Sparkling Wines from Victoria and Tasmania
A tasting of vins clairs from the 2009 vintage with Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Cellar Master at Champagne Louis Roederer in February 2010 was followed with a vertical of Cristal back to 1988. This Cristal would have been underground “sur lattes” in Reims at the time when Roederer was establishing vineyards beyond Champagne, over seas.
Champagne Louis Roederer co-founded Jansz in Tasmania with the Heemskerk partnership in 1986. Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon spent three years in Pipers Brook establishing this sparkling wine. Lecaillon arrived in October 1990 bringing directly the experience of that outstanding vintage in Champagne, as well as one year’s New World experience prior to that establishing Roederer Estate in California. The Hill Smith family of Yalumba purchased Jansz in 1998.
A February 2009 Decanter Magazine panel tasting of New World sparkling wines held in London revealed that New Zealand and Australia were the clear favourites and that Victorian and Tasmanian sparkling wines offer exceptional value for the quality. “There were regional and winemaking differences within the country. You had a huge gap between basic commercial wines and those where you have high-quality definition” 1, said Essi Avellan MW.
The most acclaimed “high-quality definition” wines reflect the foresight and experience of Brian Croser and Dr Tony Jordan, the founders of the contemporary Australian sparkling wine industry, together with the Australian investments and ventures of French Champagne Houses. Croser established Petaluma in Piccadilly, South Australia, with a silent Bollinger accent. Focusing on delineated vineyards, the first Croser sparkling vintage was produced in 1985, the same year that Jordan established Green Point with Moet & Chandon in Victoria, taking the traditional Champagne “blend” approach to vineyards and grapes. The Decanter panel highlighted the potential of Tasmania.
Essi Avellan found it “interesting also to taste the difference between the Tasmanian and the mainland Australian wines” at the Decanter tasting, “The Tasmanians really showed a much cooler climate and more linear style”.
“For cool climate sparkling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Brian Croser nominates Tasmania as one of the finest regions in the world to come in time, agreeing with many who think that Tasmania will prove the site of the finest sparkling vineyards on earth, outside Champagne itself.”2
Croser goes further to say that Tasmania has just one geographical indication region for the entire island and that the state could potentially be broken into smaller cool climate sub-regions. Unofficially, these are the Tamar Valley and Pipers River in the north around Launceston; Derwent Valley and Coal River Valley in the south around Hobart; and the Freycinet Peninsula in the east (Wine Glass Bay).
Melbourne hosted the Fifth International Cool Climate Conference in 2000 3. A delegation of Tasmanian producers and Paul Henry of the AWBC will bid to host the tenth Cool Climate Conference in Tasmania in 2012. Henry hopes that Tasmania “would structure the event with rigour in the context of real cool-climate wines that addressed the demands and interests of the global marketplace” and, if successful, “Tasmania could assume the role of global leadership for cool-climate viticulture and wines”4, with the capacity to present a real challenge to New Zealand. Under the supervision of Dr Andrew Pirie and Dr Richard Smart, a number of projects are underway to research the vinification and viticulture of Pinot Noir and sparkling grape production. (Post script: Tasmania has been selected to host the ICCC in 2012).
Sheralee Davies of Constellation has “alluded to an ambitious sparkling programme, the culmination of more than fifteen years development with the highly talented Ed Carr as head sparkling wine maker for Hardy’s, at the forefront of the push to develop Tasmanian fruit.”5 Carr is Australia’s most awarded sparkling winemaker.
James Halliday confirms, “Hardys sparkling wine genius, Ed Carr, has long made it clear he regards Tasmania as by far the best place to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling wines. Arras has been the practical outcome of that belief, and it is the single wine to challenge all others, year in, year out.”6 Ed Carr’s belief in Australia’s best sparkling wines goes beyond challenging New Zealand, with the potential to rival Non Vintage and some Vintage Champagnes.
