Australia ♯5 Hunter Valley
The Hunter Valley was a long, rainy, dark, trip in a rumbly old bus from Orange and many thanks to rumbly old Frank for driving us there. The Hunter Valley is unique as a wine region. First it has a bizarre climate with humidity, rain at harvest time and loads of heat that is only mitigated by the fact that is gets cloudy enough in the afternoons to reduce the stress on the vines and give them a rest. One other unique feature of the Hunter is that back in the 1800’s when the rest of the wine world was being devastated by a louse that lives in the soil and feeds on vine roots (called phyloxera) the Hunter escaped. The vines are planted on their own roots rather than the normal US ones used to protect vines in other areas. Despite, or perhaps because of this, it makes three great styles of wine. Semillon. This is a style that is unique within the world of wine. Semillon is picked super early during January before the worst of the rain in February. As a result it starts out under-ripe with only around 10-5 to 11% alcohol. The young wines are lean and racy with lemon grass and a delicate restrained nose. But, the magic starts once they have been in bottle for five, or ideally ten, years. At this time, seemingly from nowhere complex, savoury aromas of toast and smoke emerge. At the same time the acidity softens and the palate rounds out. They are delicious wines only rarely seen in the UK, rarer still with the requisite bottle age. Chardonnay. Again this is picked early to avoid rain and rot. The background climate is warm here so the wines show tropical fruit flavours but the Hunter magic works to keep them only moderate in body and they still taste fresh. These wines are oaked but on those I tasted it was done with real delicacy and finesse – just the right dose of smoke and spice. Shiraz. These are deceptive wines with powerful punchy fruit when young, again walking the tightrope between ripeness and elegance. Most were medium bodied with plenty of spice and aromatics. With age they develop great complex savoury richness. We tasted some incredible wines from: • Tyrells – arguably the most famous Hunter Winery of all, makes Vat 1 Semillon as Vat 47 Chardonnay and Vat 9 Shiraz • Brokenwood – awesome Semillon and the Graveyard Shiraz one of Australias very top red wines • Mount Pleasant Vineyard – makers of the delicious O’Shea Shiraz as well as great Semillon and Chardonnay All of the above producers were incredibly generous if their time and with their wines. It really brings a wine to life to understand how it ages and we were able to taste wines back to ’99 against current vintages – a real treat and a great education too. Many thanks to them all.