Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Getting to know the Hunter Valley

I have just returned from a wonderful month Down Under on a trip around Australia and New Zealand, which as you can imagine was an incredible experience (check out my pictures on Instagram if you want to see what I got up to: WARNING! may cause you to book a holiday to New Zealand!).

As you can imagine, as well as exploring these beautiful countries for their incredible landscapes and wildlife, their delicious food and basking in their summer sun; I took the opportunity to get to know a little bit more about their wine scene. I mean, everyone knows that Australia and New Zealand produce delicious wine, but I wanted to get to know these wines better. I feel that you always understand and appreciate a wine region more when you have stood on their soils, looked at the lay of the land and met some of the people who devote their lives to making these delicious wines that we are fortunate to enjoy.

My first post will focus on a day that I spent touring around the Hunter Valley region of Australia, which lies around 120km north of Sydney. Hunter Valley is one of Australia's premier wine producing areas, known for producing excellent examples of those quintessential Aussie wines: Semillon and Shiraz. It features a number of different soil types, including clay, sandstone, volcanic ash and limestone. We did our tour with a company called Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours, who collected us from Sydney's Central Business District at the ungodly hour of 7am and ferried us in a comfortable mini-bus to Hunter Valley (via a cafe where we could pick up some breakfast and a coffee, thank goodness). Our tour was led by our amiable and rather amusing tour guide, Bill.

We visited four vineyards or cellar doors on our trip. A word on cellar doors before I move onto the details - on my time Down Under I became rather well acquainted with Cellar Doors, which are essentially the retail offering of a winery or vineyard that offers wine tastings and sells wines to punters as they drive around the wine regions (obviously with spittoons provided for drivers to employ so that they don't run the risk of drink driving). "Cellar Door" has also been noted for how beautiful the phrase sounds when you say it, with none other than J. R. R. Tolkien waxing lyrical about it (read more here if you are interested...)

So, with that said now, on to the wine...!


Our first stop was to visit Lambloch, who were very forthright in their views when presenting their wines; they said that they don't enter their wines into exhibitions and wine award competitions - instead they focus purely on selling wines to those people who come through their doors. Why do they do this? Interestingly, their winemaker feels that some winemakers get caught up in making wines that will impress wine judges, rather than making wines that are enjoyable to drink. After all, what is the point of wine, if not to be drunk by people? 

I found that they certainly had some interesting and very pleasing wines. The wines that stood out for me were their 2015 Sparkling Semillon, which was made in a Charmat method (ie: not the Champange method) and is one of only two sparkling Semillons currently produced in the Hunter Valley, it had a nose of lightly tropical fruit (pineapple) with a nice mouth-feel. It wasn't particularly complex, but was certainly very pleasant and would make for a nice, summer sipping wine. Interestingly, their other wine that grabbed me was their 2016 Moscato Sparkling, which was again made in a Charmat method using Black Moscatel grapes this time. It had a lovely, light peach nose, but on the mouth featured a surprisingly complex and layered taste of rose, strawberry and Turkish Delight. This was an excellent wine and with a low ABV (7% I think), it would make for a great afternoon wine whilst getting the BBQ ready!

Hermitage Wine Cellars

Next stop for us was Hermitage Wine Cellars. This time we weren't visiting a producer per se, but instead we were visiting someone who distributes wine and as such has many different producers' wines on their lists and available to purchase/taste. We tasted six different wines, which were served with matching cheeses (I must say that the cheeses were really very good too, they did a great job matching them!).

My favourite wine that they served was a 2015 Stormy Ridge Shiraz that had a really pervasive red cherry nose, which was followed by a taste that featured similarly red cherry notes, bright and vibrant. It was served with a marinated feta that really worked well against the bold Shiraz. I also enjoyed trying the 2016 (?) Lisa McGuigan Chardonnay which had benefited from a little time in oak giving it beautiful, warm notes of tropical fruit and a smattering of buttery-goodness. This was served with a ripe brie - what could be better??

Leogate Wines

After this we moved on to Leogate Wines, which is set in an absolutely beautiful estate - I could absolutely understand it when they said that they do weddings on their vineyard, it would make a stunning place to get married. Leogate are currently riding high (literally) as their wines have been selected to be served by Qantas airlines on their First and Business Class flights - the competition to win this accolade is intense, so they are justifiably proud.

We tried a number of their wines, my highlights were: the 2015 Brokenback Late Harvest Semillon which had some nice tropical fruit notes (mango and pineapple), the palate featured a really nice splash of acidity that gave the wine a vibrancy and a nice balance to it. I'd been looking forward to tasting a nice Semillon and this one hit the spot. I was pleasantly surprised by their 2017 Rose Shiraz which had a quiet nose, but a thoroughly pleasant strawberry taste, with quite a bit of weight to it. Of the reds, I really liked their 2015 Brokenback Shiraz, a heavy-duty wine that had already developed some interesting secondary notes of leather and a grind of black pepper; on tasting it was rather tannic still, suggesting that it could do with a couple more years to settle, but that this would be a serious wine.

Very much enjoyed the tasting here, the only thing that irked me was that their tasting portions were very small - barely enough for two decent sips, which isn't great as you can't really form an opinion on a wine solely on the first sip (in my opinion).

Mount View Estate

For our last tasting we headed to Mount View Estate, who gave us the opportunity to try 12 of their wines (they certainly weren't stingy!). It was a very interesting tasting as they served the wines in pairs to show us variety between what we were tasting, for example a Semillon in a dry style versus one in a slightly richer style. 

Of the wines that we tried, again a few stood out for me. Firstly, their 2016 Reserve Chardonnay which again featured a bit of time in French Oak casks, giving the nose a nice and open profile with ripe pear coming through as well as some subtle buttery notes. On tasting, I found it to be a really classy wine with plenty of poise. I also very much enjoyed their 2015 Reserve Shiraz (which featured a nice little splash (8%) of Vioginer in it); this was another very elegant wine with the fruit being very well integrated to the tannins at this point in its development and the Viognier just providing a little softness to take the edge off the Shiraz. The last wine that I wanted to write about was a bit of a curve-ball, their NV Flagship Liquer Shiraz (which apparently has spent an average of 28 years in barrel), this is a fortified wine and was frankly delicious: on the nose it has all the Christmassy smells going on, chocolate, sweet spices (cloves, nutmeg), dark black cherries; it coats the mouth nicely and has flavours of dark chocolate and warm spices. An excellent wine! 


I titled this post "getting to know the Hunter Valley" and I feel that this tour did a good job of giving me a better understanding of the wines and winemakers in this much-vaunted wine-producing area. I expected to enjoy the Shiraz and the Semillons, but I was surprised (and pleased) to see that there was experimentation and innovation going on too, with the sparkling wines and roses unexpectedly good. Also, the people that we met were evidently proud of their products and their region - as they should be. The tour was well run and enjoyable and it was nice to meet wine enthusiasts from all around the world. Thanks to Bill for being a great host for the day and providing some enjoyable Aussie wit as part of his tour guide patter. I'd highly recommend a trip to Hunter Valley if you make your way to Australia and think that Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours do a good job (particularly as they do all the driving so you can focus on the tasting!).   

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Tim, that brings back some great memories - especially the chardonnay and brie!