The Top of The Taste (TOTT) festival is a week-long celebration of wine and food on Hobart’s waterfront, encompassing New Years Eve and the finish of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The Top Gold and Trophy winner in the Museum class was the Arras E J Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir 1998, “which is in fact yet to be released – Ed likes to hold things back”,7 said Phil Laing. Huon Hooke is in accord: “Carr has two of the best Australian wines I’ve ever tasted up his sleeve. One is the first Arras Blanc de Blancs 2001. The other is the first Late Disgorged Arras – a re-release of the 1998 Arras Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Both are stunning wines that put Arras where Carr wants it to be: rubbing shoulders with the best of Champagne.”8
Top Sparkling was won by Pirie NV, in a very strong class of Non Vintage sparkling wines including Freycinet Radenti (called Wineglass Bay for export), Iron Pot Bay and Meadowbank.
The acclaimed Stefano Lubiana did not enter his wines in Top of the Taste nor the Tasmanian Wine Show. Max Allen declares, “Steve Lubiana’s Tasmanian vineyard north of Hobart is one of Australia’s top sources of fizz.”9 Ralph Kyte-Powell encourages his readers to “Indulge Yourself. Stefano Lubiana’s Tassie bubblies are among the best of the Apple Isles growing number of fine sparkling wines. The NV almost has a French accent.”10
Photo: Judging Tasmanian Wine Show 2008 international guest Tom Stevenson, Ben Edwards left, and Amanda right
The Trophy for best sparkling wine at the 2010 Tasmanian Wine Show was Arras Grand Vintage 2003. Repeating its recent success at the TOTT, the Arras EJ Carr Late Disgorged 1998 won the Best Museum Wine. Freycinet Radenti Sparkling 2000 and Clover Hill Blanc de Blancs 2005 were awarded Gold medals in the Vintage sparkling wine class, behind the top Gold Arras 2003. Iron Pot Bay, Josef Chromy and Clover Hill received Silver medals. The judges commented, “obviously, and unsurprisingly, a very good class. Top Gold unanimous decision without the necessity of discussion.”
In the 2009 TWS, Freycinet Radenti 1999 won the Trophy Best Sparkling Wine, and Top Gold in the Vintage class, ahead of two other Gold medals for Bay of Fires Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2003 and Ghost Rock Catherine 2003. Josef Chromy, Iron Pot Bay, Jansz and Arras received Silver medals. “As the results show, an outstanding class of sparklings, with a tremendous range of style, from pure and restrained to great complexity” said the judges. Jansz Non-Vintage Cuvee won Gold in the 2010 Non Vintage class.
At the 2009 Red Hill International Cool Climate Show 2009 held on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Jansz, Josef Chromy and Clover Hill 2004 were awarded. Arras swept the Canberra National Wine Show 2009 in the Vintage & Non Vintage Museum Classes, with the Top Gold for Arras 2001 and Gold for Arras 2003, followed by Silver for Arras 2002 and Arras Rosé 2004, with a Bronze for Arras 1999. The judges commented “A lovely class to judge, as the best examples showed grace and finesse.”
Hugh Johnson says, “Victoria is the most bubbly-minded state – and has been ever since the gold rush of the 1850s”11. Since the recent rush of Champagne houses into Victoria, it has become even more bubbly-minded.
Macedon Ranges is the coolest wine-growing region in mainland Australia. Suited to ultra-premium sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Pinot noir, the soils are mostly skeletal mountain and granitic sandy loams that naturally restrict yields. At 400- to 700-metres altitude across the ranges, the low heat degree-days count (933) during the growing season, low mean January temperature (17.05 to 18.5 degrees celcius) and a late harvest confirm that this is very cool climate. “Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier in conditions such as these are tailor made for sparkling wine base and the wines age with extreme grace”, says James Halliday.
“I have just finished judging the 2008 Macedon Ranges Wine Exhibition, and it was evident the gap between Tasmania and the best of the mainland is narrower than some think”, said Ken Gargett. “The region is producing fruit that is first class for sparkling wine”12. Despite Gargett’s enthusiasm, most quantities are small and access to bottles scarce.
Mount Williams have had consistent Gold medal success each year at the Macedon Ranges Wine Exhibition. Following Gold medals in 2008 and 2007 for its Macedon Blanc de Blanc 2001, and Gold in 2008 for S.L.D Macedon Blanc de Blanc 1998, the Macedon Blanc de Blancs 2001 won the Trophy for best sparkling wine in 2009. This wine had also been awarded the Trophy for best sparkling wine at the Red Hill International Cool Climate Show 2009.
