Matching Tassie’s best tipples to food

 

There’s never been a better time to drink in Tasmania, with a diverse range of our southern vineyards picking up a swag of State, national and international awards.

Such diversity provides a great opportunity for wine lovers to stray off their beaten path to try new flavours – but if you’re used to staying with the same brands and types it can be daunting to try something different.

Fred Peacock is the founder of, and viticulturalist at, Bream Creek Vineyard, which supplies several of the Maria Island Walk’s wines. We talked to Fred to get some tips for how to make the best choice when pairing wine with food.

 

 

What makes Tasmanian wines so special?

 

Because they’re made in a cooler climate, Tassie wines have a high natural acidity in the grapes, which means they taste quite fresh. That vibrancy helps cut through richer foods quite easily, so you can pair, say a riesling with something quite rich – the cleansing acidity helps to refresh the palate each time.

According to Fred, a Tasmanian wine-industry pioneer, fifteen years ago Australia was best known for its big heavy reds – high alcohol, rich, almost “porty” styles. But in the last few years the industry has changed – and many growers have moved away from that into picking the grapes younger, which makes the wine fresher.

 

 

Power and the glory

 

As a general rule of thumb, think of the punch that the food flavour packs, and then match that intensity with your wine. Pair powerful foods like beef and strong cheese with full-bodied drops – “hard cheeses and particularly blue cheese with a bit of funk and age need the tannins from a cabernet to cut through the richness,” says Fred. Otherwise opt for a sweeter riesling or schönburger to contrast with the saltiness.

Lighter foods, on the other hand, need a more delicate wine – “something that’s dancing on its tiptoes, not plodding along.”

Match soft cheese with a richer pinot gris, to go with the delicacy of the flavour. For pasta dishes, consider the sauce: chardonnay matches well with creamy meals, while pinot grigio pairs perfectly with any style of seafood.

 

She’ll be white.

 

Tasmania has a wide variety of both reds and whites, but if you’re unsure, go pale. You can match a wider range of foods to white – from aperitif quaffing all the way through to a bigger chardonnay with pork or chicken, for example. Says Fred: “White retains its natural freshness from that acidity in the grapes, and offsets even quite rich food.”

 

When in doubt, drink pinot

 

Pinot noir is a versatile red wine – it works well with duck and lighter meats. If you want to be controversial, it even works with salmon in the lighter style pinots.

“When you have a really big heavy wine, [drink] one glass and you’re just about done,” says Fred. “A younger wine and you can go a second glass. A good pinot is very versatile, and food matching’s a much bigger thing in recent years, with tasting menus and regular opportunities at many wine shops to try before you buy. Take advantage, and take notes.”

 

 

When all else fails …

 

Don’t panic. For every rule there’s an exception – a flinty pinot that matches lamb’s pastural richness, or an unoaked chardonnay that brings the delicate flavours of sashimi to the fore. Really, there’s no wrong way to enjoy your favourite drop. “At the end of the day, if you like what you’re drinking, drink what you like,” advises Fred. “There’s not much point matching it with food if you’re not enjoying the wine’s flavour.”

On the Maria Island Walk, guests have the chance to sample a selection of award-winning Tasmanian wines that have been thoughtfully paired with their food.

They sip their way from Gala Estate and Milton near the iconic Freycinet Peninsula, through the hills behind stunning Marion Bay, where the Bream Creek and Cape Bernier labels are found, and to 42° South, from the Frogmore Creek winery in the Coal River Valley, just outside Hobart.

And what should you sip with your after-meal chocolate? A warm Pinot Noir does the perfect job.

 

 

Get someone else to choose…

 

A fully catered Tasmanian holiday – such as the Maria Island Walk’s four-day walk – is the perfect way to experiment. When Maria Island Walks founder Ian Johnstone came to decide on drinks for his guests, he chose to focus on the best wines from vineyards in the same region as Maria Island – south-east Tasmania.

