By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 29 January 2022
We don’t hear enough about Tasmanian still wine, but we most certainly will in the future.
This beautiful island, 240km south of mainland Australia, has an enviably cool temperate maritime climate and diverse soils – which is proving very attractive to winemakers escaping the heat.
You might well have heard about Tasmanian sparkling wines, but Tassie’s still wines have tended to fall under the radar overshadowed by Australia’s mainland regions – and have in the past been difficult to find on UK wine shelves – but this is set to change.
“Chardonnay has been in transition over the last twenty years in Australia – and it is now in a very good place showing a depth of regionality – and Tasmania is one of the top six places for this grape”, says winemaker Samantha Connew of Stargazer Wine (pictured) who moved to the island to make wine five years ago.
Chardonnay, Tasmania’s most planted white grape which makes up 25% of plantings (Pinot Noir is 48%) on the island’s 2,028 hectares, is proving itself well suited for premium still wines. Tasmania produces a minute 0.5% of Australia’s wine volume, so there is not much to go around, which is one of the issues.
“There is high demand for grapes for sparkling here”, explains Connew. Chardonnay, with its distinctive acidity, is a critical component of Tassie’s sparkling wine taking up 68% of the fruit – but ‘still’ Chardonnay has such beautiful focus and backbone it is encouraging to see more producers willing to reserve fruit for still wines.
One of the main reasons why Tassie’s still Chardonnay has improved so much is down to new clones. Clones are cuttings taken from a single vine with identical genetic material to the parent source.
“In the past the original Chardonnay clone grown here was a bit of a workhorse clone”, explains Connew.
Now as more of Tassie’s 184 producers are playing with single vineyard still wines, new Chardonnay clones like Mendoza and Burgundy’s 95 & 96, which give freshness and tension, have been planted and are proving very successful offering a variety of styles.
Connew herself experiments with four clones: “I planted a variety of clones – 76, 95, 96 & 548 – to give insurance in the long growing season, as these clones ripen at different times”.
In such a cool maritime climate, vintages vary considerably here. “It took me several years to get a handle on it”, says winemaker Ockie Myburgh, chief winemaker at Josef Chromy who makes both still & sparkling. “Take for example our recent vintages: 2021 and 2020 both cool and rainy, whilst 2019 and 2018 were warm and dry – but in all years nights are always cool retaining natural acidity”.
At a recent tasting highlighting six of the best Tasmanian Chardonnays from the island’s seven unofficial wine growing areas, hosted by Connew and Myburgh, it showed the incredible diversity on such a small island.
Chardonnay from ‘the edge of the world’ is not cheap. Tassie Chardonnay tends to be higher in price than on Australian mainland – but it is definitely worth paying more for its elegance.
TASMANIAN TASTE TEST:
East Coast & Tamar Valley: DEVIL’S CORNER CHARDONNAY 2021 Tamar Ridge (12.5%)
£19.99 Simply Wines Direct
Early drinking approachable aperitif style with mainly East Coast fruit giving rich mouthfeel and ripeness to the blend; lemony pear fruit with crisp bright acidity – the hallmark of Tasmanian Chardonnay.
Tamar Valley: HOLM OAK CHARDONNAY 2019 (12.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
£23 Villeneuve Wines
From the warm Tamar valley where the fruit spectrum is often more forward – this refined elegant barrel fermented Chardonnay is made by husband & wife team Tim & Rebecca Duffy. Lemony notes, toasty nuttiness, rich rounded style with full texture.
Tamar Valley: JOSEF CHROMY CHARDONNAY 2018 (13.5%)
£24 Cellar Door Wines; AusWinesOnline; Vinvm
Single vineyard oak fermented Chardonnay from Chromy’s Relbia estate vineyard in northern Tasmania. Struck match aromas, rich full tropical fruits, very toasty, juicy lees, grapefruit undertones. Seems to display more oak than others in the tasting – needs a bit more time to mature.
Pipers River: DALRYMPLE CAVE BLOCK CHARDONNAY 2017 (13%)
£24.70 Vinvm; Connollys Wine; Flagship Wines; Hoults Wine; Whalley Wines
From the great 2017 vintage – this estate is owned by the Hill Smith family of Yalumba fame. Quite savoury notes, saline, briny undertones indicating the vineyard is close to the ocean. Truffly notes, quite textured with good freshness to finish.
Upper Derwent: STARGAZER CHARDONNAY 2018 (13.5%)
£44 AusWinesOnline; Ministry of Drinks; Simply Wines Direct; Blasarfwyd
Made from fruit sourced from Tasmania’s most inland vineyard in Upper Derwent – from a very warm vintage which has rich intense fruits, toasty, limey palate, rich creamy lees and refreshing elegant length.
Coal River Valley: TOLPUDDLE CHARDONNAY 2020 (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£64 Philglass & Swiggot; Fortnum & Mason; Hedonism Wine
Outstandingly good example which has won numerous trophies at wine shows. Made from the new clones, this shows Tasmania’s potential with its striking citric fruit, beautifully balanced palate with gentle nervy acidity and long length – a fabulous example to compare with great white Burgundy.
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