There is nothing like the palate-tickling sizzle of a fine sparkling wine to make you romantically inclined, and a blush bubbly is the ultimate Valentine’s Day centrepiece. This February 14, we quiz Clover Hill winemaker Robert Heywood on why we are feeling so loving towards local sparkling these days and how to choose the most fitting bottle of fizz for the occasion.
As the chief winemaker at Tasmanian sparkling specialist Clover Hill, Robert Heywood knows better than most about the power of effervescent wines to energise and boost the mood. The founding myths to come out of 16th-century France about this magical elixir aside, Robert says there are plenty of reasons why sparkling is inextricably linked to celebration. “It has a lot to do with the patience involved in its production, the ceremonial nature of popping the cork and the charter of quality originally devised by the producers of Champagne,” he explains.
“This reverence is now being matched by an enthusiasm for discovering something new inside each bottle as wine drinkers in Australia and around the world have become more knowledgeable about méthode traditionnelle wines,” he continues.
Clover Hill wines are exclusively made using traditional bottle fermentation, the winery’s Pipers River Vineyard having been established in 1986 following a worldwide search for a site with the potential to produce wines to rival the great Champagne houses. Robert adds: “Even within the confines of a house style, one of the wonderful things about sparkling fermented in-bottle is that you can see a degree of variability between bottles, which makes each and every one special.”
Tips for a long-lasting relationship
One of the best ways to enjoy sparkling wine in Robert’s book is to revisit a bottle from the same vintage at the same time each year to discover how the wine has evolved. He explains: “Seeing how our sparkling wines evolve with cellaring is a big source of enjoyment for me and, once you have found a style you enjoy, what could be better than pulling out a bottle of a wine you bought with your loved one each Valentine’s Day or anniversary to talk about how things have evolved over the year?”
The luxury of being able to dip into the Clover Hill museum to sample wines from the memorable 1998 or 2001 vintages has been extended beyond the winemaking team thanks to the addition of a new cellar door late last year. “The early releases are ageing very well, partly because acid was pretty prevalent back in the day but also because of the strength of the Pipers River Vineyard terroir,” says Robert.
If you want to show your loved one you care with a current release, the ‘masterfully assembled’ 2005 Clover Hill Cuvée Prestige Late Disgorged Blanc de Blancs (Tyson Stelzer’s pick for 2018) or 2010 Clover Hill Cuvée Exceptionnelle Blanc de Blancs are more than safe bets. On the other hand, if you like to plan your romantic gestures well in advance, Robert says wines from the 2016 vintage are going to be “something special”.
Building a foundation of trust
When it comes to finding a sparkling wine style that suits you and (hopefully) your nearest and dearest, Robert says getting out and sampling as many wines as you can at cellar door is key. He recommends starting with the wines that a producer makes the biggest amount of, to get a feel for house style, and then working your way through to the prestige wines to confirm whether you can trust in the consistency and quality of the range.
He explains: “One of the differences between the producers of Champagne and Tasmania is that our more consistent weather allows us to release more vintage wines than blends and reveal the specificity of the year, albeit in keeping with a particular style.” He continues: “I describe Clover Hill’s style as more textural and weighted than is typical within the Australian sparkling landscape, and the work we’ve undertaken in the vineyard and the winery over the past five years has helped in that quest for volume in our wines.”
With not one but two award-winning sites under his purview at Clover Hill, Robert has the advantage of being able to mix the famously refined fruit of the Tamar Valley with the rich, aromatic fruit of the Coal River Valley. He explains: “The nice acid line we get from the Pipers River Vineyard gives us the longevity we’re looking for, partly because the amount of rain it receives means the vines aren’t stressed, while the Tea Tree Vineyard produces the pinot noir fruit we use for dosage and rosé.”
Is pink the perfect choice?
The connection between sparkling rosé and the pink-tinged paraphernalia of Valentine’s Day is certainly aesthetically rewarding, but the merit of today’s blush wines goes well beyond their photogenic appeal. Robert says: “We’ve always placed a big emphasis on blush wines at Clover Hill because they are a great illustration of what pinot noir can do within sparkling and they give you a chance to explore the grape in a whole new way.”
He believes the decision by international wine judges at events such as the London-based Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships to award gold medals to wines such as the Clover Hill NV Cuvée Rosé is testament to the rising quality of these wines across the board.
So which is the right sparkling rosé for 2018? Robert says: “When it comes to rosé I go straight for our 2013 Vintage Brut Rosé because the fruit quality was excellent, it’s a vintage that is close to my heart for personal reasons, and it pairs wonderfully with Tasmanian scallops.”
A new gilded age
From Clover Hill’s prime patch of northern Tasmania, Robert says the future for local sparkling looks incredibly bright. “We’re definitely in a golden era for Tassie sparkling, and I believe that has a lot to do with wine drinkers no longer wanting to be dictated to and instead figuring out what they like,” he explains. “People are finding that certain Champagnes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and realising that knowing about the people and place behind a wine can enrich your experience more than drinking a wine from a faceless multinational brand.”
Global interest in Tasmanian sparkling is likely to see more super-premium cuvées being produced over the next 10 years, with corresponding higher prices, but Robert believes we can rest easy that the island’s boutique producers will remain as committed to price-competitiveness as to quality. He adds: “We have got to the point that New World sparkling is appreciated on the same level as Old World, and at Clover Hill we are fortunate to be able to work in collaboration with our neighbours to keep improving winemaking techniques.”
Choose your next celebration wine from Clover Hill’s range of premium sparkling wines at cloverhillwines.com.au.
Next article: Tamar Valley Wine Route gains new cellar door at Clover Hill