Hunter Valley Gems, the two S’s

hunter valleyOn a bleak, cold, rain-sodden Queens Birthday holiday we set out to reacquaint ourselves with two of the famous Hunter S’s; Shiraz and Semillon. Well at least the foul weather kept the crowds away, most tasting rooms we had to ourselves, which means we get the staff all to ourselves and get to learn a lot more about the wines and the wineries.

So here are some Hunter Valley S&S tasting notes.

A simply amazing array of high class Semillon and Shiraz from all that we visited; Pepper Tree, De Iuliis, Mistletoe, Keith Tulloch and Meerea Park. Please note the red wines here are medium bodied with alcohol levels generally around 13% to 13.5%, elegant wines but with intensity and  complexity.

At Pepper Tree we tried their 2010 Semillon, lifted lime, lemon and florals and a gift at under $20. The Tallawanta Semillon is a fabulous wine with lemon zest, lime and bracing acidity; a wine that will live forever and you understand why it could once be called Hunter Riesling. In the red corner there is a lovely Reserve Shiraz Viogner that comes from their vineyards in Wrattonbully in SA, some of which is making the trip home with us.

On to Meerea Park, where I have to confess I am a fan of their red wines. Anyway, we held back and started with a couple of Semillons, and glad we did. A  2006 ‘Terracotta’ and 2007  ‘Alexander Munro’ were both startling Semillons, just beginning to show a hint of toast but many years to go; wines focused on lemon citrus and each with a core of bracing acidity. I might just add there is a 2011 ‘ Alexander Munro’ Chardonnay that also made me take notice. We tried both the 2009 and 2010 ‘Alexander Munro’ Shiraz; much as I loved the 2009 I thought the 2010 a more complete and complex wine, just medium  bodied but with wonderful fruit/acid/tannin balance, drink now or watch it get even better for at least 20 years. The 2009 ‘Hell Hole’ Shiraz is another medium bodied but complex wine with years ahead. By the way, at Meerea Park they say that 2010 is a better vintage than 2009; on my tastings I can see why.

A little further down Broke Rd is De Iuliis where the 2011 ‘Sunshine’ Semillon was a delight that blew us away – get some if you can; mineral/lemon/citrus notes with rapier like acidity, this will be a great wine. We also tried a 2005 aged release Semillon that was really starting to show toasty development  and will build further. We tried the entry level Shiraz that was a little higher than most at 14% but still medium bodied, just a soft and spicy beautiful drink – I opened one that night. Then there was the 2010 LDR (Lovedale Road) Shiraz, a wine of velvety texture with oak evident but in check, and rich fruit finished off by supple tannins. There are a couple more big hitters in their Shiraz stable but they will have to wait till next trip.

Then on to Keith Tulloch where we were the only visitors, hard to believe in this gorgeous building, sublime wines and the 100 years history of the Tulloch family. We tried the whole tasting range here but I’ll mention just two of them. The 2011 Semillon is a cracker with lemon/lime as usual but also a little tropical melon that made it just a little different to others, still with that core of acid running all the way. We also tried the 2009 ‘The Kester’ Shiraz, and for me this was the wine of the trip. The notes say this is a return to moderation at 13.8% and is a wine with beautiful balance and refinement – to which I agree. In this fabulous mix there is also black cherry and plum, chocolate, earthy notes, hints of vanilla and a velvet texture with fine tannins holding it all together. The finish is long with a savoury touch at the end, a real standout.

Last stop for the day was my first visit to Mistletoe, owned by Gwen and Ken Sloan who have been farmers and winegrowers  here for many years. They make an extensive range of wines and I tried most but will mention just a few. The 2011  Home Vine Semillon has lemon grapefruit characters and crisp acidity (don’t they all), and is a great price. The 2009 Reserve Semillon adds another dimension to the above and is a great wine from a great year; spicy, a little grassy, lemon/lime also and good acid, only 10.6% and a multiple trophy winner. The 2009 Shiraz is lovely; soft, plummy and a hint of leather/earth,  drinking well right now. The 2009 Reserve Shiraz is another creature altogether; plum, blackberry, oak, tannins, spice, savoury notes – that’s some of the components, and when they are in perfect harmony with a texture of pure silk as in this wine, then you have people like James Halliday giving it 97 points.

Folks, don’t be sidetracked by those who decry the merits of the wines of the Hunter Valley. This is world central for Semillon, and the medium bodied, silken textured Shiraz is just getting better. There are a number of brilliant young winemakers producing many of the wines here; combine that with ‘old hands’ still working these vines and wines, and you are up to your neck in Australian vinous history. Here are some of the oldest vines in the country, some of its greatest history, and some of Its greatest wines.

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