Granite Hills and Cope Williams regularly receive gold medals. Cope Williams was awarded the Trophy for Best Sparkling Wine, and the Trophy for Best Wine of the Exhibition in 2007.
In 1982 John Ellis briefed a geologist to find the coldest site in Australia, where Hanging Rock now produces sparkling wines. This ultra-cool climate, 50 degrees north, south facing site with decomposing basalt soil, was selected to realise a dream to produce Australia’s finest sparkling wine. “Hanging Rock is probably the most contentious sparkling wine in Australia. It polarises wine tasters and show judges. This is because it is pretty much the reverse of the fresh, fruit driven delicate style that show judges tend to favour. But it is a wine I love to drink. Its closest relatives in Champagne would be Krug and Bollinger Grand Année Vintage”13, says Huon Hooke.
Macedon LD Extended Lees Aged Brut Cuvée VII NV (late disgorged), is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, with ten years on lees in a solera system in oak barrels. It has a low 2 grams per litre dosage to give “a rich, full yet dry, crisp yet balanced wine”. Deluxe and more expensive than most Champagne at $115, Max Allen asks, “How good is the Macedon LD? I tasted it blind in a line up that included some seriously sexy French Champers and it absolutely shone.”14 It was rated 96 points by James Halliday in 2007, equal with the Macedon NV Brut Cuvée XII.
Photo: Matt Regan testing base wines at Cope-Williams/Kilchurn Wines, Macedon Ranges
The Yarra Valley is home to Green Point (Chandon) and Yarrabank, sparkling wine producers with Champagne pedigree. Yarrabank is the joint venture between Yering Station and French Champagne producer Devaux, established in 1993 and production started in 1996.
Dominique Portet, the Frenchman who established Taltarni in western Victoria in 1972 and the Tasmanian sparkling wine Clover Hill, is now making a very small production of his own sparkling wines in the Yarra Valley, a Tasmanian Cuvée and a Rosé. Using all of his French connections, his wines are disgorged by Yarrabank at Yering Station, with the liqueur de tirage done by Chandon. Portet is setting up his own winery so as to be able to do all the steps of production.
Matthew Jukes selected five sparklings for his Serious Fizz Top 100 2009. These were Jansz Brut 2004 from Tasmania; Yering Station Yarrabank 2004 from Victoria; and Croser 2006 Piccadilly Valley, and one red sparkling shiraz, both from the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.
Describing the 2004 Jansz, Jukes neatly concludes this analysis of sparkling wines: “This newly released Vintage has four years bottle age under its belt, and this has resulted in a mellowing hitherto unseen at this property. Always in the running, Jansz has elevated itself this year to another level, bringing it into direct competition with all global sparklers – a fight it will no doubt relish.” I would prefer to call it a dance on the world stage, rather than a fight, but one for which it has already won 5 Decanter stars.
1 ‘New World Sparkling Wine Panel Tasting’, Decanter, July 2009, Vol 34, No. 10). Tasting February 2009. I was on this Tasting Panel, and quoted as saying “New World sparkling wine is a question of quality for value”, but “should not be compared to Champagne”.
2 Ken Garrett, “Headed for Big Things Once More” Australia:Strategy 2010, p. 42
3 The International Cool Climate Conference was first held in Oregon 1984; Auckland, NZ 1988; Mainz, Germany 1992; Rochester, NY 1996; Christchurch, NZ 2006; and this year 2010 in Seattle, Washington State
4 Graham Phillips, ‘Can Tasmania be the world leader in cool climate viticulture?’ The Mercury, March 10, 2010.
5 Garrett, op cit., p. 40
9 Max Allen, Gourmet Traveller, November 2008.
10 Ralph Kyte-Powell, Epicure Uncorked, The Age, Tuesday 24 May 2005.
11 Hugh Johnson, A Life Uncorked, p. 40
12 Ken Gargett, ‘Sparkling Success’, Gourmet Traveller WINE, December 2008/January 2009.
14 Max Allen, Weekend Australian, May 13, 2006.