Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010

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Heemskerk Abel's Tempest Chardonnay 2010

Heemskerk Abel's Tempest Chardonnay 2010

I am not feeling the love from Tasmania.  I’m sure it’s my fault – I spend most of my time in South Australia, and while I’ve been to almost all the other state capitals, I have not yet been to Hobart.  But despite having written about a wine from the Freycinet Coast, I’ve had only a half dozen visitors from Tasmania to date.  I guess that’s an improvement, as I had none prior to that post, and to be fair, I didn’t exactly rave about that wine.  Also, I wrote a pretty complimentary review of a Georgian wine and I’ve had exactly one person from Georgia take notice.  However, I’m hoping for a breakthrough because I did enjoy this Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010.

Heemskerk is, to my ears, an unusual sounding name, but that’s only because I can’t speak Dutch, in which it means something along the lines of “home church”.  It’s the name of a town in the Netherlands, and also the name of a Dutch explorer and admiral.  However, the name of the producer is based on those origins only indirectly, because it is more immediately named after a Dutch ship which was under the command of Abel Tasman on the voyage which took him around the southern coast of Australia in 1642.  His name graces Tasmania itself, the sea between Australia and New Zealand, and a wide variety of other features, geographical and man made, thoughout Australia and New Zealand.  (Tasman himself named the island Van Diemen’s Land after the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies but history shows it didn’t stick.)  The name of this Chardonnay refers to the storm that faced Tasman when he first attempted to land there.

Heemskerk, the wine producer, is a brand within the Treasury Wine Estates stable, which is worth a mention on its own.  I’m going to try very hard to get the order of this right, but the ups and downs of the Australian drinks industry are sometimes difficult to follow.  (I’m sure a lawyer will be in touch if I get anything particularly wrong.)  Once upon a time there was a brewing company known as Fosters, which I remember from before I could drink for importing their beer into the USA in cans that were of a similar size to motor oil cans, 25.4 ounces.  (That is how much fluid is in a typical bottle of wine, or more than twice what is a normal can of beer in the USA.)  In the mid 1990s Fosters began to develop a portfolio of wine companies, eventually acquiring a large Australian wine company, Southcorp.  Alas, it was not a happy union, and a year ago all the wine operations were split into their own company, Treasury Wine Estates.  It has a huge collection of brands (54 according to their website) across Australia, New Zealand, the Americas and a couple in Europe, with some of the more famous being Penfolds, Wolf Blass, and Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

So, I’ve done the boat and Treasury – it’s probably time to actually tell you about Heemskerk, and as it turns out, Abel’s Tempest.  According to their website, Heemskerk was founded by Graham Wiltshire who first planted vines in 1965 and then spent two decades making Chardonnay.  There’s a bit of a blank spot as to what happened between 1985 and the present day, though presumably being bought up by Fosters and expanding the range to include Riesling, Pinot Noir and a traditional Chardonnay / Pinot Noir sparkler feature in that bit of the story.  Flash forward to right now, and they have something of a rockstar winemaker and native Tasmanian Anna Pooley, who was The Wine Society’s 10th Annual Young Winemaker of the Year 2010.  In terms of branding, Heemskerk is making the most of the Tasmanian qualities of cool climate, purity of nature / fruit, and with that a winemaking style of minimal intervention.

I’m not sure if Abel’s Tempest deserves its own paragraph, in that it’s made by Anna Pooley and features the Heemskerk name on the label.  The Treasure Wine Estates treats it as its own brand, but to me it looks like a slightly less expensive version of Heemskerk, in that this Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay features less new oak, uses some large casks/barrels and doesn’t cite a specific region within Tasmania, whereas the Heemskerk Chardonnay uses just barriques, with a higher percentage of them being new, and sources all its fruit from the Coal River Valley.  Oh, and the Heemskerk Chardonnay costs a fair whack more.  Abel’s Tempest also produce a Traminer, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, and a Pinot Noir / Chardonnay sparkler under this label.

Also, as a completely arbitrary and subjective indicator of quality, there is a bottle of the Heemskerk sparkler in my fridge that was brought to a party at my house by a Master of Wine who helped tutor me through the Diploma.  If it’s a wine he’s happy to bring to a party, it’s a wine I’ll be happy to drink.

In the glass this wine had a pale lemon colour.  On the nose it was of slightly less than average intensity, but had a developing character with notes of honeycomb, blossom, and sandalwood.  On the palate it was of medium intensity, with more complexity and fruit than the nose – I got lemon and green apple, as well as some almond and white pepper.  It had medium plus acidity, alcohol, body and length, with an apple and pepper finish.  Most of all, it was unmistakably a Chardonnay.  Varietal typicity for the win.

I really liked this wine.  It has something of a full style, but I enjoy that.  While no one would confuse it with a steely Chablis, it was true to its cool climate origins.  I also like a bit more oak (provided it’s good oak) in my Chardonnays, so I’ll have to give their higher end version a try, because if it’s a significant step up from this I’m sure it will be a treat.

Funnily enough, I was having a difficult time finding a Heemskerk address but there’s one on the Abel’s Tempest site.  However, when I had a look, it’s at the Cascade Brewery, which is owned by Fosters, so I’m not sure if that’s up to date.  In any case, it’s another pin in Tasmania, so I hope I won’t get put back on the plane when I land there for a visit later this year.

Spring Vale Wines Gewürztraminer 2009

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Colour and type: ,
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Spring Vale Wines Gewürztraminer 2009

Spring Vale Wines Gewürztraminer 2009

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.