When I signed up to a masterclass on “Tasmania’s Unsung Varietal Heroes” at the recent Tasmania Unbottled trade tasting event in Sydney, I wasn’t expecting so many well established mainland varieties to be represented. The lineup included the Moorilla Muse Riesling 2011, the Dalrymple Sauvignon Blanc 2012, the Bay of Fires Pinot Gris 2012, the Glaetzer-Dixon MON PèRE Shiraz 2008, the Petit ‘a’ by Domaine A 2008 and the Grey Sands Merlot 2007. Only a couple of the wines, the Bream Creek Schönburger 2011 and the Holm Oak Arneis 2012, were what the rest of Australia would generally regard as alternative varieties.

Of course, no-one would dispute that sparkling wine and pinot noir are still Tasmania’s star performers. Ed Carr, the chief sparkling winemaker at Bay of Fires and House of Arras, has lifted the profile of Tasmanian sparkling to such great heights that wines like the House of Arras EJ Carr Late Disgorged Sparkling 1998 rrp $190 compete with the finest French vintage Champagnes in terms of quality and even price! And you may recall from one of my previous posts, 50 Wines to Try in 2013: Pooley Coal River Pinot Noir 2011, that the aforementioned wine won both the Douglas Seabrook Trophy for the best single-vineyard wine and the Dan Murphy Trophy for best pinot noir at the 2012 Royal Melbourne Wine Show.

But the so-called unsung varietal heroes are also starting to garner a fair share of critical acclaim. The wine world was stunned when Nick Glaetzer’s Côte-Rôtie style Glaetzer-Dixon MON PèRE Shiraz 2010 picked up Australia’s most coveted red wine award, the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. At the masterclass, Glaetzer explained that the Mon Pere is still the only shiraz in Australia to be co-fermented with 1% pinot gris – a technique that subtly lifts the elegant aromas of red berry, cassis and white pepper in his sophisticated cool-climate shiraz. Certainly a great example of how innovation and experimentation with a variety that’s difficult to grow in Tasmania is paying off.

When the Tamar Valley’s Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009 won the Best Wine at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge in 2011 it was another big win for an unsung varietal hero. The Tamar Valley, in particular, is proving to be one of the best cool-climate regions in Australia for producing riesling, offering the long, slow ripening conditions necessary to bring out the delicate floral aromas, citrus flavours and crisp fresh acidity so prized by riesling lovers. Josef Chromy, Holm Oak Vineyards, Goaty Hill Wines and Native Point are other Tamar Valley wineries making superb cool-climate rieslings.

Dalrymple Sauvignon BlancTasmania may only have 30 wineries but it seems to have more than its fair share of the country’s top winemakers. Julian Alcorso at Winemaking Tasmania made the award-winning Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009, and his team was also responsible for the Pooley Coal River Pinot Noir 2011. Domaine A’s Peter Althaus has been making some of Australia’s best cabernet sauvignons for over 10 years now (yet another example of an unsung varietal hero), and industry veteran Andrew Pirie chose the name Apogee, which means height, for his new single vineyard origin label because its represents the culmination of 40 years of choosing sites and developing vineyards in Tasmania. The new venture is designed to show how true “Grand Cru” Tasmanian sites can be identified and cultivated to produce wines uniquely expressive of their mico-terroir.

A younger generation of winemakers, including Nick Glaetzer at Glaetzer-Dixon Wines, Rebecca Duffy at Holm Oak and the former award-winning winemaker at Heemskerk, Anna Pooley, are also taking Tasmania wine in exciting new directions. Pooley, who was awarded Australia’s 2010 Young Winemaker of the Year by the Wine Society, has just taken over the winemaking reins at her family’s winery.

Yes, the future for Tasmanian wine of almost all varieties is looking very bright indeed!

Merrill Witt

Merrill Witt, Editor