Friday, 22 August 2014

Pinot Paradise in Tasmania's Derwent Valley

There is a little section of the Derwent River, just outside the town of Grantham, where some very lucky grapes are grown. Both red and whites have their favourite soil types available and everything is protected by the tempering effect of Mt Wellington. Hobart is the driest capital in Australia and the proximity to the ocean results in a more consistent temperature range (but always cold!). Although it is not an 'official' wine region, the little pocket of Derwent Valley is producing some outstanding wines with their own particular nuances.

John Schuts is leading the helm at Derwent Estate in their new state of the art production facility which opened for Vintage 2014. You can already tell that John is making new waves at the winery; a perfect example being the 2012 Unfiltered Pinot Noir.

From an outsider perspective, Derwent Estate appear to focus their funds and energy into grape growing and wine production, rather than any flashy cellar door sales and marketing tactics. The rambling old country cottage that serves as the cellar door has squeaky floorboards and a marked lack of warmth in winter, but the wines speak for themselves. 

Not only that, but the likes of Penfolds have cottoned on to the amazing micro-climate that exists on the Estate, sourcing Chardonnay fruit for their luxury Penfolds Yattarna  from the property. Yattarna is a more recent addition to the Icon and Luxury Collection and evolved from a program to establish the white equivalent of Penfolds Grange by sourcing cool-climate Chardonnay from quality locations in southern Australia.

Derwent Estate's Rustic Cellar Door
Here is a quick overview of my tasting notes from our visit to Derwent Estate:

2013 Riesling 
Toasted brioche nose, quite a rounded palate with creamy acid (3.5g/L sugar).

2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Pinot Gris 
Both use partial barrel fermentation and skin contact to impart some phenolics into the wine, providing structure and herbal pungency.

2012 Chardonnay
The standout (as one would hope/expect), being markedly different to many other Tasmanian Chardonnays with a yoghurty creaminess and fine, toasty oak influence. The wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation but there is still some tingling acid.

2012 Pinot vs 2012 Unfiltered Pinot 
The filtered version was quite chalky with some red fruit, but a powerful gaminess and spiciness. On the other hand, the unfiltered version had significantly darker fruits and had an earthy texture with 'dirtier' tannins, making it more rustic, but for me, more approachable.

Conveniently, our next destination,Stefano Lubiana Wines, is basically next door to Derwent Estate. I had been looking forward to lunch in their new Osteria for quite a while, as I have been a fan of their wines ever since our first trip to Tasmania.

Stefano and his wife Monique have achieved Biodynamic Certification for their vineyards, but they don't obsessively push the point. It just works. The

Here are my tasting notes for the standout wines from Stefano Lubiana's comprehensive offering:

2012 'Black Label' Riesling
Maturation in 100% old oak and close to 5g/L residual sugar results in excellent palate weight and some stone fruits creeping in with the green fruit to create a complex wine.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc  
Deserves a mention due to 6 months lees contact. It is still a lean wine and bursting with some lovely lychee and passionfruit notes.

2011 Estate Chardonnay 
Perfectly balanced, aromas of warm, freshly-cracked macadamias with the freshness of crisp citrus fruits.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir 
Fine tannins, excellent oak integration, red and black fruits and some phenolics to push along the structure. I will definitely be holding some in the cellar for a few years! 
2008 Pinot range: 'Selection 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3' 
2008 was an excellent vintage (warmer year) so the Lubianas decided to make a series of wines with different treatments. The 1/3 is a more 'feminine' (or elegant) wine and then the next two are increasingly masculine variations, with some whole bunch addition and heavier oak (which is only possible in warmer years when the grapes show more fruit forward flavours).

Our tasting was conducted by Monique Lubiana, who was attentive and patient (I always ask loads of questions), despite it being a busy Saturday at the Cellar Door. During our discussions, I was excited to learn that her son Marco will be releasing his yet unnamed label very soon - watch this space!

After the tasting, it was time for lunch. I selected a glass of the 2005 Vintage Brut as an aperitif as this was not available for tasting. The wine has definitely had a good level of lees contact and the gorgeous deep gold colour followed through with beautiful caramel and biscuit flavours dancing with the acidity that only Tasmanian vineyards can achieve. 

It was an absolute delight to eat at the Osteria. My brother and sister who currently live in Tasmania were joining my husband and I, which made the occasion even more special. The homely Italian cooking took me back to our family trip to Italy a few years ago. Our antipasto platter was spot on, with a variety of dried meats, succulent sardines, a kale and potato flan and beautiful olives. The selection of mains was limited, but the lamb was a hit with the men, the truffles in my siste'spasta were absolutely decadent and I also loved my rich minestrone.

Minestrone for lunch at Stefano Lubiana's Osteria
My brother and husband finished off with a digestif of Grappa, but not just any old grappa, this one was made solely from the skins of the muscatel grape. Unfortunately, although this provided a refreshingly floral aroma to the drink, it did not serve to mask the knock-your-socks off spirit of the Grappa itself!

Family Catch up at Stefano Lubiana
The tiny and intimate seating of the Osteria, near the crackling wood fire, was a perfect setting for a family catch up and to reflect on the excellent wines we had tried that day. As you can see, there really is something special happening in the Derwent Valley - make sure you visit soon, before the secret is out!