This weekend the Thorpe family enjoyed a comparative tasting of two rather brilliant but quite different new world Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines from very well established vineyards in relatively cool regions of the New World: Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2013 and Dumol Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. As a family we have connections with both; we have known Andy and Karen Smith from Dumol since 1995 when we met as cellar rats in California, and our son Ollie worked in the vineyards at Vasse in the 2019 vintage.
In some ways there are lots of similarities between the two wines. Both Napa Valley and Margaret River are on the western extreme of a large land mass, as is Bordeaux if you think about it, and Chile, and the Douro. Both the wines display 14.5% vol alcohol. Both use some very classy oak; the Dumol Cabernet sees 20 months of ageing in barrels, 2/3rds of this are new french oak. The Vasse Felix Cabernet spends 19 months in french oak, with almost exactly the same % of new wood. So, there is plenty which is similar.
And here is the beauty of wine and wine tasting. Despite all these similarities, their aroma and flavour are really quite different. First up, the Tom Cullity tastes younger and fresher, perhaps more elegant and you would imagine has a longer ageing potential. It has classic Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics, some cassis, cedar and chocolate but in a really refined and elegant style. The Dumol seems riper (despite the same alcohol level) and along with the distinctive blackcurrants and cedar, there’s also some plum and sweet tannins which indicate a climate a little warmer than in the Margaret River.
Both the wines have magnificent balance, both have significant Cabernet tannic backbone but both have the intensity of fruit to easily be able to absorb the generous oak and structure of the grape. You’d probably choose to drink them with different dishes – I’d chosen a steak with the Dumol and lamb with the Vasse.
A word on each of the wineries. Scot Andy Smith owns and makes the wine at Dumol and has been gaining an ever increasing following for his high class offerings from Russian River and Napa. In fact most of the vineyards lie in the Russian River and the winery specialises in small site Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There’s also some Viognier, Syrah and this Cabernet. His is a philosophy very much based around interfering as little as possible with what nature delivers to the winery door. You can find the wines here in the UK via Raeburn Fine Wines up in Edinburgh.
Vasse Felix is perhaps more familiar in our market, and the wines can be found in Majestic or Waitrose as well across a range of independent retailers and restaurants. The immaculate winery and vineyards are controlled by the ebullient and much awarded Virginia Willcock. There’s no doubt Vasse sits in the very highest echelons of Australian producers and makes world class Chardonnays as well as Cabernets.
In the author’s humble opinion, both Napa and Margaret River can lay claim to the title “Wine Paradise”. They are hugely different areas to visit; Margaret River, and of course Western Australia as a whole, is very much more isolated than Napa which receives a huge number of visitors. But both regions have wonderful gastronomy (the restaurant at Vasse Felix is one of the best in WA) and are extremely rewarding places to visit as wine tourists given the fantastic cellar door experiences.