Cool climates, tasty berries and Tassie wine

What has a bowl of tiny, exquisitely flavoured strawberries got to do with wine?  The intense but delicate flavours of a cool climate, that’s what. The strawberries, fresh picked from Tamar Retreat B&B’s garden, became a metaphor for the equally intense but delicate Tasmanian wines tasted on a quick tour in late January.

As if to emphasise the cool climate, northern Tasmania’s maximum temperature hovered — comfortably for vines and humans — in the mid twenties as the mainland wilted in the high thirties.

Near Bicheno on the east coast (two hours’ drive east south east of Launceston), manicured vines on Freycinet Vineyard’s amphitheatre-shape site, soaked up the gentle warmth, steadily ripening their lode.

In this cool but sunny site near the spectacular Freycinet National Park, winemaker Claudio Radenti lets the exquisite fruit flavours do the talking in a range of near perfect wines.

Claudio says he’s happy to follow the style established by his father-in-law, Freycinet’s founder Geoffrey Bull.

Geoff founded the vineyard in 1980, after carefully selecting the site for its climate and the lean, mean soils that help vines focus on ripening fruit, not growing new foliage.

Within ten years Geoff had established a reputation for his ripe, delicate, seamless wines – all estate grown, made and bottled.

During this period, while making wine at Goundreys in Western Australia, Claud hired Lindy Bull, Geoff’s daughter, as assistant winemaker. They later married, moved to Freycinet and took over the running of the vineyard and winemaking from Geoff in 1992.

With the same vineyard-to-bottle perfectionism established by Geoff, Claud makes a ripe, delicate riesling, one of Australia’s best pinot noirs, a surprising seductive, elegant cabernet merlot, and a glorious chardonnay which, like the pinot, sits amongst the very best made in Australia.

Freycinet’s tiny plot of muller-thurgau is giving way to more pinot noir. And Claud has recently added a superb bubbly, modestly named Radenti, to the portfolio.

He made the first vintage of this pinot noir – chardonnay blend in 1993. The family was thrilled by the quality and subsequently established a small vineyard, at a slightly cooler site, especially for the new wine.

Radenti 1996, a 60:40 pinot noir chardonnay blend, shows unequivocally just why Tasmania is destined to make Australia’s best sparkling wines. Aussie sparklers in general lack Radenti’s ripe, sweet depth and delicacy – characteristics drawn in Tasmania as they are in France’s Champagne region – from a cool climate that produces physiologically ripe grapes at low sugar and high acid levels.

Claudio Radenti’s fascination with bubbles runs to beer, too. With an old mate, former brewer Ken Holmes, he formed the Wineglass Bay Brewing Company. Together they make small runs of Hazards Ale (named after nearby Hazards Bay), a delightfully full and malty ale seasoned with aromatic/spicy hops, using Tasmanian grown Frankland malt and Hallertau hops.

If you’re in Tassie, you can enjoy Hazards Ale on top at Freycinet Lodge, in the national park, or at the Royal Oak, Launceston. The wines (with the exception of Radenti, at this stage) are distributed by Negociants Australia. However, the quantities are tiny. To ensure supply, reserve a little from your retailer, or order direct from the winery, phone (03 6257 8574.

Two hours’ drive north west of Freycinet, on the west bank of the Tamar River, Tamar Ridge presents a somewhat different face of Tasmanian wine. With 55 hectares under vine, another 30 hectares planned and with production pushing to about ten times that of Freycinet, Tamar aims to bring good Tassie wine to the world at a comparatively modest $20 a bottle.

Well-known Tasmanian businessman Jo Chromy, established Tamar Ridge in 1998 after disposing of Heemskerk and Rochecombe wineries to the publicly listed Pipers Brook.

Jo retained 22 hectares of vines on the West Tamar, designed and built a magnificent winery, extended the vineyard and hired veteran Tasmanian winemaker, Julian Alcorso, to head the small cellar team.

He also hired Adelaide-based wine-package specialist, Barbara Harkness, to design the complete package.
The result is surely one of the most stunning, complete and instant wine-brand creations in the history of Australia’s wine industry.

As if to emphasise the perfect appearance of the vineyards, winery and packaging, Alcorso’s wines won 4 trophies, 4 gold, 4 silver and 8 bronze medals at the Tasmanian wine show, judged by Huon Hooke, James Halliday and Zar Brooks the week before the Chateau Shanahan entourage hit the apple isle.

These are terrific wines which, along with Pipers Brook’s Ninth Island brand, are set to take Tasmanian wines out of the ‘boutique’ category. More on these next week.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2001 & 2007