Visit Tasmania for its wondrous outdoor adventures - linger for the head-turning produce and wine, writes Natasha Dragun.
It's 10:30am in the Coal River Valley, and I'm already on my second flight of wine. I'm not alone - there's much clinking of glasses in the Pooley Wines cellar door, a handsome sandstone building that once served as the estate's stables. The setting could have tumbled from the set of Downton Abbey, so grand and manicured are the grounds: pea-green hills; neat rows of riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes; tall stands of pine. But my morning perch is less than 30 kilometres north of Tasmania's capital, Hobart.
This third-generation vineyard wins international awards for its cool-climate varietals, as do many of the other properties that characterise this pocket of Tasmania. Together with the Huon and Derwent valleys it comprises the Southern Wine Trail, one of four official routes linking the state's top vintners. Of which there are many - about 160, with some 90 cellar doors inviting visitors to sip and savour.
For such a small parcel of land, Tasmania boasts a remarkable concentration of purveyors, made all the more understandable when you consider the terroir. Here the wilderness is wilder, the colours deeper and the flavours more pronounced than in the rest of the country. In splendid isolation, the teardrop island delivers prehistoric forests, jagged mountains and a dramatic coastline - some parts rugged, some powder-white smooth - all wrapped in a blanket of the cleanest air and water in the world. Small wonder things grow well here.
It's hard to say goodbye to my taste of Pooley's 2019 Butcher's Hill Oronsay Pinot Noir - the perfect accompaniment to a grazing platter of Tasmanian produce, including a decadent King Island brie. But it's time to move on to Frogmore Creek. This forward-thinking company hosts a wine room called The Lounge in Hobart, where you can learn about the Winemakers Reserve or Single Block Series while enjoying steamed Spring Bay mussels or heirloom tomatoes with house-made almond fetta. Drive just 20 minutes north and you're at the source, where the NV 42 Degrees South Sparkling is always on ice.
I pair my flute with freshly shucked oysters, harvested just a couple of kilometres away in Pipe Clay Lagoon. It's like Tasmania in a briny, bubbly mouthful.
Amid the region's stellar wineries are charming historic villages such as Cygnet, wedged between the wild waters of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Huon River. And Richmond, with its beautifully preserved Georgian buildings - not to mention its bakery, where I indulge in what has become (second to wine) the state's most coveted consumable: the scallop pie. Here, local scallops are curried before being encased in flaky pastry. Ordering one is a rite of passage.
From Hobart, it's less than an hour's drive north to the town of Orford, gateway to some of Tasmania's most spectacular countryside - and most interesting wines. On previous trips, I've parked in nearby Triabunna and hopped on a ferry to explore Maria Island, that postcard-perfect wildlife sanctuary with sweeping white-sand bays, dramatic cliffs and heritage-listed ruins. Today, I'm pausing to enjoy a sip or two at Darlington Vineyard, on a curve of Prosser Bay. The dry weather along this stretch of coast makes for stellar grape-growing conditions, on which Darlington vintners capitalise, for their suite of whites (riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay) and single red: that Tassie staple, pinot noir.
From here, the East Coast Wine Trail covers nine more wineries along 175 kilometres of coastline, taking in Coles Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula all the way up to the southern edge of the Bay of Fires. Around the halfway mark is Swansea, a place you could visit once - and never leave. This pretty seaside village overlooks Great Oyster Bay, with the jaw-dropping granite peaks of Freycinet National Park in the distance. It should come as no surprise that oysters are on the menu at virtually every restaurant in the area, along with other regional specialties: walnuts, olives and fruit from Kate's Berry Farm (try the berry wine).
A cluster of wineries make the most of the fertile soil here, including Spring Vale, Craigie Knowe, Gala Estate and Milton. A few kilometres north is Devil's Corner, which not only occupies one of the wildest crooks of Australia, weather-wise, but also toils over one of the hardest grapes to grow - and exceeds all expectations. The pinot noir produced here regularly garners accolades, and is best sampled on a tasting paddle: five drops of your choosing. The oysters and steamed mussels listed on the menu are delivered fresh daily, and wood-fired pizzas feature local cheeses and free-range meats.
The East Coast journey ends at the town of St Helens, from where a scenic two-hour drive west takes you to Launceston, on the banks of the Tamar River. Stretching 60 kilometres north along the river from here to Bass Strait is the Tamar Valley, home to some 20 stand-out wineries.
You can't visit this part of the world and not spend time at the Josef Chromy estate, arguably the most beautiful of its kind in Tasmania. You can pre-order a hamper of cheeses and cured meats to enjoy picnic-style by the lake, or follow my lead and head to the restaurant for smoked confit Huon ocean trout with celeriac cream and a 2018 riesling, followed by wood-grilled asparagus and truffled egg, perfectly paired with a crisp sauvignon blanc. Vintners here also make a sparkling wine using traditional methods (the same employed in the Champagne region of France), which I sip with 'dessert' cheese at the cellar door.
Nearby, Jansz also makes bubbles as the French do, although they describe their bottling process in local terms: "methode Tasmanoise". The brand only produces sparkling wines, and six are on offer in the Wine Room, from a blushing rose to a single-vintage chardonnay.
Continuing my appreciation tour of the region's stand-out sparklings, the next stop is Clover Hill. The cool maritime climate, ancient volcanic soils and sheltered amphitheatre of this 66-hectare property overlooking Bass Straight nurture the traditional grape varieties of champagne - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - which vintners then transform into seven varietals using traditional "methode Champenoise". The best way to sample these drops? Jump in a helicopter on the estate and journey to Flinders Island, where corks are popped while freshly caught crayfish grill over a fire.
Just to the west is the Cradle Coast, covering a third of the state including five national parks. The wine trail only encompasses a small part of this expanse, but boy is it packed with providore treasures. A 40-minute drive from Launceston is Deloraine, where the Cradle Coast Wine Trail veers north toward the Bass Strait coast near Devonport.
First stop is Ghost Rock Wines, whose 2019 Supernatural Pet Nat delivers funky notes of wild berries, tempered by the zing of house-cured olives. In northern style, Ghost Rock offers a couple of sparkling wines as well as the sophisticated Bonadale Pinot Noir, which boasts an unexpected boldness for this varietal. Take a glass into the restaurant and order a charcuterie board to share or for something heartier, the slow-roasted lamb shoulder.
Our next destination is La Villa Wines near Spreyton. This family-owned boutique estate that transports me straight to Tuscany.
I stop at the cellar door for a flute of the 2014 Vintage Blanc de Blancs, gorgeously creamy with hints of apples and nuts, and then find myself sipping the 2016 Vintage Sparkling Nebbiolo Rose, the 2018 Savagnin and the cleansing Sparkling Pink Lady Cider.
Last on my list is the Leven Valley Vineyard, situated on a north-facing hill overlooking Gunns Plains. In anticipation of this finale, while passing through Devonport earlier, we detoured via Providore Place - a shrine to everything local and delicious - to fill my picnic basket with cloth-matured aged Ashgrove cheese, 41 South hot-smoked salmon and a loaf of crusty bread. These now prove the perfect accompaniment to Leven's 2017 Pinot Noir. Salty, bitey, crunchy and smooth; wildly wonderful and scenically stunning; this is a taste of Tasmania you'll want to savour.
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