Take six: Tasmanian Chardonnay

Tolpuddle Vineyard, Coal River Valley, source of one of Australia’s very best Chardonnays

Tasmanian grapes, especially Tasmanian Chardonnay grapes, are in high demand.  The wines too.  Fortunately, Wine Tasmania has afforded me three bites at the vines and wines this last year or so, via two Wine Australia webinars and a fine selection of Riesling and sparkling wines (reviewed here).  You’ll find my earlier post on six Pinot Noirs here;  this month Chardonnay was in the spotlight.

Fellow writer Susie Barrie MW moderated the tasting and discussion with Sam Connew of Stargazer Wine & Ockie Myburgh, Chief Winemaker at Josef Chromy, who  succeeds Jeremy Dineen. You can watch a recording of the discussion here.  A few points stood out to me.

I wasn’t surprised that Connew pronounced Australian Chardonnay to be “in a pretty awesome place at the moment.”  But it was good to hear her talk about the depth of regionality making this category sing countrywide.  Connew, a judge at the pan-Australian James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge, singled out Tasmanian Chardonnay’s fruit quality and thread of acidity for distinction.

Commenting on the “amazing purity of fruit,”  Myburgh observed that the weather and climate plays a huge role in getting fruit to optional ripeness in a marginal region like Tasmania.  Lifting his observation off the page,  for Connew the long growing season means that, “as a grower, for six to seven months, you’re sitting on the edge of your seat.” 

This marginality has favoured sparkling production, which accounts for around 68% of the island’s Chardonnay and, with a shortage of the variety for still wines, “we’re just scratching surface” of where best to grow it, he said.

New (to the island) Mendoza and Burgundy clones are playing a significant role, allowing producers to explore a variety of styles, said Myburgh. His remark reminded me of my visit to Tolpuddle Vineyard in 2016 with Carlos Souris, Tolpuddle’s Vineyard Manager.  Outlining then recent owners Shaw & Smith’s “what can we do to make it better” regime, he was planting Burgundy clones, installing wind breaks and adapting pruning to “put quality before yield, so we are happy with less canopy density – it’s about quality, quality.”  

For Connew, “Chardonnay as a table wine is moving into a good place.”   As much was evident from the tasting.  Here are my notes on the wines (50ml bottle samples provided):

Devil’s Corner Chardonnay 2021

The 2021 vintage was low yielding, providing excellent fruit intensity. Sourced from estate vineyards on the (generally warmer, said Connew) East Coast (75%) and in the Tamar Valley in the north (clones I10V1, I10V5), 85% of this wine fermented on solids in tank, with just 15% fermented and aged for three months in older French oak puncheons.  It reveals ripe succulent pear and real (cloudy) lemonade (think Fentimans’ botanically brewed Victoria Lemonade) to nose and palate, with a savoury sourdough twang and floral (hops’) aromatics.  Crisp acidity and pronounced salinity add to the refreshment factor.  Nicely done.  Fruit forward, yet with textural interest and bite, I liked Susie’s analysis –‘New World Chablis.’    12.5%  RRP £23.00; imported by Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 (Coal River Valley)

Good soil moisture from July and August rains meant the season started well. Cool and windy weather during flowering resulted in small bunch sizes, giving low crops with increased concentration and intensity. February saw even ripening and a rainfall event three weeks before harvest slowed the season down, resulting in fruit (clones 10V1, I10V3, I10V5, G9V7, Bernard 95) that was packed with flavour.  This thrilling single vineyard Chardonnay from Michael Hill-Smith and Martin Shaw of Shaw & Smith has regularly featured in my top recommendations in Decanter and on this website.  The 2020 vintage bagged three or four trophies at the Royal Melbourne Show, said Connew, another Coal River Valley grower who reckons “nervy acidity is really what the Coal River Valley is all about.”  It has terrific tension and minerality to the nose and palate (I always think of it as Riesling-like), with deftly judged struck match  reduction, scintillating acidity and whetstone to the salted lemon and lime flavours.  Penetrating, taut and long, with steely grapefruit, lemon peel and a kiss (brush) of nougat to the finish.  13% A ‘Grand Cru’ wine and, quite rightly, priced accordingly at £71.60 at Hedonism

