Down under, damp and wet is the new sunshine. Hugo Rose investigates
Australians themselves acknowledge that much of the country is still undiscovered, and that includes its wines. In an effort to raise prices, the industry is currently engaged in a major PR campaign to educate drinkers to recognise the identity of individual regions above basic Brand Oz. One region that has always separated itself from the mainstream is Tasmania, and not just geographically. The island lies 150 miles south of the mainland on a latitude comparable with Tuscany and Oregon. Its climate has more in common with the latter: you know it's summer when the rain comes only every other day.
Temperatures are cool, too. On the mainland, cool was until recently perceived as wimpish. But given the recent drought and the potential threat from climate change, it's surprising how quickly makers have adapted to lower temperatures. The island is now seen as a seedbed for new wines and for new talent. The starting point is the champagne grape, Pinot Noir, which prefers its feet to be in cold, damp soil. Local still versions are starting to win medals and recently mainland producers have been spotted shipping it in bulk across the Bass Straight to be bottled under their own labels. No crime committed of course, it's all Australian. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are beginning to be noticed and the island is making a play for Burgundian or Alsatian grapes Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Cabernet Sauvignon is on the up, too.
Wines to look out for are Pipers Brook (and its junior label, Ninth Island) and Freycinet; and the sparkling wines for which the island is justly famed, Pipers Brook, Bay of Fires, Jansz and Clover Hill.
Tasmania styles itself as Australia's "Natural State", promoting all things clean and green. The industry is still small—the first winery to gain recognition, Pipers Brook, was established in the early 1970s. Discrete districts are forming, but labelling is as straightforward as it could be. Wherever it is grown on the island, a wine will bear the regional inscription "Tasmania".