Built on a foundation of beautiful fresh Tasmanian produce, the Maria Island Walk’s menu has been carefully curated and matched with fine wines.

 

Must See Tasmanian Wildlife

The breathtaking splendour of wild animals, and the joy of close-up encounters with them, draws people to isolated places all over the world.

Here in Australia we’re blessed with a suite of animals that are found nowhere else. Sadly, a number of these special animals have disappeared from mainland Australia – including Tasmanian devils and several quoll species. The good news is that these mainland-missing animals are still easily seen in Tasmania.

There are several places around Tasmania where you’re guaranteed to see special animals and birds, but arguably none better than Maria Island National Park.

My island home

Here’s the thing about islands.

If a landmass is sufficiently separate from other landmasses its plants and animals get to go their own way, biologically speaking.

Over time, a nudge here from natural selection and a prod there from human – or some other – intervention and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself an island with a whole lot of interesting critters.

And islands are of course surrounded by water, which can, depending on the location, increase one’s chance of seeing marine creatures.

What’s really special about Maria is that it’s an island off another island (Tasmania) off another island (mainland Australia). And a chain of events led to it being declared a wildlife reserve nearly 50 years ago.

Ark Maria

In 1962, the Tasmanian Animals and Birds Protection Board – forerunner of today’s Parks and Wildlife Service – recommended setting Maria aside as a reserve for endangered animals.

There’d been concerns for some years about the effects on native animals of population spread and land clearing for agriculture. The remarkable Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, hadn’t been seen in the wild for decades, and was feared extinct. By the later 1960s, hydro-electric developments helped focus these concerns into an organised conservation movement, and ultimately the world’s first green political party – the United Tasmania Group.

Throughout the 1960s, Maria Island’s agricultural properties were acquired and livestock removed. Starting in 1969, endangered species were introduced. The mammals included forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies, wombats and brush-tailed possums. Birds included Cape Barren geese and Tasmanian native hens.

In 1971 Maria island was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary and it was proclaimed a national park in 1972. The associated Maria Island Marine Reserve, off the island’s north-east coast, was declared in 1991.

With a few exceptions, the island’s introduced birds and animals and its protected marine species have thrived.

Devilish times

In 2012, Maria’s ‘rock star’ introduced species arrived: a small, healthy population of endangered Tasmanian devils.

At times so widespread and prevalent in Tasmania that they were commonly seen as roadkill, devils had been in decline since 1996, when the transmissible cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) was first identified. There are now two known strains of DFTD; they account for a third of all known transmissible cancers.

Maria’s devils were intended to breed and provide healthy, wild-born individuals for re-introduction to mainland Tasmania. At this, they’ve been outrageously successful.

In just a few years the devils bred up to a population of around 100. Scores of Maria-bred devils have been trapped and removed from the island to keep population numbers in check.

Where to see animals on Maria

In short: everywhere, and that’s the joy of the place. Even on the most-used island walk, between Darlington ferry wharf and the historic precinct, people see Cape Barren geese, native hens and wombats – the latter in broad daylight.

Here’s a brief list of the animals you’ll encounter on Maria, and the most likely places to see them.

Forester kangaroos

Foresters – known as grey kangaroos in mainland Australia – are commonly seen on the grasslands surrounding the landing strip and, often in the evening, just north of Darlington, near Bernacchis Creek.

Foresters were once common in agricultural areas of Tasmania but by the 1950s and ‘60s their former population had been reduced by more than 80%. Today they’re seen mainly at Mt William, Narawntapu and Maria Island national parks.

Wombats

Maria’s wombat population numbers in the thousands and they’re seen everywhere, including in the middle of the Darlington quadrangle, around the camping ground, and on the hillside around Ruby Hunt’s cottage. Wombats are mostly nocturnal but they’re always seen in daylight hours on Maria. Sometimes so many of them graze in the same area they almost appear to be a herd of small cows.

