Catching up with Tasmanian Pinot Noir

Tolpuddle Vineyard, Coal River Valley

From my 2016 visit, Tolpuddle Vineyard, Coal River Valley

I haven’t travelled since February – not on a plane, barely on a bus or tube in London, where I live. Tasmania feels a very, very long way away.  More so than usual.  Happily, Wine Australia UK’s webinar series beamed three winemakers from Launceston into my study, together with six Pinot Noirs from the ‘apple isle.’ 

The vineyard area in this apple of Australia’s cool climate eye is, confirmed Wine Tasmania’s Sheralee Davies, growing at 7-8% a year.  Pinot Noir is the principal focus, accounting for 44% of the vineyard area, around 40% of which is for sparkling wine production.

From a wine classification perspective, Tasmania is one state but, as the line up revealed, the island’s Pinot Noir sings (beguilingly) different tunes.  Even from within the same geographical area (of which there are seven – see map below), the three Tamar Valley wines being a case in point. Official demarcation is not happening any time soon, concluded Joseph Chromy’s Jeremy Dineen.

However, as Dineen observed, there is a common thread, borne of Tasmania being a small island.  Because, said the winemaker, “we never have extremes of low or high temperatures, we never have high malics [malic acidity],” in contrast to continental cool climate regions which, he observed, “tend to have higher malic so, when wines go through the malolactic fermentation, the pH shift is far greater.” 

Spelling out the “natural advantage,” Dineen explained, “there is no need to ameliorate with additions [of acidity].”  For Dalrymple’s Peter Caldwell, this high natural acidity “really defines us against Adelaide Hills and Victoria” and, he added, New Zealand, even though key Pinot Noir areas are at the same latitude as Tasmania’s Pinot ‘hotspots.’  For Caldwell, Tassie Pinots benefit from a year or two in bottle to show at their best.

In the glass, Rebecca Duffy (Holm Oak Vineyards) describes the acid profile as “fine, flinty acidity.”  Having come to Tasmania from the mainland, the winemaker recalled having thrown out a bag of (surplus to requirements) tartaric acid she purchased in the early days, having never used it in 10 years.

Although, reported Dineen, “vintages are without doubt warmer than 20 years ago” without exception, the six Pinot Noirs were medium-bodied, with good acid line.  Whether from 2018 – a warmer year, or the cooler 2017 vintage.  You’ll find my notes on the wines below.

Click here for the video of this insightful discussion with Dineen, Duffy and Caldwell.  Wine Australia’s free education resource, Australian Wine Discovered, includes these modules for Tasmania and Pinot Noir, should you wish to explore further.

Tasmania: Pinot Noir from the island with latitude

Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 (Coal River Valley, Tasmania)

From a north-east facing site on light silica over sandstone in this dry, south eastern area. It has a little more opacity than the other wines in the line-up, with savoury suede nuances to the red berry and cherry nose and palate.  Lovely fruit intensity, purity and precision, with subtle violet top notes and seamlessly integrated sandalwood whole bunch spice (which I find earthier than sweeter, lifted, oak-driven five spice). Gently savoury, fine chamois tannins sustain a long, elegant finish.  For Dineen, fine tannins and floral notes are a hallmark of Coal River Valley.  A confident, suave Pinot from this exceptional vineyard (pictured, top) which, following a re-structuring, Shaw & Smith (the owners) have taken to greater heights.  Fermented as a combination of whole berries and whole bunches in open fermenters, with gentle plunging. The wine was aged for nine months in French oak, of which about one third was new.  13.5% £61.95 Philglas & Swiggot

Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir 2018 (Tamar Valley, Tasmania)

From a relatively warm, valley floor site in this wetter northern area, near the mouth of the Tamar river, some 40km north of Launceston.  Crimson, with vivid purple flashes and a youthfully sappy nose and palate, with herbal, grassy hints to its succulent black cherry fruit and crushed cherrystone/almond notes, the grainy tannins ripe but present, still integrating.  This blend of several clones was aged in French oak barriques (20% new) for nine months; 15% whole bunch ferment. 13.5%  RRP £23.00 

Holm Oak Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018 (Tamar Valley, Tasmania)

