It’s not as if we’ve previously neglected our southern-most state. We’ve covered pinot noir twice and a range of Tasmanian wines inter alia with other regions, and in particular riesling, but the growth in quality and the number of producers of sparklings made this an essential visit. To limit this to a manageable but still representative number, we chose to taste only vintage wines. A further limit was unfortunately imposed by a few producers not making a vintaged wine or simply having no stock available, so great is their growth in demand. Additionally, some excellent winemakers have not embarked on sparkling wines as the demand for their table wines and grapes is so great. Tasmanian grapes for sparkling wines are the most expensive in the country.

While grapes for sparkling wines are grown throughout the state, the centre of gravity has shifted south and then higher as cooler sites are located. The hills to the east of Hobart and those either side of the Coal River valley are key locations. Nor has the original area of Tassie’s sparkling wine renaissance, Pipers River, been neglected, and the same is true of less familiar places.

Like our tasting of Tasmanian chardonnay, this one was fraught with Covid-19 difficulties. Fortunately, we had enough notice to request two bottles of each entry. One each of these travelled to Orange, where regular tasters educator and writer Peter Bourne and I, winemaking consultant and judge Nick Bulleid MW, were able to draw on help from two highly experienced local winemakers and judges. They were the maker of table wines and especially sparklings for Printhie and Swift Wines, Drew Tuckwell, and Will Rikard-Bell, of the Chill Wine Co and Rikard Wines. The second bottle arrived at the home of wine judge and writer Toni Paterson MW and later left, suitably stoppered, to Andrew Caillard MW in the neighbouring suburb.

A further complication came from Australia’s overwhelmed parcel and courier systems, as seven wines arrived late for the Orange and Sydney tastings. These then left for the Sydney tasters and to me, locked out of my home in Canberra and at my vineyard near Crookwell, NSW. The latter included the one single bottle submitted. The three of us alone were able to taste these.

Our panellists would not have been aware of any bottle variation, which is near inevitable in a large group of sparkling wines. Only I had hints of occurrences through differences in the ratings between the Orange Four and the Sydney Two. While not highlighting these, I’ve described some differences of opinion, which may be apparent in my text.

After the seemingly endless job of assembling what I hope is coherent to readers I can now reflect on a remarkable tasting. I’ll finish with a big thank you to my fellow panellists in Orange and Sydney who helped with the complicated way I had to combine our comments and who put up with my last-minute requests; most of all an even bigger thank you to the makers of sparkling wines from Tasmania who have delivered us one of the most exciting tastings I have described for GT WINE magazine over 20 years.

Apogee, House of Arras and Stefano Lubiana wines were universally adored.

The Blends

There is a good reason for these being regarded as the pinnacle of sparkling wines, particularly where vintage wines are concerned, as they offer the winemaker more opportunities to achieve complexity and perfection in structure than single variety wines. This is not to denigrate blanc de blancs and the few blanc de noirs that come our way. They have their special qualities and charms.

2016 Apogee Deluxe Brut, A$63, has the pale rose gold colour of pinot noir, which ties with the strawberry compote aromas and biscuit complexity. The palate is round and full in the middle like a comfortable cushion, with extraordinarily rich red fruit flavours, lees complexity and a light texture to finish. That texture still leaves the impression of softness, with both power and charm. Lovers of no- or low-dosage wines may find it lacks briskness, but the wine is true to itself and, I thought, simply exceptional.

2017 Barringwood Classic Cuvée, A$50, has a pale bronze colour, suggesting significant pinot noir content. It’s resplendent with red fruits and showing nice complexity for a relatively young wine. There’s good depth and breadth in the mouth, with pinot again speaking. A hint of sweetness rounds it out and there’s good length. Paterson wrote: “Delicately perfumed, almost faintly floral. Baked quince. Heavy fruit. Interesting. The palate is delicious: full and rich with a touch of sweetness and a hint of seashell. Opulent, and full-bodied. It is a big, full style. Excellent acidity. Highly satisfying fizz.”

