House Pour: A Real Guide to Tasmania

The island state of Tasmania is a tiny bundle of fascination for wine lovers. It covers less than 1% of Australia’s vineyards and just 0.1% of this wine is exported. A couple of decades ago, Barossa and McLaren Vale were the main focus of attention, but as palates developed outside the box and people sought out cooler climates, Tazzy got its well-deserved spotlight. The team behind Grape Nomad tasted 10 beautiful samples and brought in an interesting verdict. Welcome to House Pour, a guide that breaks down (not so) famous grapes and gets to the bottom of things by drinking (fo’ real).

If you want to win an argument over who first started producing sparkling wine in Australia (a common dispute in the Balkans as well, only with war as the main topic), Bartholomew Broughton is the main man to turn to. A Londoner from a wealthy family, Bart abruptly decided to move to Tasmania in 1823 and set foot on his winemaking journey. He made a mark in both Victoria and South Australia, where his Chardonnay cuttings were transported a decade later. In 1852, the Victorian Gold Rush led workers astray, leaving unattended vineyards to die off and be replaced by apple orchards. At the same time, a law was passed to prohibit the production of spirits, Tasmania’s specialty. On top of that, other Australian wine regions were starting to strive quickly. All these events led this pioneering region down the drain and it remained there for almost a century. Luckily, in this bonkers, unpredictable wine world, there is always that one guy that decides that exactly one particular piece of land is suitable for grape-growing. That’s how Tasmania sparked its 50-year renaissance by a big influx of winemakers in the 1990s. Tasmanian winemakers Andrew Hood (Wellington) and Claudio Radenti (Freycinet) returned, and Stefano Lubiana arrived from South Australia, Peter Althaus (Stoney Vineyard/Domaine A) from Switzerland, and Alain Rousseau from France. Today, many foreign companies invest in this area, of which the most well-known are Louis Roederer, Yalumba, Moët’s Domaine Chandon and Accolade Wines.

When thinking of Australia, the majority of people automatically pinpoint it to producing jammy, sweet, high alcoholic wines, since those are the most accessible bottles on the international market. So how does Tasmania differ? Well, first of all, it’s an island (or how the locals call it The Apple Isle) which is marked by a cool temperate climate. The biggest viticultural challenges here are heavy rainfall and strong winds coming off the Indian Ocean, Bass Strait and Tasman Sea. Thus, vineyards have to be protected at all times. Luckily, Tasmania is a heavily forested and mountainous state, so that helps a ton. The rainfall is not that big of a problem, since the majority of soils are made up of well-draining stone, sand or clay. Additionally, stony soils have the ability to absorb heat during the day and release it slowly during the night, which is crucial in cool climates. The extended growing season makes it ideal for early-ripening grapes, of which the most planted here are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Truth be told, the effects of global warming have had a positive impact on this region and have even opened the doors of opportunity for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Sub-regions of Tasmania are: Coal River Valley, Derwent Valley, Huon Valley, Pipers River and Tamar Valley. When talking about styles, one can easily conclude that a quest for crisp, refreshing whites and delicate reds will be successful in every way. This does not mean that wineries produce only everyday-drinking wines. Far from it. With high levels of natural acidity, these wines can age gracefully if backed up by proper fruit concentration and higher alcohol percentages. Unfortunately, in some of these samples, we detected lots of underripeness, which, once bottled, can’t budge. These wines were marked with sour rather than bright acidity, bitterness and notes of green, unripe fruit. In the Chardonnays, there was a generous amount of sulphur dosage as well, which indicates that winemakers were trying to stabilize the juice as we say in Bosnian na vrat na nos, meaning rushing head first into something. Prices ranged from 30 to 80 SGD, all of which were considered to be premium or close to premium quality compared to other notable Australian regions. Were they worth it? Check out for yourself in the reviews below.

Jansz Wine Company Premium Cuvée Brut NV
Tasmania, Australia

Because Tasmania has a similar climate (heavy accent on similar) to that of Champagne, winemakers here figured out it would be best to name their method of production méthode Tasmanoise. Cheeky or clever? You decide. When it was established in 1975, the Jansz vineyard got its name from a Tasman ship, the Heemskerk. A decade later, reputable Champagne house Louis Roederer saw potential in this region and partnered with the owners of Heemskerk Wines to produce Tasmania’s first premium sparkling wine. In 1997, the winery became known as what it is today – Jansz. I can say with certainty that this had the most appealing aromatic profile in the batch. Notes of tomato sauce (a few people agreed on this, if someone knows what’s going on here, please enlighten me), a wide array of citrus fruit and hints of wheat cereal. Light-bodied and well-balanced, apple cidery-like. Salty aftertaste that doesn’t last long. Not an overly complex sparkler, but a fun one indeed.

