Why Tasmanian Chardonnay is turning heads: a masterclass
Tasmania is hot right now. Well, actually, it isn’t hot in the thermal sense, and that’s its appeal. This island, at 41-43 degrees South, and 240 km from the southern tip of Australia, has a cool climate. And right now in Australia, cool climates are sought after for Chardonnay.
Tasmania has a long but broken history with vines, though. Back in 1823 vines were planted here, and cuttings from Tasmania supplied the first vineyards on the mainland of Australia in the Hunter Valley, back in 1832.
But after the mid-19th century there was a break of a century, when viticulture disappeared until the 1950s.
Vines went back in the ground in 1956, but for some bizarre reason Cabernet Sauvignon was the lead variety. Sensibly, this switched to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the 1980s and 1990s.
But progress was quite slow. In 1986 there were just 47 hectares, increasing to the current area of 2028 hectares, spread across seven (as yet unofficial) regions, mainly on the east side and top and bottom.
Pinot Noir dominates with 48% of plantings, and Chardonnay comes in at 25%. The cool maritime climate is good for elegant expressions of these varieties, and of course sparkling, too.
Soils? They vary quite a bit. No limestone here, but there are well drained sandy soils eroded from sedimentary soils, and gravelly loams, and clay loams, and alluvial clays.
This tasting was hosted by two winemakers from Tasmania, Sam Connew of Stargazer Wine and Ockie Myburgh from Josef Chromy.
‘Australian Chardonnay is in a pretty awesome place at the moment,’ says Connew. And these six wines, from different parts of the island and a range of vineyards, demonstrated this. Vintage variation, is of course, a fact of life in this martitime-influenced cool climate. ‘It took me three to four years to get a handle on it,’ says Myburgh. ‘It’s quite variable.’
Devil’s Corner Chardonnay 2021 Tasmania, Australia
12.5% alcohol. 75% from the east coast, 25% from the Tamar Valley. 85% fermented on solids in tank, and 15% in barrel. The wine then went to old oak for 3 months. Youthful, vital and bright with a citrus core and notes of pear and spice. Keen acidity provides a lovely foil for the fruit. This isn’t meant for ageing, but is an early drinking style, but the wild ferment with high solids has added some complexity. Nice texture and keen acidity, with some tension. 93/100 (UK retail £23, agent ABS)
Tolpuddle Chardonnay 2020 Tasmania, Australia
13% alcohol. From the Coal River Valley. This has thrilling aromatics of matchstick/flint, with some powerful lime and grapefruit as well as some nuts, and a fine spiciness. The palate has great tension with high acidity and complex barrel characters, finishing long, lemony and mineral. World class, with such a linear quality. 97/100 (£64.99 Fortnum & Mason, Philglas & Swiggot, UK agent Liberty)
Holm Oak Chardonnay 2019 Tasmania, Australia
12.5% alcohol. 20% new oak, 20% malolactic. This has an open, creamy nose with some toast and honey notes. The palate carries this creamy theme through. It’s quite buttery and broad, but then finishes with keen acidity, leaving a taut lemony finish. 89/100 (£23 Villeneuve Wines who are the agent in the UK)
Stargazer Chardonnay 2018 Tasmania, Australia
13.5% alcohol. Fruit from the upper Derwent. This is expressive with some citrus on the nose as well as a slight reductive vinyl hint. The palate has sweet citrus, pear and green apple with nice mineral underpinning. This has nice texture with a hint of sweetness on the mid palate. Quite crystalline on the finish. Will the reductive hint settle? 92/100 (£45, UK agent Enotria Coe)
Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2018 Tasmania, Australia
13.5% alcohol. From northern Tasmania, this is a single-vineyard wine. One third new oak, partial wild ferment. Complex nose with sweet peach, honey and nuts, as well as hints of marzipan and honeycomb. It’s expressive and toasty on the palate with rich peachy characters and zippy acidity. Lots of flavour richness here, but also keen acidity. 92/100 (£24 Cellar Door Wines, Australian Wines Online, Vinum, UK agent is Bibendum)
Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2017 Tasmania, Australia
13% alcohol. Partial wild ferment, partial malolactic. This is complex, rich and intense with some spiciness. There are crystalline citrus fruits and some white peach, with lovely depth of fruit. Warm spiciness couples with good acidity and there’s lots of richness here although there’s also some restraint. Nectarines, cashews, a twist of salt. So bold. 94/100 (£30 Connollys, Whalley Wines, Houts, Flagship Wines, Cru World Wines, UK agent is Fells)
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