When asked to explain why the vineyard developments at his beloved Moorilla Estate had been given such enthusiastic support by Coonawarra winemaker David Wynn, the late Claudio Alcorso once replied, "We are all brothers in wine."
Expressed so eloquently in a conversation I shared with the industry patriarch many years ago, Alcorso's words came flooding back this week as I reflected on an extraordinary Tasmanian sparkling wine dinner held at Josef Chromy Wines on February 5.
The pioneering vigneron would have been thrilled to see the Tasmanian wine family now includes sisters as well as brothers. Equally important, Alcorso would have been delighted to hear our top winemakers extend such thoughtful and generous praise to one another as they recounted their forays into the rarefied world of fabulously fine fizz.
The significance of the occasion was not lost on host, Tyson Stelzer.
The Champagne and sparkling wine expert mused: "What other industry could you be a part of where you have its luminaries - from every major competing company - all gathered in the same room, celebrating their successes together?
Nowadays a regular visitor to Tasmania, Stelzer was back in the north of the state doing what he does best - spruiking the quality and diversity of our world class sparkling wines. Renowned for his thoroughness and attention to detail, the popular Queenslander put on a show that was worth every cent of the event's $325 ticket price.
Guests were met on arrival with glasses of vintage Blanc de Blancs sparkling wines made by Kreglinger and Barringwood Estate. A pair of appetisers soon followed, skilfully prepared by Josef Chromy head chef Nick Raitt. The smart wine and food matches disappeared down hatches in next to no time, underscoring the food-friendly nature of these Chardonnay wines from northern Tasmania.
Then came formal introductions before the 90-or-so wine aficionados were guided through four food courses and 15 carefully matched selections of super premium, Tasmanian sparkling wine.
Named International Wine and Spirit Communicator of the Year in 2015, Stelzer is the author and publisher of an incisive annual report on the state of the nation's sparkling wines. Producers honoured with published critiques in this highly anticipated e-book are classified into discrete groups, according to wine quality.
Stelzer's 'best of the best' sparkling wine producers are awarded coveted seven-star ratings. In his 2020 Australian Sparkling Wine Report, only two companies in the country achieved that rare distinction - Bellebonne and House of Arras. Both create their memorable wines using cool climate wine grapes exclusively from Tasmania.
Seven-star aspirants are awarded a ranking from six stars to one star, depending on Stelzer's assessments of quality across their various prestige, vintage and non-vintage sparkling wines.
"In 2020, Tasmania again shone as Australia's hero sparkling state in my tastings, topping the charts by every measure," Stelzer observed.
"When I lined up all of the worthy award contenders for my annual Australian Sparkling Wine Report early last year, I noticed an extraordinary thing I'd never seen before. Every one of Tasmania's top 15 sparkling wine estates had sent me the greatest wine I'd ever tasted from them. Tonight, we're popping the corks on all 15 wines."
Stelzer's handpicked list of favourites read like a who's who of the Tasmanian wine industry. Featured alongside the great and the good from our most recognisable sparkling wine brands - Clover Hill, House of Arras and Jansz Tasmania - was a significant number of dedicated small scale producers. They included Barringwood Estate, Bellebonne, Delamere Vineyards and Ghost Rock.
For a complete list, log on to www.tysonstelzer.com and search for 'tasmanian-sparkling-dinner-2021.'
On a night when there were almost as many stars on the table as there were in the night sky, Stelzer drew particular attention to the superb freshness and vibrancy of the 12- and 13-year-old wines from House of Arras, Delamere and Josef Chromy Wines.
"I have had the privilege of pouring all these wines in Hong Kong and New York," Stelzer continued.
"I was to have poured them in London and all around Australia. But in a year when we can't yet travel, this is an opportunity to start spreading the word about what I see is a category of wines that is under-recognised locally."
"Tasmania is in a unique place at the moment," he added.
"Its wines have never looked finer; interest in them has never been stronger. We're going to see increasing demand for Tasmanian sparkling in years to come. It's wines like those we're sharing tonight that will be leading the way."
Pick of the Crop
2016 Josef Chromy Brut Finesse $49
Sparkling wine expert Tyson Stelzer noted the rise and rise of Relbia's Josef Chromy in his 2020 Australian Sparkling Wine Report. That's borne out by the incredible vibrancy and complexity of the Tamar Valley producer's ultra-premium 2008 Zdar.
But if you're short of $150 this Valentine's Day, spending a third of that on the company's Finesse label will still get your loved one's heart racing.
This is a very smart fizz that won gold in the recent Tasmanian Wine Show. Rich and full flavoured in Pinot character, its verve and freshness is amplified by a generous creamy texture. Good food wine.
2016 Ghost Rock Zoe Brut Rosé $38
The Northdown district, east of Devonport, has a very cool maritime climate, so it's no surprise Ghost Rock boasts a portfolio of wines that are uber-cool in the glass.
This tasty little number is as fresh as a daisy, thanks to the handiwork of sparkling rosé queen Natalie Fryar, who worked the 2016 vintage alongside Justin Arnold.
Red apple and juicy red fruits telegraph its 60 per cent Pinot Noir composition. Meanwhile, nine months in oak and 20 months on yeast lees provide spice and a neat framework of fine tannins to support the wine's satisfying texture and natural acidity. Value plus.
2009 House of Arras Blanc de Blancs $121
Wow, these swish Blanc de Blancs sparkling wines from Tasmania's House of Arras are incredible, with the staggeringly beautiful 2008 worthy of the companionship of top-flight vintage Champagne.
Now sold out, that wine has a successor that is similarly pale in colour and equally well constructed in weight and texture. Somehow, its subtle baked bread and lemon curd flavours project both drive and freshness along with elegance and maturity.
This is a home-grown, truly international style that deserves its prestige price tag. In all probability, there's additional cellar life ahead of it too, if that's your passion.
- Mark Smith wrote his first weekly Tasmanian wine column back in 1994. He continues to chart the successes of the state's small scale, cool climate wine industry with contributions to some of Australia's leading industry publications.