​Tolpuddle Pinot Noir 2013 Tasmania

19 May This wine has just been awarded Best Australian Red Wine at the International Wine Challenge. 

From £23.49*, AU$64.95 

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This wine, only the second vintage since this famous vineyard was acquired by cousins Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith of Adelaide Hills, far far away in South Australia, is thrilling. I loved the 2012 vintage (and so did Richard), but the 2013 seems if anything even more complex.

The first thing to explain is the striking name of the vineyard, planted in 1988 by Gary Crittenden and Tony Jordan on 20 ha carved out of the local landowner Bill Casimaty’s holdings once water became available from the Craigbourne dam upstream in the Coal River Valley in southern Tasmania. The English Tolpuddle Martyrs were six union leaders forcefully transported to Tasmania, or Van Diemens Land as it was then known, in 1834 for establishing a union for poorly paid farmworkers based around the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset. Their leader George Loveless was an indentured worker on a property which included what is now the Tolpuddle vineyard (I can already imagine a special bottling called Loveless…)

Cousins Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw say they visited Tasmania with no intention of buying a vineyard, but they must be thrilled that they did, to judge from the quality of their early releases. This north-facing gentle slope of silica over sandstone just north of Hobart previously supplied grapes for various widely acclaimed wines including Eileen Hardy bottlings, top of the Hardys range, and won the first-ever Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year award in 2006. By now the vines, divided equally between Chardonnay and Pinot, are nicely mature and benefit considerably from the unusually dry, if cool, climate of south-east Tassie (which comes as a shock to foreign visitors like me who expect all of Tasmania, so close to Antarctica, to be rain-washed green – see Tasmania – land of opportunity).

The 2013 growing season was a little warmer than the previous one, resulting in small bunches of small berries. The grapes were shipped in temperature-controlled containers to the Shaw + Smith winery in the Adelaide Hills for which the cousins are best known, resulting in effectively a 36-hour cold maceration. Winemaker Martin Shaw is a fan of whole-bunch fermentation and is gradually increasing this component, which comprised a good quarter of the 2013. The resulting wine was aged for 10 months in French barriques, about a quarter of which were new, and then for a further seven months in bottle before release. The alcohol level is a mild 12.5% but the balance is superb. Red fruits and spices are there in delicate interplay and subtlety is the watchword. It's already a charmer and I'd choose to drink it over the next two or three years, I think, as there is no track record of longevity (yet?). It is, needless to say, screwcapped.

I came across the wine at a get-together for Masters of Wine earlier this week in the cellars of Berry Bros, which resounded with the unusually high decibel level generated by the combination of MWs and good wine. We were asked to bring a bottle and I still don’t know who brought the Tolpuddle but I was so enthused by it that I was sharing it with anyone I could find, including burgundy specialist Jasper Morris of Berrys, who was also very impressed.

Since Michael Hill Smith is in London for the Decanter World Wine Awards, I was able to quiz him about this wine. He reports that they have already done quite a bit of work on the vineyard, improving the soil and fine-tuning the vines for the production of top-quality wine rather than grapes, although conceded that he was lucky to have acquired a vineyard that had been ‘planted by grown ups'.

Part of Shaw + Smith’s aim is to put Tolpuddle on the world map rather than see its produce disappear into blending vats and he assures me that this wine should also be available in the US, Hong Kong and Singapore, although wine-searcher.com does not (yet?) list the wine in these markets. You can also buy it direct (at AU$75 a bottle) from Tolpuddle’s website, whence this picture of vines netted against greedy Tasmanian birds comes. About 1,200 12-bottle cases are available in total but production levels are likely to increase a little if and when all grape-supply contracts expire.

*I should warn you that the sterling price cited above by Invinity of Worcester looks much lower than the recommended retail price, and the price quoted by most UK retailers is considerably higher (and UK importers Liberty say that Invinity may have made a mistake in their pricing). This is not a cheap wine. It costs about the same as many a premier cru burgundy. But it has the advantage of being already delicious to drink – unlike most 2013 burgundies. Other UK stockists include The Old Bridge of Huntingdon, Oz Wines, Philglas & Swiggot and the Sommelier Wine Co in Guernsey. There is also considerable price variation in the prices quoted by Australian retailers. Thanks to good old wine-searcher.com, we can at least shop around. (Incidentally, I heard this week that wine-searcher.com has decided to contract its excellent series of general articles and to concentrate on its core business of providing price comparisons. A shame.) 

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