For some time Tasmania has been widely regarded as the home of Australia's finest sparkling wines - but it seems that Apple Isle winemakers are just getting started.
Now they're making a claim to be considered Australia's premier pinot noir region, too. And while the competition is red hot, they have a case.
At the recent annual Pinot Noir Challenge in Melbourne, which attracted just under 300 entries from 18 wine regions, a Tasmanian pinot was named the country's finest for the fourth year in succession.
This time it was Meadowbank, a boutique producer - they only do about 800 cases - from the Derwent Valley that claimed the prize for its 2022 vintage. Humble winemaker Peter Dredge was understandably thrilled.
"We would never presume to work harder than any other pinot producer, because we all work our backsides off," he said. "But anyone who knows pinot will tell you ... it can be a real bastard.
"Having said that, it has been such a pleasure to work with this beautiful vineyard for 13 years now."
Pinot, for all its ethereal charm, is a low-yielding, thin-skinned, temperamental grape. It can break a winemaker's heart.
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In Meadowbank's favour, they have a couple of other highly rated varieties to fall back on. Their chardonnay and riesling are exemplary, along with a fine sparkling and cool climate syrah.
It all seems a far cry from when Gerald Ellis started planting vines on his property in 1976 despite widespread scepticism.
"When Dad (Gerald) started Meadowbank almost 50 years ago, he was told you couldn't grow grapes in the cold wilderness of Tasmania," his daughter Mardi recalled. "For our pinot noir to be recognised in this fabulous way is a nod to his intuitive defiance, Pete's deft winemaking and our family's stewardship and respect for this magical place."
Competition chairman Lindsay McCall said entries were up about 50 on last year.
"Tasmania had easily the highest representation - about a quarter of all entries," he said.
"Broadly speaking, their wines tend to be a bit darker and a richer style than some of the other regions."
For this year's 2022 vintage winner, it came down to a photo finish - Meadowbank (Tasmania), Oakridge's Willowlake (Yarra Valley), the Montalto Pennon Hill pinot from Mornington Peninsula, with Giant Steps' Sexton Vineyard pinot (Yarra) all outstanding.
But once again, the gong went to Tassie.
For a small island it sure is big on quality.
- 2022 - 2021 Clarence House Block 1 Pinot Noir (Tas)
- 2021 - 2020 Ossa Pinot Noir (Tas)
- 2020 - No event due to COVID
- 2019 - 2018 Tertini Pinot Noir (Tas)
- 2018 - 2017 Handpicked Mornington Peninsula Collection Pinot Noir (MP)
- 2017 - 2016 Yes Said the Seal Pinot Noir (Geelong)
LIGHT AND GENEROUS
Montalto Pennon Hill
Pinot Noir 2022
Montalto, in the Mornington Peninsula, does a number of pinots and it's amazing that this is their entry level. It won the trophy for best pinot at this year's Sydney Royal Wine Show and also scored very highly at the Pinot Challenge, so it has 'form'. It's very light on its feet, with expressive red fruit - strawberries mostly, and a lick of spice. It has a velvety mouthfeel, but this is all about those red fruits which are so bright and generous. This one's a crowd pleaser all right.
Meadowbank Pinot Noir 2022
As you'd expect of the winner, a lovely wine. Meadowbank sits high in the Derwent Valley in Tasmania and there's most certainly a layered complexity at play here. It has an appealing floral nose - berries, musk and rose petal - which lead to some bright cherry flavours, interwoven with strawberries that play a supporting role. There's just a hint of darker fruit too in mid palate, plums mostly. There's an earthy depth to this wine, and that typically silky pinot noir texture.
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard
Pinot Noir, 2022
This is darker in colour, ruby red, and is a more brooding style of wine. There's cherries, strawberries and mushrooms in play here. It's quite powerful too, without ever losing that light-on-its-feet pinot quality. All beautifully behaved really. There's good length on the palate - it continues to open up with time in the glass - and some gentle spice and crushed herb notes that bring a savoury edge to the finish. Giant Steps does a range of superb Yarra Valley pinots, and this is right up there.