Abigail Friedman – Senior Buyer – introduces four Tasmanian producers.
There has been a lot of buzz about Tasmania wines recently, Australia’s newest hot spot to the south for food, arts and culture. Tasmania has an ideal moderate maritime climate for wine-making, and is known for its incredible temperance. However, this 68,000 square kilometer island has a surprising diversity of microclimates, most notably the contrast between the more commercial and approachable wines grown in warmer and wetter Tamar Valley and Pipers Brook areas to the north of island as opposed to the drier more marginal conditions surrounding Hobart to the south where wines develop such purity and complexity as to evoke comparisons to Burgundy, the holy grail of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
In fact, Tasmania is proud to lay claim to being the first commercial wine-growing region of Australia as the source of the first vines, which were later taken as cuttings to the Victorian and South Australian wine industries. Despite this, Tasmanian wine stayed under the global radar until the 1970s when Pipers Brook Vineyard was established by Dr. Andrew Pirie. Pirie remains a huge promoter of the region today having also established the always reliable Tamar Ridge, located on the western banks of the Tamar River, which valued for its cool humid conditions not dissimilar from that of Champagne and Burgundy. Pirie is not alone in his support of the island, with Peter Gago the chief winemaker of Penfolds having been known to say that he believes he will find his Montrachet in Tasmania. In 2010, 96% of the chardonnay in their Penfolds Yattarna hailed from Tasmania.
Having been fortunate enough to visit Tasmania for a week in February, I found the island to be a revelation. From the incredible food culture, to the mind-blowing Mona museum, and not to mention the outstanding wines, it was immediately clear that exciting things are happening on this island, which was once considered quite rural and backward. Beginning in the south near Hobart, we were treated to the elegant and restrained styles of cool climate varietals like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, which thrive in this unusually dry corner of the island. Moorilla and Tolpuddle were just two of the standouts of the South-East, the former’s estate notably perched atop the modern art wonder of the Mona and the latter having recently been brought under the wing of stellar Adelaide Hills wine estate Shaw + Smith. Domaine A set themselves apart with their impressive Bordeaux varietals, which perhaps should not be so surprising considering that their eccentric winemaker Peter Althaus searched the entirety of the new world to find just the right vineyard to best grow these varietals. In the end, he settled on the Coal River Valley in Southern Tasmania and the resulting wines certainly support his decision.
Moving to the north of Tasmania near Launceston, we were given the royal treatment with a comprehensive sparkling wine masterclass at House of Arras. The Wine Advocate has proclaimed about them, “Ed Carr offers a glimpse of Tasmania’s potential for producing some of the world’s highest quality sparkling wines.” The philosophy for Arras sparkling wines is quite simply a dedication to producing some of the best sparkling wines in not only Tasmania, but the world. We also sampled some lovely sparklers, albeit in a more straightforward style, at Josef Chromy Wines. At the age of 19, Josef Chromy fled his war-torn Czech village in 1950 to Australia. After making his way to Tasmania he helped established prominent wineries like Bay of Fires, Jansz, and Tamar Ridge before launching Josef Chromy Wines at the northern end of Tasmania in December of 2007 (at the age of 76!). Today Chromy offers a complete range of high quality, crowd-pleasing sparkling, white and red wines which aim for a perfect balance in the character of the fruit, acidity, structure, tannin and texture to allow the true terroir of Tasmania to speak through the wines.
This week Jancis Robinson declared the 2013 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir as her wine of the week, calling it “thrilling” and even more complex than the 2012, which she also loved. While she recognizes that its price compares to some Premier Cru Burgundies she also declares as “being already delicious to drink.” Over at the The Wine Advocate, Lisa Perrotti-Brown also had some high praise for the wines of Josef Chromy, which is certainly no surprise either! The world is catching on to what this small island is capable of, in the next few weeks we will be offering a carefully curated selection of our own favorites, which we urge our customers to try while quantities are still available.