Domaine Simha – a cult wine in the making
Domaine Simha is owned and run by husband and wife team Nav Singh and Louise Radman. With a mountain of academic and professional credentials behind them, they are close to being overqualified as winemakers. But there’s no overly cerebral approach to the wines of Domaine Simha – they’re more about feel and form than calculated winemaking. The talented pair relocated to Hobart in 2012, following the conviction that Tasmania could provide the ultimate fine wine growing terroir. “When you are making something of quality, you have to start with the best foundations. The natural advantages we have in Tasmania are unparalleled in the world of wine,” says Singh.
Singh hails originally from Delhi, India and there’s also a global approach to Domaine Simha. Nav’s international education has brought a new perspective to what Tasmanian terroir has to offer. Mastering his craft and formal education in viticulture and oenology in Australia, Nav went on to work with prestigious French estates including Domaine de L’Arlot in Burgundy and Chateau Le Pin in Bordeaux, as well as working with Chandon and Mountadam, and heading up operations in Margaret River and Clare Valley. These types of wine expertise are more than welcome here in Tasmania, as the state profile grows and the expertise to help the industry evolve must come with it. Likewise, Louise is a multi-award winning wine and experiential marketing consultant, writer and influencer. She is an alumni of the famed Len Evans Tutorial, sits on the national executive of Sommeliers Australia and is a senior judge at the London International Wine Challenge. The highest echelons of Australian wine have called upon her expertise and she now seeks to grow Tasmania’s profile as a member of the Brand Tasmania Council.
Nav Singh, winemaker at Domaine Simha
What are the Domaine Simha wines all about? Well, Nav and Louise tell me that they want to work with the wines, not against them, to express Tasmanian terroir in its purest form. They hope Domaine Simha wines will be a benchmark in quality and interest. The brand story honours Nav’s heritage, with the name Singh originating from the sanskrit word Simha, meaning lion. Flanked by two lions, the iconic India Gate that is something of a local gathering place features as the wine’s logo. There’s a real sense of roots and authenticity in that idea, as there is in the wines.
It is rare to see this kind of wine business building from the ground up because we tend to take for granted that vineyards and wine makers just turn out wines. Here, we have the perfect opportunity to watch the growth of an interesting and dynamic new wine company for Tasmania. The wines themselves are more Burgundy-inspired than anything else, made in styles that Nav and Louise like to drink themselves. Gently crafted with a natural method, they show an abundance of perfume, subtlety and restrained power that stand up to the best in the world.
The Domaine Simha fruit is drawn from vineyards the pair believe worthy of ‘Grand Cru’ status, and there’s a certain amount of truth in that, as you will find in my tasting notes – the Upper Derwent and Coal River Valleys get special mention here. The wines are quintessentially artisanal and communication with growers is crucial to the development of the grapes. Their patches of vine are grown according to Nav and Louise’s specifications, with minimal intervention and an integrated approach to viticulture. Vines are encouraged to find their own natural balance and most everything is done by hand. In the Upper Derwent, organic compost is upcycled from the local brewing, aquaculture and paper growers to feed the soil, while seaweed extract nourishes the vine leaves. Their harvest is aligned with the lunar cycle, so picking takes place on fruit and flower days they believe make more expressive wines. In the winery, Nav’s artisan methods include wild fermentation with natural yeasts from the vineyard, traditional pigeage and the use of large demi-muid French oak barrels and clay amphorae for fermentation and maturation. He bottles the wine unfined and unfiltered with perfect natural balance.
Domaine Simha has achieved extraordinary growth in its three years to date. The wines have been embraced by sommeliers around the country and made their way to the lists and cellars of elite institutions Australia-wide and overseas. Think Quay, Aria, Rockpool, Cutler & Co, Saffire, The Source at MONA and the famed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. With only two vintages under their belt, there is more to come from this interesting and dynamic young couple.
I was lucky enough to taste the Domaine Simha, Sanskrit and Simla wine ranges. On the morning of tasting, a group of UK wine journalists had also tasted the wines and had great things to say, highlighting the Riesling in particular. My tasting notes are something of a guide to the wines, but they really must be discovered for yourself. Seek them out – they won’t be in a mass-market chain store any time soon, and that’s a good thing!
Domaine Simha Rani Riesling
2014 Domaine Simha Rani Riesling, $75
‘Top 10 wines of 2014‘ - WINE TIMES HK
Hailing from the Roslyn vineyard in the Coal River Valley. Dolerite deposits under gravel form the soil base for this wine. 10 months on lees, and Louise and Nav tell me they’re looking for a certain quality of texture in this wine. As mentioned above, these wines are harvested according to biodynamic principles and this wine was picked on a fruit day, on the harvest moon of autumnal equinox. It spent 6 months on lees and certainly is very textural, actually quite viscous. It shoots for a redefinition of what Tasmanian Riesling can be, even though it’s already highly-rated. Zest and florals on the nose and the palate, with a long, lingering and persistent finish. 800 bottles only.
2014 Domaine Simha Raya Sauvage, $80
Again 800 bottle production, again from the Roslyn vineyard. Sauvage translates as wild and this is not your typical Sauvignon Blanc. It seeks to throw off the usual mantle in favour of texture and complexity. The goal for the winemakers here is privileging purity and terroir over variety. There’s some skin ferment time involved here, with 12 months maturing on lees in demi-muid (larger format) new oak. You do get the subtle aromatics of this on the nose, and bottled unfined and unfiltered it’s lightly cloudy in the glass. You get a sense of real non-traditional winemaking here. Gorgeous creamy texture, but light and fresh on its feet. Challenges your idea of Sauvignon Blanc – get sauvage.
Domaine Simha Rao Chardonnay
2014 Domaine Simha Rao Chardonnay, $95
This comes from the famous Meadowbank Vineyard in the Upper Derwent Valley. One new demi-muid also, with a whole-bunch wild ferment. Picked on a flower day after the harvest moon of Autumnal equinox. This is Louise’s baby, and her enthusiasm about its origins and what it has become are compelling. Indeed, it’s a shimmering beauty of a wine. Barrel fermented, and also unfined and unfiltered. This is softly floral on the nose but with gorgeous notes of flint. There’s some shell-like substance to this too. Soft but driving acidity underpins the gorgeous, citrusy, textured palate. It’s clean and driven at the same time – clean because of the taste, driven by the gutsy-ness of its motivation. Only one demi-muid (800 bottles) here too, and comes highly recommended with oysters.
Domaine Simha Rana Pinot Noir
2013 Domaine Simha Rana Pinot Noir, $150
Two older demi-muids of this precious juice, and Louise and Nav rate this their top wine. 100% whole bunch ferment, as noted with all the reds. Handpicked on a flower day after the hunters moon of Autumnal equinox, with traditional pigeage. This one is from the Roslyn vineyard, a gorgeous colour, very attractive. Roses on the nose, with layered and pristine cherry enveloping my senses. Restrained fullness on the palate, with a genuine sincerity of fruit and unobtrusive naturality. There’s a wonderful, sophisticated, meaty truffleness to the nose. This goes toe-to-toe with very, very good Burgundy. It leaves you reeling, wanting more while wishing at the same time that you had a magnum, double-magnum, or something larger to give you more and more of its brilliance. This is the Domaine’s best wine.
2014 Sanskrit Gamay, $55 (sold out)
Fruit comes from the Huon Valley-Cygnet area. The southerly site is harvested late in May. There’s gentle pigeage involved to keep things soft. Whole bunch wild ferment, matured in seasoned demi-muid. Only 300 bottles made. It’s not your standard Gamay, but then nothing is with this domaine. Really attractive, luminescent colour. Greeted with soft tannin, pomegranate and gentle earthiness. Fruit is juicy and bracing, but not overly so. All reds in the Domaine, including this, are whole bunch fermented. Subscribe to the mailing list online and wait for the next vintage, it’s the only way you’ll get some of this beauty.
2014 Sanskrit Cabernet Franc, $55
600 bottles of this wine produced. The fruit comes from the Tamar Valley, the vineyard soils clay with river stones. This wine spends slightly longer on skins, with wild ferment and traditional pigeage. Again unfined and unfiltered in the bottle. A blueberry and brambly hedge nose, layered and intriguing. Really very well managed tannins here, and would be a gorgeous pairing with a charcuterie plate. In fact, a charcuterie smorgasbord. There are soft notes of pepper but the fruit is there for all to see, and adore.
Enjoy the wines of Domaine Simha, and seek them out wherever you can. Contact the Domaine for the nearest stockist to find these beauties or order online. I can’t wait to see what happens with Louise and Nav’s wines in the future, and all credit to them for producing wine of real quality, representative of its place and terroir.
Domaine Simha’s website can be found here: http://shop.domainesimha.com/