. 84
Vasse Felix Viognier 2008 ($25)
7 months oak. Slight savoury nut/mineral characters evident, but completely overpowered by luscious dried apricot notes. Should've been better really. Still, worth keeping an eye on in the future though. 88
Vasse Felix Tempranillo 2008 ($25)
4 year old vines. Classic, lightly fragrant cherry cola aromas precede a palate which does lack depth and true impression. Typical result for young vine Aussie tempranillo. More of a quaffer/BBQ style. In that case, it should be $10 cheaper. 85
Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($25)
This does show some true regional/varietal notes on the nose, but its palate is a bit thinly fruited and excessively oaked. It's a bit firm and dry, and finishes in a taxing manner. Should've been better from this vintage, but I don't normally go for this wine most vintages. 88
Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($38)
Displays some of Vasse's classic blackcurrant/smoky cedar/choc oak and dried herb character, but its expression lacks concentration and balance whilst finishing a bit green. Overall, not a bad result considering the season. Bring on the '07 I say! 88
Vasse Felix Cane Cut Semillon 2008 ($23)
A most intriguing dessert wine with a mildly luscious presence and some very unusual flavour/aroma characters. Shows asian spices/ginger and capsicum. Unusual yet appealing. (reviewed separate post) 89