Brendan Jansen MW: 21st October 2019
In well-established Old World wine regions, producers can command prices many times that of their neighbouring competitors, based upon reputation. Prices can vary hugely for wines of different producers from, for example, the very same Burgundian commune and vineyard quality designation.
We are far from reaching that position in Australia. Consumers tend to benchmark according to style and provenance – like how much a serviceable Barossa Shiraz or Margaret River Cabernet should cost – sometimes without much knowledge of the work that has gone into the liquid in the bottle. They all look the same on the shelves….?
I am on my first ever trip to Tasmania, and only have time to visit a few producers. I should qualify my remarks by saying that my views are thus skewed to the producers I have visited. Nonetheless, I am forming the impression that Tasmanian wines in general, and some producers in particular, suffer from this pigeon-holing. For example, Tasmanian sparkling wines are often benchmarked against Champagne for price, but not necessarily quality.
One very potent example is Stefano Lubiana Wines. A passionate vision, strong work ethic, investment of time and capital, and an enormous amount of hard yakka, led Steve to where he is now. After falling in love with sparkling wine working in Champagne, he considered other sites in Australia, and indeed Tasmania, before settling on Granton, outside Hobart. Steve is descended from several generations of winemakers – and his son looks to be following in his footsteps.
The 24 hectares were planted in 1993, and a further 1.2ha close planted Pinot Noir is in the pipeline. The area has a cool climate but with wide diurnal temperature variation, especially in summer (Tasmania does not easily conform to the continental/maritime climate distinction), ideal for the production of sparkling and still table wines.
Minimal intervention has become a cliché but is epitomised in Steve’s winemaking philosophy. He has come to intimately understand the terroir and most appealingly, does not allow oak flavours to overwhelm the fruit in any way. He thus is able to coax distinctive characters out of each variety and site. Another cliché has been to make food-friendly wines, but for Steve not doing so would belie his Istrian peninsula family roots.
Below are just a few wines I had the opportunity to taste:
Stefano Lubiana – Grande Vintage – 2009 (18.8/20pts $ 80). A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir in the cuvee, this wine was disgorged in March 2019, thus spending a whopping 8+ years on lees. A study in complexity, with lemon curd, biscuity, toast and honey characters competing for ascendency. The low dosage of 4.5g/l is ideal. I nearly fell over when Steve told me the RRP of this wine – a wine of similar quality and workmanship from France is likely to command three or four times the price!
Stefano Lubiana – Estate – Chardonnay – 2017 (18.5/20pts – $58). Hand-picked, hand-sorted, whole bunch pressed, with natural fermentation in Minier Chagny barrels. Subtlety, finesse yet with power and complexity. I was pleased we tasted this at cellar temperature as it showed its evolution in the glass.
Stefano Lubiana – Primavera – Pinot Noir – 2018 (18.2/20pts – $38). 13.5% alc, totally destemmed, whole berry fermentation, the natural fermentation giving rise to a de facto short pre ferment maceration. The red cherry flavours possess a freshness and vibrancy, yet with super structure, deriving largely from the site.
Stefano Lubiana – Estate – Pinot Noir – 2017 (18.6/20pts – $62). In contrast to the Primavera, this has a darker tone of cherry fruit, and is at once a more serious proposition, with spicy savoury notes. If the Primavera was more Chambolle, the Estate is more Gevrey Chambertin. The 20% new oak is but a frame and is almost imperceptible.