When you think of Australia you probably think of sun, beaches, kangaroos and barbies. Mountains, cold rivers, wind and rain aren’t the things that immediately come to mind.
Welcome to Tasmania. Australia, but not as you know it.
In fact, having lived in New Zealand I can tell you Tasmania has more in common with the land of the kiwi than the land of the kangaroo. Both occupy similar latitudes around 42 degrees south and the mountainous landscape riven with winding rivers, green fields and spectacular coastline is a feature of both. Add to this a climate dominated by the cold surrounding oceans and roaring forties trade winds and you begin to paint a very similar picture.
The similarities exist in wine terms too. New Zealand produces world class Pinot Noir. So does Tassie. Chardonnay and Riesling are equally at home in both and you can even find Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from the two. The difference exists in where New Zealand and Tasmania having chosen to hang their hat – which wine has become their calling card to the world. For New Zealand this is of course Sauvignon Blanc. You can’t walk into a shop, bar or restaurant these days without being offered a Kiwi Sauvignon and their distinctive, pungent aromas and crisp styles are hugely popular. A brand in its own right, for better or worse Sauvignon blanc is what New Zealand is best known for.
Tasmania has chosen a different route and opted not for still table wine but for sparkling wine as its USP. Or as one winemaker wittily refers to it – Methode Tasmanoise.
In Australia any decent bar or restaurant lists at least one Tasmanian sparkling and these wines are very popular. Australians as a rule seem to be very proud of these wines, perceiving them as a high quality domestic product that can be compared with anything else in the world – and they are willing to spend a decent amount of money on them.
Sadly for those of us who don’t live in Australia this means we don’t see so many of these wines on our shelves. A high domestic demand means that not very much is exported and this coupled with the premium pricing (the strong Aussie dollar not helping either) means that it can be a hard sell. For consumers over here why buy a Tassie sparkling when you can buy Champagne for around the same price? Champagne has all of the attached prestige, a name everyone knows and recognises. Tasmanian sparkling, much less. Methode Tasmanoise, forget it.
And yet, and yet. Having undergone a lengthy masterclass on sparkling wine in Tasmania I can tell you that there are truly great wines being made over there and frankly they can beat the pants off basic Champagne. The non-vintage styles offer seriously good value for money combining fresh apple and citrus fruit character with bright cool-climate acidity along with those lovely yeasty, biscuity notes. Far more complexity than you would expect in most NV Champagne. The rose styles had delicate perfume, creamy texture and a beautiful pale salmon pink hue. LP rose eat your heart out. The vintage styles were serious, concentrated and intense with savoury complexity and long, long finishes. Of course there were some wines that didn’t quite reach these heights but overall the tasting showed the huge quality of Tasmanian sparkling and it was a fantastic experience.
The good news is that you can track down some producers over here without too much trouble. The better news is that most of the producers I talked to are interested in exporting more wine and telling the world about Tasmanian sparkling. So whilst it is unlikely Tasmanian sparkling will be as readily available as New Zealand Sauvignon anytime soon, hopefully it will become better known and appreciated.
If you fancy tasting some Tassie sparkling for yourself, the following producers are distributed in the UK: Jansz, Josef Chromy, Pirie, Clover Hill. Search for local stockists on http://www.winesearcher.com