Hunter Masterclass – The best in Hunter Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz
|3 Hunter experts and 1 Wining Pom|
Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz – they’re 3 varieties that, inarguably, tend to look most at home in the Hunter Valley. Fitting then that a bunch of Hunter winemaking luminaries/experts/rapscallions chose to showcase those particular three in a masterclass held last weekend at the Brokenwood winery
The purpose of the event was to introduce visiting American wine social media guru Rick Bakas to the glories of Hunter wine and I was lucky enough to score an invite to said masterclass, which I dutifully attended, just to keep an eye on proceedings and such….
Bracket 1: Semillon
Kicking off the event was a typically enjoyable bracket of the Hunter’s ‘gift to the world’ Semillon, with Andrew ‘Thommo’ Thomas the man on hosting duties for this bracket. As usual ‘Thommo’ waxed lyrical on the joys of Hunter Sem (they say that Thommo can talk underwater) but without embellishment- he’s a straight shooter is Thommo, which makes him more believable. Add that to almost 25 years in the Hunter as a winemaker and you’ve got a man who knows the place inside out, and makes some of the regions finest wines to boot. All of which adds up to plenty of engaging conversations about style, typicity and winemaking techniques, fuelled by a particularly experienced cadre of winemakers also in the room to add their own opinions.
Sadly I wasn’t able to keep up with all that was said during this bracket, particularly given I was busy trying to tweet, taste and chat all at once. I did manage a few odd points though, detailed below.
Oh and the other winemakers in the room included Iain ‘Riggsy’ Riggs (Brokenwood), Jim ‘Chatto’ Chatto (Pepper Tree) and Andrew ‘Spinners’ Spinaze (Tyrrells). I’m going to keep using their nicknames in this post for simplicity.
Some Semillon snippets:
– Thommo believes that ‘more winemakers are looking at texture’. That building more texture into some of the Semillons, via such methods as yeast lees work and judicious picking, is something that more winemakers are doing of late, particularly with styles intended for early drinking. The question was raised about whether this ‘tinkering’ will make the wines more popular (and easier to sell) or just dilute the classic style. It’s a question that is yet to be answered, though time will tell…
– The Hunter produces just 5,000 tonnes per year of Semillon (out of 15,000ish total for the Hunter) 80-90% of the Semillon is hand picked which is quite unique in the context of the Australian wine industry (where machine harvesting is still the norm).
– Thommo, like a few winemakers, crushes his fruit but does not destem. This makes it easier for the must to move the must through the press. This is done apparently as ‘Semillon has slippery skins’ and is know to clog the press.
– ‘Spinners’ related one of Bruce Tyrrell’s comments to the crowd, namely that screwcaps are ‘the saviour of Hunter Semillon’. On that topic, Thommo has had to reject large volumes of his older Sems (those held back for mature release) due to cork related problems associated with random oxidation and variable development. He also finds that cork gives a flat spot to his Semillons at 2-3 years of age that is not apparent on the screwcapped version.
– Riggsy retold a story of the first time wine critic Robert Parker was served a Hunter Valley Semillon. Parker simply wrote in his tasting note that ‘he had no idea what he was tasting and had tasted nothing like it before.’ He gave it no rating as a result, though everyone in the room wished he had given it a 97 ‘so we could all buy a Ferrari’ (Riggsy).
– Riggsy believes that the secret to the a good Hunter vintage is cloud cover, that although the Hunter is a warm region, the extra humidity and cloud cover tends to soften the harshness of the sun.
– Spinners believes that ‘wax and soap’ are the aroma/flavour indicators of a very good Hunter Semillon vintage. 2005 is one recent vintage that many agreed shows this.
As for the wines themselves, they were all tasted non blind and quite hurriedly. Notes are also a little on the short side. Hopefully you get the idea…
RRP is in the brackets next to the wine name.
