Let's face it, none of us are going wine tasting in France any time soon. But the world's second best sparkling wine region (behind Champagne) is right under our noses… in northern Tasmania.
And get this; the Tamar Valley might be second best for sparkling wine quality, but it's arguably better for a sparkling wine tasting holiday. Here's seven reasons why Tasmania's Tamar Valley wine region might be better to visit than Champagne…
The sparkling wine here is considered second only to Champagne
Because of its latitude and unique agricultural conditions, the Pipers River section of the Tamar Valley wine region (it's in the north-east corner of the valley) is considered to produce the greatest sparkling wine on earth outside of Champagne. In the 1980s, winemakers from iconic champagne house, Louis Roederer, scoured the world looking for the best place to make sparkling wine and chose the Tamar Valley (to grow cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir, the two main grapes of the Champagne region). The rest is history, now wineries like Clover Hill Wines and Jansz Tasmania produce the country's best sparkling wine – earning the region the moniker: Sparkling Tasmania.
It's still blissfully free of tourists (and wine wankers)
Photo: Rob Burnett
Pre-Covid, France attracted 10 million wine tourists each year, including around a million to Champagne itself (over 250,000 tourists each year will walk down the region's most Instagrammed street, the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay). There's little room for spontaneity, most guests visit on pre-booked private tours, and must visit by appointment only. Tasmania only receives 625,000 tourists a year and just a tiny proportion visit the Tamar Valley. If there's more than five cars parked at most Tamar Valley wineries, move on, no-one likes a crowd.
It's right beside two of the world's best golf courses
It's 15 minutes drive from the Tamar Valley's best sparkling wine estates to two of Australia's best public golf courses, Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm, located on one site beside Bass Strait. In the early 2000s local farmer Richard Sattler decided to build a championship course on the sand dunes of his family farm. Within a few years, it became the world's 11th best public course, and Australia's best public course. Most courses in the world's top 50 courses cost upwards of $400 in green fees, Barnbougle costs just over $100.
Most wineries are still family-owned and you'll get to meet the owners
Very few champagne houses (in Champagne) are still family-owned, but most wineries in the Tamar Valley are. You won't meet employees as you will in Champagne, you'll meet owners. Stop in at Loira Vines to meet Adrian and Mirabai Carruthers, they went on a wine tasting tour three years ago and ended up buying a winery. Or meet Julie and Rohan Hirst at Cabbage Tree Hill Winery who came to buy a house in the area and ended up with a winery instead, though they had no winemaking experience. While you're tasting, you'll hear real-life stories you won't hear in Champagne.
You don't need to pre-book expensive wine tasting tours
Photo: Andrew Wilson
Just turn up. You'll find over 30 tasting rooms spread across a wine region split between two sides of the Tamar River. It runs from south of Launceston (Josef Chromy Wines) north to Bass Strait, 60 kilometres away. In Champagne most tasting rooms won't allow walk-in wine tasters, you have to book a tasting – with the cheapest tasting around $A35. If you'd like to taste the best known champagnes, like Charles Heissieck, you'll have to book a VIP-only tasting for hundreds of dollars. But it won't cost a cent to taste the wines of the Tamar Valley. Also consider a wine tasting tour with Prestige Leisure Tours – then you won't have to think about driving.
Its best champagne is drunk by royalty too
Tamar Valley's sparkling wine pioneer, Andrew Pirie, has produced a sparkling wine at Pipers Brook Vineyard which has been drunk by Queen Elizabeth II… twice. And Tasmania's own European princess, Mary (of Hobart), had bottles of local winery, Clover Hill's legendary 2000 vintage served at her 2004 wedding to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.
Stay in Launceston for a fraction of Epernay or Reims
Photo: Rob Burnett
Champagne's two main population centres, Epernay and Reims, cater for people with champagne budgets. Swanky hotels like Les Crayeres or Royal Champagne cost upwards of $750 per night. Launceston, meanwhile, has become Tasmania's underground food and hotel hot-spot, offering luxury options at a fraction of the price. Long overlooked by those preferring Hobart, it's now home to some of Australia's best new historic hotels (eat your heart out France, we have history too!), like Peppers Silo Hotel, rooms built within 35-metre-high barrels of four former grain silos, or Stillwater Seven, rooms built within an 1830s flour mill. And there's gourmet restaurants, art galleries, weekly farmers' markets and its architecture is a quaint mix of Victorian and Elizabethan styles reflecting its 19th Century origins.