Tasmanian Pinot Noir: a study
A small island 240 km south of Victoria is making some of Australia’s most sought after Chardonnay and sparkling wine. It’s Tasmania. But this tasting, led by Jeremy Dineen (Josef Chromy Wines), Rebecca Duffy (Holm Oak Vineyards) and Peter Caldwell (Dalrymple), was focused on Pinot Noir, another of Tasmania’s strengths..
Despite its rather cut-off location, Tasmania was one of the first places in Australia to grow grape vines: a vineyard was planted near Hobart in 1823. But there was a hundred year gap without any vineyards from the mid-19th century until 1956, when the first vineyards of the modern era were established (La Provence and Moorilla).
Here’s a video flypast over Tasmania, from Brown Brothers:
Initially, Cabernet Sauvignon was the focus. But during the 1980s the emphasis switched to Pinot Noir and sparkling. In 1986 there were just 47 hectares planted, yielding a pretty miserly 154 tons of fruit. But this has grown to over 2000 hectares and 12 000 tons of grapes. It’s just 1% of Australia’s vineyard area, but represents 4% by value.
Tasmania is a single GI, with seven recognized growing areas. Soils vary quite a bit, and there’s even a small amount of limestone here on the banks of the Derwent at Granton. They are old soils, and Jurassic dolerite dominates (for more, see this document). The climate is maritime-influenced and temperate (the proximity to the sea moderates the temperatures), and at a latitude of 41-43 degrees, it’s cool.
These Pinots showed a lot of interest. Andrew Pirie was one of the first to champion Pinot Noir here when he planted Piper’s Brook vineyard in the 1970s, which at the time was the largest in Tasmania. Now, the slight warming that has occurred has helped winegrowers in their quest to make convincing, high quality Pinot Noir.
Tolpuddle Pinot Noir 2018 Coal River Valley, Tasmania
13.5% alcohol. Planted in 1988 as a vineyard set up to sell grapes, and bought by Shaw & Smith in 2011. They have put a lot of effort into realizing the potential of this vineyard, which is about 20 minutes from Hobart. Fermented with a mixture of whole berries and whole bunches (40%), then aged in French oak, with a third new. This is supple and elegant with a real silkiness to the fresh red cherry and berry fruit. It’s sweetly fruited with a nice depth to the texture, and nice fresh floral characters. Such purity, with the red fruits framed beautifully by a fine green hint. This is superbly elegant, with lovely fruit. 95/100 (£49 Hedonism, Noel Young, Philglas & Swiggot, Oz Wines)
Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir 2018 Tamar Valley, Tasmania
13.5% alcohol. Pommard and NV6 clones. 15% whole bunch. Destemmed and crushed, with a five-day cold pre-maceration. Then a 10 day fermentation in small open fermenters, and ageing in French oak (20% new). This is bright and fruit forward with juicy cherry and berry fruits. It’s really fruit-driven with some raspberry brightness. Pure and supple, with lovely freshness. 92/100 (£23 Oxford Wine Company, Old Butchers Wines, Wadebridge Wines, Noble Green, AC Gallie, London Wine Shippers, Ex Cellar, Alexander Wines)
Holm Oak Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018 Tamar Valley, Tasmania
13.5% alcohol. Destemmed, hand plunged four times a day during fermentation, and aged in barrel, 25% new oak. It has a distinctive herb-tinged nose with some hints of cola as well as floral cherry fruit. The palate is fresh, light and elegant with some herbal hints complementing the bright cherry and plum fruit. There’s a slight sweet and sour character here. Very drinkable. 91/100 (£20 Villeneuve Wines, Bin Two)
Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2017 Tasmania
13.8% alcohol. From Relbia in northern Tasmania. 25% whole cluster. There’s a distinctive herbal, slightly rhubarb and plastic edge to this wine, which I think is a bit of reduction. It’s juicy and supple with strawberry and raspberry fruit. There’s some nice fruit here, but it’s in a slightly awkward place right now. 88/100 (£24 Simply Wines Direct, Excel Wines, Wine Rack, Cellar Door Wines)
Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2017 Tasmania
13.5% alcohol. Fruit comes from their own vineyard in Pipers River, with some fruit from growers in Swansea and Ouse. This is sweetly fruited and quite soft with a mellow character to the lush strawberry and red cherry fruit. It’s silky and fine with a nice texture and some green notes in the background. There’s a nice elegance to this wine. 93/100 (£33.99 Vinvm, Hoults, Noel Young)
Sailor Seeks Horse Pinot Noir 2017 Huon Valley, Tasmania
12.9% alcohol. 15% whole bunch, 25 days on skins. Dry grown and extremely low yields. This is fresh, supple and fine, with a touch of dried herb and spice and a some fine green hints as well as juicy, elegant cherry and strawberry fruit. There’s lovely purity and finesse to this wine, which is supple and detailed with a slight sweet and sour character, but with elegant red fruits remaining the core. 94/100 (£44.50 The Vinorium)
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