A lot has changed since my first visit to Tassie in the mid 1980s. I visited wineries like Moorilla and La Provence (before it had to change its name to Providence), Pipers Brook, Freycinet, Elsewhere Vineyard, Stoney Vineyard (now Domaine A), Marion’s Vineyard, Panorama Vineyard and Meadowbank. There weren’t many more wineries then. Tasmania’s total crop was 154 tonnes, the size of a small mainland winery. There are now some 230 vineyards, and approximately 95 cellar doors.

Tasmania has a cool climate, but it is also very maritime. This brings smaller day/night and summer/winter differences in temperature, but also variable daily weather, when wind and sudden cold spells from the west play havoc with the vines’ flowering. The crops around the state consequently vary greatly from year to year, driven more by spring weather than by drought. Contrary to mainlanders’ beliefs, the east and south in Tassie are in a rain shadow and almost always dry in summers.

Here’s a potted summary of the vintages that appear in the tasting, thanks to Wine Tasmania. 2018 saw a cold start in spring, but good weather during flowering resulted in a record yield of 16,280 tonnes, over 100 times that in 1986. Summer was warm, but with erratic, yet badly needed rain in the east and north and eventually there was an early, fast vintage. The total of white varieties marginally overtook reds. There were many high quality wines.

2017 overall saw a cool season with a dry summer. Flowering conditions were erratic and some yields suffered. Picking was generally late, but in ideal conditions. Many pinots had deep colours, clearly very ripe flavours, occasionally fruit cake and even dead fruit characters not often seen in Tasmanian wines. 2016 produced a record crop with overall high yields across different varieties. It was a warm season. Spring and summer were dry until heavy rain hit in January, too late and too early to cause much damage. Ripe flavours arrived in the grapes with lower sugar levels than usual and with good acidity.

There was good rainfall in spring and summer leading to the 2015 vintage. Poor flowering in the south reduced yields, while the north and east fared much better. Pinots are very good in quality, often quite elegantly balanced. In the spring prior to the 2014 vintage wet weather damaged the flowering and badly reduced yields. Summer weather was good, resulting in high quality wines but with short supply. Some pinot noirs showed the slight bitterness of ‘hen and chicken’ – bunches with tiny, unfertilised berries, also known as millerandage.

This is the first tasting of exclusively Tasmanian pinot noir since 2011, so you could say, in view of how much has happened since, that it is a little overdue. Here goes! Our tasters were educator and writer Peter Bourne, writer and presenter Mike Bennie, fine wine consultant Andrew Caillard MW, writer/author Huon Hooke and me, winemaking consultant Nick Bulleid MW. Andrea Pritzker MW, educator at Wine inTuition in Sydney joined us on this occasion. We tasted the wines in descending vintage order, that is, younger to older, with wines grouped where possible by grape-growing area.

I considered several ways to cut our notes for publication – by vintage or by area – but I decided to keep it simple and navigable, so they are alphabetical. I’ll repeat something I regularly say about assessing pinot noir, that is to ignore depth of colour and even the hue. Pale, browning colours are no indication of lack of flavour or tiring, as they are also not with nebbiolo, nero mascalese and sometimes grenache. It was great to see pinots with bottle age available, with several 2015s, 2014s and older. A feature of Tassie pinot is that it ages remarkably well. This was confirmed by the results with most of the older wines still showing fresh berry flavours at four, five years and more.

The panel was impressed with the wines. This was a fabulous array of pinot noirs, and there could have been more, but for some out-of-stocks. Add to these the excellent sparkling wines, rieslings, chardonnays and pinot gris and you can see how far Tasmania has come in those 30-odd years since my first visit. Some of the wines are not yet available so prices listed here may be different to the price on release.