Recent research has confirmed that the common wombats introduced to Maria in the early 1970s are the subspecies Vombatus ursinus ursinus, which was once found throughout the Bass Strait islands but is now found only on Flinders Island. The subspecies Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis is found on mainland Tasmania. Both are distinct from the Australian mainland common wombat, Vombatus ursinus hirsutus.

Tasmanian devils

Maria Island’s devil population boomed after the marsupials were introduced and, given that they’re opportunistic carrion-eaters, it’s not unusual to see them lurking around the Darlington precinct, especially near the barbecues in the camping area. A female named Nutella, released on the island in 2013, famously raised her young in a den under the Darlington Penitentiary verandah. They’ve also been seen in other parts of the island, and sometimes during the day

Maria’s devils are among the best studied in Australia and the distinctive carnivore traps used by researchers – a wide-diameter PVC pipe with trapdoor lid – can sometimes be seen in scrub just off tracks near Darlington, and in other locations.

Cape Barren geese

These large, handsome birds are a common sight on the lawns around Darlington and the nearby airstrip grasslands. Their distinctive grumpy honking is one of the island’s more common sounds.

Cape Barren geese are found right along the southern coast of Australia and the population is considered secure and stable. But in the 1950s their numbers were so low that biologists feared for the species’ survival.

Marine mammals

Common and bottle-nosed dolphins are regularly seen, sometimes in large pods, in the Mercury Passage, which separates Maria from mainland Tasmania. Long-finned pilot whales are also common in these waters, and unfortunately the whale most likely to strand on Maria’s beaches. Humpback whales can be seen in the Passage during early winter, on their northwards migration, and in late spring, when they’re on their way back to Antarctica.

There’s a large Australian fur seal haul-out at Ile des Phoques, about 20 km north of Maria Island, and seals are a common sight in waters along the Fossil Cliffs and in Fossil Bay, and from time to time in Darlington Bay.

Help from the guides

Experienced trekking guides, such as the Maria Island Walk’s, are an invaluable asset for wildlife- and bird spotting, especially when it comes to the more obscure species. Because they’re constantly sharing information with their fellow guides they’ll usually know where the forty-spotted pardalotes have been seen, and they’ll have you recognizing the difference between kelp and Pacific gulls in no time.

And bear in mind that you won’t need the help of guides to see many of Maria’s animals – in some parts of the island you’ll virtually be tripping over them!

 

Winter Indulgence on Maria Island

Winter is a magical time to visit Maria Island.

In small groups of just 8 guests and 2 wonderful guides, we will show you the island’s beauty, history and amazing wildlife on our 3 day Winter Escape.

Here are 5 reasons to visit Maria Island with us this winter…

  1. Starry skies and a possible viewing of the beautiful Aurora Australis

Maria Island National Park is blessed with very little light pollution which means on a clear night you get to see a sky full of bright shining stars.

The Aurora Australis can be seen year-round in Tasmania but one of the best times to see it is over the winter months. To the naked eye the aurora will look like a flickering white light and generally you won’t be able to see the vivid purples or pinks you see in photos. However, if you are a keen photographer you can capture these vivid colours with your camera by taking a long exposure.

 

  1. Settle in by a crackling fireplace and indulge in a delicious platter of cheese paired with a glass of Tasmanian Pinot Noir.

 

  1. The entire island to yourself… almost!

You get to spend your day with a mob of Tasmanian Forester Kangaroos.

Forester Kangaroos are partially social animals that are usually seen in family groups of three or four but can also be in associated mobs of more than ten.

They are also the largest marsupial in Tasmania and the second largest in the world. Males can reach over 60kg and stand 2 m tall!

  1. Sunrises on Maria Island are especially beautiful in winter.

Our favourite location to watch a sunrise is at the incredible Fossil Cliffs.

  1. Visit the dramatic Painted Cliffs

The beautiful patterned sandstone cliffs have been carved and moulded by the mineral-rich water and wind. The best time to visit the cliffs is at or around low tide.