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Cabernet wines from the West


Whitey has a drink of two Cabernets from the famous Vasse Felix of Margaret River, including its version of a bargain.

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Vasse Felix is a great big posh joint in Margaret River, famous for making Cabernets afforded only by those with the serious affluenza rife out West back while they were digging her up.

I committed a wine column crime here last year by choosing to avoid recommending the Vasse Felix hundred and something Heystesbury model. Maybe I was too skronky at the time – you get that – but my bells failed to ding proportionate to the spend and I confess to submitting to faint guilts about that, which I forgot ’til this more affordable baby arrived.

“Filius Cabernet Sauvignon is a more approachable interpretation … ” winemaker Virginia Willcock writes, “but not without losing the sophistication of good savoury tones to a vibrant fruit line and solid Cabernet structure with fine tannins leaving your palate dry but full of perfume.”

Which tickled my curiosity but not as much as the new Filius stage name. It means “son of” and was a nickname a Latin teacher once applied to me which as a kid I found amusing as my father forbad me from studying Latin on account of him thinking it was a Roman Catholic language. At least I learned one Latin word.

Anyway, this Vasse Felix Filius Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($28; 14% alcohol; screw cap) seems dense and moody and deep and dark and if you suck hard – nose not mouth – you’ll find a tickle of stuff like Bergamot mint and vague violet and meaty blueberry. These pretties get more cheeky as the wine airs. Sometimes I swear it even breathes a tiny zephyr of wintergreen.

Then I tip some in there and yes, my miasma does have a new perfume about it. But between the gulp and the exhalation the wine is quite solid: more rugby union than league. The tannins are velvety, not lithe. A bit thick. I’d quite like it with an old-fashioned, bitey pepper steak, or the “twin pepper” hot pot pork you’ll find in T-Chow, which has black pepper and capsicum a-plenty. A stack of big field mushrooms in similar sauces would do just as well.

I know you can get it for a fair bit less than this in Hungry Dan’s, but even at 30 per cent off I would have preferred it had they shouted it one extra brand new barrel. Surely the Holmes à Court family, the owners, could afford a couple more new French oaks for a big blend of $28-a-bottle dry red? Eighty-seven-per-cent old barrels might suit the Rhône varieties, but I prefer just a touch more fresh wood in my Bordeaux types. Carefully chosen barrels can hike the IQ of Cabernet. Still, that’s personal and I know there are many among you who prefer to drink fruit rather than carpentry.

Then I’ll admit that part of this opinion is due to my expectations of Cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River, which professes to make the best in Australia. This wine is still more typically Bordeaux-like Cabernet than most of those from Barossa or McLaren Vale, whatever their price.

Global warming is very quickly narrowing that gap, by the way. Bordeaux’s getting hotter.

As for masculine? Son of? It doesn’t remind me of any blokes I know. I don’t follow rugby.

Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($45; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is more lithe and sinuous from the start, partly because of its fruit selection, but as much to do, I suspect, with it having a higher percentage of new and younger used barrels. Its appetising whiffs of bergamot and wintergreen are also more concentrated and tantalising. It even has some savory, by which I mean Satureja hortensis, the savoury herb that reminds me a little of tarragon.

This is obviously a finer breed of Cabernet. It’s racier and more sinewy in a delightful light-footed way. It prickles and tickles the nose and sets those salivaries dribbling well before you drink any. Swallow some, and you simply want more. This drink makes me thirsty more than hungry.

And having slurped quite a lot of in a very low-mannered way, I can happily say this one really does give my exhalation some delightful perfume. Its tannins are less droll, less thick and stodgy, its lovely appetising acid on better, brighter display.

This agile wine – can we still use that word with impunity? – makes me think of paddock chook stewed with tarragon or savory and lemon and served with silver beet almost caramelised in the pan with pine nuts and fetta. Which makes me realise the reason I wanted steak and pepper with the Filius was to stomp on it. This lovely thing needs to be danced with.


In fact, it makes me need to dance more urgently than last year’s offering of Heytesbury did.

Maybe as the wild West decays the residuals believe $28 is cheap while a Heystesbury on the table makes it look like you can still afford tyres for the big Merc.

I’ll look for the $45 drinkers. They probably can’t afford a car, but they’ll be the gourmands.

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