2015 Bream Creek Cuvée Traditionelle, A$48, shows beautiful nutty and toasty complexity on the nose, yet is still fresh and fine. The flavours start in sympathy, but fruit flavours emerge, too. There’s a good line of acidity and lovely length. Bourne thought it “a bit edgy, lean”. Rikard-Bell had no doubts. “I found this wine a little shy at first,” he wrote. “Very youthful and tightly wound, but with a bit of warming, I found lovely floral notes with some blackcurrant and strawberry fruit characters. A linear acid profile provides bones for the fruit to wrap around and I loved the subtle complexity that emerges on the finish – all toasty and honeyed and biscotti.”

Blends afford the chance to achieve perfection in structure compared with single varietals.

2015 Clemens Hill Méthode Traditionelle Pinot Chardonnay, A$38, has a fabulously intense nose of lemon curd and white nectarine. The flavours start with fresh lemon, then build and burst open with considerable depth. It’s on the taut side on the finish, suggesting more lees or cork age would work wonders. Paterson was less impressed, but Caillard thought it “fragrant and complex”. His notes read: “Candied lemon glacé, crème brulée, honey, slightly aldehydic aromas. Well-developed and lightly effervescent wine with grapefruit, mandarin fruits, toffee apple notes, fine lacy textures and fine long integrated acidity. Finishes minerally, chalky and sweet fruited.”

2015 Delamere Vintage Sparkling Cuvée, A$70, was one of my top wines. I loved its intense combination of stone fruits with some red berries and the hints of autolysis and aldehyde adding complexity. Bourne wrote: “White nectarine and strawberry aromas mingled with acacia blossom honey and baked apple. Youthful and tight with a core of citrus-laden fruits. Well balanced and complete with the potential to develop under cork.”

2017 Frogmore Creek Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle, A$49, appealed strongly to Rikard-Bell. “There’s a lot going on here with this wine,” he started. “Complexity abounds. Strawberry, nougat, toast and flint on the nose. Beautiful acid line provides a spine around which a whole array of flavours wrap themselves. There’s minerality and wet stone, more strawberries, a hint of lime and then a savoury, nutty, creamy, grainy, textural mid-palate of exceptional length and balance. It’s all held together with a bit of phenolic grip and wonderful persistence.” I had a lasting impression of roundness and softness, which the flavours above create, holding the wine’s elements together.

2016 Ghost Rock Catherine Cuvée Exceptionelle, A$49, delighted Caillard. “Grapefruit, stone fruit, vanilla aromas with hint of marzipan and grilled nuts,” he started. “Complex marzipan, roasted almond, nectarine flavours. Fine chalky textures and beautiful, fine bubbles. Complex and refined.” While the ‘Orange’ panel was not unanimous, I for one thought its intense combination of fruit, autolysis and hints of toast was beautiful. Distinct dosage softens the acidity.

2012 Henskens Rankin Vintage Brut, A$95, brought mixed opinions. Paterson’s stated: “Quite buttery. Very complex and long. The wine looks as if it has considerable age. The palate is long, rich and layered. Gorgeous aldehydes. Incredibly concentrated. Waxy.” Meanwhile, Caillard, who loved it, noted: “Generous developed sparkling with attractive stone fruit, hazelnut, crème brulée flavours. Fine, loose-knit al dente textures and lovely mineral length.” I found it highly complex, but showing untoward meaty overtones. Caillard summed up, “Very individual style but delicious to drink.”

2006 House of Arras EJ Carr Late Disgorged, A$266, is remarkably fresh for its age. The nose is fine, with subtle fruit and autolysis, before the palate reveals more complexity, with toasty development chiming in. The fruit maintains its line accompanied by tight acidity. Rikard-Bell told us, “Savoury, tertiary characters are the hallmark of this wine. Flint, funk and toast immediately on the nose with the leesy richness you’d expect from long-term on tirage, but there’s plenty of mid-palate weight and flavour to carry it still. Bourne chimed in: “Bold and complex bouquet of glacé fruit, honeycomb and ginger shortbread. A real mouthful that echoes on the palate well after the final swallow.”