Audrey Wilkinson ‘The Ridge’ Semillon 10 ($35 due for release January ’12)
Green, lifted, juicy, quite citrussy style. Grassy and very austere, even lightly herbal edge at first, but with some plush melon flavours after that. Finishes quite soft. Pleasant. Looks very young if still already approachable. 17/90+
Pepper Tree ‘Alluvius’ Semillon 2010 ($35)
Again quite green, again with that melon edge (which appears to be a vintage character). Lots of richness on the palate, which is quite generous and full. Maybe even a hint of sweetness? Again generous and pleasant. 17.4/91
Poole’s Rock Semillon 2009 ($40)
A little lemongrass on the nose here. Quite expressive and grassy. Chalky and very serious. Long. Serious style. Like this. 18/93
First Creek ‘Winemakers Reserve Semillon 2009 ($30)
Very neutral and green. Very pure but looks rather backward indeed. A clean and rather linear style though. 17.5/91++
McLeish Estate Semillon 2007 ($30)
Quite a bit more toast here. Open and lemony style, generous style. Not quite the cut through but pleasant. 16.8/89
Thomas Cellar Reserve Braemore Semillon 2006 ($45 to be released August ’11)
Stepping up with some serious chalky juice. Lots of rich, creamy, toasty layers, has length and a chalky, lemony tang. Very serious indeed. Yes. 18.8/95
Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2005 ($65)
Waxy and quite floral. Just a hint of warm vintage melon. Gentle middle. Just a big broad and shortish but no questioning the style. 18/93
Brokenwood ILR Semillon 2005 ($45)
There is an extra touch of richness on the nose here. A hint of honey, more richness. Some Burgundian chalk through the middle and a sour finish. Lots of flavour and complexity. Lovely, right in the zone. Length, buzzy length. Great stuff! 18.7/95
Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon 2004 ($35 sold out)
Definitely a slight grassy, lemongrass edge. Just a bit more sullen (vintage). But the palate is wow stuff, generous and green, but layered, really long, Hunter length. Still looks a little sullen but serious. Backward and a little green. Interest+ Long termer. 18.3/93
Tempus Two Zenith Semillon 2003 ($55 sold out)
Really open and toasty, generous and rich. Smoky even, with a real smoked chicken edge. I think it’s drying out a smidgen, with the finish a little stunted. Pleasant though. 17.1/90
Tyrrells Vat 1 1999 ($100 museum stock)
A hint of terpenes? Really quite golden nose. Whipped butter, lovely expressive palate, lightly soft but finishing with long and very powerful acidity. Almost gritty acidity. But not quite the bounce? Can’t fault and certainly a smart wine, but not quite love. I’ve had bottles of this I’ve loved more. 17.8/92
Our host for this bracket was Andrew ‘Spinners’ Spinaze, another well versed Hunter veteran (and again a renowned craftsmen of fine Hunter wines.
|The masterclass. That’s Jim Chatto to the right, with
(L to R) Rick Bakas, Andrew Thomas, Andrew Spinaze
and Patrick Haddock
Spinners believes that, in the rush to acknowledge how unique the Semillon is, that that the limelight has been taken off Hunter Chardonnay, undeservedly in fact.
One thing of particular interest that Spinners explained was how the first Tyrrells Chardonnays – one of the first in Australia in fact – were initially produced. The process in fact is probably closer to Semillon than Chardonnay, with the fruit picked early and quite green, with a short maturation in large (4,500 litre) oak barrels where they spent just 3 months before release.
Spinners also believes that to make good Hunter Chardonnay you need to retain acidity and freshness. This is accomplished by preventing the wines going through malolactic fermentation and then giving them only restricted time in oak (usually less than 12 months). Given how strong the most recent Tyrrells Chardonnays are it’s hard to disagree with this style. But it’s not the be all and end all of Hunter Chardonnay, as the tasting proved.
As before, all served with the bottle in front of us and at a brisk – but not fast – pace.
De Iuliis Show Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($20)
Clean, toasty style, Lightly toasted spicy wood. Spicy, and creamy, quite broad and generous. Lots of flavour here. Big and buxom but not fat. Much to like here. 17.7/92
Draytons Family Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($30)
Much more of a peachy generous style. A complex, wild yeast touched palate, with quite alot more pineapple complexity. A big mouthful but a good one. Really quite like this worked style. 18/93 ($30)
Tower Estate Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2009 ($35)
More green apple fruit here. It’s definitely pine-lime splice style. Maybe a little sweet/sour but the pineapple flavours here are intriguing. Like, but also distinctive. 17.6/91
Pooles Rock Chardonnay 2009 ($40 released June ’11)
Rather tight, neutral and serious. Mealy, restrained and rather complex palate. Classical and very smart. Lovely mealy length. Right on the money. Oak tannins on the finish perhaps? Otherwise very fine indeed. 18.3/94
Audrey Wilkinson Chardonnay 2009 ($20)
Spicy, but neutral nose. Rather greenish palate, in a restrained, just peachy style. It’s a lighter wine perhaps but with a really tight profile. Good and attractive style. 17.4/91
Mistletoe Reserve Chardonnay 09 ($40)
Complex, spicy and quite worked nose. Overt, spicy but super clean, razor sharp palate, sour edge in there too. Spot on. Very modern and slick but smart and peachy booze. 18.5/94
Scarborough White Label Chardonnay 07 ($30)
Lovely rich vanillan nose. Lovely overt oak. Generous stuff. Mealy and complex, generous and full. Sexy and delicious, peachy but creamy edge. All sexy creamy characters. A leg opener of a Chardonnay. 18.2/93
Tyrrells Vat 47 Chardonnay 2005 ($55)
Still quite neutral on the nose. A refined, mealy, Semillon like nose. Really backwards and mealy, smoky even. Amazing length for the age. Still lots of acidity. Amazed to see this is years off still. 18.4/94
Allandale Chardonnay 03 ($20 sold out)
Full yellow. Butter. Looks a bit evolved and aged, with some decay and smoky age. Smoky chicken even. Curio but not a huge amount of pleasure. 16.3/87
|The Shiraz lineup|
This bracket was hosted by Pepper Tree winemaker Jim Chatto. The idea with this bracket was to explore two good vintages – 2007 and 2009 – and how that transaled into the wines of five different producers. We thus had ten glasses in front of us, with 2 vintages of each wine. These were served single blind but I ended up far too slow and retasted again with the labels in front of me.
