Spring bulbs are on the rise at the moment.

That’s a sure sign our soils are warming up after their brief winter chill. And with sap already starting to flow through previously dormant grapevines, budburst is only another few weeks away in most Tasmanian vineyards.

A new growing season beckons.

Perhaps that explains why vineyard workers seem a little more animated as they move across our landscapes nowadays. The race is on to finish tying down vine canes and deal with last year’s remnant growth before the first passes are made in this spring’s vineyard spray programs.

Winemakers and winery staff, meanwhile, have been watching bottling lines in recent weeks as their new aromatic whites and fresh, light reds make their way from stainless steel tanks into bottle.

Early assessments of wine quality suggest Tasmania’s 2021 vintage has produced some ripper Riesling and Pinot Gris. Much of the state’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines will spend another four to six months in barrel before they head to bottle.

Vineyard yields across the state were down slightly in 2021. The upside for consumers is that there will be some astonishingly good Tasmanian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines to be finished, labelled and packaged over summer.

Winemakers across much of south-eastern Australia have already begun to wax lyrical about their exceptional current vintage table wines.

Readers keen to hear the good news from their favourite producer on Tasmania’s east coast might like to inquire in person from later next week.

The Great Eastern Wine Week begins on Friday 3 September. The eleven-day festival runs until Monday 13 September, offering visitors a veritable smorgasbord of 50 food and wine events.

Around half a dozen events on the program sold out with the release of tickets back in July.

Featured image above: Head east this September. Image courtesy Stu Gibson.

New Halliday Wine Companion

August is not just a busy time for grape growers and winemakers across the country. It’s also a busy time for wine marketers as they respond to the myriad reviews and point scores published in the latest edition of the Halliday Wine Companion.

This year has seen a changing of the guard for the highly respected consumer publication. The 2022 edition features the handiwork of a new chief editor, Tyson Stelzer. Renowned author and former winemaker James Halliday stepped down from his twin roles of head writer and chief editor last September to become ‘taster at large.’

The man from Coldstream Hill has been at the helm of the Halliday Wine Companion since 1986.

An assessment panel comprising eight of the best critical palates in the country dealt with the 9100 wines submitted for possible inclusion in this year’s 760-page tome. There are full tasting notes for 3280 of them in the 2022 edition. A further 5352 wines are given thumbnail sketches via brief ratings, drink-to-dates and product pricing.

Copies of the book – published by Hardie Grant – went on went on sale on August 13.

The identities of the Companion’s 17 top rated wines – together with seven major category winners – were live streamed some 12 hours ahead of the publication’s first over the counter sales.

For a small, quality-driven wine region that produces one percent of Australia’s total wine grape harvest each year, Tasmania punched well above its weight in the final analysis. Winemakers from the former Apple Isle produced two ‘Wine of the Year’ recipients, while another 25 individual wines were shortlisted among the Companion’s top-rated wines by variety.

Local heroes Apogee Tasmania and House of Arras vied with Adelaide Hills producer Deviation Road for the mantle of Sparkling White of the Year, with the award going offshore to the Big Island for the first time in eleven years.

The 2017 Bellebonne Natalie Fryar Vintage Rosé was named Sparkling Rosé of the Year. Now resident in Launceston, the former Jansz Tasmania winemaker Natalie Fryar was also shortlisted for Best New Winery.

“We’re pretty pumped by those achievements,” Fryar remarked on wrestling her Sparkling Rosé award out of the clutches of winemaker Ed Carr and the 2018 House of Arras Rosé.

“For a small company that only produces 500 dozen bottles of premium Tasmanian wine, is very gratifying. The Halliday Wine Companion is an industry bible.”

James Halliday (L) with new editor Tyson Stelzer.
Image courtesy Tyson Stelzer.

According to editor Tyson Stelzer, Tasmania was the surprise dark horse that swept in from the sidelines with a convincing win for Riesling of the Year. The winning wine was the 2020 Pooley Wines Margaret Pooley Tribute Single Vineyard Riesling.

A sibling wine from the Coal River Valley producer – the 2020 Pooley Riesling – was among the 40 wines shortlisted for the ‘best of the best’ accolade.

Back in June, Sydney-based digital platform The Real Review ranked the 2020 Margaret Pooley Tribute wine #1 of the 96 Rieslings tasted during the past year.

The wine takes its name from a dearly departed family matriarch, who established Cooinda Vale Vineyard along with husband Denis Pooley in 1985.

When the former car dealer died in 1994, his son John and grandson Matt Pooley joined Margaret in management of the vineyard until her death in 2010. By then, a second vineyard at Butcher’s Hill had sprung up outside Richmond and Pooley Wines had become one of Tasmania’s pre-eminent wine companies.

