Tasmania bubbles to the top

Sparkling wine was the biggest winner at this year’s Tasmanian Wine Show, which I helped judge a fortnight ago in Hobart.

Of the 32 gold medals in regular classes, seven went to bubbles, not including an extra one in the museum class. Of those eight wines, four were for House of Arras wines, made by Ed Carr and his team at Accolade (formerly Hardys). It’s a great vote of confidence in the island state’s sparkling wine sector, which is a category for which Tasmania has more potential than anywhere else in Australia, and which has been steadily improving since the first Tasmanian Wine Show 23 years ago.

The wines have been improving steadily to the point that the best of them are now equal to very good Champagnes of prestige cuvee status. The House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut 2000 (tasting) is such a wine: it was voted the wine of the show. This is only the second time a sparkling wine has been judged wine of show in this country, to my knowledge – it also happened last year at the Hobart Wine Show (to Freycinet’s Radenti 2000 – tasting). The wine is rich and full in the mouth, loaded with toasted-bread, white chocolate, nougat and vanilla aromas; immensely complex and rich yet elegant, balanced and displaying a dry, low-dosage palate and finish.

At the Tasmanian Wine Show, five of those eight golds went to mature or late-disgorged styles: Radenti 2001 ($70 – tasting), and House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2001 ($80 – tasting) and E.J. Carr Late Disgorged 1998, 2000 and 2001 (all $139 – tastings). An amazing suite of great wines in anyone’s language.

Lest anyone think aged sparkling wine automatically has some kind of advantage, it must be pointed out that not just any wine can be left on yeast lees for 10 years or more and expected to reward the investment. In fact, few do. The base-wine must be of exceptional quality to firstly remain fresh for such a long time, and secondly to actually improve in complexity and quality while retaining its finesse. The Arras wines most certainly achieve that. Indeed, the 2001 Blanc de Blancs tastes remarkably young and seems to be defying gravity. Ditto the Radenti wines, and in their case the 2001 is not ‘late disgorged’ by the generally accepted definition: it is the Freycinet winery’s current release.

The younger generation were not left out of the party. Jansz Tasmanian Vintage Cuvee 2007 (tasting) also won a gold medal, as did Velo Dominique Brut 2006 (tasting) and Sugarloaf Ridge Lara 2006 (tasting). Sugarloaf Ridge vineyard was damaged by recent bushfires, so the award was especially warmly received.

Accolade also did well with its Tasmanian winery Bay of Fires, winning golds with 2011 pinot noir (tasting) and 2010 chardonnay (tasting). Former Hardys/Accolade winemakers Tim James and Peter Dawson – who have their Dawson & James wines made at Bay of Fires – also shone, winning golds for their 2010 (tasting) and 2011 chardonnays (tasting).

Perhaps the most exciting wine among the generally very fine 2011 chardonnays was Riversdale Vineyard Crater Chardonnay (tasting), which vied with the other gold medal winner in that class, Dawson & James, for the trophy. The Riversdale, from a vineyard almost underneath the UTAS radio telescope at Cambridge, in the Coal River Valley, is a stunning wine, with invisible oak and finesse seldom seen in an Australian chardonnay. My notes read: “smoky toasty oak over grapefruit and lemon fruit; tight, intense and tangy. Lovely clean, long, penetrating palate. Delicious fruit, powerful and concentrated and yet shows the great finesse and delicacy of the 2011 vintage. Power with finesse!”

The vineyard sells grapes to several wineries including Treasury, and the maker of the trophy wine was Nick Badrice, whose daytime job is with Cellarmasters in the Barossa Valley www.riversdaleestate.com.au.

Home Hill, at Ranelagh in the Huon Valley, is a regular winner of pinot awards and this year was no different. Two vintages of its premium label Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir – 2010 and 2011 (tastings) – won golds. The 2010 won three trophies, topped by best red wine of show. Home Hill pinots have always had an abundance of fruit, but I fancy they are a little more complex and structured these days than in the past. Delicious wines.

Derwent Estate 2011 Pinot Noir (tasting) was also a gold medal winner and took home a people’s choice trophy, earned at a public tasting of gold medal winners. This is another winery making top wines across the board, whose pinot noirs seem to be improving steadily. Its 2011 riesling also won gold (tasting).

There were many great rieslings, none finer than Pressing Matters R9 Riesling 2012 (tasting), which is like a great German kabinett or halb-trocken style, wonderfully fragrant and delicate, with just the merest tickle of sweetness balancing its mouth-watering acidity. It won two trophies, including best riesling of show.

The final mention goes to Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz 2011 (tasting), which won the trophy for best ‘other’ red variety. This is the follow-up to the 2010 Jimmy Watson Trophy winner and is due for release in a few weeks. It’s a deliciously spicy, light to medium-bodied shiraz with fine structure and gentle, soft tannins: truly a shiraz for pinot noir lovers.

Full results will be posted on www.taswineshow.org.

First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 28 January 2013.


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