Tasmania: beguiling Sinapius Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, plus a unique white field blend
Having tasted barrel samples, it’s always fascinating to taste the finished article. This month, I got re-acquainted with 2016 Pinot Noirs and a Chardonnay from Sinapius, Pipers Brook, Tasmania. Additionally, from 2017, an out-of-the-box Gamay and aromatic Gemischter Satz/Edelzwicker styled white blend.
They’re beautiful wines, the three Pinots quite different, which is telling when Vaughan Dell’s and Linda Morice’s four hectare vineyard has only 1.1ha all up. As my 2016 (re)visit reinforced, Dell is very much a vigneron, not just a winemaker, so articulating soil, clone and aspect is the name of the game. It was a no brainer writing a letter of support for his application for the Dr Don Martin Sustainable Viticulture Fellowship.
Dell won the award and, by now, will have travelled to France, Germany and Austria on the fair wind of the fellowship’s $10,000 grant. He told me he planned to explore more non-mainstream wines, “such as Gamay, Jura reds and whites, Passetoutgrain, and white blends (Gemischter Satz, Edelzwicker etc),” additionally, further his knowledge in minimal input natural, organic and biodynamic viticultural and winemaking techniques.
The finished articles came by way of thank you for supporting his application. I shared them with friends in Cornwall with whom, coincidentally, I was staying when I wrote the letter of support last September. Here are my notes, with cellar door prices (Sinapius currently do not export):
Sinapius Clem Blanc 2017 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)
This blend of 40% Riesling, 27% Grüner Veltliner, 13% Pinot Gris, 12% Pinot Blanc, 5% Chardonnay Musquè and 3% Gewürztraminer is sourced from close-planted vineyards (5208-7700 vines/ha). It is pale yellow, with an aromatic nose and palate, with sweet mandarin, clove and cinnamon and, going through, juicy yellow plum, creamier pear and the tell-tale white pepper/vegetal edge of Grüner Veltliner; pushing out the finish, the Riesling shoots long and fine. Very Tasmanian in its purity/intensity of fruit and lively acidity, with texture, tang and an (attractive) cheesiness. Handpicked together at very low yields with intense concentration of flavours, the grapes were whole bunch pressed, with some parcels crushed and left on skins for 48 hours. The varieties were co-fermented with wild yeasts, and matured in older 500 litre puncheons, and kept on lees for 5 months. 50% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. Bottled November 2017. 5100 bottles produced. 12.5% AUS$38
Sinapius Esmè Rouge 2017 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)
With demand for Sinapius’ white field blend and Gamay outstripping supply, Dell and Morice have planted more alternative varieties – “[A]ll the rage in Australian capital cities at the moment,” he said. Esme Rouge is a delightful expression of the fruity Gamay grape, with a sappy, touch green/twiggy, peppery and earthy cool climate signature, which I liked very much. It speaks as much of site as variety, which makes for a sophisticated vin de soif, with an appreciable (but never hard) backbone of mineral acidity versus the juicy, fruitier acidity more typical of Beaujolais. The fruit – delicately sweet strawberry and raspberry – is light but not slight, fresh and bright-eyed. No bubblegum here, though it does have the wild, bouncy florals (violets) of carbonic maceration. Fresh and limber, with a soft, caressing ruffle of texture as it opens up, it’s a lovely drink which shows just as well on day two (and, under normal circumstances, would not have made it to day two!) The hand-picked grapes came from close planted vines (7700-11,111 vines/ha). They underwent whole cluster carbonic maceration for three weeks, without any addition of sulphur. The wine was matured in old barriques for seven months, and bottled without fining and filtration in October 2017. Minimal sulphur was added just prior to bottling. 1608 bottles produced. 12%. AUS$38
Sinapius Chardonnay Home Vineyard 2016 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)
