MS Topic of the Week 12/4/2019 - Introductory & Certified

Malolactic manifesto last week from and cool trivia from . Thanks gents! 

This week: Hunter Valley

Describe the climate, soils, viticulture and wines produced. Bonus for 3 producers.

  • I haven't checked in here for a while, and as an Australian, I'm sorry to see the Hunter not getting any love here!  So I'm late, but: the Hunter is a warm to hot region north-west of Sydney that owes the reputation it has mainly to unique and extraordinary Semillons, as well as its proximity as a tourist destination to Sydney.  Humidity is generally high for a wine region, though this mitigates the heat somewhat, along with relatively frequent afternoon cloud cover.  Rains are common in summer and can cause problems at harvest time.  Soils are varied, however the most important are sandy alluvial flats (Semillon) and red duplex and loam soils (Shiraz).  Duplex soils are typical in southeastern Australia, being stratified and eroded mixes of quarz sand, clay and iron and aluminium oxides.

    Semillons are generally made here at about 10-11% alcohol and are very citrus bright and high acid in their youth, but can age 20+ years, developing great richness and texture, along with lanolin and honey notes.  These are still extraordinary value, even from top producers, and some are released as mature wines, Tyrrell's Vat 1 being the best-known example.

    There are some vineyards with Shiraz vines well over 100 years old, and historically, there have been also been some remarkably long-lived wines in this category.  The best are also harvested at lower potential alcohol than most Australian wines with alcohol levels around 13%.  These are typically medium-bodied with bright fruit, pepperiness and acidity, and can develop into superbly complex and delicious mature wines, with leatheriness, retained fruit, and spice being the consistent components in my experience.  Tyrrell's Lost Block is made from vines over 140 years old.

    Along with Tyrrell's, Brokenwood and Margan are two very good producers that come to mind.  Lake's Folly is a famous (in Australia) producer of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Hunter, and there's quite a bit of Chardonnay that comes out of the region, too, generally in a ripe, easy style, and Verdelho is probably the last significant grape.

  • "Semillon is the most planted grape in Hunter Valley, and Hunter Valley Semillon is the world’s most classic and ageworthy dry example of the grape. Semillon was once sold as “Hunter Riesling” here, a synonym that offers a clue to its austere character: the wine is fairly low in alcohol (frequently in the 10-12% range) and incredibly acidic (pH levels remain around 2.9). Classic Hunter Semillon is harvested at the end of January or during the first week in February, at Baumé levels of 9-12°; it is generally vinified with commercial yeasts and quickly bottled (in the June or July following harvest) with a significant remaining level of carbon dioxide. Classic Hunter Semillon never sees oak and there is no emphasis on lees stirring, but it will be aged by its makers for several years prior to release, during which period it begins to gain notes of browned toast and crème caramel—expanding on the simple lemon and slight grass notes of its extreme youth. Top bottlings include Tyrrell’s “Vat 1” and Brokenwood’s “ILR Reserve,” which are released five and six years after the vintage, respectively. Both have aging potential measured in decades rather than years, and their makers, like many others in Australia, have shifted entirely to screwcap closures. That overly simplistic blind tasting adage—“New World” wines have higher alcohol and “Old World” wines have higher acidity—is called into question with Hunter Semillon, and one is reminded that temperature is only one factor in the equation of wine climate. "

    --GuildsommExpert Study Guide