Wine | Connew’s blazing trail | John Lewis

EXCEPTIONAL TALENT: Samantha Connew in her Tasmanian Coal River Valley vineyard.
EXCEPTIONAL TALENT: Samantha Connew in her Tasmanian Coal River Valley vineyard.

CAN-DO Connew, that’s my nickname for one of Australia’s most accomplished winemakers, a trail-blazing show judge, a great role model for women in wine and creator of the acclaimed Tasmanian Stargazer boutique brand.

Samantha Connew, Sam to all and sundry, established Stargazer in 2012 with the name a tribute to Dutch navigator Abel Tasman – the first European to sight Tasmania in 1642.

Her wines, made from bought-in grapes and from her own vineyard in the Coal River Valley, have earned Stargazer a coveted five red stars in James Halliday’s Wine Companion. It’s a top ranking that I believe is confirmed by the latest batch of Stargazer releases, the $35 Stargazer 2017 Tasmania Riesling, 2016 Tasmania Chardonnay ($45) and 2016 Tasmania Pinot Noir ($50) - wines of impeccable quality (see reviews).

New Zealand-born and with a Canterbury University Law and Arts degree and a Lincoln University winemaking degree, Sam worked in wineries in Spain, Italy and Oregon, US, and then began a 10-year stint at McLaren Vale’s Wirra Wirra winery. As senior winemaker there she was judged the International Red Winemaker of the Year at the 2007 International Wine Challenge in London.

She came to the Hunter in 2010, winning wide acclaim with her Tower Estate wines and worked for two years as manager of the Hunter Node of the Australian Wine Research Institute, which provides world-class wine research and advisory services.

An experienced wine show judge, in 2015 Sam made history by being appointed chair of judges of the Sydney Wine Show – the first woman to fill that post.

In February 2016 she bought Palisandser vineyard in Coal River’s Tea Tree area, 20 minutes north-east of her Hobart home and has added hands-on vineyard management to the formidable winemaking skills she applies in making her wines using facilities at the near-by Moorilla winery.

She retired from her three-year term as Sydney Wine Show chair of judges after last July’s 2017 competition, but will maintain a few other judging posts. She has busied herself adding an extra two hectares of pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling vines on her 11-hectare property and envisages an eventual vineyard area of five hectares, which will include some gamay.

When I spoke to her recently she was in the vineyard pruning and she foreshadowed the release later in the year of a new 2017 pinot meunier-pinot noir blend called Rada and a 2017 Tupelo, the pinot gris-riesling-gewürztraminer blend introduced last year. 

WINE REVIEWS

FRESH, CRISP RIESLING

THIS Stargazer 2017 Tasmania Riesling and today’s other wines are on stargazerwine.com.au. With straw hues and scents of honeysuckle, the riesling has fresh, crisp ruby grapefruit flavour on the front palate. The middle palate has preserved lemon, nashi pear and flint characters and mineral-edged acid comes through at the finish. PRICE: $35. DRINK WITH: seafood wontons. AGEING: eight years.

RATING: 5 stars

CHARDONNAY OF ELEGANCE

THE Stargazer 2016 Tasmania Chardonnay shines olive green-tinted light gold in the glass and has scents of mango and vanilla. Elegant nectarine flavour features on the front of the palate, honeydew melon, lemon curd, gunmetal and cashew oak integrate on the middle palate and the finish has slatey acid. PRICE: $45. DRINK WITH: pan-fried snapper with preserved lemon dressing. AGEING: 10 years.

RATING: 5 stars

A PRIZE PINOT SURPRISE

WITH light body, ruby hues and 13.5 per cent alcohol, the Stargazer 2016 Tasmania Pinot Noir contradicts first impressions with its intense scents of violets and beautifully vibrant raspberry front-palate flavour. Cranberry, spice, spearmint and vanillin oak marry on the middle palate and smooth dusty tannins glide in at the finish. PRICE: $50. DRINK WITH: duck a l’orange. AGEING: 12 years.

RATING: 5.5 stars