Tasmania Unbottled Sparkling Masterclass with Huon Hooke

This week I had the good fortune to attend the Tasmania Unbottled Masterclass on sparkling wine. Moderated by wine critic Huon Hooke, the session provided some wonderful insights into how Tasmania’s leading winemakers create their signature sparkling styles.

Non Vintage is really Multi Vintage

Jansz’s head winemaker Natalie Fryar opened her remarks by stating that the term “non vintage” (NV) is a bit of a misnomer. She believes that “multi vintage” is a better adjective for describing a winery’s house style. Non vintage sparklings are typically the product of the current vintage with the addition of reserve wines from previous vintages to preserve a consistent style from year to year.

Because most sparkling wines are made in cool climates where the weather is often unpredictable, consistency of fruit quality and quantity from one vintage to the next is never guaranteed. Fryar referred to cool climate as a high risk/high return proposition. In other words, when the weather cooperates, the results in the vineyard can be spectacular, but when it doesn’t you need a back up plan!

Cork closure helps the tertiary characters in sparkling to develop

Pirie NVOne of the most interesting aspects of the session was a discussion about the influence of cork on the development of a sparkling wine. Acclaimed veteran winemaker Ed Carr of the House of Arras talked about the wine’s primary, secondary and tertiary characters to illustrate his point about the importance of cork.

As you may expect, primary characters in the wine like purity of flavours, citrus elements and vibrant acidity are created by the fruit, which is why so much emphasis is placed on bringing out the best in the fruit in the vineyard. The development of secondary characters like toasty aromas of brioche and almond biscuits, for example, are typically the result of the length of time the wine spends on lees. Time on cork brings out the tertiary characters, which can generally be described as stone fruit aromas and flavours like lychee nuts.

The natural cork or the Diam cork (a technical cork made from composite natural cork powder which has been washed with carbon dioxide to remove possible cork taint) were deemed by the panel to be the best closures for sparkling because they allow for a very slight permeation of oxygen, which helps the wine develop the tertiary characters. The wood tannins in the cork may also impart special characters. Most of the wines we sampled spent at least 3 to 6 months on cork before release.

Tasmanian sparklings reflect a wonderful diversity of styles

The seven wines on show provided a brilliant snapshot of the diversity of Tasmanian sparkling wines, and highlighted how Tasmania’s exceptional and diverse terroir has attracted a group of talented, experienced winemakers who are not afraid to put their personal stamp on the wines.

Clover Hill winemaker Loic Le Calvez, for example, explained how he used components from selected reserve wines aged in French oak foudres and barrels to ensure the unique personality of the Clover Hill house style for his Clover Hill Pipers River Vintage 2008. The Pirie Sparkling NV from the Tamar Valley was a stunning example of just how good non vintage Tassie sparkling can be. And the liveliness and freshness of the crystal clear, finely beaded House of Arras Grand Vintage Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2004 was  testament to Tasmania’s ability to create some of the finest aged sparkling in the world!

The future for Tasmanian sparkling is looking very sparkly indeed!


Merrill Witt New Yorkby Merrill Witt, Editor