If you use Google to help you manage your site, you can get some great metrics in terms of visitors, what they’re reading and where they’re from. Of course in my case, I get to see that I visit the site more than the rest of the world combined, and that’s fine. I zoomed into Australia, and as expected the few people who do visit are from South Australia, with one or two from the other states. What I find surprising though is that since I’ve been keeping track, not a single visitor to this site has been from Tasmania. I tend to think of Tasmania as a pretty cool sounding place, and look forward to visiting later this year, so to pave the way for a pleasant visit, I’m taking a look at one of their wines. Tonight it’s the Spring Vale Wines Gewürztraminer 2009.
So for those of you outside of Australia, Tasmania is in fact a real place, a state and an island, 240km south of Victoria in the southeast of Australia, known locally as Tassie. It is home to Tasmanian devils, which likewise are real. In terms of things that have to do with wine, it has a reputation as being a green and unspoiled place, which deserves some more detail.
First off, as both an island and to the south of the rest of Australia, the climate is not the same as Victoria to the north, or as anywhere else in the country. Part of it sees a great deal of rain, though it would be oversimplification to say that it’s a wet place. Likewise, parts of it get as cold as, if not colder, than the cooler parts of mainland Australia, but other parts are fairly warm. Second, if you can only be asked to remember two things about the climate of Tasmania, cold and wet will do. There is much more than that, but if two things are it, those are you two. Broad strokes for the soil is that the north is known for fertile red soils in Pipers River to gravelly basalt with clay and ironstone underneath in Tamar Valley. The south is more varied, with sandstone and schist around the Derwent Valley, and anything from sand to black peat in the Coal River.
This wine is from the eastern part of Tasmania, very close to the coast, about in the middle as far as north/south goes, and near Great Oyster Bay. The climate there in particular is the driest in the state, with under two feet of rain annually, so irrigation is required. It does get quite cold, and there is the potential for frost damage. The soil is a clay loam, with a subsoil that ranges from loam with rock to more clay.
In terms of wines of Tasmania, it’s most closely associated with the production of sparkling wine within Australia. Pinot Noir has been found to grown well throughout the island, with Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc also being widely planted. While the first recorded vintage in Tasmania was 1826, the history of the wine industry on the island is very much stop and go. The current incarnation is relatively young, with most vineyards not as yet at their full potential.
This is the first Gewürztraminer I’ve tasted for this blog, but certainly not the first I’ve tried. It fills an interesting spot in the array of varieties, in that I think of it as both perfumed and textural. Despite the Germanic umlaut/diaeresis over the ‘u’, I don’t really think of it as a German varietal – more Alsatian, so German-sounding but not exclusively German. And while it’s linked first and foremost to Alsace, as the name suggests it is related to the grape Traminer, which has historically been found in various forms throughout Europe. Gewürz in German can be translated as “spice” which I think it best used to differentiate it from standard Traminer as opposed to describing it as a “spicy” wine.
It’s a pink-skinned grape, used almost exclusively to make full-bodied, white wine. Wines produced are fiercely aromatic, and to many instantly recognizable with a single sniff. It has naturally high sugar levels, and common scent descriptors include lychees, roses, and blossom. Wines can naturally have a somewhat golden colour, high alcohol levels and at times low acidity, which can make them good counterparts in blends with Rieslings which can has low alcohol and high acidity.
In addition to Alsace, it is found in cooler areas of Europe, particularly to the east, and especially in mountain areas such as Alto Adige. It has not as yet achieved particularly distinction in Eastern Europe. It is planted within the New World, with vignerons in the USA, New Zealand, and obviously Australia having a go. However, many of the areas in which it is planted lack the cool to cold climate which produces the best Gewürztraminer.
Spring Vale of Freycinet Coast in Tasmania was established in 1986 by Rodney and Lyn Lyne with plantings of Pinot Noir, and expanded into Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris through the 1990s, with a splash of Pinot Meunier added slightly later. The business is largely family run, with two generations participating at the moment, as well as some outside expertise. They produce a sparkling wine, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and most of the aforementioned grapes as varietals, including a range of different Pinot Noir bottlings.
As to this wine in particular, in the glass this wine is pale lemon green. It has lovely green apple notes with a hint of pear, as well as a little lemon and white pepper and a smidge of pineapple. The palate is mostly dry, possibly just off-dry with mild acidity that comes through as more spice than zest. There are notes of sweet apple, pear, pepper (not sure if white or black), some lemon, and spicy honey if there is such a thing. The body is heavier than average, but short of full. The alcohol is noticeable, more as the wine warmed slightly in my glass, but not unpleasant, and it has decent length.
I’ve been turning this paragraph over in my head all day, but it wasn’t until I reread notes in the OCW on Gewürztraminer that it came together. First off, I like this wine. The complexity of scents on the nose and flavours on the palate are great. The body and alcohol have a nice weight, and I enjoyed drinking this wine. The thing is, I think I would have enjoyed it a great deal more if I hadn’t known what it was. I feel like a real wine wank for saying this (and that’s coming from someone who writes a wine blog that no one reads), but I think it lacks varietal typicity.
I have to justify it, and here’s why I think that. Gewürztraminer is one of the most readily identifiable wines on the nose in the world. The lychee character, while sometimes found in Pinot Gris/Grigio, is usually a dead giveaway in blind tasting, and I really didn’t pick it up on this wine. And while it had a pleasant nose, I can’t say that it was aromatic, and to me, that is at the core of any Gewürztraminer. This wine could be a Pinot Gris, or a particularly feisty Chenin Blanc, but it doesn’t strike me so much as a Gewürztraminer.
When I was a student, we had a Master of Wine come to lecture on and lead us through tastings of some Italian wines. There was one wine where he was able to identify that there was something lacking in the wine, then also able to reason out what would have caused that in the vineyard and further what steps were taken in response to that in the winery. It was as though he was able to look into the glass and see back through the whole winemaking process into the vineyard when the grapes were picked. If it had been anyone else, I would have said that he was full of it, but this man was an expert in the field of many decades, and I am still in awe of his insight.
I, on the other hand, can not look into the soul of this wine, so I am forced to speculate. It’s a 2009 and the current release is 2011, so maybe I’m drinking it too late. In terms of challenges with this grape in the New World, Jancis says that “in some of Australia’s irrigated vineyards, [..] they have developed little Gewürztraminer character” so it could be that. Or it could be that I wouldn’t know a good Gewürztraminer in the glass if it bit me on the nose. In any case, I hope to try a more recent vintage, and maybe revisit another Australian Gewürztraminer that I remember as having more typicity. And I hope I don’t get turned back at the airport when I land in Hobart.