Tasting this wine took me back to the barrel tasting of its component parts. It’s young – still coming together – but most impressive. Initially, one is struck by the oak, with its smoky kiss and lick of cinnamon. In the mouth, white peach and ogen melon rise to meet it, before grapefruit and lime lead an unrelenting, super-focused charge, bringing tension and length to a dynamic palate. Complexing salty oyster shell (pronounced) and a subtle cheesy tang add mineral and savoury nuance. Still building in the mouth – in impression, rather than weight – it shows great potential. Incorporating eight different chardonnay clones, forty percent of the fruit was sourced from the estate’s original, 22 year old vines (planted at 3636 vines/ha), the balance coming from younger close planted vineyards planted at between 7700–9615 vines/ha. The grapes were handpicked at 11.5 – 12° baumè, then whole bunch pressed to tank without enzymes. Lightly settled overnight without chilling, it was then run direct to barrel (retaining most of the solids) and wild fermented. It underwent a full malolactic fermentation and was aged for 12 months in French oak feuillettes, barriques, and puncheons, one-third new. 3,640 bottles produced. 13% $55
Sinapius Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 (Piper Brook, Tasmania)
Home Vineyard Pinot Noir is exclusively sourced from the oldest 22 year old, dry grown vines. Handpicked, the grapes were wild fermented (80% whole berries, 20% whole bunches) for 21 days, then aged in 30% new French oak barriques for 12 months. This is a spicy Pinot, with pronounced anise and a menthol, spicy edge to its dried thyme nose and palate. The fruit – wild strawberry and raspeberry – is open knit but lightly worn. Ever present, fine, smudgy tannins accompany the fruit, closing in on a mineral finish with juniper, iodine and clove hints. Persistent, intense and brimming with character over fruit, as were all three of these guileless Pinots. The alcohol for each – a surprising 13.5% – is worn extremely lightly. 2,820 bottles produced. 13.5%. AUS$55
Sinapius La Clairiere Close Planted Pinot Noir 2016 (Piper Brook, Tasmania)
This is the first release from a North facing Pinot Noir block, planted in 2010/2011 to 7 different clones (7700 vines/ha). The soils – ironstone gravels over micaceous siltstone clay, with plenty of quartz – differ from the other Pinot Noir blocks. The grapes were handpicked at 12.5 Baumè, hand sorted in the vineyard and again in the winery. The grapes were wild fermented (100% whole berry) for 21-24 days, then matured in French Oak barriques and hogsheads (40% new) for 15 months. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The fruit is deeper, more focused and tightly clasped than Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, with al dente firm, fresh picked red cherry. Though neither bitter or aggressive, the tannins are a little punctuating on day one, when the wine seems a little sulky. On day two, it is more perfumed – red cherry scented – with juicier, sweet plum shot through with dried herbs and spice, hints of earth and smoky charcuterie. It builds engagingly in the mouth – the fruit persistent and insistent – rolling and long throw. Still much to give. 1,908 bottles produced, 13.5%, AUS$68
Sinapius The Enclave Close Planted Pinot Noir 2016 (Piper Brook, Tasmania)
My pick of the bunch, this is the second release of The Enclave. It hails from a prized high-density (7700-10250 vines/ha) block – North-East facing and mid-slope – planted to 12 different clones of Pinot Noir. The soil – known as Red Ferrosols – are derived from volcanic basalt deposits that are over 10 million years old. The grapes were handpicked at 12.5 Baumè, hand sorted in the vineyard and again in the winery. It was wild fermented (80% whole bunch, 20% whole berry) for 21-24 days, then aged for 15 months in French Oak barriques and hogsheads (40% new). Bottled unfined and unfiltered, The Enclave is much more expressive than La Clairiere, salty and earthier too – very much of the soil, but the soil as if aromatised, such is its lift and pervasiveness. Spicy pimento, cedar, sandalwood and a medicinal hint of green lace its red cherry and berry fruit. Silky tannins and spring in its step acidity make for great fluidity and dance of flavours. On day two, it really hits its stride, the aromatics – riffs of violet, earth and spice – lingering, haunting even. The fruit pure and persistent, with a hint of sour. Really glorious – everything that excites me about Pinot. Wine as (silk) tapestry. 1,518 bottles produced. 13.5% AUS$80