To celebrate 30 years of Meerea Park Wines, Garth & Rhys Eather went out to lunch.
Except they spent this milestone meal with about 15 other wine media types, and repeated it across two different cities, and largely tasted other people’s wines in three rounds of blind tastings.
That doesn’t sound like your usual winery 30th birthday bash at all. Where are the callouts of all the Halliday awards? The dancing girls in Burgundy bikinis? The verticals and dumb comments from fawning influencers?
Instead, this was a modest, and rather brave, celebration pitching the best of Meerea Park’s archetypal Hunter wines against peers from around the country/world. And it illustrated just how far the wines have come in 30 years.
To step back a bit, Meerea Park’s history starts in 1991, when the brothers first started making Hunter Valley wines under this label. But the family winemaking dates back to the 1850s, when the Eather’s great-great-grandfather Alexander Munro founded the ‘Bebeah’ vineyard at Singleton. Apparently, Munro was at that stage the largest and most successful winemaker in NSW and during his winemaking career, he amassed over 2000 awards at wine shows around the world.
More recently, Meerea Park has clocked up a wad of show awards too, especially during the golden run of the late noughties and early teens, when the winery would win a bag of silverware every Hunter Valley Wine Show and Could Do No Wrong.
Things have been a bit bumpy with quality more variable in the last few years, but the pack of recent Shiraz & Semillon releases, in particular, have fit snugly into the ‘Hunter classics’ category.
That class showed in this birthday tasting lunch extravaganza. Here, the boys presented one of their own wines against a pack of local (and the odd international) heavy-hitters in a series of single-blind tastings.
I love blind lineups like this because all the bullshit and hype about Euro megastars tends to melt away, leaving you to realise that humble local wines are just as tasty/ludicrously more affordable. It’s also fun testing your mad skills (while largely getting all the wines wrong).
As you can see by my guesses, I got a lot wrong too. In my defence, the first bracket was uniformly excellent, with many very similar wines. The Chardonnay bracket I just made silly mistakes, and then got too caught up working out why and didn’t really get to taste the last bracket of Shiraz blind.
Regardless, if there’s one thing that did come out of this tasting it was how solid the Meerea Park wines looked – especially the Shiraz. The Eather boys made a bold play comparing their wines with the best of the best, and the results speak for themselves.
Bracket 1 – Semillon
Yum. I challenge anyone to wade into a bracket of top wines like this and try and tell that aged Semillon is not glorious. What’s more, so many of these wines are well off their peak too. YEARS!
Now my guesses and post unmasking comments are written in italics below, while unedited tasting notes fit below. I’d drink any of these wines FWIW.
Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon 2012
My guess: Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon 2011. I cocked that up. I should have seen the broader profile and assumed it was a thicker Meerea Park wine, when instead it was a Barossa Semillon. All class here though, and didn’t look out of place for quality or breadth of flavour.
Lemon but custard and lanolin. It’s creamier and richer than I’d expect for Hunter but classic lines. Definitely a thicker wine. Lovely presence in a broader style. Has presence in the mouth. 18/20, 93/100
Brokenwood ILR Semillon 2011
My guess: I thought this was Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2011, such was the latent power. An honest mistake, and this is a superb wine, and years off its peak.
Tightly coiled and so much power. A singing, vibrating and powerful white with this lemon toast over yellow and green apple. It’s so long, the acid buzzes along long after everything is done. Top shelf. Layers, layers. 18.7/20, 95/100+.
Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2011
My guess: Brokenwood ILR Semillon 2011. I saw the subtlety and thought it was a tight ILR. But read my notes and it sounds like classic Vat 1. Urgh.
Firm and fill, but rather one dimensional and backward, subtle power. But it’s still constrained on the palate – acid holding things back nicely. It looks so backward here. The acidity is like a shaft. 18.5/20, 94/100+
Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon 2011
My guess: 2012 Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon. I saw the broader expression of flavour and thought Barossa, when it’s just a wine that has more width through the middle. On second look, it’s a lovely wine, with that mid palate so inviting, even if the best years are a few off yet.
This is different. There’s a swathe of orange and lemon, then clips into firm acidity. A generous flavour through the middle here, even though it’s tight to finish. It’s in a bit of a phase though – this needs time. 18/20, 93/100+
Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2011
My guess: Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2011. Picked it. That power and apple underneath felt classic Braemore. Superb, benchmark stuff.
