Friday, 30 October 2015

Tolpuddle Makes a Splash at Shaw + Smith Luncheon

Producer: Shaw + Smith, Tolpuddle Vineyard

Michael Hill Smith (R) with Monopole Managing Direct Michael Chong

This year Shaw + Smith celebrates its 26th vintage. In town for a tasting of his latest wines (paired with exquisite dim sum from Jade Palace Restaurant), winemaker Michael Hill Smith MW shows no sign of resting on his laurels. Highly anticipated was the tasting of wines from Tolpuddle Vineyard, an estate in southern Tasmania that Michael and his cousin Martin Shaw had acquired back in 2011. “We went on a road trip not expecting to buy anything except lunch and dinner in Tasmania, and ended up with probably the best vineyard in Tasmania with 20-year old Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.” The north-east facing vineyard has soils composed of light silica over sandstone.

Drawing attention to the climate in southern Tasmania Michael commented that, “It’s really cold – colder than most of Burgundy. It is dry however, which means that the grapes hang for a long time, so you get extraordinary development of aromatics and flavour without the disease risk.” The Tolpuddle wines have been earning rave reviews, with UK wine writer Jancis Robinson praising the 2012 Pinot Noir for its “beautiful freshness and limpid, pure fruit”. History buffs will be interested to know that Tolpuddle is named after the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset, UK, who formed an agricultural union to protest low wages. For this they were sentenced to exile in Tasmania before eventually being pardoned after a massive public outcry. Coincidentally, one of the conversations around the table involved restaurateur and Shake Shack owner Danny Meyer’s groundbreaking move to eliminate tipping in favour of a hospitality charge – the aim being to raise wages for the entire restaurant team and not just front-line staff.

To handle the increased responsibilities of running two projects, the Shaw + Smith team has been gradually increasing over the past five years. Key personnel include another Master of Wine, David Lemire who is in charge of Sales and Marketing, Senior Winemaker Adam Wadewitz, and viticulturists Murray Leake and Ray Guerin. Said Michael, “When I go to work now, I have a whole lot of younger people who are giving us a hard time and challenging what we do… and I think that the wines have really come on.”

There appear to be more than a passing similarity in the way both Shaw + Smith and Tolpuddle wines are made. A light application of oak, handpicked fruit, and a move towards whole bunch pressing and cold maceration. When it comes to Pinot Noir however the fine tuning ratchets up. “What’s interesting is that when we’re making Pinot from Tolpuddle, the aromatics are so intense that we have to find ways of seasoning them otherwise it almost looks too singular,” says Michael. “Whereas Pinot grown in Adelaide Hills is more delicate and we have to protect the aromatics.” I was impressed by the tannin management, which despite the inclusion of stems during fermentation, were sweet and soft with stunning lucidity.

Long before it was cool to talk about cool-climate wines, Shaw + Smith were already invested in producing elegant, textured wines that emphasised fruit rather than oak. The Sauvignon Blanc is reliable as rock, while the spicy, vibrant Shiraz and racy, subtle Chardonnay demonstrate that Australian wines have evolved far from the blowsy, alcoholic wines of yore. Michael and Martin have again proved their prophetic abilities with Tolpuddle, a game changer that will no doubt spur a rush of interest and investment into Tasmania.

Tasting notes:

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015
– A standout vintage due to above average winter rainfall and a warm, dry summer. The wine was fermented in stainless steel with a short maturation on lees and bottled early. It displays a clean, bright palate with pure notes of starfruit and lime. Michael stated that contrary to the usual grapefruit character this vintage displayed more passionfruit flavours.

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills M3 Chardonnay 2014 – A challenging vintage with hail and rain. Fortunately the weather towards the end of the vintage was dry and mild. Smoky, lemony and crisp with Granny Smith sour acidity. Medium bodied with great verve and lip-smacking freshness.

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2013 – The first vintage to include fruit from the Lenswood Vineyard which was purchased in 2012.  A fine and relatively dry vintage. Intense and fruit forward with some tart red fruit on the entry. Light bodied and fine-boned with cherry notes and medium length. This wine should improve as the vineyards age and develop further concentration.

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2013 – Cool climate elegance. Surely it can’t be easy to rein in Shiraz and still have it display such complexity. The palate shows blackberry fruit with a touch of eucalyptus. Ripe and gentle tannins, finishing on a spicy note.

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 – Compared to the Shaw + Smith Chardonnay this was less smoky and more limey. Tight acidity. It doesn’t quite scour your tongue but gives an impression of real juiciness and focused fruit.

Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 – Aromatic and clean with masses of silky red fruit wafting from the glass. Lovely texure, satiny tannins and light as a feather. The palate shows complex, multilayered fruit with notes of milk chocolate and black olive savouriness. I wish I could say that it’s a hidden treasure but it's already been voted Best Australian Red Wine at the International Wine Challenge. Darn.

For a glimpse of the Shaw + Smith winery, as well as Michael’s acting skills, check out the link.

Shaw + Smith and Tolpuddle Vineyard are distributed in Singapore by Monopole Pte Ltd.

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