Must-Have Wine of the Week: Sugarloaf Ridge Pinot Noir 2007

To the frustration of many a wine enthusiast, wine intel travels a lot easier than the bottles. Invariably one finds oneself drooling over the prose describing a sublime wine of minuscule production only to realize it is practically unobtainable in these parts.

Not so in this instance as the proprietor of the wine that I am about to have you salivating over lives in Singapore. In a roundabout way, you could say the cellar door is actually right here in Asia, and not at the vineyard, some 6,500 km away in the deep south of Tasmania.

Tasmanian wines are little known in the Asia market largely due to the fact that most of these tiny artisan wineries sell most of their production locally or are snapped up by the top restaurants on mainland Australia. Alas, export is all too often simply unviable.

As is often the case, the secondary market picks up on demand and lack of supply with such wines and they do eventually find their way out of the antipodes, however, invariably sourced through cellar door mailing list releases or local retailers. Subsequently the origin price is higher and even more inflated by middleman margins and often-high air freight costs.

Sugarloaf Ridge is a tiny, picture-perfect vineyard, 35 km southeast of Hobart just off the main tourist route to Port Arthur, with panoramic views over Frederic Henry Bay. In terms of geography and climate, the Hobart region of Tasmania has more in common with the south island of New Zealand than mainland Australia.

Although volcanically inactive now much, of Tasmanian's mountainous topography was formed during the early to mid-Jurassic period with masses of dark, layered volcanic rock and pillow-basalt flows associated with underwater eruptions and hot lava coming into contact with seawater. This is evident at Sugarloaf Ridge, with basalt rocks throughout the vineyard on deeper substrata of solid basalt.

There is also evidence of Quaternary glaciations (around 2.6 million years ago) although much of the topsoil would have been formed at the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 years ago. As the ice melted and the sea levels rose, Tasmania separated from the Australian mainland. The soils here are severely leached and subsequently relatively infertile, thus ideally suited to viticulture and foresting.

More significantly, Sugarloaf Ridge is positioned at 42 degrees south (the same as Marlborough and correspondingly in the northern hemisphere, southern Burgundy), right in the path of the roaring forties winds. To say this is a maritime climate is an understatement; surrounded by the southern Indian and Pacific Oceans and lashed by the prevailing Antarctica winds with the winters harsh. And yet it enjoys an abundance of long, radiant sunshine-days and most importantly the discernibly cool-climate acute diurnal changes with plummeting night-time temperatures enhancing fruit flavors and instilling bright acidities. Moreover, the environment does not come any more pristine than this.

Stylistically, pinot noir from Tasmania is noticeably different to mainland Australia and one is struck by the pureness and freshness of fruit with an underlying elegance and vibrant edginess, or tension to the wine; a racy almost steely-flinty quality yet seductively viscous enough to appeal to the discerning.

I often make the comparison to Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie or Moulin-a-Vent when describing Tasmanian pinot noir, which sometimes is misinterpreted. However, if you know your Beaujolais, you will comprehend the link between the rich and silky textures and vibrant, crunchy sweet red berry fruit that makes the wines so attractive in their youth.

While I was most impressed with the Sugarloaf Ridge 2006 offerings, unquestionably impeccably made by the grand master vigneron, Julian Alcorso, who has over 30 years experience in the region, the 2007 vintage simply displays more stuffing. The yields were significantly lower and the weather similar to near perfect conditions that New Zealand experiences, as opposed to some of the perilous heat waves experienced on the Australian mainland.

Alcorso comments that "the 2007 wines have more structure and density, not necessarily an easy year in the vineyard but the resulting wines should age well."

I would suggest that most palates will find the wines immediately irresistible and should be purchased by the dozen without hesitation, before the rest of the wine-savvy world discovers this gem.

My tasting note on 2007 Sugarloaf Ridge Pinot Noir:

Intriguing sweet and sour perfume of tamarillo (tree tomato) and tamarind paste among black cherry and dense blueberry, with air a more lifted perfume of violets and smoky roasted beetroot and sun-dried tomato with balsamic notes and heady spices-five spice, Indian Tandoor – amid flinty gunsmoke and granite in the background. Lush and juicy mouth caressing palate saturates the senses with dark plum compote, sweet black cherry yet with vibrant, crunchy, zingy red fruit throughout the mouth heightened by tangy acidity with the piquancy pomegranate seed, savoury black olive flavours towards the back and fine, powdery tannins with wonderful length and tension. 2007 looks to particularly concentrated, with discernible weight and a certain plushness and extra complexity; a smoother, deeper wine by comparison to the 2006. It is a delight to drink now but will clearly benefit from a few more years in bottle. The fact I revisited this bottle over three days and it just kept getting better is indicative, and would suggest, easily live 10 years. I could see this being very versatile with northern Indian cuisine, at the same time ethereal enough to go with many Japanese dishes. At S$70, this offers exceptional price/quality rapport.

All Sugarloaf Ridge wines are sealed with screwcap closure guaranteeing their freshness and maintaining purity of flavour and quality.

For more background on the vineyard Visit www.sugarloafridge.com.au also follow this link for a detailed article on Sugarloaf Ridge Chardonnay and Pinot Noir http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/sugarloaf-ridge-2007.html

To purchase Sugarloaf Ridge wines in Singapore, or anywhere in the Asia region, contact Julian Colvile, who maintains good stocks in temperature controlled conditions of all their wines here, email julian.colvile@sugarloafridge.com I can highly recommend their Chardonnay and Sauvignon as well.

Curtis Marsh is an independent Asia-based wine and food writer. His commentaries are published in www.thewanderingpalate.com Marsh's theorem: "Life is filling in time between meals... and a meal without wine could only be breakfast!"