2013 House of Arras Grand Vintage, A$119, has a generous nose, with ripe white peach, toast and subtle autolysis. Complex biscuit, toast and lemon curd flavours step up, building through the mouth, supported throughout with a crisp line of acidity. There’s excellent length and the merest trace of bitterness. Caillard’s notes stated: “Fresh and lively wine with pure citrus fruits, some flinty/tonic water complexity, al dente textures, fine indelible acidity and mouth-filling bubbles. Finishes quite dry with lemon bitters notes.”

2017 Jansz Pontos Hills Vintage Cuvée, A$50, gained top points from Paterson, who wrote: “A touch of parsnip. A lovely tight palate with excellent acid tension. Satisfying and long with gentle, attractive nuttiness. Stylish and complete. A long, zippy, high-energy wine with a fine bead and pleasing reserve.” I thought the nose very fresh with good autolysis/lees, seemingly chardonnay dominant and just a touch of reduction. The wine broadens a little in the mouth, with full flavours and a light texture to finish.

2017 Jansz Vintage Brut, A$47, had a very persistent, fine mousse. The nose is equally fine, yet there’s intensity too. It also pleased Caillard. “Intense lemon curd, grilled almond, with some pond water/flinty notes. Well concentrated lemon curd, grapefruit, grilled nut flavours, some bitter-sweetness, fine crisp acidity and long creaming soda notes.” I loved the wine’s richness, yet there’s reserve there, too, leaving final impressions of finesse and length.

The fruit intensity of the wines was a stand-out feature.

2016 Josef Chromy Brut Finesse, A$49, combines lemon curd, lees autolysis characters and toast in a beautifully complex bouquet. These continue in the mouth, with pinot noir contributing to the soft, round palate, with Caillard commenting, “lovely mid-palate volume”. He continued: “Developed white peach, nectarine, toasty yeasty flavours. Fine lacy textures and long minerally/mouth-watering acidity. Very good.”

2016 Kreglinger Vintage Brut, A$60, starts with a hint of bronze in its colour, suggesting high pinot content. Bourne loved it, noting: “Perfumes of pink lady apple and white strawberries with a whiff of lemongrass and fresh ginger. Creamy palate with delicate flavours – more apple and red berries. The finish is fine and long.” I thought the nose intense, with nice autolysis and a hint of barrel fermentation, while the palate is full and round with more complexity from aldehyde. Nicely balanced texture and dosage complete the picture.

2019 Lake Barrington Wild Highland Brut, A$40, appeals with its light, stone fruit aroma and freshness. The flavours are intense, if a little simple in its youth, but the wine’s well-balanced and has good length. Tuckwell noted, “Nice. Mixed complexity, with fruit and a hint of autolysis. Aldehyde but measured. Good balance. Dry.” Caillard thought it “finishes long with plenty of fruitiness”.

2008 Moorilla Estate Cloth Label Late Disgorged, A$110, pleased Tuckwell highly. “Slight hessian lift to the nose with what appears to be older barrel ferment and autolysis complexity”, he told us. “Some autumnal fruit, indicating bottle age. Palate brings it all together, working well with freshness and brighter fruit and well-judged dosage.” The nose indeed has surprisingly fresh fruit for an aged wine, although it did spend most of its life on lees. It’s taut and fresh in flavour, with that slightly savoury overtone and brisk acidity.

2015 Moorilla Estate Muse St Matthias Extra Brut, A$45, was one of my favourites, standing out with its excellent combination of fresh citrus and autolysis. The flavours are intense and fine, the finish crisp and long. Rikard-Bell agreed. “I love the purity of this wine,” he began. “Fruit dominant, the pinot influence stands out on the nose with white strawberry characters, the same providing structure to the palate. There’s a wonderful drive and length to the palate, too, with just enough lees complexity and texture to create interest without diminishing the brightness of the fruit.” How could a wine from the most beautiful vineyard setting in the country not be charming?

Often younger, the blanc de blancs were among our top-rated wines.