Moorilla's Muse topped the Tassie pinot tasting with 96 points

Tasting Notes

2017 Ampel (A$29)  appealed to me greatly thanks to its supple, plump palate and fine tannins. There’s a good mix of morello cherry and savoury elements, too. Bennie had more to say. “Red cherry, pomegranate scents, some riper berry notes but mostly about a leaner fruit profile with some floral and spice elements,” he said. “Similar to taste. Almost tactile pepperiness with amaro woven in and a bittersweet finish. Good length, too. Charming, fine-boned wine.”

2016 Bangor Abel Tasman (A$46)  has red fruit aromas with complex forest floor and cedar developing with age. The flavours are savoury, yet with a good middle and balanced tannins. Hooke loved it. “Medium-full ruby to brick-red colour. The bouquet is spicy and loaded with Italian bitter herb aromas,” he wrote. “It’s intense and bright, taut and firm with fine tannins and good length. These are balanced by a lush sweet-fruit middle palate. A fine, tight, elegant and charming pinot.”

2017 Bay of Fires (A$45)  ticked all the boxes for me. The nose bursts with sweet fruits – cherry and blueberry. It’s highly aromatic, and Bourne agreed. “Generous aromas of red cherry, wild strawberry and cola with a Campari lift,” he began. We were in sync on the palate, too. “It's tightly wound with plenty of stuffing tamed by a fine tannin backbone. Opens out in the glass.” I added, “Great depth of flavour and firm, fine tannins. Beautiful length, too, the flavour lasting well beyond the grip. Needs time!”

2015 Bream Creek Reserve (A$59) also appealed to Bourne. “Mature bouquet of black cherry, Damson plum, blackberry, liquorice and autumnal leaves,” he wrote. “The palate is quite dense, the structural tannins in perfect balance with the intense red/black fruit flavours. A more powerful style with a happy, harmonious conclusion.” This is a substantial pinot with noticeable oak, perhaps lacking some grace, but plenty of rich fruit. It will age further. It’s brought to you by Fred Peacock, Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Viticulturist of the Year in 2018.

2015 Brook Eden Nero (A$42)  shows developed cola and spice over its ripe fruit and a firm, dry finish. “There are intense spicy complexities on the nose, including lots of whole-bunch Campari,” Hooke told us. “A trace of white pepper. Intense, medium-to-full bodied and bright, with excellent tension. Rich, sweet fruit middle that is under-developed at this stage. A very good wine with a future.”

2017 Chatto Huon Valley (A$55)  opened with a bit of reduction, which soon breathed off. This is quite a full-bodied pinot, with rich flavours to match and firm structure. “The aromas are smoky and oak is very evident,” Hooke said. “Then, black cherry the more it warmed in the glass. The smoky charcuterie aspects are very pronounced, especially at the low serving temperature. It has good depth and quite luscious fruit, which is deliciously sweet at the core.” I recommend giving this at least two years. It will take many more.

2017 Chatto Isle (A$85)  found Hooke again a top pointer, with me alongside. “The bouquet is bright and fresh,” he began, “and is becoming complex, layered, with smoky charcuterie, bitter herbs, freshly turned earth and some underlying sulfides. It smells like something from the Côte d’Or. The palate is rich and full, rounded and succulent, well endowed with soft, fleshy tannins. A very smart wine indeed.” Bennie thought “the stems and oak overdone”. I agreed reduction was a feature, but it fits. The aromatic nose suggests some whole bunches in there with the red plum. Excellent length, too. It also needs time.

There was a fabulous array of pinots and the panel was impressed

2016 Clarence House Estate Reserve (A$50)  was also one of my top wines. Bottle-age has built complexity, so that forest floor nuances are adding to the sweet, red cherry and cedary oak. I thought the palate fabulously plump, with fine tannins to finish. Bennie almost agreed with me. “Supple texture, a touch hollow in flavour but what’s there (and in the perfume) is cherry-imbued and generally very pleasing,” he wrote. “Soft fruits, some tangy lift and a dusting of pretty spice. Sits in the glass nicely, has the silken flow expected from pinot.”