Price: S$32
Purchased: Cellarbrations
You might also like: House of Arras ‘A by Arras’ Premium Cuvee Sparkling, Apogee Deluxe Vintage Brut

Freycinet Chardonnay 2015
Tasmania, Australia

Claudio Radenti is one of the rare Tasmanian-born winemakers that followed this path from the region’s cardinal baby steps. In 1989, his wife, Lindy Bull, became the first Tasmanian female to graduate as a winemaker (you go, girl). For the past 30 years, they worked and travelled across France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia and the US. Today, their 15 hectares of vineyards are located in a sort of amphitheatre – nestled in a valley that protects them from the winds and acts as a heat trap when the sun shines. This Chardonnay saw a ten-month barrel fermentation in partially new French oak. A highly complex nose, marked with aromas of meadow flowers, peach, pear, yellow apple, freshly cut grass, biscuit, white pepper and sea salt. Green olive aftertaste. Unfortunately, the alcohol on the palate smothers much of the fruit and acidity, leading to a rather dismal effort in the end. Nothing improves, nor softens the next day.

Price: S$56
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Bay of Fires Chardonnay, Morningside Vineyard Chardonnay

 

Stefano Lubiana ‘Black Label’ Riesling 2012
Tasmania, Australia

There should definitely be more plantings of Riesling in this god-given region, even more than Chardonnay in my humble opinion. But I say that because I’m an addict. Maybe these are not rational thoughts. Located in the south of the region, Lubiana is blessed with ideal conditions for this grape. Mountains protect the vines from crushing sea winds and the river tempers the heat during ripening. A most proper varietal expression on this Riesling. Aromas of petrol, peach, apricot, lemonade and meadow flowers. Clean, crisp and refreshing on entry with the complexity going even deeper on the palate. Finishes off with a long, tangerine finish. The alcohol and acidity levels are medium, which is not the best contribution for long-term cellaring, but nevertheless, this is still a ridiculously quaffable wine I’d like to bathe in. Anybody that says that Australia has never made a great Riesling, fuck your opinions.

Price: S$54
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Freycinet Riesling, Stargazer Riesling, Josef Chromy Riesling

Stoney Rise ‘Holyman’ Chardonnay 2014
Tasmania, Australia

I have a confession to make – I spend hours researching winemakers whose wines I didn’t enjoy because I want to believe that they have better things to offer. And Joe Holyman does. Just type his name in Google Search and you’re gonna like the guy. An ex-cricket player turned sales rep turned winemaker Joe, together with his wife Lou, purchased the Stoney Rise property in 2004. His style is influenced by Graham Wiltshire, who planted the Jansz vineyard – concentrate on the best ingredients and the wine will make itself. After being blessed with a good year and a great vineyard position, I still don’t understand why this 2014 was so bad. Extreme oakiness with a slightly reductive note. Nine people had no fruit descriptors in their arsenal. The most common aromas were – flint, curry leaf, sesame, vanilla. It tastes better than it smells, but the shocking, biting citrus acid burning at the edges of your tongue gives a strong argument for not appreciating the latter either.

Price: S$55
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Derwent Estate ‘Calcaire’ Chardonnay, Moores Hill Estate Chardonnay

Domaine A ‘Stoney vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Coal River Valley, Tasmania

The reason why it took me over a month to publish this article is because I stopped here and couldn’t budge even if I had a gun to my head. How to start writing about an Australian Cab that’s so reminiscent of Bordeaux? It’s not as bad as vin ordinaire, but not as stunning as a member of the growth elite. Don’t get me wrong, this is sexy as hell for Australia’s standards, but a bit above meh for your average Bordeaux Joe. And this is as Bordeaux as it gets outside the region itself. Black ruby with thick purple edges. Big and typical on the nose – ripe blackberry/raspberry, black pepper, capsicum and ash all covered in soya sauce, sausage juice, ginseng and leather. Wait, are we already on dinner? The acidity shines in the beginning, there’s a good chunk of ripeness to counter it and the tannins feel quite soft, contributing nicely to the overall texture. However, all this excitement somehow tends to evaporate towards the finish and leaves you wondering what the fuck just went down.

Price: S$42
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Holm Oak Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, John Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Tolpuddle Chardonnay 2016
Coal River Valley, Tasmania

Coal River Valley hit the Australian scene in the late ‘70s and remained relatively under the radar for decades. Thanks to the consistent quality of winemaking by wineries such as Tolpuddle, Domaine A, Domaine Simha and many other masters of the craft, this small region has become a benchmark for exceptional quality in Australia. Here, the hills guard the vineyards from excessive rainfall and cold sea winds, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly in autumn disease-free. The result? A very well-done Chardonnay that is unfortunately a bit too young to be evaluated for its full potential. Heavily reductive upon opening. My favourite notes – tuna brine, copper jail bars and burnt honeycomb. Luckily, these obscure aromas blow off pretty quick and give way to levels of complexity. With its racy acidity, moderate alcohol and underripe rather than ripe fruit character, this could easily be classified as a Puligny, but simply lacks one key element for such a call – the unbeatable OG Burgundian charm.

