Musings from the Hunter Valley Wine Show 2012

There was a celebration of Hunter classics last week.  The Hunter icons: Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz, were all on parade.  However, there was some deviation from the ‘Classic’ in this year’s Hunter Valley Wine Show, and perhaps a peek into the future, in the shape of Audrey Wilkinson Tempranillo.

Hunter semillon is one of those varietals that is beloved by the wine trade – winemakers, writers, sommeliers and all but continues to be under appreciated by a wider audience. Rather like an arthouse film. In a sense, I find this hard to reconcile considering how we expect our celebrities to be size zero with angles and personality in their youth developing rounded cheeks & elegance in their prime.  And our white wine? No, we seem to want them to be the opposite – flamboyant, plumper for our immediate escapist enjoyment with no contemplation to be done. Never mind that Hunter semillon is a scintillating counter for delicate seafood – seared tuna or fresh shucked oysters anyone?  On the other hand, there are enough styles of Hunter semillon being produced, particularly with the likes of McGuigan Semillon Blanc that there is something for everyone… they just have to discover it.

While 100% semillon is still uncommon in the world, because of its purity, lack of oak and longevity, Hunter Semillon has earned its place as one of those distinctive styles, like Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine and Barolo.  The best shows a fine line of acid, pure citrus along its long length in its youth developing a toasty, honey and lanolin complexity in its prime.  I have recently tasted a 10 year old Hunter Semillon from one of the best vineyards that only shows a hint of waxiness in deference to its age.

If you need even more reason to love semillon – it is a decade or two long voyage of discovery in a case.

Hunter Shiraz has been emerging to show its fruitier side.  While still elegantly medium bodied, there is a purity to the fruit where once was a youthful dominance of warm spice from oak. The wines that have been created for cellaring have bigger tannins that require time to mellow but still have plumper fruit.

Chardonnay once shared more of the lime light with Semillon than it does today. There is a range of styles presented at this show from oaked tropical styled wines reminiscent of a decade ago, to those seeing portion work with silky lees characters supporting the fresh crisp fruit.  It is great to see well constructed wines still offering choice to the consumer.

Of varietals such as Tempranillo, there is a Hunter story unfolding.  There are patches of these ‘alternative’ varietals around and more being planted, although for those who know it, the Hunter has never been a two trick pony.  It is also heartening to see that producers are striving to keep the Hunter provenance of their brands rather than having to buy it from outside the region.  These newer varietals will capture the hearts of Hunter lovers just as Semillon & Shiraz have & continue to reinvigorate the Hunter Valley region on shelves and wine lists and not just the ‘cellar door’ experience.

Probably one of the major shake ups in the show was delivered by Chalkboard 2012 Semillon. Made by Tyrrells and sold in Vintage Cellars for just $11.99, even less if you buy it as part of a multi-buy this wine, this wine won The Marshall-Flannery Trophy for current vintage semillon and the Henry John Lindeman Memorial Trophy for current vintage dry white wine quickly followed.

Here are just a selection of the Trophy winners and gold medals awarded at the Hunter Valley Wine Show 2012. I will publish more individually soon.

Tyrrells Belford 2012 Semillon:- Pure citrus, dipping to grapefruit ripeness.  Mineral linearity along a long length. You may not see this one for a while, they tend to be released with some age when they look a little rounder.

McLeish 2007 Semillon: A softer style but saucy, showy some development in its honeyed lemon depths.  Linear and long. A wine with a long line of accomplishments.

Tintilla Hunter Reserve Semillon 2004 : Still youthful with just a touch of honey to its grapefruit and mineral liveliness. Just some roundness and some waxiness on the palate. A lovely flavoured length, good drinking now or hold in the cellar.

First Creek Winemakers Reserve  2011 Chardonnay: A wine rich in creamy, nutty stonefruit while still offering fresh fruit layers. There is silkiness and roundness that shape the mouth. A good food wine.

Audrey Wilkinson 2011 Tempranillo: The purple purple plum depths hint at the vibrancy to come.  There are violets, cinnamon and some fresh herb characters pleasing both nose and palate. Supple tannins with plush fruit along the long length ending on a savoury finish.

Tinklers UandI Shiraz 2010: Fresh blueberry and plum are brought to life with some cinnamon. A juicy supple Shiraz with Hunter elegance with line and length. If you are bored with the usual Shiraz suspects, seek this one out!

Eagles Rest 2009 Shiraz: Plenty of spiced plum delight here. Firm with concentration and intensity with a savoury finish. Lots to love with the price under $20 if you buy them from the dozen through cellar door.

Tempus Two Wines 2011 Pewter Semillon: Soft citrus fruit around a long mineral backbone. While the aromas are still tightly held, there is a more generous palate resonating with flavour.   Will age gracefully but good drinking now.

Tempus Two Wines 2003 Copper Zenith Semillon: The citrus fruit is showing some honeyed lanolin development though still fresh and aging gracefully. Softer acid with a lingering honeyed length offering a fleshier alternative to a youthful semillon.

Andrew Thomas 2010 Sweetwater Shiraz: A fresh Hunter shiraz with expressive cherry and plum fruit and a cinnamon and smoky edge.  Take just a little extra time with the nose and you will be rewarded with enticing floral notes.  Elegantly bodied with fine tannins make this wine just so drinkable now.

McGuigan Wines 2000 Personal Reserve Shiraz: With 12 years on it, this wine is looking remarkable with plenty of leathery nutmeg and black plum. The fruit is softly complemented by the fine texture that lasts in the mouth.  A wine that builds its story at a slower pace.

Tyrrell Vineyards 2009 Vat 8 Shiraz: A meeting of two New South Wales regions, one the doyenne, the other an up and coming diva. Modern Hunter shiraz marries well with Hilltops Cabernet with abundant dark plum and chocolate. While still elegantly structured, the Cabernet Sauvignon adds some firmness to the tannins. A wine that will give generously for years to come.

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