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Huon Hooke’s top 12 Tasmanian wine producers

Ask a mainland Aussie winemaker what other region of Australia he or she would like to make wine in, and the most common reply is Tasmania. Global warming is one key reason: at the southern extremity of Australia, Tasmania is least likely to be affected by rising temperatures – or at least it will be affected later than most other regions. Another reason is that Tasmania specialises in the grape varieties and winestyles that we are demanding more and more today: delicate dry and semi-dry whites, fine sparkling wines, and lighter-bodied low-tannin reds such as pinot noir.

Quite a few high-profile winemakers have already made the move, or at least bought a stake in the Tassie wine industry. Jim Chatto (chief winemaker of McWilliam’s (tastings) and a long-term Hunter Valley resident), Samantha Connew (former McLaren Vale and Hunter winemaker and present chair of the Sydney Royal Wine Show) with her Stargazer label (tastings), Shaw & Smith (tastings) of the Adelaide Hills with their Tolpuddle vineyard, Brown Brothers (tastings) with their purchase of Tamar Ridge, Sue Bell who makes a Tasmanian chardonnay under her Bellwether label, ex-Hardys McLaren Vale winemakers Tim James and Peter Dawson with their Dawson & James label (tastings), and on it goes. Glenn James, another ex-Hardys winemaker from McLaren Vale has also been sniffing around Tasmanian vineyards recently.

The island state has the ideal mix for contemporary tastes. Its rieslings are as good as any in the land, not wines for beginners perhaps but perfect for connoisseurs. Its dry white chardonnays are among the most delicate and restrained Australia produces, with naturally high acidity and tight, fine, complex flavours, not relying on oak or high degrees of ripeness. Sauvignon blanc is a work in progress, but pinot gris and grigio are pretty good and improving all the time. And the sparkling wines are arguably the stand-out wines of the apple isle. There are young, crisp, fruit-driven styles which make great aperitifs; there are rich, ultra-complex aged examples with 10-plus years of age on yeast lees, and many permutations in between. There are blanc de blancs, rosés and pinot- chardonnay blends. All can be terrific. And all of these wines go well with the fish and seafoods in which Tasmania specializes.

Pinot noir in Tassie has arguably the best potential of anywhere in Australia, and the level of quality and character of these wines rises year by year, as the age of the vines and the skills of winemakers and viticulturalists improve. Again, with its artisan cheesemakers, Tasmania has the food to go with them.

This year, I judged in the Tasmanian Wine Show for the 18th time, and the standard was red-hot. The judges awarded more than 10 per cent of the entries a gold medal, which is approximately twice the number of golds at most national wine shows. It’s a stark illustration of the high level of winemaking and viticulture. Consider also that Tasmania’s last three vintages (2012, ‘13 and ‘14) have been excellent for quality (although 2014 was tiny), and the stage is set for great wines.

Tassie has arrived!

HUON’S TOP DOZEN

Bay of Fires/House of Arras/Eddystone Point

  • Region: Various, but Pipers River-based
  • Specialties: Chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, pinot gris and sparkling
  • Best current release: 2002 House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged sparkling $130 (tastings)

Dawson & James

  • Region: Derwent Valley
  • Specialties: Chardonnay, pinot noir
  • Best current release: 2013 Chardonnay $50 (tastings)

Home Hill

  • Region: Huon Valley
  • Specialties: Chardonnay, pinot noir
  • Best current release: 2013 Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir $60 (tastings)

Tamar Ridge/Pirie Tasmania/Devil’s Corner

  • Region: Tamar Valley, Relbia, East Coast
  • Specialties: Chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling
  • Best current release: 2009 Pirie Vintage sparkling $60 (tastings)

Freycinet Vineyard

  • Region: East Coast
  • Specialties: Pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay. Second label: Louis.
  • Best current release: 2002 Radenti sparkling $55 (tastings)

Tolpuddle

  • Region: Coal River Valley
  • Specialties: Chardonnay, pinot noir
  • Best current release: 2013 Pinot Noir $75 (tastings)

Jansz

  • Region: Pipers River
  • Specialty: Sparkling wines
  • Best current release: 2008 Vintage Cuveé sparkling $35 (tastings)

Heemskerk

  • Region: Various
  • Specialties: Sparkling wines, chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling. Second label: Abel’s Tempest
  • Best current release: 2014 Riesling $50 (tastings)

Moorilla Estate

  • Regions: Tamar Valley and Berriedale
  • Specialties: Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling
  • Best current release: 2013 Muse Pinot Gris $30 (tastings)

Frogmore Creek

  • Region: Coal River Valley
  • Specialties: Riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir. Second label: 42 Degrees South.
  • Best current release: 2014 Riesling $25 (tastings)

Pressing Matters

  • Region: Coal River Valley
  • Specialties: Riesling (at four levels of sweetness/dryness), pinot noir
  • Best current release: 2012 Riesling R9 $33 (tastings)

Domaine A

  • Region: Coal River Valley
  • Specialties: Cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc fumé style. Second label: Stoney Vineyard.
  • Best current release: 2010 Lady A Fumé Blanc $72

ALSO

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First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 24 Feb 2015.

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