2015 Clemens Hill (A$38)  saw Pritzker in strong support. “Fragrant red cherry, vanillin aromas unfold to reveal a plush, mouth-filling palate with great concentration of sweet fruit and supple tannins supported by bright acidity,” she noted. “Hints of dried herbs add complexity carrying through to the long flavourful finish.” I liked its morello cherry fragrance and the sweet/savoury combination on the palate, the latter from bottle-age. The structure’s plump before a taut finish. It’s ageing well and will go further.

2017 Coldstream Hills Tasmania (A$25)  intrigued me, showing dark and red fruits, savoury overtones from oak and even a fragrant touch of camphor. There’s good depth of flavour, a little warmth from alcohol and relatively firm tannins. This, too, found Pritzker enthusiastic. “Complex bouquet of black cherry, liquorice and rose petals,” she started, “unfolds to reveal a plush, dark-fruited palate with layers of black cherry, rose petals and hints of cured meat. Well-structured with great balance showing latent power and concentration – spicy black cherry notes lingering on the long finish.”

2017 Dalrymple Tasmanian (A$38) has a fresh nose of raspberry enlivened by fresh herbs. The flavours are rich and are followed by fine, leafy tannins with a touch of firmness. “Lifted aromas of red cherry, bramble, dried herbs. Supple and bright with excellent intensity of red cherry and fine tannins,” Pritzker wrote. “Fresh and vibrant with great vivacity and drive.” This area is noted for a tauter style of Tasmanian pinot but this example shows more rich fruit than many.

2016 Dawson James (A$72) appealed strongly to three tasters and Hooke spoke up. “The bouquet’s very fragrant – spicy and stemmy with generous whole-bunch nuances. Rich, sweetly ripe fruit which borders on the luscious. Lovely balance of sweet fruit and bunch characters. A big generous wine with a future.” The perfumed, raspberry intensity is striking and there’s a fleshy palate to follow. Just a hint of Campari-like bitterness, probably from stalks, cuts through the suppleness.

2016 Delamere Estate (A$50)  is showing very attractive development. Bourne loved this expression. “A really complex nose – maraschino cherry, Campari and a nebbiolo-like rose petal and tar,” he wrote. “The palate is both edgy and enticing with lots of red-edged fruits, seductive spices and a swathe of umami flavours. Not for all tastes but I like it.” I liked the way the fragrant red fruit melded with the oak and hints of forest floor. There’s plenty of fine, dry tannins to finish.

2017 Devil’s Corner Resolution (A$34)  split the panel. Bourne spoke for the supporters. “A juicy bouquet of dark cherry, boysenberry and plum with a hint of mocha. There’s plenty of power on the palate with good structural tannins – both fruit and oak. The finish is fine and long. Will grow in the bottle.” Others thought the wine too firm and dry. I also found mostly savoury characters like spices and cloves. Time may see it open up.

2010 Domaine A (A$90)  stood by itself thanks to its age but still stood strong. “Chocolate, vanilla and ripe plum aromas,” Hooke began, “the wine is medium bodied and quite intense with good savouriness and balance. There is still plenty of life in it. Full flavoured, rich and backed by a mass of savoury tannins. Very good, but better with food. A big boss wine.” It’s in good condition for a nine-year-old pinot. Its youthful pinot fruit is behind it and it’s now a more complex wine with savoury, mature flavours. It’s drinking beautifully.

2018 Dr. Edge Tasmania (A$50) starts with an intense nose of sweet, red fruits. That fruit continues beautifully onto the palate, although it sits in a firm structure. The depth and length are good and the tannins fine, so it ticks the boxes for good development. “Fresh raspberry and red cherry aromas with a whiff of allspice,” Bourne noted. “Gentle, sappy palate with good depth of flavour and a pleasing balance of acid and tannin. Opened up nicely with some air.”