Price: S$90
Purchased: Monopole
You might also like: Riverside Estate ‘Crater’ Chardonnay, Heemskerk Chardonnay

Stefano Lubiana Grüner Veltliner 2014
Tasmania, Australia

This was the rarest gem at the tasting. Miniscule quantities of this Austrian grape are planted (single block) and made into wine. Almost all of it is sold at the winery, but luckily, we got our hands on some through a stellar local distributor. Influenced by his harvest at Pittnauer (Burgenland, Austria), Stefano decided to graft some vines over to Tasmania to see how they would perform in this cool, maritime climate. And perform they did. They now give texturally satisfying wines with the softness and aromatics akin to the finest Wachau examples. Although this doesn’t mark off all aromatic points of a true Austrian Grüner (white pepper, herbs, mint), it does offer a well-balanced, sleek wine of high drinkability. Perhaps the overall style here is somewhat straightforward and the wine could use a bit more acidity to excite, but nonetheless, this is a pleasant effort. Better suited for immediate consumption than for longer-term cellaring.

Price: S$49
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Thick as Thieves ‘Another Bloody’ Chardonnay, Stargazer Riesling

Two Tonne ‘TMV’ Pinot Noir 2017
Tamar Valley, Tasmania

Another sub-region helped significantly by a charming river. Here, the Tamar protects from frost by capturing buckets of sunlight, catches winds from the Bass Strait and moderates the temperatures for a long and slow growing season. A proper lad, this river is. The soils in the valley are rich with iron, which provides good drainage and forces vines to grow deeper to reach water and crucial nutrients. With Two Tonne, Ricky Evans entered the scene in 2013 and, led by the slogan ‘small parcels, big love’, started producing wines from Pinot, Chardonnay and Riesling. ‘TMV’ is his entry level stuff and that really shows here. Aromas of cotton candy, ripe red fruit (raspberry, cherry) and blueberry compote. Medium-bodied, medium acidity, medium everything. A rich, fruity and thoroughly predictable textbook Pinot Noir, that drinks like a simple crowd-pleaser. Soft structure with very unobtrusive, mellow tannins and an unmemorable finish.

Price: S$49
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Thick as Thieves ‘Another Bloody’ Chardonnay, Stargazer Riesling

Apsley Gorge Pinot Noir 2011
Tasmania, Australia

A few days ago, I read an Instagram comment stating how one should be suspicious of *insert profession here*-turned winemaker. Ok, so several vintages in Gevrey-Chambertin don’t count even if you’re an architect and you “just” launched your winery in 1988? Oh well, Brian Franklin will just have to live with that fact then and keep on making killer Pinots for the rest of the world that could care less about fancy accolades. This 2011 Pinot finished at fourth place of our tasting, mostly because the drinking window is slowly being sealed shut. Tertiary aromas dominate strongly – vegemite, coffee, forest floor, tea leaves, charred wood. Some hints of fruit are still intact, but for how long, time will tell. The wine comes across quite balanced with its moderately expressed acidity and ripe, gentle tannins, but the alcohol shows a bit too much for pleasure. Spicy, long finish. Drink up and progress to newer vintages.

Price: S$72
Purchased: Tiger Wines
You might also like: Dalrymple Vineyards Pinot Noir, Brown Magpie ‘Paraparap Reserve’ Pinot Noir

Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2013
Tasmania, Australia

For some reason, I wasn’t enthusiastic for any Pinots at this tasting. Probably a result of last year’s cursed Pinot Palooza that had me questioning the quality of bottle and tasting conditions in a room where a matchstick couldn’t be dropped because of how crowded and rowdy it was. Today, Josef Chromy came back to me. Very rich and lush nose showing tones of black cherry, dried cranberry, baking spices, griotte and Earl Grey tea. Medium-bodied with a round and supple character. There is some strong stemy tannin action going on, surprisingly much for a Pinot, but this will probably mellow in the next year or two. A very good Pinot, showing nice integration of fruit and bottle aging notes at this stage, as well as a balance between the moderate levels of acidity and the 14% abv. It has an honest straightforward flavor profile, exactly what a classic Pinot should taste like. No bullshit, no false expectations.

Price: S$55
Purchased: Century Cellars
You might also like: Ninth Island Pinot Noir, Domaine A ‘Stoney Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

 

House Pour is an approachable guide to the world’s (not so) famous grapes. We’re a group of friends that meet once a month, bring bottles to the table and have a good ol’ time. If you’re inspired by the idea, please spread the love within your wine community. If you’re based in Singapore, don’t hesitate to join us or enquire on hosting your own event! DM at @grapenomad or email at grapenomad@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.