Wine Review: Friends of Oceania

3 02 2021

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Since we can’t travel right now (without being wildly irresponsible, at least), I find myself lingering more in the memories of places I’ve been. We went to Australia and New Zealand on our honeymoon in 2008, and were so smitten with the latter that we went back again, this time with kids in tow, for our 10th anniversary in 2018. Obviously a return voyage in seven more years will have to be in the works; rarely have I felt more at home in a place so far away. Our more recent NZ vacation featured a day trip through the South Island Sauvignon Blanc wonderland of Marlborough, which is both more pastoral and more compact than I would have expected in light of the extraordinary production figures emanating from the region, enough to flood global retail shelves with a piercingly distinctive take on an otherwise broadly familiar grape.

The visit included a stop at Greywacke, to me a pinnacle producer of the region, started by a man who found fame in wine and then reimagined the pursuit, this time on a more personal, artisanal scale. I got to show my sons grapevines, one of whom was old enough to take a passing interest in the subject. He has a special affinity to the winery that bears his name, from a country that he has yet to see, in a part of Australia that I have yet to visit myself. Vasse Felix will always be royalty in our household by word association, aided by the fact that their entire lineup is consistently exceptional, never chasing trends, always honest to its vision and its surroundings. That Vasse Felix’s entry-level wines bear the name “Filius” or “son of”, is hopefully as heartwarming to fathers of Felixes everywhere and not just to me. I currently feel like I would love to take off to ANYWHERE, but I would especially love to be back on this side of the world. For the time being, I will use these bottles as transport instead.

2019 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc (~$32)

Kevin Judd was the first winemaker at now-global-icon Cloudy Bay, the brand that helped put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the world map and that was ultimately snatched up by luxury powerhouse LVMH. He is also a world-class photographer, and all of the wines at Greywacke, his next and current venture, bear striking images from his camera. The winery is named after the a type of mineral-laced sedimentary sandstone found in Marlborough’s alluvial soils and prominent in Judd’s source vineyards. The wines themselves are made at Dog Point (another post-sale venture from a Cloudy Bay original); the Greywacke building is cozy and unassuming, in a spot that makes you check Google Maps more than once to make sure you’re in the right spot. This Sauvignon Blanc’s fruit is sourced from a variety of sites, many featuring the eponymous greywacke river stones. Harvested at night, the grapes are maintained at cold temperatures through an initial maceration and then a bifurcated fermentation, part using cultured yeasts in stainless steel and part using indigenous yeasts in old barrels. Each vineyard source is vinified separately and kept apart until final blending.

This is a pale, shimmering lemon-green colour in the glass and immediately arresting on first sensory contact, offering up a bold aromatic symphony of candied lime, mandarin orange, flint/struck match, lemongrass, persimmon and rock dust. Admirable heft and a powdery textural presence, each aided by lees aging after fermentation, accompany the anticipated rush of raging yet focused acidity and go beyond the Sauvignon trope of zingy green refreshment. Pineapple, plantain, Asian pear, steel wool, Tums and spearmint combine in a wild mixture of highly ripe and bitingly lean flavours (the product of varied pick times?), finishing firmly in the latter camp and then forcefully echoing for at least a minute on the finish. You can always count on Greywacke to elevate its wines beyond stereotype, to showcase additional dimension and complexity in what remains a riotously popular wine style. Lights-out good for true-to-form New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and maybe the best version of this bottling that I have had.

91 points

Stelvin Rating: 7.5/10 x 2 (Some sleek-looking screwcaps here. Love the colour on the Greywacke and the logo on the VF.)

2016 Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon (~$31)

It’s not often that your bottle of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is the same ABV as your equally impressive bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (13.5%), but here we are. Vasse Felix is a founding estate of western Australia’s Margaret River region, planting its first vineyards in the area in 1967. The heavy maritime influence results in a surprisingly measured and restrained class of wines, the reds as close a dead ringer for Bordeaux as you can find in the New World. The winery first started dubbing its entry-level Cabernet “Filius” in 2013, the name reflective of the more boisterous, earlier-drinking nature of this scion of Vasse Felix’s upper-echelon Cab. The 2016 rendition of this Cabernet is actually only 86% Sauvignon, blended with a hefty 14% Malbec, keeping the wine just a shade above the 85% required in Australia to label it as a single-varietal bottling. While Australia is not overly known for Malbec, Vasse Felix has a long history with it: a Cab/Malbec blend was the winery’s first ever commercial wine, made from the estate’s first plantings and produced in 1972. The production choices for the Filius largely echo the higher-tier Cabernet, but for a few small adjustments aimed at emphasizing fruit character. The grapes undergo largely indigenous yeast fermentation and then spend 12 months in French barriques, only 19% of which are new.

The elegance of the wine begins with its colour, a subtle, seamless, semi-translucent ruby-purple. It is layered and woodsy from the beginning, dried leaves and moss and fresh-hewn firewood enveloping brambly currant and raspberry aromas, a new log cabin in the forest. Eucalyptus, pine needles, charcoal and burning sage round out a welcoming, genuine profile reminiscent of the outdoors. Superbly balanced on the palate, it plays deftly dancing acidity off of scrubby yet non-invasive tannins, leading darker, blacker fruit into more savoury realms of black pepper, tomato leaf, cedar and warm brick. One thing is emphatic on the extended finish to this old-soul, confident, worldly red: this is no starter Cab. The levels of nuance and subtlety and effortless complexity here would not be out of place in a flagship offering; it is largely missing only the sense of bombast that often accompanies them, but I am not put out by its absence. Both of these bottles take the concept of entry-level and elevate it dramatically.

90+ points


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3 responses

4 02 2021
BC Wine Trends

Margaret River was one of our best wine destinations. We booked a great B&B where you could hear the ocean waves as you sipped some terrific wines. Fond memories!

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4 02 2021
Peter Vetsch

That’s amazing! I’d love to get out there sometime.

Liked by 1 person

7 02 2021
Geoff Larsen

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc is available for online purchase at Northmount Liquor Store in NW Calgary. $31.99 for 750ml bottle. Check us out. https://northmountliquor.ca/order/Greywacke-Sauvignon-Blanc-p286802561

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