2017 Eddystone Point (A$30)  shows good depth of red and black cherry aromas with distinct nutmeg from new oak. “Redcurrant, strawberry, cedar, toasty aromas with some reductive notes,” wrote Caillard. “Soupy redcurrant and strawberry flavours, attractive volume and richness and fine lacy textures. Fine long fruit sweet finish.” I thought the tannins firmer, with oak again showing. The wine needs a year or two to settle down.

2016 Elsewhere Vineyard (A$48)  shows sweet, red cherry aromas with a little bottle-age giving more complex savoury overtones. There’s good flesh in the palate and plenty of fine tannins. Bennie was impressed. “Cherry pip and pomegranate scents and flavours,” he noted. “Nice light bitterness through the wine, a floral lift, too. Crisp tannins and vivacious amaro-like acidity. A bracing pinot noir style showing complete youthful exuberance.”

2017 Freycinet (A$65) shows very fragrant, sweet red cherry and subtle oak on the nose and the palate is sympathetic – supple, intense and with fine tannins. “Cranberry and pomegranate-accented perfume, uncannily in that spectrum of red fruits and so very vivacious and sprightly,” wrote Hooke. “Palate is similar, juicy, more peppery and herbal in a delightful way, but gently inward in concentration. Lean but pretty, long and sleek across the palate. Understated in a way, but the pleasure receptors are all hit here.” I’ve been long impressed by the finesse of this line and its ability to age. The 2017 will be no exception.

Bay of Fires scored 95 points but will be even better in the future

2017 Frogmore Creek (A$40)  is quite a structured wine, with firm, slightly dry tannins but has very good depth of fruit to balance. Sweet cherry on the nose and there’s plenty of rich flavour. Caillard approved. “Attractive red cherry, redcurrant aromas with some herb, ginger notes,” he began. “Fresh red cherry, redcurrant, red plum, supple textures, fresh long mineral acidity. Finishes chalky dry but long and fruit sweet.”

2017 Gala Estate Constable Amos (A$100)  also shows rich, even big, flavours, but opinions differed around the panel. There’s no doubting the generosity, but I found some overripe flavours and Hooke suggested the wine “lacks freshness”. Bennie, however, had no doubts. “Twiggy notes, scents of clove, red cherry, pomegranate, anise and general peppery spice,” he told us. “The palate shows good concentration and length, a fine sheath of tannins, succulence and freshness to acidity. Composed, balanced, flavoursome and generally displaying class, this is a pretty compelling drink.”

2013 Grey Sands (A$50)  pleased Caillard. “Fresh dark cherry, raspberry, aniseed, mocha, roasted chestnut aromas,” he wrote. “Sweet, plump wine with attractive red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, supple textures. Lovely mid-palate richness, attractive grilled nut, vanilla notes. Finishes chalky, silky and long. Really very good.” I agreed, liking its rich red fruit, which is still fresh, and the savoury complexity from cedary development. The freshness suggests it has time in it yet, but why wait?

2017 Holm Oak Hot Shot (A$130)  gained a lower rating than its stable-mate, but not from me. The two share suppleness, but for me this wine shows greater finesse, length and complexity, the last from a whole-bunch influence. “Intense red cherry, redcurrant with herb, aniseed and a hint of mocha-like complexity,” Caillard noted. “Well concentrated fruit-sweet wine with deep set red cherry, strawberry, redcurrant flavours, stalky sapid textures, some new oak notes and integrated acidity. Finishes bittersweet.” I liked its touch of cedary oak and the development that’s adding further to the complexity.

2017 Holm Oak Wizard (A$65)  combines red fruits, some oak and hints of development on its complex nose. It’s supple and juicy in the mouth with good depth of cranberry flavours and a cherry pip edge to the tannins. Bourne thought the bouquet showed “flamboyant rose petal, fresh cranberry, dark cherry with some smoky/cedar-wood spice”. He continued, “Good concentration, with abundant fruit matched by firm but fine tannins and an energetic acid lift.”