Another northern Tamar Valley blend of several clones from an estate located 5km from Tamar Ridge.  Multiple parcels were picked over a three-week period, making for a very complete, affable wine.  The oak (25% new) is more obvious on the nose, with sweet vanillin and oak spice, but the oak is well integrated on the palate, with its juicy strawberry, red cherry and raspberry fruit.  Red liquorice, a touch of leafiness – incipient sous bois – bring complexity, whilst a mouth-watering saline note perhaps reflects this estate’s proximity to the estuary? Persistent, with a delicate pick of tannins (Duffy noted that, like 2016, 2018 was a warm, dry year, with good yields.  However, with small berries, 2018 has more extract and cellaring potential).  13.5% A nice buy – £20.00 at Villeneuve Wines 

Josef Chromy Wines Pinot Noir 2017 (Tamar Valley, Tasmania)

Sourced predominantly from estate fruit from another Tamar Valley vineyard, but at slightly higher altitude, located in Relbia, to the south of the river Tamar, some 45km south of Holm Oak. With cooler nights, the site is later-ripening (by around 10 days).  Usually, said Dineen, Pinots from the southern end of Tamar Valley have brighter acidity and riper fruit flavour and the tannins are a bit softer and finer than in the north, which tend to be more powerful and tannin-driven.  However, this wine is from the shy-yielding (frost-hit) 2017 vintage.  It produced small crops of concentrated berries, with firm but fine tannin, which firmness is evident in this wine – good freshness too, 2017 being a cooler year.  I found this Pinot quite singular, with shrubbery, pepper, tea tree and exotic citrus oil to nose and palate.  In the mouth it reveals brooding, darker, tangy, sour black cherry and a ripe but sturdy frame of tannins, with cinnamon and toasty oak nuances.  Lots going on and still opening up as I bid it farewell.  A characterful, pithy Pinot, it is a blend of 55% clone MV6, then mostly 115, with a little 114 and D512.  Fermented with around a third of whole bunches, it spent 10-12 months in barrel.14.5% £25.95 at The Fine Wine Company 

Dalrymple Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017 (Tasmania)

Predominantly equal parts of two Dalrymple-owned vineyards.  One in Pipers River in the north east, which is relatively cool, being much more exposed to cold sea air than Tamar Valley; temperatures rarely exceed 25 degrees in summer, said Caldwell. The other vineyard, which used to belong to Frogmore Creek, is located in the Coal River Valley in the south east.  Here, summer temperatures can occasionally get into the mid-30s because of warm air sweeping down the central ranges, said the winemaker.  There is also an element of grower fruit from Swansea on the east coast and Ouse in the Central Highlands (an area Penfolds’ Kym Schroeter has raved about for Chardonnay). A complex savoury nose and palate, the oak (baking spice and chocolate) evident, with dry tinder/twiggy savoury undertones and a subtle hint of mint.  Sappy Tassie acidity brings buoyancy and persistence to the spicy, plummy palate.  Overall, this is a bigger, riper, ‘meatier’ style, the tannins – ripe but present – still building on a spicy, liquorice finish.13.5% UK RRP £33.99

Sailor Seeks Horse Pinot Noir 2017 (Huon Valley, Tasmania)

I visited this upcoming relatively cool, humid area some years ago and met with the vignerons, Paul and Gilli Lipscombe.  The couple also make the multi-award winning Home Hill Winery Pinots from Huon Valley.   Having sourced fruit from the region when he was a contract winemaker, Dineen pointed out that it is a “quite marginal region.”  Going south of Hobart, you move out of  Mount Wellington’s shelter (which protects Coal River Valley) and, with higher rainfall, a bit more wind and a lot more southern ocean influence,  he reckons grapes ripen about a month later.  Huon Valley’s star has risen as, Dineen continued, people have found the best (warmest) sites over the last 20 years.  Doubtless helping to address that marginality (by reducing the load on the vine), the Lipscombe’s dry farm their vineyard and, referring to the yield of just 2.6t/ha, Caldwell said, “I’d be crying if they were that low!” Quite different from the other Pinots in the line up, the climate and picking decision is evident (12.9% abv).  For me this, the palest Pinot, is almost more about suggestions of fruit, with pronounced savouriness to the fore.  It reveals sous bois, spice and red liquorice to nose and palate, with spare, mineral (acid) sluiced red berry and currant. Yet it also has a soft, yielding glycerol-like (saddle soap/leather nuances?) quality in the mouth, which perhaps accounts for the suggestion of (as opposed to direct hit of) fruit.  Light on its feet, despite the savouriness and softness.  Intriguing! 12.9% £44.50 at The Vinorium


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Catching up with Tasmanian Pinot Noir