The northeast of the Apple Isle leaves AT’s Gourmet Guy short of breath – but never short of a descriptor for his next bottle of excellent wine. Tom Neal-Tacker
The top half of Tasmania is a land of paddocks, stately homes, lush farms, quiet towns, river valleys, timber plantations and hard-scrabbled livelihoods on the coast and in the mines. It also contains typically Tassie wilderness areas that hold the footprints of man in scarce numbers alongside the scars of man in clear felled forests. In short, it provides something of a contradiction between abundance and paucity. The area of greatest interest to the gourmet lies between Devonport and Launceston. Either makes an ideal starting point.
Little “Launie” strikes well above its weight on gourmet scales in terms of its size. With the Tamar and Piper grape growing valleys at its doorstep, Tasmania’s second city proves itself an obligatory destination.
I was impressed from the start. Eggs Benedict, fresh juice and coffee at Elaia (14 The Quadrant Mall,  6331 6766) were as good as in any capital city. Just opposite is the Launceston branch of the Wursthaus (15 The Quadrant Mall,  6331 9171), where manager Annie Myers took me through the distinctive range of Northern Tasmania produce and wines on sale. It’s the place to stock up for an extended stay. I took great delight in the local garlic at $4 per kilo, pale pink, plump and juicy. With all the bleached and dried out garlic shipped in cheaply from China occupying greengrocer shelves around the country, real Aussie garlic is a rare find. The regional meats – both fresh and smoked in cuts suitable for one or two people – are reason alone to use the kitchen if your accommodation has one.
A short distance from Launceston’s airport is historic Evandale, where the Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company (174 Leighlands Road,  6391 8437) sells an astounding range of everything savoury and sweet, from authentic Cumberland sauce to a mean Strawberry Chilli jam, a piquant Plum and Pepperberry sauce and a mind-blowing Horseradish Mustard. The Ingleside Bakery (4 Russell Street,  6391 8682) sells sourdough loaves out of its original brick wood fired oven, pastries using local berries (I devoured the raspberry strudel in record time), pasties, quiches and bickies.
Back in “Launie” in time for a cocktail, I found myself at Mud Bar, the city’s newest, trendiest hotspot. On the newly renovated Tamar harbour’s edge, Mud’s a groovy bar and restaurant that hums with activity, the stately progress of the black swans floating nearby contrasting neatly with that of the tipsy clientele.
Just around the boardwalk from Mud is Stillwater (Ritchies Mill,  6331 4153). This restaurant shows off Tasmanian produce and talent at its best. By all means have the Invitation Degustation menu with matching Tasmanian wines. This is professionally prepared food while simultaneously being cutting edge. For example, a dish of green lip abalone, scallop, southern octopus and urchin roe with dashi jelly, sesame, seaweed and cress may sound like a creature from the black lagoon – but for me it symbolised the new approach to Tasmanian cooking; fresh, clever and honest. The Tassie Pinot Gris that accompanied it was the perfect match. Launceston should be rightly proud to have such an excellent restaurant as Stillwater at its watery doorstep.
A visit to J. Boag and Son Brewery (39 William Street,  6332 6300) is obligatory if only to find out more about, “Who is James Boag?” Brewery tours are popular. Book first.
Another standout addition to Launceston’s dining scene is Luck’s (70 George Street,  6334 8596). Housed in a former butcher’s shop, here they open any wine priced at $70 or under from their encyclopaedic list to sell by the glass. This offers a huge choice. The European influenced bistro food is prepared with imagination and flair, the service is impeccable and the wine list is a winner.
The Tamar River and Pipers Brook valleys are the true home of Tasmania’s expanding wine industry. New wineries appear constantly, though the region’s major players continue to merit attention. To visit them requires several days of concentrated touring, depending on your designated driver’s patience. I recommend at least a day up and down the Tamar and the same for the Piper. The countryside offers picnic spots galore or a number of cafes and restaurants for the requisite break.
Just up the A7 from Launceston is Velo Winery (West Tamar Highway before Legana), a good first stop to try former Tour de France cyclist Michael Wilson’s winning wines. The Pinot Gris and Riesling are fine examples of how Tasmania excels in fragrant fine whites. Further along are Strathlynn (95 Rosevears Drive,  6330 2388), St. Matthias (113 Rosevears Drive,  6330 1700) and Rosevears Estate (at Waldhorn Drive and West Tamar Highway,  6330 1800) all of which occupy stunning sites overlooking the bucolic Tamar valley and all worth stopping in for samples of estate grown wines. Daniel Alps eponymous restaurant at Strathlynn is particularly fine and is a destination in itself. For something completely new and different, Humbug Reach (72 Nobelius Drive,  6330 2875) is by appointment only but hosts Sally and Paul McShane will warmly welcome the wine loving visitor. Their Riesling and Pinot Noir are both “watch out for” wines.
