Steve Lubiana is a perfectionist. In the world of wine he’s not alone in striving for the best. But even at the extreme, there’s a spectrum. The Stefano Lubiana estate would be perched at the extreme end of that.
Striking out for Tasmania – the end of the earth and final frontier of Aussie cool-climate winegrowing – was pretty extreme back in 1990, when Steve and Monique began their dream of growing world -class traditional-method sparkling wine. The mastery of fizz was followed by a similarly fixed determination to bring out the best in aromatics and the Burgundy varieties. And it was pretty extreme when they became, by a long shot, the first Tasmanian grower to shift to biodynamics, with certification following in 2010.
The reason for that move, by the way, was not ideological. It was driven by perfectionism. The vineyard had grown great wines but what Steve saw was untapped potential. This slope on the banks of the Derwent River in Granton could produce next-level fruit more reliably if nature was more minutely nurtured.
Collina Chardonnay and Sasso Pinot Noir were the names given to those next-level bottlings from the greatest vintages. (This is, remember, one of those domaines where the Estate label adorns a wine of what would – in normal circumstances, be of “the highest calibre”.) These wines – Collina a selection of the best Chardonnay barrels from a given year, Sasso an assemblage of the three finest Pinot blocks – have been produced more regularly thanks to Monique and Steve’s upping the ante in the vineyard.
And with the deepening understanding of the vineyard, the Lubianas added another way to experience the fruits of their painstaking labour: the single-block Pinot Noirs. Where Sasso brings these blocks together, wine-lovers are elsewhere invited to savour them as individual strands.
All this perfectionism might seem a little… well, extreme, if it weren’t the case that all this hard work is done with such a lightness of touch. And if not for the fact that Steve anchors his wine-growing to an acute sense of aesthetics, taste, structure and texture.
In other words, here are wines grown by lovers of wine. We’re pleased to put to you this smorgasbord of Stefano Lubiana perfection.
2017 Stefano Lubiana Collina Chardonnay RRP $114
The 2017 Collina Chardonnay is our sixth release. A selection of the best barrels ended with production of just 51 dozen bottles. It is not made in years that are less than exceptional (these are becoming less frequent), or when the Collina robs the Estate Chardonnay of quality, something we won’t stand for.
Winemaking is simple, straightforward, almost a secondary notion. Vineyard attention to detail paramount. Grapes are handpicked in the cool of the day to arrive at the winery 200m away in perfect condition. Here they’re hand sorted and whole bunch-pressed to tank. Hard pressings go to brandy production on site. Sometimes a small amount of sulphur is added prior to decanting to barrel for natural fermentation. The wine ferments in the underground cellar at 16-22˚C, usually with no cooling, depending on the yeast strain we get that year. After ferment we inoculate for malolactic conversion, otherwise it never happens with the low pH and cold cellar we have. Malolactic conversion is an important part of our style and we are lucky we can still do it without ever needing to add acid.