Holm Oak's The Wizard was well received, scoring 94 points

2017 Home Hill Estate (A$45)  appealed to Hooke. “The aromas are of raspberry and red cherry – fresh, bright and lively with lovely fruit-sweet succulence on the palate,” he wrote. “Abundant dark cherry flavours, quite delicious, although the tannins are a mite drying and firm at this point.” I agreed on the tannins. All the same, the flavours are ripe and generous, with even blackberry hints, and the deep (for pinot) purple colour is consistent with this. It will age well.

2018 Hughes & Hughes (A$34)  also shows very ripe, sweet fruit, heading into plum jam and there’s considerable depth, power even, in the flavours. For all its size, the wine’s well balanced and the tannins fine. “An attractive bouquet of red forest berries, cherries with sous-bois undertones,” began Pritzker. “Fresh, lively and bright-fruited showing red cherry and crunchy cranberry, hints of flowers. Supple and mouth-filling leading to a long flavourful finish.” It’s a mere pup and will grow further and gain more complexity.

2018 Meadowbank (A$55)  gained Bennie’s admiration. “A whiff of malt sitting over ripe and sour cherry scents with some light herbal detail,” he told us. “Nice perfume here with a general sense of vitality to this wine; sappiness, too, some gentle tannins and a cool, fine finish. Youthful, vibrant, sleek, long and delicious drinking here.” I thought the nose started quite closed, yet somehow suggested intensity would follow. The palate is tight and structured – after all, it’s barely a year old – but the fine tannins and balance tick the boxes. Give it some time!

2015 Milton Dunbabin Family Reserve (A$58)  stood out for me with its complex blend of sweet fruit and developed forest floor characters. The palate’s supple, with a plump middle and fine tannins. There’s weight and flesh from alcohol, but the balance remains excellent. Bourne agreed. “Bright bouquet of raspberry, cherry and red plum with a lift of exotic spices,” he wrote. “The palate is finely tuned with bright, red fruit flavours, energising acidity and gently persistent tannins. Drinking well now but has plenty of potential.”

2015 Moorilla Muse Moorilla Vineyard (A$65)  gained all-round support. “Very attractive developed red cherry, apricot, herb garden aromas and flavours,” said Caillard. “Lovely dense wine with mid-palate volume and richness, underlying roasted chestnut notes, fine lacy tannins and integrated acidity. Minerally and long. Very good.” I noted a very complex bouquet with rich, sweet fruit. The savoury bottle-developed characters and a light balsamic hint are followed by a plump palate and beautifully fine tannins. Simply gorgeous!

2017 Pooley Butcher’s Hill (A$65)  also appealed to Caillard. “Chinotto, red-cherry aromas with dried leaf nuances,” he started. “Well-concentrated wine with satsuma plum, cola, herb garden flavours and underlying savoury oak. Finishes chalky dry with attractive mineral length. Lovely elegantly styled wine.” This was another wine where I thought the grapes had been distinctly ripe, although the plummy fruit combines well with more savoury flavours. I found it quite firm, so give it a couple of years.

2017 Pooley Cooinda Vale (A$65)  gained strong support. Like its stable-mate, this is quite a firmly structured wine. The nose appears finer, however, with intense, sweet red fruits. Pritzker loved it. “Complex bouquet of dark cherry with hints of bramble, rose and forest floor,” she wrote. “Fresh and lively showing deep-set black cherry and bramble notes. Lovely mouth-filling volume carried along by fresh vibrant acidity to a long flavourful finish.” This will also develop well in bottle.

2014 Pressing Matters (A$56) yielded some disagreement around the panel, but I, for one, loved its sweet, glacé cherry nose and plump palate. Caillard shared my view. “Developed espresso, toasty red-cherry aromas and flavours with hints of amontillado,” he said. “Developed soft, squashy wine with plentiful red fruits, supple sweet tannins and fresh acidity. Not perfect, but an attractive wine to drink.” I thought the tannins dry, but fine and the overall balance is good.

