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Saturday 18 October 2014

For how long can you cellar Tasmanian pinot noir? An intriguing wine tasting

How well will cool-climate Tasmanian pinot noir cellar? As the wine industry is a relatively new one on Australia's island state and many of the vineyards are still young, there have been precious few opportunities for vertical tastings of wines dating back 20 years or more. 

That's why this week's chance to taste wines from tiny Milford Vineyard in the Coal River Valley was such a great opportunity - and the verdict was very positive. 

Milford Vineyard comprises just 1.2 hectares but when it was planted 30 years ago it was the third-largest vineyard in the region.

The vines, all pinot noir, are on a 150-hectare grazing property that has been in the family of part-owner Charlie Lewis since 1830. Lewis and his wife Robyn, of fame, run the tiny business in partnership with several passionate friends. 

With a water frontage to the tidal estuary of the Coal River, the vineyard is on sand over a clay base with lime influence. 

Since the first vintage in 1992 (it took the partners eight years to get up and running), the wines have always been made at what is now Frogmore Creek, first by Andrew Hood and then by Alain Rousseau, briefly, Nick Glaetzer. 

Charlie Lewis and his partners, fans of aged wines, have always believed that Tasmanian pinots age better than those from cool-climate Victoria, so this tasting was both a 30th birthday celebration and an exercise in self-belief. 

Ironically there was a lot of debate before the vineyard was planted as to whether pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon would do best. "Fortunately, we chose the right one," Lewis said.  

The wines were tasted from youngest to oldest and included the 1996 that won gold at the Royal Hobart Wine Show. No pinot noir was made in 2012, when the fruit was used for a sparkling wine, or in 2002 and 2003 when the bird netting failed. 

"It is our belief that while Tasmanian pinot noir is delicious while young, much of it is drunk far too early," said Lewis. "Many pinots from New Zealand, Oregon and even Victoria can fall apart after a few years, so we are pleased with the longevity of our wines."

There were several stand outs in the tasting, but also a remarkable degree of consistency given the Tasmanian climate. The wines were generally medium-bodied with 2-3 year-old oak playing a supporting role and never intruding. Some had slight hints of mint and on the whole were more slick welterweight than mainland light-heavyweight. 

My favourites, in order of vintage:

2013: The current vintage and a wine with beautiful balance between red fruits and earthiness. Deliciously drinkable with an RRP of $33.

2011:  Lovely lightness of being and bright berry fruit characters allied to intensity on the palate. A beautifully composed wine. 

2007: Still very youthful with impressive complexity and weight. 

2005:  The first vintage under screw cap and and wine of lovely balance and sophistication. 

1998: The wine of the day for me. Still aromatic with ripe strawberry/raspberry notes from a fine vintage. 

1992: Definitely pinot and looking good 22 years down the track. Some sediment and surprising power.  

Some of the older wines had been frowned upon by the cork gods, but there was still plenty of evidence to suggest that well-made Tasmanian pinot using quality fruit can be enjoyed for 20 years or more. 

# The writer was a guest of Milford Vineyard 

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