2017 Pipers Brook Vineyards Vintage Cuvée, A$45, had consistently strong support. The nose is fabulously complex, the rich stone fruits, red berries and development combining nicely. The palate’s richly flavoured – you could even say “big”. It’s full and round, dried by balancing texture. Tuckwell loved it, writing: “Citrus and red fruit. Autolysis and hint of aldehyde. Promising. Good balance and texture. Nice expression. Very good dosage.” A great return of the line that effectively restarted sparkling wines in Tasmania.

2017 Pirie Vintage Brut, A$50, appealed strongly to Paterson, who noted: “Very good breadth and depth of flavour. Extremely well balanced. It presents as one character, displaying wonderful harmony. Great freshness and length. I love the aromatic intensity and the detail in this wine. Impressive richness.” I liked its youthful verve and intense fruit but noted a little herbaceousness.

2010 Stefano Lubiana Grande Vintage Brut, A$80, gained top marks from almost all of us. Caillard thought it, “A stand-out aged sparkling wine with beautiful complexity, richness and freshness. Fresh, fino-like, salty mineral toasty aromas with underlying grilled nut, stone fruit, strawberry notes. Attractive mid-palate viscosity, integrated crisp acidity and fine chalky textures.” Tuckwell added, “Obvious aldehyde but fresh apple rather than cooked. Brightness with fruit. Walks a fine line. Palate still has freshness and vibrancy. Balanced dosage.”

Often younger, the blanc de blancs were among our top-rated wines.

Blanc de Blancs

These beautiful wines covered the full range of blanc de blancs style, from taut, often younger wines thought of as ideal for a casual aperitif, to more complex, rounded numbers with toasty and developed stone fruit complexity that almost demands more contemplation. Both are among our highest rated wines.

2015 Barringwood Blanc de Blancs, A$60, is a beautiful example of a ‘young’ blanc de blancs, even though it’s nearly seven years old. Bourne noted, “Gentle perfumes of lemongrass, ginger and citrus blossom. Lean and lemony palate with ample drive and panache. A tangy grapefruit acidity enlivens the finish.” I loved its fresh, white peach and citrus aroma, fine yet intense, with subtle lees. The palate has similar finesse, with good line and delicacy but also length, and a final sense of purity.

2015 Bream Creek Blanc de Blanc, A$60, gained top points from Bourne. “Wild honey and toffee apple aromas with a whiff of vanilla,” he wrote. “There’s plenty of depth, character and complexity here. Rich, multilayered and complete with plenty of bounce and energy.” I thought the nose very subtle, with fine, lemon curd notes hinting at development and beautiful autolysis. The palate delivers much more, with full flavour, attractive savoury notes and a light texture balanced by a little dosage. Lees characters persist beautifully.

The production of sparklings has gradually moved to the cooler south of the island.

2015 Delamere Vintage Blanc de Blancs, A$70, appealed greatly to Paterson. “A highly aromatic bubbly with a pale colour,” her notes recorded. “I enjoy the intense bread crust notes and the sherbet freshness. A tiny hint of parsnip does not detract from the wine, which shines brightly in the bracket. Excellent front palate intensity and perfect acidity, channelling the flavours purposefully through the palate. It’s a worked style with considerable winemaking influence and a subtle overlay of roasted nuts and toast. Mouth-watering acidity on the finish.” I liked its rich, stone fruit aromas and the wine’s beautiful burst of fresh flavour.

2014 Henskens Rankin Blanc de Blanc, A$110, has a remarkably fresh, lemon aroma with a little development and white peach evolving in the glass, saying strongly “chardonnay”. A clean acid line defines the palate, which has good drive through to a long finish. Caillard, tasting from the ‘Sydney’ bottle, wrote: “Developed stone fruit, hazelnut, flinty aromas with toasty bottle-aged notes. Complex and round with smooth developed stone fruit, grilled nut flavours, beautiful bell-clear acidity and fresh long bubbles. Finishes bitter-sweet with some lacy, al dente notes. Complex and crunchy.” It’s a beautiful aperitif style.

2013 House of Arras Vintage Blanc de Blancs, A$130, has a subtle expression of citrus aromas with lees autolysis. After that delicate start, the flavours are intense, with hints of nutty, toasty development sitting in a round palate. Bourne found: “A very closed nose, but it opened up with air to reveal tight apple and lemon sorbet aromas with a white blossom lift. The palate is equally tight with umami-etched flavours and yeasty complexity. Concludes with a tang of citrus fresh acidity.”

2013 Jansz Single Vineyard Chardonnay, A$65, stunned the ‘Orange’ panel with its excellent stone fruit and citrus aromas, lees autolysis complexity and overall great freshness for its age. The palate’s finely structured and intense, with those similar
complexities, beautiful line and length. Rikard-Bell thought it, “A lovely complete wine. I love it when there’s so many facets all in balance, like it is with this wine. Bright, spine-tingling acid and freshness, nougat and toast, textual creamy finish and a fine mousse. Length, savouriness, structure, chalkiness. It’s all here and unfurling further with each swirl and sip. Yummo!” The Sydney tasters rated it well, too, but less exceptional.

The production of sparklings has gradually moved to the cooler south of the island.

Rosé and Blanc de Noirs

I’ve heard wine producers from elsewhere describe a range of preferences they express in their wines. These range from lively, mouth-wateringly flavoured, crisp wines ideal as aperitifs, and more sternly structured wines of complex, red wine-like flavours to accompany food through to charming, delicately fruited and softer wines ideal with dessert. I’ve never been able to fathom the last myself. They are all represented here.

2018 Apogee Deluxe Vintage Rosé, A$75, starts with a salmon/copper colour. The nose is fine, showing subtle strawberries, but these are joined by toastier flavours and together finish with a distinct grip. “Wow-factor nose,” Rikard-Bell started. “Incredibly fragrant and lifted. Needs to blow off a bit before further layers are revealed underneath. Rose petals, wild strawberry and redcurrants. The palate is a contrast – very full and rich, a glycerol-like mouthfeel adds weight. Quite textural and finishes a little hot from alcohol with some grip of tannin. A food-friendly style to mull over.” Paterson thought her bottle “sensational”.

2016 Clover Hill Cuvée Exceptionelle Vintage Rosé, A$70, appealed strongly to Tuckwell, who noted: “Vibrant pink colour. Appears to have some older material or time on cork showing some depth of complexity. Red-fruited. Laser-like acidity finishing very dry. Needs food to temper the finish.” I thought it still fresh, with fine strawberry flavours. I agreed on the brisk acidity, but thought the flavours carried it.

2017 Jansz Vintage Rosé, A$47, has a beautifully pure, fresh red fruit fragrance. This leads to a fine, lively start in the mouth, but I thought it then revealed distinctly dry tannins. Caillard had no doubts, however, noting: “Fresh light strawberry, stone fruit aromas with some marzipan, toasty notes. Well-concentrated strawberry and toasty flavours, some bitter-sweet textures and long, fresh, animated bubbles. Finishes chalky and minerally with yeasty, red fruit notes.”

2016 Kreglinger Brut Rosé, A$75, received top points from Bourne. “A complex bouquet of ripe redcurrants and toffee apple. The palate is youthful and lithe with red fruits to the fore. A ping of zesty acidity lifts the finish.” I noted a little reduction, which didn’t deter the attractive red fruit aromas. The flavours are fine, supported by the weight and light tannins of pinot noir. The wine combines finesse with the flesh to support food.

Four points separated the two Rockburn pinots.

2015 Moorilla Estate Muse St Matthias Extra Brut Rosé, A$45, was for me a really exciting rosé. Intense strawberries and toast combine to give a wonderfully complex sweet/savoury mix. The palate is beautifully polished, with excellent balance and line through the mouth, leaving a fine, talc-like lining of tannin to reinforce its rosé credentials. Bourne also loved it, but saw it a little differently, telling us: “Red fruits abound – cherry, redcurrant and pink lady apple. The palate is quite firm and structured with a real sense that this is ‘wine’, not a frivolous bubbly. It needs food – perhaps a retro prawn cocktail?”

