Rash of golds for top Tassie drops

Tasmania’s strengths of riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wine were confirmed at the recent 2014 Tasmanian Wine Show. Sauvignon blanc, which might be expected to shine in the island state, was disappointing, and pinot gris/grigio was just so-so. On one hand we could be tempted to conclude that Tasmanians are crazy to grow anything but riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir; on the other, it would be nice to have more diversity.

In recent years there have been a handful of stunning shirazes, which perhaps reflects a warming of the climate. This year, Waterton 2012 Shiraz (gold and trophy – tastings) stunned the judges with its refinement and spicy but properly ripe fruit; Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere 2012 (silver – tastings) was close on its heels. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot are rarely much good in Tasmania; gewürztraminer can be superb, but even one of the state’s best plantings of gewurz has been ripped out because it’s too hard to sell the wine.

On the positive side, Tasmania’s strong suits continue to get stronger. The 2013 riesling class was outstanding. The style of the vintage is highly aromatic, intense and perhaps a shade drier than usual. Coal Valley vineyard Pressing Matters (tastings) won the show’s most successful exhibitor trophy, thanks to its extraordinary procession of rieslings across several vintages. This young vineyard, established in 2002, scored no less than 15 medals: five gold (including one top of class), six silver and four bronze. Rieslings accounted for all but one of those medals, the 2011 pinot noir (tastings) scoring a bronze. Indeed, the vineyard is only planted to these two varieties, underscoring the specialization that some growers are pursuing.

Pressing Matters, owned by Hobart-based barrister Greg Melick, makes riesling in four distinct styles at four grades of sweetness: R0 (tastings) stands for dry (no fermentable residual sugar), R9 (tastings) is barely off-dry with nine grams per litre, R69 (tastings) is medium-sweet and R139 (tastings) is fully sweet – it’s hardly super-sweet, though, but beautifully balanced. Why the obsession with nine, I’m not sure. Pressing Matters’ 2012 R9 Riesling (tastings), which topped its class, was also awarded the trophy for best riesling of show. Full marks for consistency … the very same wine won the same trophy last year.

Talking of consistency, Home Hill (tastings) achieved a similar feat with pinot noir red wines. Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 ($50; not yet released – tastings) was best pinot noir and best red of show, heading up a great result for this winery. The Home Hill vineyard, at Ranelagh in the Huon Valley, has proven itself consistently across the tenure of three winemakers. Paul and Gilli Lipscombe, whose own vineyard has the quixotic name Sailor Seeks Horse (tastings), took over the winemaking from vintage 2011 for the owners Terry and Rosemary Bennett. The 2012 is a beautifully fresh, lively pinot with a superbly vibrant colour and great fruit. It shows an elegance and refinement that were not common in the pinots at this year’s show, as Tasmanian winemakers seem intent on pursuing bigger, darker-coloured, riper flavoured styles which are sometimes a little too heavy. The Home Hill site also produced top wines in 2011 and 2010, the ’11 Kelly’s Reserve (tastings) scoring gold in its class (although Laurel Bank won the top gold, and hence the trophy for best 3-year-old pinot – tastings), and the regular Estate pinot 2010 (tastings) won gold in its class. Home Hill’s other 2012 pinot noirs, the Estate (tastings) and a new label called Landslide (tastings), both won silver medals.

Home Hill is very consistent: in last year’s show its 2010 and 2011 Kelly’s Reserve pinots won golds, the ’10 taking three trophies capped by best red wine of show.

Sparkling wines stood out, as they do every year in Tasmania. Together with Macedon and Tumbarumba, and the colder parts of the Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley, Tassie has great potential for bubbly. Hardy’s House of Arras (tastings) blitzed the fizz classes, winning top wine of show for the second year in a row. This year it was the 2004 Grand Vintage ($73 – tastings); last year it was the 2001 E.J. Carr Late Disgorged ($150 – tastings). In a killer showing, the Arras bubblies took home four gold and two silver medals from six entries, not including the Museum section, where it won three golds and a silver from four entries. There, the 2000 E.J. Carr Late Disgorged (tastings) was voted top wine in a class of 24 aged red and white wines of various varieties. The 2001 and 1998 (tastings) vintages of the same wine won gold and silver respectively, while the 2001 Blanc de Blancs (tastings) won gold.

In spite of the Arras blitz, two other sparkling wines won trophies. Heemskerk 2008 Chardonnay Pinot Noir ($60 – tastings) was judged best vintage sparkling wine (the older vintage class has its own separate trophy, which went to the Arras ’04). Winemaker Charles ‘Chilly’ Hargrave was on hand to accept the trophy for this superbly fine, precision wine which showed a wonderful harmony of both fruit and yeast-derived aromas and flavours.

And in the non-vintage class, Pirie Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV (tastings) was the lone, but unanimous, gold medal. Non-vintage sparkling doesn’t have to be young and simple, as we see from Champagne’s example. It’s just been cast in that role by Australian winemakers and marketers. The Pirie (now part of the Brown Brothers stable of brands) is a good example of how aged reserve wines can be used to add depth of character to an NV. It’s a very good wine, and value at $35.

Heemskerk (tastings) triumphed again with the trophy for best chardonnay of show (tastings), drawn from a brilliant class of 2012s. We judges awarded no less than eight gold medals in the class of 29 wines, a blistering result.

Other notable results:

  • Boutique East Coast vineyard Bream Creek (tastings) had a very strong showing, with five gold medals (including two top of class), a silver and five bronzes. Golds to ’07 sparkling, ’12 pinot noir and three rieslings.
  • Riversdale Estate Crater Chardonnay 2012 (tastings) and 2011 (tastings), blindingly good chardonnays, both won gold. They’re made by Cellarmasters at its Barossa Valley winery and sell for a giveaway $35 from the web-site.
  • Pocket-handkerchief sized Tamar Valley vineyard Waterton shone, with two trophies from its 2 hectares of vines. They were best 2013 vintage wine (for its riesling – tastings) and best wine made from ‘other’ (non-mainstream Tasmanian) varieties, for that gorgeous 2012 shiraz.

Full results at taswineshow.org.

First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 4 Feb 2014.

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