Any visit to Tahbilk is immersive. The glisten of the white mudbrick buildings. The yeasty scent of the underground cellars that echoes winemaking. The gentle hum of insects in the wetlands. And most symbolically, the plush mid-palate of old-vine shiraz that tastes ripe, plush and generous. On this visit, our conversations with Alister Purbrick shed light on his personal journey with Tahbilk.
Hobart in Five Drinks
We asked Adelaide expat Alister Robertson, helmsman at Hobart micro-wineslinger Sonny, to give us his take on what makes Hobart tick. Appropriately, it’s a tale told in five drinks.
Six months ago, I received a call from chef Matt Breen. “Templo is opening a wine bar in six weeks in the middle of Hobart. There’ll be 20 seats. Fresh pasta, some simple snacks… It’s called Sonny. Want to come down and run it for me?”
Of course I did. This was my idea of a dream venue. Plus, I’d already fallen in love with Hobart from previous trips. So I packed up my life (33 years in Adelaide), filled the car with records, wine and clothes, and drove to Melbourne to take the boat down to Tassie.
Pretty quickly it was opening night, which coincided with epic arts festival Dark Mofo. Sonny smells of garlic and mushrooms. Matt is pumping out ravioli filled with potato and Taleggio. I’m pouring big bottles of wine to the thirstiest crowd I’ve ever seen, and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ (from Prince’s Purple Rain) is thumping and whirring through the room. We look around, grinning, and crack a cold can of Cascade Lager to celebrate a chaotic service going so well.
Cascade Lager (RRP $56/case, TAS only)
The ‘Cassie Blue’ is an easy drinking, refreshing lager that comes straight from the original brewery, which is nestled on part of kunanyi (aka Mount Wellington). Yes, it’s mainstream, owned by a multinational, but it’s still a local standard for any drinker, and only for sale in Tassie. It’s the first drink that made me feel like Hobart was my new home.
The other drinks that have stopped me in my tracks since have been made by smaller producers, with a little less intervention.
2018 Domaine Simha ‘Rani’ Riesling (RRP $75)
Lou Radman and Nav Singh of Domaine Simha nurture incredible Tasmanian wines. Louise was my wine mentor over a decade ago in Adelaide through Sommeliers Australia. No wonder I’ve been fond of the Simha wines for so long. The 2018 Domaine Simha ‘Rani’ is glorious Coal River Valley riesling with presence. Limey mouth-watering acidity, full texture and slight cloudiness add to the overall power of the drink (60 dozen made).
It’s the people behind these serious small brands that make drinking in Tassie exciting.
Spring Bay Distillery Raspberry Infused Gin (RRP $85)
Cam and Suzy have a tiny but serious set-up at Spring Beach, about an hour’s drive from Hobart. Their rainwater and down-to-earth attitude are two of the special ingredients in their gin and whisky. I’ve been pouring Spring Bay as the only gin at Sonny since day one. It’s a classic dry style, freshened up with lemon peel, from their property, and spicy Tassie mountain pepperberry. Soon, Spring Bay Distillery will release a fresh raspberry infused gin that tastes as good as it sounds. The colour is opaque lavender; the aroma is all fresh berries, and the flavour… still serious. Try it on ice or with a dry tonic water (like StrangeLove Light Tonic or Fever-Tree Mediterranean).
Jean-Pierre Robinot ‘L’Iris’ Chenin Blanc (RRP $101)
Everyone in Hobart knows Roger and Sue of Living Wines. It might be the yellow coats they wear. More likely, it’s the decades of food writing, French wine importing and the generosity they show to the community. One of their cult natural wines is a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc called ‘L’Iris’, by Jean-Pierre Robinot. This is the type of wine you’d find for big bucks on a list that’ll divide a room of wine geeks. Hazy, golden, overwhelmingly fragrant, the flavours are of fresh green melons and salted ricotta. Being able to drink a wine of this status is fun in Hobart, because mark-ups are low, which makes it a casual affair. You can find wines like this at Tom McHugo’s pub at retail prices (to drink in), and you can get excellent fried chicken there for $12. This is good.
Stoney Rise Trousseau (RRP $40)
Some local wines are also gaining cult status, like Stoney Rise Trousseau. This Jura grape is producing energetic, juicy, savoury juice for the first time in Tasmania. Joe Holyman’s use of clay pots for fermentation and zero additions is an exciting shift. He’s trying new things, with excellent craft, and no ego.
It’s tasty down here.
Alister Robertson is a freelance copywriter who spends most of his time at Sonny, flipping Prince records, pouring wine and scoffing prosciutto toast. He’s worked in advertising, run Sommeliers Australia in SA and co-hosts ‘By The Glass’ podcast. He stupidly thought it would be a good idea to drink at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, but now holds the record for the highest altitude wine tasting in history. You can find him on Instagram at @alistercat.