We make our Chardonnay like the wines we like to drink; we don’t follow trends such as early picking. We like Chardonnay with delicacy, good natural acid drive, nice evident mid-palate weight, good length, a whiff of gun smoke and not too much fresh “Chardonnay” character. More minerality than fruit. – Steve & Monique Lubiana
Loose-knit on entry, then the oak to mineral seams stretch the stone fruit to white fig flavours across the palate on one hand, while corralling them into a creamy core of oatmeal, nougat and nutty nourishment on the other. This builds glass after glass, with the mineral quotient becoming more and more intense, the flavours more expansive. A top-barrel selection from the hillside block. 95 points. Ned Goodwin MW, Halliday Wine Companion August 2019
2017 Stefano Lubiana Sasso Pinot Noir RRP $130
Mix of three terroirs: grey gravelly loam over clay; mix of black clay and grey gravelly silt with clay beneath; and classic terra rossa of red clay loam over marl limestone. Elevation between 20m and 60m. Low yields of 2.5 tonne per hectare. We have three unique blocks of Pinot Noir (II Giardino, La Roccia and Ruscello). These blocks are specifically chosen for this wine as they produce fruit of the highest quality. This wine is medium weighted, with soft, savoury tannins and well-balanced acidity. The wine is only produced in exceptional years, with the 2017 being only the seventh year of Sasso. – Steve & Monique Lubiana
From a fab year in Tasmania comes a pinot noir – the company’s icon pinot, to be precise – that beautifully exemplifies the meaning of a ‘brooding’ young red. It’s a challenge to describe, you drink it in large gulps of verbiage. Dark, dense, back-to-back black fruits, stewed rhubarb, truffle and leather, violets. It’s both savoury and fruit-focused, red licorice mixes it up with smoky clove and cigar box. Tannins run and run. And still so young. 95 points. Jeni Port, Halliday Wine Companion 2021
SINGLE-BLOCK PINOT NOIR
The three plots – Ruscello, Il Giardino and La Roccia – have been singled out for their diverse soil and topography, and the nuances of shape, texture and structure that these give to these unique iterations of Pinot Noir. Crop levels are kept low at 3 to 4 tonnes per hectare or 800g to 1kg per vine. Winemaking is very simple and relatively consistent between blocks, with the number of whole clusters in the ferment being the main difference. All are fermented with natural yeast in small, open fermenters with a total maceration of three weeks. All blocks are matured in French oak barriques (20% new) for 12 months.
2017 Stefano Lubiana Ruscello Pinot Noir RRP $100
An extraordinary New World Pinot, built around a fine weave of tannin that elbows the juicy fruit into a savoury mould, while allowing it to flow over the seams. Just enough. Not too much. Plenty of cherry to red berry crunch, nevertheless. Slight enough to coax one in for another glass, while building a strong case for the wine’s ageability. A superb touch is manifest in the use of whole bunch, oak and extraction. This is thoroughly Burgundian. 96 points. Ned Goodwin, Halliday Wine Magazine 2020
2017 Stefano Lubiana Il Giardino Pinot Noir RRP $100
A Pinot built around a twine of whole cluster clove and cardamon-clad tannin, racing along a verdant undercarriage of cool climate acidity and biodynamic energy. Spiky and refreshing. Shins and elbows, but boy will this grow. Just give it time! This is Pinot for those who appreciate texture, while dwelling on intrigue. Lots of stuffing, poise and immense potential. 96 points. Ned Goodwin, Halliday Wine Magazine 2020
Fine perfume, red fruits, layers of exotic spice, a slight smokiness too. Medium-bodied, spiced red fruits with an almost smoked paprika character, a sweep of emery board tannin, dry, yet fresh, and a savoury and spicy finish that carries nice and long, but lacks the unfettered power and class of La Roccia. Still, outstanding wine of texture and interest that’s sure to develop beautifully with some bottle age. 95 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front November 2019
2017 Stefano Lubiana La Roccia Pinot Noir RRP $100
This is the diplomat of this triumvirate and damn, holy it is. Mid-weight, crunchy and melding the red berry sass of the Ruscello plot with the herbal spine of the Il Giardino and its whole-cluster drive. This is infinitely long, etched with tannin, extract and sex appeal. Refined. Gorgeous. Length pushes the score. These single-plot Pinots are among the finest of the country, demanding serious attention. 97 points. Ned Goodwin, Halliday Wine Magazine 2020
Great to see a producer bottling small plots of vineyard, not least in a great Tassie year like 2017.
It’s the length that de fines this wine, and yes, there’s plenty of that. Dark cherry, spice, subtle earthiness, flowers, and perhaps it’s subliminal, but crushed rock is a big part of the style. It has a Barbaresco character, though it’s identifiably Pinot Noir, though I offer that comment because the structure of it is top shelf, and serious. Raspberry and red cherry, freshness and energy, with an intensity and aforementioned length that’s second to none. Superb. 96 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front November