Holm Oak Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 (Tamar Valley)

According to Myburgh, in 2019 “everything went 100% right from start to finish.”  Following a wet winter, from December onwards, warm weather resulted in an amazing fruit set and the harvest was conducted without interruption (rain). The fruit (clones 95, Q2-33) was pressed to tank and allowed to settle for 24 hours and then racked to barrel (20% new French oak and 80% 1-4 year old). The wine underwent 100% natural fermentation, and 20% malolactic fermentation prior to ageing in oak for 10 months.  A nutty veneer of oak to nose and palate with a creamy palate of poached pears and hints of mandarin and a touch of angelica.  Satin smooth, if a little one note and repressed right now.  The acidity paddling beneath suggests there’s time for it to open up.  12.5%   RRP £23.00; Villenueve Wines (2018 vintage)

Stargazer Chardonnay 2018

Sourced predominantly from a single vineyard in Coal River Valley and a grower in the Upper Derwent.  The grapes were whole bunch pressed to oak (with solids) for wild ferment in 40% new puncheons (whose larger surface area, remarked Connew, obviates the need to do extra lees work). The wine underwent partial malolactic and 9 months maturation in cold storage conditions with fastidious topping up.  Super juicy and striated, with tension between the tangerine and tangerine pith and apricot and jasmine layers.  A pretty Chardonnay, with persistent acidity to the long, tapering finish.  Finely honed, with a touch of Pfalz-like basalt/mango stone reduction.  £34.99 at Simply Wines Direct (2017/18 vintage).

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2018 (Tamar Valley)

Sourced from estate fruit from Relbia.  Located in the southernmost part of Tamar Valley, the vineyard is sheltered to west and east. “The weather pushes past us, so there’s not so much rain – 600mm/year,” said Myburgh.  That said, flowering was disruptive in 2018, resulting in hen and chicken, with smaller crops of intense, exceptionally concentrated Chardonnay.  The grapes (clone : I10V1) were handpicked and whole bunch pressed with a portion (wild fermented) directly (full solids) to French barriques (one third new) and a portion (inoculated ferment, semi-clarified) to tank for set settling and racked clean to barrel after 24 hours. Barriques are stirred weekly; spent c. 12 months in oak).   There was no malolactic fermentation in 2018.  Very crisp, mouth-watering, with juicy golden delicious apple fruit, icing sugar kissed breakfast grapefruit and subtle cedar and smoky, toasty savoury undertones.  On point.  Really delicious now! 13.5% £24.95 at Cellar Door Wines

Dalrymple Vineyards Cave Block Chardonnay 2017 (Pipers River)

Like Tolpuddle, Dalrymple Vineyards is owned by a scion of South Australia’s Hill-Smith family (Robert Hill-Smith of Yalumba acclaim, who first acquired Jansz, also in Pipers River).  In 2017, good winter rainfall was followed by a cool, wet spring. Cool temperatures up to December resulted in late flowering and reduced berry and crop size. Warmth in December saw a flush of vine growth due to good soil moisture. Hotter weather in late February coupled with cool nights and dry conditions continued through to mid May, resulting in fruit of great quality. The fruit (clone I10V1) was whole bunch pressed to a mix of new and older French oak barriques and puncheons. One parcel was wild fermented, with light lees contact and partial malolactic fermentation naturally to adjust acidity for balance and structure (as Myburgh pointed out,  Pipers River is northerly and relatively exposed to ocean winds, hence colder and wetter; ripening later, you enter marginal territory – cold, wet April).  As you would expect being the oldest wine in the line up, it has a deeper straw hue, with gold glints.  Picked between 6 to 20th April, the fruit is ripe, with white peach, custard apple and softer, mellower bruised apple flavours. Segueing into a tertiary spectrum of flavours, it reveals complex notes of spicy oak/toast and lingering white truffle.  Most definitely a dining companion.  13% £24.70 at Vinum







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