(I wrote this piece for a print article. Tone is thus more lifestyle than Australian Wine Review, but with some 2014 Hunter Shiraz reviews to come up in the next few weeks, I thought this would be a good start. Just read it imagining that I’m very excited about life today).
For a winemaker, there are few more natural things than talking up the upcoming vintage.
Inspired by figures like Murray Tyrrell, the 3rd generation Tyrrell’s family winemaker who famously declared every vintage better than the last, it seems promoting a new year’s wines has become something of a sport.
Yet for slightly more marginal grapegrowing regions – like the Hunter Valley – such sport is not always viable. You just can’t rely on Mother Nature to play ball really, with the Hunter alone counting two vintages amongst the last seven vintages best described as ‘challenging’.
The problem largely comes down to weather, and particularly with rain/humidity. As Sydneysiders we often forget how wet and sticky it can be in late January and into February, as we tend to just enjoy the warmth in between the odd massive summer storm. But when you’re growing grapes in the Hunter, all it takes is one hailstorm or one tropical downpour to turn a vineyard full of ripe grapes into a wet paddock full of heartbreak. It’s that bad.
But it wasn’t bad at all in 2014. Anything but. For once the rain came at the right times, the sun shone exactly when it needed to and the hail was a mere distraction. It was like Bacchus, the Roman God of agriculture and wine, had decided that it was the Hunter Valley’s turn to receive some lovin’.
Crucially, this perfect sunny weather allowed vigneron’s the ability to pick grapes when they wanted to. Typically in the Hunter, harvest decisions are as much about dodging weather than anything else, with fruit often picked when slightly less ripe rather than the other way around. You see that in the wines too, with both whites and reds typically lower in alcohol than seen in, say, South Australian equivalents.
But not in 2014. This was a year for near perfect ripeness. Mike De Iuliis, this year’s Hunter Valley Legends Awards Winemaker of the Year, explained exactly what it was like in 2014:
‘We could almost have a holiday’ he said ‘If something wasn’t quite there (ripe) we’d just wait another day or two. Just like that’.
The only consequence of such a sunny vintage is that, on the whole, 2014 is a better year for Hunter reds than whites, with the extra juiciness particularly useful for full flavoured reds if making for slightly fuller white wines.
A recent pre-release tasting of a few wines only confirmed this fact, with some of the 2014 Shiraz (in particular) easily amongst the best young Hunter wines I’ve had in ages.
Of course it’s still early days, and most of the wines are still finishing off their maturation in barrel and bottle. Yet, if anything, now is the time to get on board, with early demand for what could be the best vintage in years sure to be massive.
Murray Tyrrell would be loving it.
Top 2014 Hunter Valley reds to try:
Bimbadgen Palmers Lane Shiraz 2014
Gundog Estate Rare Game Shiraz 2014
Tulloch Private Bin Shiraz 2014