As for vintages these are quite different years. 2007 was hot, dry and warm producing quite firm, full flavoured wines from very low yields (up to 30% down according to Chatto).
Of the two brackets I’d have to say I preferred the more elegant and classic 09’s over the much drier and less ‘typical’ 07’s. It’s a personal preference however…
Tyrrell’s Vat 9 2009 ($90 released July 2011)
Viognier like purple fragrance to this. Violets. Really quite floral even. Juicy, lots of deep, licoricey in a quite light style. Really twister, white pepper meets boysenberry style. Very pretty. Quite light tannins. Loved this more last time, I think this looks a little washed out in this context? 17/90 (looked very skinny and odd here. Shutting down?).
Tyrrell’s Vat 9 2007 ($90)
Much deeper, musky spicy nose. Rich chocolate nose, Deeper and much serious than the 09 version. Musky, lovely purple boysenberry fruit. Much firmer, richer palate, again quite pretty, hubba bubba grapy flavours. Much more robust and full than the wine above. Again looking a little thin in this context though 17.7/92
(really surprised by how little I was convinced by these two wines. Very surprised. A Tyrrell’s root day?)
De Iuliius Limited Release Shiraz 2009 ($60)
Big and full, opulent purple fruit. Boysenberry chocolate lollies. Juicy and rich, fine tannins, boysenberry. Real tang to this. Attractive and quite pretty style. 17.8/92+
De Iuliius Limited Release Shiraz 2007 ($60 available May 2012)
Big and full, chunky and big. Lots of more South Australian styling. Really purple cherry ripe flavours. Firm and big, lots of flavours. Extractive. All the love here. 18.3/94
Mount Pleasant Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz 2009 ($40 due for release late 2011)
Deep. Endlessly deep. There is a real wildness here. Really wild. Maybe a little oak tannins but chunky and rich. Choc candy fruit. Lots of oak but sexy time stuff. Really sexy. 18/93+
Mount Pleasant Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz 2007 ($40)
Stinky, sweaty and odd, Looks a bit stinky and bretty even. Not much of a fan. Core behind it is good though. Dud bottle? U/R
Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz 09 ($45)
Quite pretty, very pretty even. Pretty purple nose, but not washed out. Wildly pretty again. Pretty purple style. Lovely juicy style. 18/93+
Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz 07 ($45)
A little horsey and full, perhaps, sweet vanillan edged and edged with gaminess. Note quite as fresh as it would be nice to have. 16.8/89
Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 09 ($150 when released in May 2011)
Lovely nose. Really very dense. Maybe even a little stewed. Just a little dried out and firmer. Backward and a little dried out. Even. But very firm back end. Wobbly stage? Very firm. Benefit of the doubt. 17/90+
Brokenwood Graveyard 07 ($140)
Still bretty and reductive. Still a little thin-ish. Still underwhelming. But hey, it’s Graveyard, it has often had a bit of animale about it and it will probably sort itself out in time…. 16.5/88
Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2009 ($60)
Lovely Boysenberry nose. Pure and vibrant. Bloody excellent. Very rich decadent purple fruit palate. Nice sticky tannins. High class. Really very classy indeed. It’s all about the purity. Excellent. 18.6/95
Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2007 ($60 sold out)
Just a little desiccated after the 09. Meaty and full, it’s tarry and very firm. Not quite as pretty and drying after the 09. Like it still, but it’s extractive 17.9/92
(Once again a big thankyou to the HVWIA for making this trip happen and also to the producers themselves for breaking up their weekend to deal with us hooligans.