2017 Sinapius Blanc de Noirs, A$65, started with stone fruit characters on pouring, but redder fruit aromas evolved in the glass. Tuckwell told us, “A good blanc de noirs colour – pale. Good red fruit aromatics and intensity. Clean and fresh with just a hint of aldehyde and autolysis. Good palate. Fine acidity and finishing not at all coarse. Shows some restraint but has complexity, too.” The red grape origin shows in the fuller, rounder balance and soft texture, which has been well managed and not over-dry. A well-executed blanc de noirs and quite a triumph.

2016 Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut Rosé, A$58, appealed to Paterson, who thought it, “A delicious savoury rosé – fabulously tight – with a long palate defined by acidity and accented by an attractive sea spray quality. A tiny hint of parsnip. A pleasing pale rose-gold colour.” I liked the wine’s combination of delicate strawberry aromas and flavours with more savoury hints, but thought the wine turned a little dry. It would manage food with ease. Rikard-Bell added “purity and simplicity in its aroma, with some steeliness and structure”.

2016 Velo Vintage Rosé, A$45, has a delicate, even demure nose of fresh raspberry and autolysis. It lies fully at the fine end of the rosé sparkling spectrum, with a crisp line of acidity softened by dosage. A light brush of texture maintains the style. Paterson applauded “a well-judged ‘stained’ rose-gold hue. Delicious savoury notes on the nose and palate. Delicious flavours though a touch sweet, but overall, it is quite a refined and pleasant rosé.”

Top Tasmanian Sparkling

THE BLENDS

★★★★★
96 2016 Apogee Deluxe Brut, A$63
96 2010 Stefano Lubiana Grande Vintage Brut, A$80
95 2006 House of Arras EJ Carr Late Disgorged, A$266

★★★★
94 2013 House of Arras Grand Vintage, A$119
94 2016 Josef Chromy Brut Finesse, A$49
94 2017 Pipers Brook Vineyards Vintage Cuvée, A$45
93 2015 Delamere Vintage Sparkling Cuvée, A$70
92 2015 Barringwood Blanc de Blancs, A$60
92 2012 Henskens Rankin Vintage Brut, A$95
92 2015 Moorilla Estate Muse St Matthias Extra Brut, A$45
91 2017 Frogmore Creek Cuvée Méthode Traditionnelle, A$49
90 2015 Bream Creek Cuvée Traditionelle, A$48
90 2017 Jansz Vintage Brut, A$47
90 2017 Pirie Vintage Brut, A$50

★★★
89 2017 Barringwood Classic Cuvée, A$50
89 2015 Clemens Hill Méthode Traditionelle Pinot Chardonnay, A$38
89 2016 Ghost Rock Catherine Cuvée Exceptionelle, A$49
89 2017 Jansz Pontos Hills Vintage Cuvée, A$50
89 2016 Kreglinger Vintage Brut, A$60
89 2019 Lake Barrington Wild Highland Brut, A$40
89 2008 Moorilla Estate Cloth Label Late Disgorged, A$110


BLANC DE BLANCS

★★★★
94 2013 Jansz Single Vineyard Chardonnay, A$65
93 2014 Henskens Rankin Blanc de Blanc, A$110
92 2015 Barringwood Blanc de Blancs, A$60
90 2015 Bream Creek Blanc de Blanc, A$60
90 2015 Delamere Vintage Blanc de Blancs, A$70
90 2013 House of Arras Vintage Blanc de Blancs, A$130


ROSÉ AND BLANC DE NOIRS

★★★★
94 2016 Velo Vintage Rosé, A$45
92 2016 Kreglinger Brut Rosé, A$75
91 2017 Sinapius Blanc de Noirs, A$65
91 2016 Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut Rosé, A$58
90 2016 Clover Hill Cuvée Exceptionnelle Vintage Rosé, A$70

★★★
89 2018 Apogee Deluxe Vintage Rosé, A$75
89 2017 Jansz Vintage Rosé, A$47
89 2015 Moorilla Estate Muse St Matthias Extra Brut Rosé, A$45