Moment of madness eclipsed by years of ambrosia
TASMANIA’S east coast wineries may be few in number, and their production modest even by Tasmanian standards, but there is no doubting their quality.
In chronological order of arrival, they are Craigie Knowe (1979, by John Austwick), Freycinet Vineyard (1980, by Geoff Bull), Coombend (1985, by John Fenn-Smith), Spring Vale Vineyards (1986, by Rodney and Lyn Lyne), Apsley Gorge Vineyard and Kelvedon Estate (both 1988, by Brian Franklin and Julian Cotton respectively), Darlington Vineyard (1993, by Paul and Louise Stranan) and, finally, Diamond Island (2002, by Derek Freeman).
But before coming to the vinous pleasures of the east coast, I have to confess to a moment of madness when I was beguiled by Pure Tasmania’s invitation to take in ‘‘ the Wineglass to Wine Glass experience. From Freycinet Lodge, it’s an easy guided walk up to the Wineglass Bay lookout, where the views take in the Freycinet Peninsula and beyond. Then descend to the beach . . . where your guide will . . . immerse you in the rich Aboriginal history and early exploration of the area as you make your way across the peninsula to Hazards Beach. At the southern end of the beach, enjoy the local produce and wines, including some of the finest and freshest seafood you’ll ever taste. A private water taxi will pick you up from the beach for the 30-minute coastal journey back to Freycinet Lodge.’’
Madness, because my daily exercise for the past few years has been descending the eight stairs from my house to my office, ascending for lunch and dinner.
This ‘‘ easy guided walk’’ in Tasmania was up a sheer mountain (bad), then an equally sheer descent (destroying my left knee), then a 4km hobble along the beach. Worse still, it prevented my planned trout fishing at Cradle Mountain two days later.
Happily, though, we had an in-depth tasting of all the latest wines from the east coast producers the day before, dominated by the gorgeous pinot noirs from 2006. Better still, I have to admit, was what had been billed as a 11/ hour wood-fired pizza lunch at Freycinet Vineyard earlier in the day.
Most regular visitors to Tasmania, or those who take a particular interest in its wines, rate Freycinet as one of the very best wineries on the island. It has a unique amphitheatre-cum-valley site, and long before Bull handed over the reins to daughter Lindy and partner Claudio Radenti, the special quality of the wines from the steep northeastfacing slope was clear for all to see.
So great is the charm of the gangling, quietly spoken Radenti and the likewise quiet but equally passionate Lindy, I have a suspicion they could make weedkiller wines and no one would care.
As it is, Radenti sparkling and Freycinet Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all glorious wines, and (as I knew from previous vertical tastings) age superbly. Previous tastings, however, paled into insignificance as the ’ 93, ’ 94, ’ 96, ’ 97 and ’ 98 Radenti were opened (the ’ 99 was to come in the evening tasting of latest east coast vintages); then riesling of every year from ’ 98 to ’ 06 inclusive; half a dozen chardonnays; and finally ’ 87, ’ 88, ’ 90, ’ 91 and then every vintage from ’ 94 to ’ 05 pinot noirs were on the table. It was their last bottle of the ’ 87 (fully mature, of course, but not drying out) and the bottle before that had been opened many years earlier.
It seems pointless to pontificate on each vintage, but the ’ 91, ’ 95, ’ 99, ’ 01 and ’ 05 were standouts, with an equal number that, if opened separately and served with, say, rare squab and shiitake mushrooms, would be ambrosia.
Space prevents comment on the older rieslings or the chardonnays. Their spine of Tasmanian acidity guarantees them near immortality, particularly the rieslings. The 2007 riesling ($23) will not break the pattern: light, fresh, clear-cut apple blossom and lime aromas lead into a vibrant palate, similar flavours running through to the long, cleansing finish. Ten years will not tire it, but it would be no sin to drink a bottle tonight.
The 2005 pinot noir ($50) has changed and blossomed in the bottle over the past 12 months in a way unique to this variety. It retains the predominantly redfruit characters of its youth, but its silky, supple palate has filled out, with an expansive peacock’s tail finish.