Tasmania – Australia’s best sparkling wines
Tasmania for Winespicegirl – By The Wine Wench
When thinking about Australia, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Tasmania, the little triangle-shaped island right at the bottom. Seriously – it’s been left off maps, logos and plenty of other Aussie merchandise many times (facepalm).
But having just visited my country’s southernmost state, I believe it’s time for Tassie to be put back on the map.
After all, some of Australia’s (and the world’s!) best sparkling wine comes from Tasmania. Surely that’s something to celebrate?
I recently went on a solo 14-day wine roadtrip around the state, drinking and eating all the delicious things that Tasmania has to offer. Tassie has long been known for its outstanding local produce, such as dairy, seafood and beef. But it’s their wines that are making waves in Australia and overseas, and that’s what I was keen on exploring.
I visited over 20 wineries and 16 wine bars!
Tasmania wine region
Tasmania specialises in outstanding cool climate wines, and as mentioned, sparkling wine. These are made from the golden duo of champagne grapes – pinot noir & chardonnay (there is some pinot meunier, but it isn’t widely planted).
Tasmania’s first vines were planted in 1823, and their first sparkling wine was produced in 1826. But after this initial success, winemaking seemed to flounder, and nothing much more was produced. It wasn’t until some enterprising immigrants from Europe visited the island in 1950 and recognised its potential for grape-growing that Tassie’s wine scene started up again.
Today, it’s a thriving industry with four distinct growing areas and so much to taste and discover. And while it only produces 1% of Australia’s total wine, what it does produce packs a punch!
Pinot Noir is the most widely planted grape variety, and apart from making single variety wine, it is used in red blends (usually with other pinot grapes from around the state), sparkling wine and rosé. Second to pinot noir is chardonnay, then sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and riesling.
And the running joke is that Tasmanian wine is so good that they drink it all themselves! They only export 5% of their wine, with a select amount available on mainland Australia… but mostly, if you wanna try some Tassie wine, you’re gonna have to travel there.
Of that 5%, there are some names you might be familiar with: Jansz, Clover Hill, Josef Chromy and House of Arras. Notably, these estates all produce incredible sparkling wines.
House of Arras
There’s one guy in particular that’s helping put Tasmania on the world wine map. His name? Ed Carr, winemaker for House of Arras. For 2 years running (2019 & 2020) his Arras Brut Elite 1501 has been awarded Best Australian Sparkling at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.
Ed is Australia’s most celebrated winemaker, and at the 2018 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships he received the Lifetime Achievement Award – making him the only non-champenois (not from Champagne) winemaker to ever receive this award!
I was lucky enough to visit the House of Arras cellar door when I was on my roadtrip, and I got to do a behind-the-scenes tasting and tour. Such a cool experience, and great to learn more about how these world-class bubbles are made.
But it’s not all glitz and glamour, and part of my journey was to discover some of the small, family-owned producers and winemakers too, not just the big houses with big acclaim. I love championing the little guys and hearing their stories, and there are some really exciting things being done in the winery by these lesser-known estates.
Swinging Gate Vineyard
One of my favourite spots was Swinging Gate Vineyard (which is located in the Tamar Valley, north of Launceston and the same area as House of Arras). These guys are pushing boundaries and really having fun with their winemaking. The cellar door experience is memorable – chickens running around, a gorgeous wine dog called Nellie to pat, shabby-chic furniture to lounge in and passionate people to tell you all about the wine they’re producing. There are lots of interesting drops, including some pet nats. If you’re really lucky, winemaker Doug and his team might give you a taste of some wine straight from the barrel! I took home a bottle of delicious pinot noir from here and had a bottle of their sensational Skinny Gris with a yummy platter. There’s also a day spa on site and three luxury domes you can stay in, complete with outdoor bath for the ultimate slice of heaven. Put this on your Tassie bucketlist for sure.
I booked in a lot of my tastings ahead of time, because COVID restrictions mean that wineries are running at limited capacity. But I also really enjoyed turning off the road when I saw a ‘Cellar Door Open’ sign and making amazing, unexpected wine discoveries. One of those was a gem on the east coast called Boomer Creek (cue the ‘OK boomer’ jokes!). This cellar door couldn’t be further from the characteristics of a stuffy baby boomer. Being on top of a hill means the views are fabulous, and after you’ve done your tasting you can head out to the deck and pull up a chair or nab a beanbag and chill on the grass. Bliss! I bought a bottle of the pinot noir rosé from here.
Tasmania white wines
In what will come as a surprise to literally no one, I bought a lot of wine on my trip. But what did surprise me was that it was mostly white wines! I came away with 3 reds and 2 rosés, and the rest were sparklings and whites. I was incredibly impressed with the quality of pinot gris & grigio, and I found some beautiful rieslings as well. I’m not a chardonnay drinker, so a lot of the good stuff was lost on me (even though I can appreciate why people love Tassie chardy).
Honestly, the whole time I was driving around Tassie I knew I didn’t want to leave. I packed a lot into my 14 days, but I still felt like I didn’t see, do or taste enough! I could spend a week in Hobart alone, and there are so many wineries that I didn’t get a chance to visit.
As it was everywhere, 2020 was a difficult year for the Tassie wine industry, and I’m glad to have visited and played my part in helping it move forward. While I was there, I did a bunch of stories on my Instagram (sorry not sorry for the holiday spam!) and so many people messaged me saying I’ve inspired them to visit. That’s my job done, in my opinion! When the world opens up again, I highly encourage you to plan a trip to the beautiful Australian island of Tasmania.
I’ll be posting a full breakdown of my trip on my blog soon, with details on everywhere I sipped. Keep an eye out. In the meantime, head to my Instagram to see everything I did on my Highlights. Cheers!
The Wine Wench
House of Arras
Swinging Gate Vineyard