Very classical. Lovely thrust of toast contrasting to that appley acidity. Power lurks below the surface. Is it young or old? That’s the game here. Very powerful and the complete package. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Bracket 2 – Chardonnay
I did better with this bracket, purely because the wines looked so different. With one massive cock up…
Meerea Park Alexander Munro Chardonnay 2019
My pick: Meerea Park Alexander Munro Chardonnay 2019. The banana and peach toast over tangy acidity gave it away. It feels a lot sunnier in the lineup, yet taut to finish. It’s going to be very popular.
Very primary, with white peach toast and oak to the fore. lean and pristine underneath. But it’s still a bit lumpy. Rather bold and obvious but good. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Blain Gagnard Batard Montrachet 2018
My pick: Blain Gagnard Batard Montrachet 2018. This screamed Burgundy with that nose. Palate was wonderfully filigreed. Blain Gagnard was the first white Burgundy label I fell in love with, almost twenty years ago now. But I’ve bought so many over the years and they’re so variable, with constant oxidation issues that I wouldn’t touch the brand anymore. May as well just shred $50s for fun. Anyway, this is delicious, I can’t afford it, and wouldn’t risk buying it.
Very fine white fruit and lemon custard. Obvious fine, sulphur reductive notes. Screams Burgundy with its distinctive mix of overt nutty richness backed by driving acidity. Has this white stony sulphur character the palate a pure flow of understated fruit. Adolescent. Super pure. Superb. 19/20, 96/100.
Tolpuddle Chardonnay 2019
My pick: Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2018. Well, I fucked this up royally. I got so caught up in why I got it wrong that I ended up behind. I saw the prominent oak and fine acidity and thought Margs. But rereading it I should have noted the acidity. What a cracking wine too – so long and detailed.
A hugely bold and expressive style with this power of flavour with deep chewy acid intensity. Lots of sexy oak. A big mouthful, but the acidity is excellent. No doubting the profundity and length. So finely flavoured! 18.7/20, 95/100+
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2018
My pick: Tolpuddle Chardonnay 2019. Why didn’t I read the bit about the ‘ripe and primary wine’? This should have been obvious.
Lemon and plenty of toast. It’s a ripe and primary wine. The oak masterfully folded in, the palate driven along by slightly tart acidity. Very pert acidity. Classy, classy wine. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Lakes Folly Chardonnay 2019
My pick: Lakes Folly Chardonnay 2019. This is a good, solid, proudly honest Chardonnay in that affable Hunter mode. Outclassed here, perhaps, but in a bolder mode, it’s perfectly well-formed.
Bold fruited. Toasty. Very primary. A bit chunky. Peachy. Long and proudly ripe. Enjoyable, but not profound. 17.7/20, 92/100
Bracket 3 – Shiraz
I was slow and only got to nose these wines before the reveal – enough to call the Ed as a disappointment and the Delas as something grand. I could have called the Bin 0 a Hermitage, though, thanks to its perfect delineation.
Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz 2015
A curious wine. More forward, fudgey, volatile and smudgey than what I expected. Compared to the wines here it looked much older and much less vital. There is an olive tapenade Eden Valley character all the way though which is attractive, the fruit obviously developed, licoricey and earthen. The palate is welcoming in its savouriness and length, but it’s less pure and fresh than I thought. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2018
It’s a pretty wine this Graveyard. Medium bodied, all bright red cherry cola. Except it’s so primary. Lovely glossy fruit, and ageless, but in this context it looked a little mono-dimensional. Wait. 18/20, 93/100+.
Meerea Park Alexander Munro Shiraz 2018
This is really good. More whole bunches in the recent vintages and this has much more resulting tannins – especially after the Graveyard. Long, with a balance between leathery savoury Hunterness and more energy. It’s still a tight beast, but the long term vibes are strong here. Very good. 18.5/20, 94/100+.
Delas Fereres ‘Les Bessards’ Hermitage 2018
So glossy, so bright, so delicious. I hate to say, but this is next level. Excellent tannins, has this vein of cranberry, hung meat and the compact tannins. Fascinating to see how rich and mouth filling and even quite new world-y in its slickness, yet still obviously mid weight and precisely drawn. Dammit this is good. 19/20, 96/100.
Bests Bin O Shiraz 2017
Another stunning release of this wine. There’s this black pepper and earth vibe through the nose that just ratchets up the complexity. The palate feels medium weight, finely weighted, understated ripeness. Reminds me of the structure of Bests wines I’ve tried from the 80s. Still has that Grampians purple fruit too. Delicious. 18.7/20, 95/100.