Yesterday I attended Tasmania Unbottled 2011 at Dockside in Cockle Bay Sydney. Sam Stosur’s US Open win and the warm sunny weather had put me in a great mood and this positive frame-of-mind was only enhanced by the wonderful wines on show! Of course, I should know by now that three hours was not long enough to properly appreciate 150 wines from 28 top-flight producers, especially when most of the vineyard owners and winemakers are on hand to talk you through the tastings! Anyway, here’s just a taste of some of the great wines I sampled.

Riesling was the stand-out white variety, but I also tried superb pinot gris, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. The cool Tasmanian climate seems to endow all the white wines, no matter the variety, with a superb mineral acid structure and clean, fresh fruit aromas and flavours.

Pinot Noir is the main red variety grown in Tasmania. Production of other single red varieties is still very small, but the few superb cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz wines on show certainly suggest that these varieties have great potential in Tasmania. Nick Glaetzer’s rich Barossa heritage, for example, informs his Côte-Rôtie style Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers MON PèRE Shiraz 2009 – a wine named in honour of his famous father Colin. Nick explained that the shiraz was co-fermented with 1% pinot gris, just enough to subtly lift the elegant aromas of red berry, cassis and white pepper in this sophisticated cool-climate shiraz. I was also very impressed with the Grey Sands Merlot 2006, which has just enough bottle age to endow the rich black and red fruit bouquet with those prized wonderful savoury overtones.

Because most Tasmanian producers are very small, they are meticulous about vineyard practices and their vines are typically managed and harvested by hand. Many of the best wines are made by Julian Alcorso and his small team who run a very successful contract winemaking business called Winemaking Tasmania. A great believer in “it’s all about the fruit,” Alcorso works closely with a small group of vineyard owners who are also passionate about bringing out the best in their terroir. The elegant and highly perfumed Derwent Estate Riesling 2010, the vibrant and beautifully balanced Bream Creek Riesling 2009, the aromatically seductive Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 and the spicy full bodied Cape Bernier Pinot Noir 2008 were just a few of the excellent wines on show that have been crafted by this talented team.

Alain Rousseau, Nick Glaetzer and Andrew Hood are making wonderful and complex rieslings at the Coal Valley’s Frogmore Creek. A highlight was the delightfully fragrant, semi-sweet Frogmore Creek FGR Riesling 2010, which is made in the German Kabinett halbtrocken style. FGR stands for ‘Forty Grams Residual’ sugar, the amount of grape sugars remaining after ferment. Not too sweet, it had a magnificent bouquet, clean fresh fruit flavours and a vibrant acidity.  Rebecca Wilson, winemaker at the small family-run Holm Oak Vineyards in the Tamar Valley, also makes an excellent medium sweet riesling, the intensely aromatic Holm Oak FGR Riesling 2011.

The full flavoured yet crisp and elegant unwooded Frogmore Creek 42 Degrees South Chardonnay 2008 was an absolutely superb example of a variety for which Tamania is slowly gaining recognition. Winemaker Peter Dredge uses wild yeasts for the fementation of the Bay of Fires Chardonnay 2009, a technique which seems to enhance the sense of place or ‘terroir’ of this intensely fragrant yet elegant, finely structured wine.

I can’t finish without mentioning the superb Domaine A ‘Lady A’ Sauvignon Blanc 2008. This Bordeaux style oak fermented wine has glorious citrus and gooseberry aromas with just enough natural acidity to add vibrancy to its deliciously creamy finish. Evoking memories for me of Cloudy Bay’s sublime Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc, it demonstrates how Australian winemakers are also taking sauvignon blanc in exciting new directions.

Look forward to trying more of these regionally expressive and stylistic innovative wines!

Photo Credits: Bream Creek overlooks the gloriously picturesque Marion Bay and Maria Island.

Grey Sands Vineyard in the Tamar Valley

Merrill Witt, Editor