Stargazer… Tasmania’s Samantha Connew.
Image courtesy James Broadway Photography.

Three key cool climate wine regions produced Australia’s top three contenders for Pinot Noir of the Year – the Adelaide Hills, Macedon Ranges and Tasmania. In the end, a 2019 vintage wine from Stargazer’s Palisander Vineyard in the Coal River Valley joined a 2020 offering from Ashton Hills Vineyard in dipping their lids at the tasting bench to Bindi Block 5 from the Macedon Ranges.

A small but interesting miscellany of white wine blends and less common white varietal wines provided plenty evidence for the growing diversity of wine styles and grape varieties we find appearing in the nation’s vineyards and wineries. This ‘other whites and blends’ category has been a happy hunting ground for Tasmanian producers in recent editions of the Halliday Wine Companion.

Two years ago, a 2018 Pinot Gris from Riversdale Estate and a 2017 vintage blend of Tamar Valley Friulano, Riesling and Chardonnay from Clay Pot Wines gained inclusion in the category’s shortlist of award contenders.

In the 2021 edition, Stargazer’s stylish 2019 blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer saw its Tupelo label take the top award in the category. Meanwhile, Holm Oak’s 2019 Arneis and a 2019 Pinot Gris from Moores Hill Estate once again underscored the Tamar Valley’s viticultural diversity.

Joe and Lou Holyman’s Stoney Rise at Gravelly Beach joined the fray in the latest edition of the Halliday Wine Companion. The couple’s 2020 Grüner Veltliner received an excellent 97-rating from the panel, only to give way to a 2020 vintage Fiano Reserve. The Coriole wine, from South Australia’s McLaren Vale, received an initial 96-rating but was named Other White of the Year after highly fancied award contenders were re-tasted blind alongside one another.

That’s enough Wine Companion spoilers for now. Treat Dad to a copy for Father’s Day and read a little more for yourself. Recommended retail pricing is $39.99 – currently on sale for $29.99 at QBD Books.


Hobart’s Mark Smith wrote his first weekly wine column back in 1994. Now more than 1700 features and 25 years later, he continues to chart the successes of Tasmania’s small scale, cool climate wine industry with regular contributions to some of Australia’s leading industry publications.


PICK OF THE CROP

Mark gives you his honest opinions about the best wines available right now from Tasmania’s wine makers.

 

2020 Priory Ridge Sauvignon Blanc $30

David and Julie Llewellyn’s Priory Ridge outside St Helens plays host to a 6ha vineyard, first planted in 2008. The site’s north-easterly aspect provides the property’s Sauvignon Blanc vines with all the sunlight exposure the variety would ever need to reach optimum ripeness at harvest. So it’s no surprise this new release from excellent 2021 vintage is awash with the rich flavours of tropical fruit, melon and citrus. The texture is as smooth as silk, thanks to some well-handled barrel fermentation and a short spell in oak. Make no mistake, this is a delicious, thoroughly enjoyable SB.  www.prioryridge.com.au

 

2021 Gala Estate White Label Pinot Gris $32

When judges at the 2019 Tasmanian Wine Show awarded Gala Estate with a trophy for their White Label Pinot Gris, it was an act of affirmation for owners Adam and Grainne Greenhill. The couple had a hunch their warm Cranbrook site was well-suited to the noble northern European variety. This new release has lovely freshness and intensity, combining exotic fruit notes with the floral and citrus elements you’d expect of young Riesling. These are early days yet for the wine. It will be a cracker when it’s shrugged off the last vestiges of recent bottling.  www.galaestate.com.au

 

2021 Spring Vale Melrose Pinot Noir $30

When Spring Vale purchased the Cranbrook property of Melrose back in 2007, it was a stroke of genius from the Lyne family. The site provide a much-needed boost in fruit resources, with Pinot Noir offering slightly different expressions of aroma and flavour than that at Spring Vale’s home base. Melrose has an enviable track record for producing early-drinking light reds and this is surely among the best. It’s a wine baby with a delicious mix of strawberry, raspberry and red berry characters, all bright and bouncy. All with a bit of finesse woven into its DNA. Simply unscrew and enjoy.  www.springvalewines.com

 

2018 Craigie Knowe Estate Pinot Noir $44

When wine pioneer John Austwick planted Craigie Knowe at Cranbrook in 1979, he had aspirations of it being Cabernet country. Little did he realise Pinot Noir would ultimately provide the wines that would lure enthusiasts to the district for events like the Great Eastern Wine Week. This is a very well-crafted wine for drinking or cellaring for 4-6 years. The colour’s bright and attractive; the fruit nicely intense and aromatic. Where it really kicks goals is that savouriness and gentle restraint of punchy red berry flavour on the palate. It’s good, no doubt, and will get even better.  www.craigieknowe.com.au

 


 

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