Launceton is the largest town in the region. It is lovely, with a number of beautifully restored 19th-century buildings, include its signature Post Office and clock tower. The riverfront is fronted by a large park and can be walked via a boardwalk.
Just outside the downtown is Cataract Gorge, the city’s premier park and recreation area. The popular, pretty and rugged gorge was carved by the South Esk River. The gorge is surrounded by several walking/running trials, the steep sides can be reached by chairlift (as well as trail) and the river can be navigated by a cruise ship. Those not so inclined, can lounge on the lawns, swim in the almost Olympic-sized pool or cook out on the provided burners and eat on the picnic tables. A very pretty park for a lovely city.
Tamar Valley Wineries
The Tamar Valley is Tasmania’s largest and premier grape growing region. Although Tasmania accounts for less than 0.6 percent of Australia’s total wine production, this one valley produces more than half of Tasmania’s. Given our limited time and the limited hours that many of the wineries are open for tasting, we were unable to visit some of our priorities, such as Sinopolis and Dalrymple, the later of from which we did have a very nice bottle (2013 Cave Block Chardonnay) the previous evening.
In any case, we did visit two wineries at the Northern end of the valley and two at the south—areas that are about an hour away from each other in a region where temperatures and growing conditions can vary greatly, even in vineyards only a few kilometers apart.
Our cooler climate northern Tamar stops, where sparkling wine is something of a specialty, were:
- Delamere Vineyards, a small, low-key tasting room for a winery that produces a broad range of cool-weather grapes. These included chardonnays and pinots (for both sparkling and single varietal wines), riesling and fume blanc. We particularly enjoyed two of its crisp, minerally sparklers: the non-vintage Delamere Cuvee and especially the 2013 vintage cuvee (which we decided would enhance of Sydney holiday celebration). We also really enjoyed two of the winery’s 2013 single block wines: the Block 3 chardonnay (whose partial use of whole-cluster fermentation offset the 100 percent new oak and 50 percent ML treatment to create a very nicely balanced wine) and the Block 8 pinot noir (whose cooler temperatures and use of whole-cluster produced a nicely extracted wine with subdued red fruit).
- Jansz Tasmania specializes exclusively in sparkling wines. While we sampled four (most with varying blends of pinot and chard), our clear favorite was a 2010 vintage, single vineyard chardonnay.
Our southern Tamar Valley tastings consisted of:
- Josef Chromy, the highly-regarded producer that offers a broad line of varietals across three different labels (Pepik popular wines, an ZDAR premium wines, in addition to the primary Joseph Chromy label). Although we are typically aligned in our impressions of wines, we had different perceptions of three: Joyce found the 2016 Chromy sauvignon blanc and the 2015 pinot noir more interesting than did Tom. Tom found the simple sweetness of the Chromy 2016 SGR (60 grams per liter residual sugar) to be refreshing. Joyce wasn’t impressed. We did, however, agree on the 2016 Chromy Botrytis dessert wine.
- Sharmans Wines fields a broader line of varietals that begins with a sparkling wine, followed by four whites (sauvignon blanc, Riesling and unoaked and oaked chardonnays) and several reds (including two very different pinot noirs from different vintages (2013 and 2014), a merlot, a cabernet merlot and seven a shiraz. Although we both thought the nicely extracted 2014 pinot was pretty good—certainly compared with light, characterless 2013 (a very difficult year), Joyce was somewhat more taken with the 2013 unoaked chardonnay.
North Tasmania Restaurants
And of course, we needed food. We ate at 2 restaurants
- Stillwater. Located in Launceton, this is a very nice, casual Modern Australian restaurant. We had four dishes. Our favorites were the perfectly prepared grilled ocean trout with baby coes (romaine lettuce) greens, dehydrated celery, green olive tapenade and aioli; and the Southern fried Tasmanian quail with buttermilk dressing and fermented chili. Tom also enjoyed the paper-thin slices of Tasmanian black lipped abalone, although he ate it separately from the accompanying herb risotto, pork cracklings and wild fennel, which he thought overwhelmed the mollusk. Our fourth dish of chicken liver mousse with rye lavosh, pickles and fennel salt was fine, but not especially exciting. We had it with a very nice, somm-recommended bottle of lightly oaked, lightly ML’ed 2013 Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay and the quail with a glass of nice, but unexceptional 2016 Hughes & Hughes Huen Valley pinot noir.
- Joseph Chromy Restaurant. Located at the Chromy winery, this restaurant is generally agreed to be one of the best in the area. We generally agreed, at least in terms of atmosphere, the imagination of the combinations and the tastes of some of the dishes. We began with wonderfully briny oysters from Blackman Bay (which we enjoyed more than any previous oysters of the trip). We especially enjoyed the pan-fried blue-eyed trevalla with veloutte, orecchiette pasta, peas, beans and a mix of garden greens. Meanwhile, the pork belly certainly had an interesting preparation (apple, smoked eel, coffee and sticky sauce). Unfortunately, the pork belly itself, which had very little fat, was dry. Although we thought our servers were quite good (especially in inquiring whether we enjoyed each of the dishes), the kitchen was obviously overwhelmed with the Saturday lunch crowd. How can a meal consisting of six oysters and two dishes take over an hour and a half? It boggles the mind.
North Tasmania Hotel
We stayed at the very The Sebel in Launceston. This is a very modern hotel that looks great, has a very comfortable room with livingroom and kitchen bar, and is in great location. We were very happy to have a washer/dryer in the room, even though it was very loud. We could also hear noises in room from people around us. We had an issue with the Wifi in the room, but it was more than compensated by the manager who came up personally to fix it (the problem was is with the provider but he is trying to get the system upgraded).