I’ve tried a few Holm Oak (11 West Bay Road,  6394 7577) and Iron Pot Bay wines (766 Deviot Road,  6394 7320) and have been well satisfied. At Stoney Rise (Hendersons Lane,  6394 3678) winemaker and owner Joe Holyman is doing great work with his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Finally, big boy on the block Tamar Ridge (Auburn Road, Kayena,  6394 7000) continues to win well-deserved awards with its Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. And this is only one side of the river. For a wonderfully quixotic lunch or dinner on the water, try Koukla’s BYO Cafe (285 Gravelly Beach Road,  6394 4013) where the two women who own the place will not only entertain but also feed you in large portions of heartily delicious food. Bring the wines you’ve just bought.
To the east 20km, Pipers Brook valley contains the largest vineyards in the state. Sparkling wines, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir dominate with a few Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignon to round out the picture. Bay of Fires (40 Baxters Road,  6382 7622) under winemaker Francine Austin’s stewardship is making terrific wines. Her Sauvignon Blanc is stunning; indeed all of her wines are superb. (If you have the chance to try the sparkling Arras, don’t say no.)
Delamere (4238 Bridport Road,  6382 7190) produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in a Burgundian style at its finest. Dalrymple’s (Pipers Brook Road,  6382 7222) is one of the most picturesque in the region. Samples of its superlative wines are offered from one of Tasmania’s most charming cellar door managers. Jill Mitchell can bring a smile to even the grumpiest of faces.
Pipers Brook (1216 Pipers Brook Road,  6382 7527) is still not to be missed despite Andrew Pirie’s unceremonious exit. Janz (1216B Pipers Brook Road,  6382 7088) provides a wonderful tasting experience for sparkling wine lovers. Janz has improved each year and is well worth a visit. Finally, both Brooke Eden (167 Adams Road, Lebrina,  6395 6244) and Providence Vineyard (236 Lalla Road, Lalla,  6395 1290) are producing some of Tasmania’s finest boutique wines. Brooke Eden’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are equally outstanding. Providence’s Riesling, Monet Chardonnay and Miguet Pinot Noir reserve are worth a trip to Tasmania on their own.
Slightly off the beaten track is the working port of Bridport, an hour’s drive from Launceston, where a fisherman’s co-op sells fresh-off-the-boat seafood and fish. The secluded Barnbougle Dunes Golf Links, (425 Waterhouse Road,  6356 0094), though not usually on a Gourmet Guy’s itinerary, has a clubhouse and restaurant open to the public. Both the co-op and golf club are worth a detour.
Still in northern Tasmania, there’s a cheese lover’s pilgrimage at Pyengana Dairy Company and Holy Cow Cafe (St. Columba Falls Road,  6373 6276). Pyengana Dairy is justifiably famous throughout the country. Its cheddar-like cheese is absolutely to die for. If the new washed-rind is available, don’t hesitate to ask for a taste. The Holy Cow cafe does a memorable Ploughman’s Lunch and the Devonshire tea with house-made jam and double cream from the cows grazing outside the windows is a scone lover’s dream come true. Just down the road from Pyengana is the Pig in the Paddock Pub. Yes, there is a pig in the paddock that loves her beer. The pub lunches aren’t bad either.
41° South (323 Montana Road, Deloraine,  6362 4130) on the way to the Mole Creek Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, is well worth a look-in. Its environmentally sound fish and ginseng farm provide another unique Tasmanian experience. Try the hot-smoked salmon and see how ginseng is raised.
Ashgrove Cheese (6173 Bass Highway,  6368 1105) is producing English style cheese (the Gloucester and Lancashire are exceptionally fine) from more than 860 Friesian cows. There’s a cafe on its premises as well.
Though there are a growing number of wineries opening south of Devonport, one stood out for its amazing quality: Barringwood Park Vineyard (60 Gillams Road,  6492 3140) is sited overlooking the surrounding verdant countryside and the distant Bass Strait. All of its wines point to real talent in the winery and vineyard. The Schonburger is an off-dry white perfect for a summer’s day. The Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay were all well made. The Pinot Meunier is a rare offering and a true oenophile’s pleasure.