By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 4 August 2019
The new frontier of Australian wine is an island 150 miles from its mainland. Known affectionately as the ‘Apple Isle’, Tasmania supplies the world with Granny Smiths, Braeburns, cherries, pears and saffron – but it is now fast becoming known as ‘Pinot Isle’.
As temperatures edge up in mainland Australia with harvests earlier and droughts increasing, wine growers are looking to cooler areas with plenty of water – and Tasmania’s moderate maritime climate and abundant water (thanks to large scale irrigation projects) fits the bill.
The westerlies off the southern ocean act as an air-conditioning unit, helping to slow climate change and coastal winds limit yields. Added to that ‘Tassie’, as it is known, has a pristine environment, clean green image, ancient soils and abundant wildlife. With an increasing number of cellar door outlets (now at 95), the island is fast becoming a magnet for wine tourists.
In the last nine years, grape plantings in Tasmania have increased by 25% to over 2,000 hectares. It is now ‘the’ hub for Australian fizz grapes, for which high natural acid in the grapes is very important, and for cool climate grape varieties like Riesling and Pinot Noir in particular. One of Tasmania’s hallmarks is its beautifully perfumed fruit character.
Tasmania does have its disadvantages. Vintages and yields can be uneven, there is no skilled labour and grape prices are considerably higher than on the mainland.
“It is high risk, high reward wine country”, says Michael Hill Smith of Yalumba who make the popular Jansz fizz, “but it is still a work in progress with the best land yet to be planted”. Early Tasmanian wine pioneer Andrew Pirie, who now runs his own boutique winery Apogee in Pipers Brook, agrees: “There are Grand Cru sites just sitting there with a few sheep on them”.
Early modern day pioneers in the 1970’s and 1980’s focused on Pipers Brook and Tamar Valley in the north east of the island – but often struggled to get physiological grape ripeness. Now there have been increasing plantings in the south in Coal River Valley, Derwent Valley and Huon, where the legendary winemaker Ed Carr of House of Arras [pictured above] believes the fruit is “finer and suppler” than in the island’s north.
It is not just the big companies like Yalumba, Brown Bros and Accolade Wines (ex Hardys) in Tasmania. Out of a total of 160 producers, only 28 own more than 10 hectares. In the last decade there has been an increasing influx of tiny boutique wineries run by dedicated passionate winemakers like Samantha Connew of Stargazer [pictured above right], Peter Dredge of Dr Edge, Nick Glaetzer of Glaetzer-Dixon, Vaughn Dell and Linda Morice of Sinapius and Peter Dawson and Tim James of Dawson & James making Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir with exciting potential.
TASMANIA TASTE TEST:
JANSZ PREMIUM CUVEE BRUT NV (12%)
(£16.99-£18.99 Waitrose; Slurp; Wine Direct; Hennings Wine)
Well-crafted fizz blend of 58% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier sourced from across the island, from five vintages and made using the traditional method – just as in Champagne. Brioche and almond aromas, bright pure citric fruits and a creamy toasty depth.
HOUSE OF ARRAS EJ CARR VINTAGE ROSE 2007 ***STAR BUY***
(£26.75 www.vinorium.co.uk www.theaustraliancellar.co.uk)
This won the vote for the most popular fizz at Tasmania tasting – made from Lower Derwent, Coal River and Upper Derwent-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Astonishingly freshness with great vitality – a very elegant rose fizz - which has had 9 years + on its lees.
ARTISAN TASMANIAN GEWURZTRAMINER 2016 (13.5%) (£10.99 Aldi) Aldi are leading the supermarket field for Tassie with this single vineyard Gewurztraminer (their Tassie Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were better quality and have sold out). Great to have this leading discounter championing such a small region. Light lychees and honeysuckle nose, hints of spice and ginger, pronounced sharp acidity with a dry finish.
STARGAZER RIESLING 2017 (11.6%)
(£27 www.exelwines.co.uk; www.luvians.com)
Made by one of Tassie’s newcomers, Kiwi Samantha Connew from Riesling planted on Jurassic dolorite – made in minute quantities. Lovely perfumed fruit, floral, appley bouquet – this is a really stylish Riesling with gentle sweet notes and a zippy zesty character.
THE SOCIETY’S EXHIBITION TASMANIAN CHARDONNAY 2017 (13%)
Made by Claudio Radenti of Freycinet winery based in a sheltered amphitheatre of vineyards on Tassie’s east coast. Gently oaked, crisp elegant with a fresh steely palate – a far cry from many Australian Chardonnays.
STARGAZER CHARDONNAY 2016 (12.5%) ***STAR BUY***
My favourite Chardonnay in the tasting for its fabulous ripe fleshy fruits balanced with a steely minerally core – beautifully made by the talented Samantha Connew from a single vineyard in Black Tea Tree road in Coal River Valley.
BELLWETHER CHARDONNAY 2014 (12%)
Sue Bell is based in Coonawarra, but buys special small parcels across the country. This Chardonnay hails from Relbia in southern Tamar Valley – loved its freshness, nervy acidity and subtle oak notes.
LADY A FUME BLANC SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015 (14%) ***STAR BUY***
(£50 Fine Wine Musselburgh; Cork & Cask; Alliance Wine)
Favourite white wine in our tasting – very fleshy pungent ripeness, deliciously succulent and still remarkably fresh considering its age. A grand dame of Tassie whites – made by Bordeaux-loving investor Peter Althaus of Domaine A for his wife Ruth who only drinks white wine.
DEVIL’S CORNER PINOT NOIR 2016 (13%)
One of the few accessibly priced Tassie Pinots. Ripe roundness with a savoury edge and cool core making it seem lightweight, but effortlessly easy to drink.
DAWSON & JAMES PINOT NOIR 2014 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
(£50 Fine Wine Musselburgh; Australian Cellar)
Very complex well-structured wine with fine red fruit flavours and a delicious creamy palate - showing Tassie Pinot at its best. Peter Dawson and Tim James met over 40 years ago whilst working at Hardys and have joined forces to collaborate on this cool climate Pinot project from Meadowbank vineyard in Derwent Valley….
TOLPUDDLE PINOT NOIR 2016 (13%)
(£49 www.thewinesociety.com; Fine Wine Musselburgh)
Tolpuddle has long been one of my favourite Tassie Pinots. This single vineyard, named after one of the agrarian union activists Tolpuddle Martyrs who lived nearby, was planted with Pinot Noir over 30 years ago. This is the fifth release, showing herby spicy edge with silky smooth tannins.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2008 Domaine A ***STAR BUY***
(£60 Fine Wine Musselburgh; Alliance Wine)
Peter Althaus was an early 1970’s pioneer here who surprised the world with his Tassie Bordeaux blends – this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot has aged well to become ripe, mellow, deep and concentrated.