April 28, 2009

Southern Exposure


We have at last landed safely on Tasmanian soil. Touched down upon it, as it were, at the Launceston Airport.

We waste little time in heading straight for the Tamar Valley. The Tamar River connects Launceston to the Bass Strait, across which lies the mainland of Australia. The valley is home to Tasmania's original (modern) vineyards, planted in the mid-1950s by a lost Frenchman.

It is, as Chinskirin reminds us, "a cracker of a day." At the outset of the antipodean fall, the winding valley is beautiful, a base of rich green forests against which a patchwork of autumnal hues have been laid. The vineyard crops are near to their harvest, and nets have been scattered across the vines to discourage the birds.

Our quest for sparkling wine will begin just east of the Valley, at the Bay of Fires winery. At Bay of Fires -- or rather not at Bay of Fires, as they ship the pressed juice from Tasmanian grapes to South Australia for the wine-making -- they produce Tasmania's most celebrated sparkler: Arras Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. We tasted the 2002 vintage.

The Arras wine is methodically produced in true champenois style, and spends at least three years on lees. We were told this was disgorged in the summer of 2008 (which I later realized could have meant four months ago in December, or more than a year ago in January; damn the antipodes!).

The nose is citrus oil, pastry dough and a cardamom spice note that I would later come to recognize as the vineyard signature. The lemon/apple fruit is elegant in a tall-ships-at-sea, briny sort of way. The finish is very nearly Cramant chalk.

The Arras is good, but not cheap, and not the traffic-stopping, cold climate sparkler that we sought. If the shorthand is meaningful to anyone, it was more like Veuve Cliquot than Agrapart Terroirs in taste and sensibility.

Chinskirin had a faint look of worry when I told him we would need to continue further up river to sight our goal.

No comments: