I was fortunate enough to spend the last couple of days traversing the Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest continuous wine producing region dating back to 1828, with a group of media delving deep into what makes the region tick.
Most famously recognised for its incredible ability to produce the world's best Semillon, we took part in several masterclasses and tasted some 65+ wines. Shiraz, the other glamour of the region, certainly played its part - beautifully medium-bodied in all its glory, but a stand-out variety, and one that deserves more credit, were the stunning examples of Chardonnay. Very much sitting in the shadows of its regional siblings, Hunter Valley Chardonnay is an excellent drink and there are so many diverse expressions of it.
A tasting was also undertaken of some emerging varieties including Albarino, Fiano, Vermentino, Viognier, Touriga, and Sagrantino to name a few.
Semillon is a variety ideal for summer drinks in the sun. As Andrew Thomas said, "Anything you can squeeze a lemon on, Hunter Semillon is the way to go." That sums it up perfectly!
The stand out Semillons from around the region come off the alluvial soils found on the valley floor. A great take away was that cooler years have shown better long-term cellaring potential and warmer years lean to more immediate enjoyment. Andrew Thomas added that 2013 was the greatest Semillon vintage in the last twenty years.
Of the eight recent releases, the top picks were:
Brokenwood Oakey Creek 2021 (tank sample most likely heading to ILR), Silkman Reserve 2021, Thomas Braemore 2022, Tyrrell's Vat 1 2022. These wines showed soft, delicate citrus fruits, clean and well-handled acidity with impressive precision and purity.
The 2013 Semillons were absolutely incredible and have all shared their fair share of bling over the years. The best of the best were:
Briar Ridge Dairy Hill 2013, Brokenwood ILR 2013, Mount Pleasant Lovedale 2013, Thomas Braemore 2013. The freshness of these wines was incredible and really highlighted the ageworthiness of Hunter Valley Semillon.check it here.
Shiraz was up next and it was off to the new Mount Pleasant cellar door. This place is something and one out of the box. Guests are in for a treat when it officially opens in a couple of weeks.
Here we explored 12 wines, each example showing the 2019 and 2009 version. Hosted by Stuart Hordern (Brokenwood), Andrew Sparks (Mount Pleasant) and Phil Ryan (Mount Pleasant), Hordern explained the best Shiraz vineyards sit on red soils, perched on a hill that is east facing. These sites hug the range which shelters the vines from the afternoon sun and wind. Of course, like the Semillon vineyards, there are exceptions, but it is a credible rule of thumb to apply when you picture where the best blocks sit: Old Paddock, Old Hill and Graveyard to name a few.
Of the first bracket, the Thomas Kiss and De Iuliis Limited Release were blistering wines, both in their youth and the aged example. Hordern described both producers as making 'contemporary Hunter Valley wines' with their quality shining through. The Thomas Kiss is a single vineyard wine and comes from the Pokolbin Estate vineyards planted in 1969. The De Iuliis on the other hand is a blend of his best parcels (Steven and Lovedale Road) although the 2009 was predominantly from the famed Tallawanta vineyard. If you don't know these two producers, it's time to introduce yourself. Andrew Thomas is a meticulous winemaker and his perfection seeps through his wines. Mike De Iuliis is an excellent producer and his high-level consistency sees him standing tall alongside the much more famous brands in the valley. Respect.
The second bracket was all about the old firm - Tyrrell's Vat 9, Brokenwood Graveyard and Mount Pleasant Maurice O'Shea. Tyrrell's Vat 9 2009 and both the Graveyard 2019 and 2009 stole the show. Winemakers chase the black fruit profile and the 2009 wines of these two exhibited precisely just that and were humming. Classically medium-bodied, Hunter Valley Shiraz is a stunning drink when done well.
One more stop saw us drop by Peppertree to be hosted by Gwyn Olsen (Peppertree) and Aaron Mercer (Mercer Wines). As mentioned previously, the exploration of emerging varieties in the Hunter Valley is really gaining some momentum. Given the warm Hunter days during summer, the disease and drought threat is real. Producing fruit able to contend with both would make the life of viticulturists and winemakers less stressful. Pecorino is said to show resistance to disease and Touriga is a high cropping variety that thrives without water. Add these to the vast array of other varieties around the region and there is something to pique everyone's interest.A glittering black tie dinner capped off an incredible day. The wonderful camaraderie and warmth in the room plus the fabulous community vibe were thrilling to experience. The award winners are listed below although something that ought to be mentioned is the fitting tribute paid to the late Hunter Valley Legend Karl Stockhausen by Mount Pleasant's Phil Ryan. Riedel Young Achiever of the Year: Alex Beckett (Briar Ridge Vineyard)