Samui Wining & Dining
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A look at the lesser known wine region of Tasmania.


18Today, many of us are accustomed to drinking great Australian wines. Wine lovers have come to wholeheartedly trust in their favourite winemakers from the Hunter, Barossa, Clare and Yarra Valleys. And seek out with wine radar precision the pulsating bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Western Australia’s Margaret River. Scramble at the chance of acquiring the highly-sort-after Shiraz and Grenache from South Australia’s McLaren Vale, and salivate at the prospect of the best Cabernet Sauvignons grown on the ‘terra rossa’ found on the nearby limestone coast of Coonawarra.

      However, there is one other lesser-known wine region, more than worthy of joining this very impressive list - Tasmania. Admittedly it has arrived on the wine scene a little late, but nonetheless, its gorgeous wines have been well worth the wait. Already popular in Australia, the rest of the world is now starting to wake up and smell the subtle nuances and refined complexities of Tassie wine. I have yet to notice any Tasmanian wines available in Samui. Although, if they are not here already, I’m sure they will soon find their way onto the wine lists of the island’s more innovative establishments. The Rieslings could work particularly well here.

      Despite appearing on the wine scene fairly recently, many people would be surprised to learn that Tasmania has a long wine heritage. In fact, Tasmania can claim to have founded both the Victorian and South Australian wine industries. Wine was commercially made and sold in Tasmania several years before vines were planted in either of those states, and was the source of their first vines, with a number of cuttings obtained from the Port Arthur colony in southern Tasmania. Despite this, Tasmania’s own wine industry didn’t really get going until the mid-1970s, when the well-known Pipers Brook Vineyard was established. By producing excellent wines and marketing them effectively, Pipers Brook vineyard brought Tasmanian wine to prominence in the minds of wine drinkers in Australia. Since then, their reputation has grown, gaining outstanding acclaim for their premium Pinot Noir, Riesling and sparkling wines.

       The main feature that sets Tasmania apart from its sister Aussie wine regions is its cooler climate. As Andrew Pirie, the founder of Pipers Brook, said, it’s a land where the grass stays green all summer long, as in northern Europe. And the evidence is that this is a very cool place to grow red wine grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. But the conditions are perfect for Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, producing exceptionally lively and delicate aromas. Just as South Australian dry Riesling has little or nothing to do with Germany, Tasmanian Riesling could be growing on the Moselle. And Aussie sparkling wine makers believe they can taste Champagne in the island’s Pinot Noir Chardonnay blends. The first all-Tasmanian sparkler, Clover Hill, appeared in 1994.

       Unusually for a relatively large area, the whole island of Tasmania is an official wine zone. There are no wine regions. However, there is a broad division between northern and southern Tasmania. And within this division distinct viticultural areas exist, with a wide range of microclimates and soil types. Tasmania’s complex geography has helped produce wines of extensive diversity and character.

      Central to the vineyard areas of northern Tasmania is the city of Launceston, located on the banks of the Tamar River. The Tamar Valley lies to the northwest of the city, and to the northeast is Pipers Brook and Pipers River. These combined areas are commonly referred to as the Tamar Valley Wine Route. The area has a mix of players, from large companies such as BRL Hardy’s Bay of Fires and Yalumba’s Jansz Wine Company, to smaller wineries producing highly regarded premium wines. Southern Tasmania incorporates wine areas within easy reach of the state capital, Hobart. Top quality vineyards and wineries grace the Derwent, Coal River and Huon Valleys.

      As you might expect with Tasmania’s distinctly seasonal, cool climate, vineyards need to be carefully located for maximum exposure to the sun, and protection from the cold southerly winds. Tending to reside around rivers and bays, the grapes experience the tempering effects of large bodies of water. Very much like in the north, key grape varieties are Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir with small patches of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Pinot Noir is of particular high quality, providing complex and rich refined wines. The one condition that seems to be a concern, in some of the island’s coastal vineyards, is sea wind. Screens are often necessary to preserve the vineyards on the seaward slopes. But this is more than outweighed by the advantage that grape ripening is slow and sure - any vintner will tell you this is highly desirable for intensity of flavour.

      When it comes to wine production, Tasmania may be a late bloomer, but the future of their wine industry looks assured. It will probably never be known for big brawny red wines, but plenty of other Australian wine regions have that covered. No, the future vintages of the lighter wines, which the island does best, are certain to be a pleasure in store for well-informed wine enthusiasts. And Tasmania has embraced food and wine tourism in a major way, sponsored by a farming culture, hugely proud of its produce, both on land and at sea. Many wineries provide accommodation and sponsor cultural events, as well as establishing fine restaurants. Throw in travel times compressed from hours to minutes, stunning lake and mountainside scenery (not to mention devils), and Tasmania truly is one of Australia’s more unique destinations. Both a tourist’s and wine enthusiast’s paradise.

Peter James


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