2012 Spring Vale Cellar Release (A$95), remarkably, still shows sweet, perfumed strawberry, now with forest floor complexity from development. The palate’s stylish and fine, with plenty of flesh and mild tannins. Pritzker admired it, too. “An attractive red cherry bouquet,” she began. “Supple and smooth, displaying just ripe red cherry. Fresh and vibrant, in full bloom with silky, evolved tannins. Crunchy red cherry and a lingering persistent finish. Very moreish!”

It was great to see pinots with bottle age available, like the 2012 Spring Vale

2017 Tertini Tasmania (A$60)  started with subtle, sweet red fruit aromas and an intriguing savoury hint – Caillard agreed. “Red cherry, redcurrant, strawberry and herb aromas. Generous fruit, structured wine with firm chalky textures and marked acidity,” he told us. “Strong, succulent strawberry, red-cherry flavours and integrated vanilla oak give depth and length. Minerally dry finish.” The palate’s nicely poised, but the firm tannins suggest it deserves at least a couple of years’ rest.

2017 The Ridge North Lilydale (A$50) was a new wine for me and I was hugely impressed. The nose is fine but intense, with fragrant red cherry, and the palate follows suit, with an elegant yet plump structure, excellent fruit, fine tannins and beautiful length. Bennie also loved it. “Cranberry and pomegranate-accented perfume, uncannily in that spectrum of red fruits and so very vivacious and sprightly,” he wrote. “Palate is similar – juicy, more peppery and herbal in a delightful way. Lean but pretty, long and sleek across the palate.”

2017 Tolpuddle (A$83)  found all-round support. “A fresh, clean, cherry-ripe aroma,” Hooke began. “The palate is firm and elegant, intense and shows good concentration as well as structure. Focused, penetrating and long, it has more to unfold given time. Black Forest cake. A bit chunky at this time.” I had written Black Forest cake, too. The black cherry notes seem to be a mark of 2017. The depth of flavour is very impressive and mouth-filling, with a little charred oak adding further interest. Give it time.

Top Tasmanian Pinot Noirs

96 2015 Moorilla Muse Moorilla Vineyard, A$65
95 2017 Bay of Fires, A$45
95 2016 Clarence House Estate Reserve, A$50
95 2017 Tolpuddle, A$83

94 2017 Chatto Isle, A$85
94 2016 Elsewhere Vineyard, A$48
94 2017 Holm Oak The Wizard, A$65
94 2017 Pooley Cooinda Vale, A$65
93 2016 Bangor Abel Tasman, A$46
93 2016 Dawson James, A$72
93 2017 Eddystone Point, A$30
93 2017 The Ridge North Lilydale, A$50
92 2017 Ampel, A$29
92 2015 Bream Creek Reserve, A$59
92 2017 Chatto Huon Valley, A$55
92 2017 Coldstream Hills Tasmania, A$25
92 2017 Freycinet, A$65
92 2017 Frogmore Creek, A$40
92 2012 Spring Vale Cellar Release, A$95
91 2015 Clemens Hill, A$38
91 2017 Dalrymple Tasmanian, A$38
91 2018 Dr Edge Tasmania, A$50
91 2017 Holm Oak Hot Shot, A$130
91 2018 Meadowbank, A$55
91 2015 Milton Dunbabin Family Reserve, A$58
90 2015 Brook Eden Nero, A$42
90 2016 Delamere Estate, A$50
90 2013 Grey Sands, A$50
90 2018 Hughes & Hughes, A$34
90 2017 Pooley Butcher’s Hill, A$65
90 2017 Tertini Tasmania, A$60
89 2017 Devil’s Corner Resolution, A$34
89 2010 Domaine A, A$90
89 2017 Gala Estate Constable Amos, A$100
89 2017 Home Hill Estate, A$45
89 2014 Pressing Matters, A$56