I’m in the Hunter Valley, two hours north of Sydney and one of Australia’s best known wine regions. It is well known for Shiraz and Semillon grapes so I was not only intrigued to taste them but also see what else the region had to offer.
The first thing that struck me about the region was how well spaced out the vineyards were and how incredibly hot it was. Okay we went mid January and some of the winemakers had already picked and barrelled up which apparently was unusual as this usually took place a few weeks later around Australia Day.
So the 2018 vintage will be good, no real problems during the growing season and at least as good as 2017 if not better…Mmmm where have I heard that before?
The second thing that struck me were the Kangaroos. Living in Sydney you don’t see many of these iconic creatures but I was somewhat surprised to see a small gathering right outside our hotel accommodation that backed into a golf course. I’ve pitched shots over alligators before in Florida but never sliced around Kangaroos, who up close are big, fast and all muscle!
Anyway, back to the wine. I’m not going to go through the day, diary style but it was in two halves. The morning was a free for all and my choice of wineries from my own research (Tyrrell’s, De Bortoli and Lake’s Folly) and the afternoon a guided tour by the excellently named “Two Fat Blokes” – How could I resist?
The highlight from my own choices was the Noble One an excellent dessert wine from De Bortoli that frankly can give any French Sauternes a run for their money any day. Later in the day I was able to compare it with some very average Botrytis Semillon dessert wines from other players and the Noble One stood out easily in terms of structure, subtly and of course taste. The rest were oily, petroleum tasting and very unbalanced in terms of sugar vs acidity. If you want an excellent example of a well made smooth and delicious dessert wine from this region then stick to Noble One (take a look at my previous post on Dessert wines where it also features).
Worth mentioning was a little taste of Italy at Tyrrell’s. Tyrrell’s is one of the oldest vineyards in the region, in fact probably one of the oldest in Australia claiming a heritage back to 1858. Anyway back to Italy or more specifically the blood of Jupiter from Chianti. Sangiovese is beautifully pronounced by Elizabeth Scheider on her excellent “Wine for Normal People” podcast and I had the pleasure of listening to her extolling the virtues of Sangiovese a few months ago on her show. This san-jo vay-zay was delicious, lots of that characteristic Cherry and Strawberry notes with the clever use of French oak barrels to just give it enough vanilla sweetness without being overpowering. I tasted the 2017 Special Edition Sangiovese which to be fair was too young but more about that later.
The highlight of the afternoon was a great tour with a small group of enthusiastic visitors to the region with a shared passion for food and wine. The pairing with 9 different cheeses at the two fat blokes HQ was fun and really showed off the wines from the region, not to mention some excellent cheeses that frankly smashed out the park some of the wine that was paired with them.
My gripe was an overall comment on the Cellar Door experience itself. Whilst I appreciate the vineyards opening their doors and demonstrating their wares to the general public it would be fair to say that the average punter, myself included, is unable to expertly assess if a wine that will be ready for drinking in 5 to 10 years+ time is really any good! How capable are we when faced with this years vintage Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay and expected to judge if this is going to be a superb wine in a few years or a dud?
Some of the Vineyards compensate by offering slightly older wines to demonstrate how the wine could evolve in a few years time but sadly even these wines are rarely at their peak. So what to do? Do they open their best wines that are ready for drinking from 10+ years ago, the cost would be enormous as these wines clearly increase in value because someone has had the patience to lay them down. Or do they charge a price to taste these wines to cover the costs and allow people to judge more accurately on a purchase they could make today?
Is it really the winemakers job to store large quantities of wine for its cellar door customers who by definition probably only make small infrequent purchases anyway! If there was some way to tie in this process to major purchasers like wholesalers, retailers or sommeliers then maybe it would be worth their while keeping a certain amount of stock back for this very purpose.
We then have the issue of comparing like with like. We all know vintages vary and which ones should they keep to lay down? Is an excellent 2010 vintage a good indicator of a 2018 vintage just made in completely different conditions (climate during the growing season, blend of grapes or even method of production as wine technology develops)?
At a price point below $30 AUD it hardly seems worth the effort and the current practice of tasting at the cellar door last years vintage should be good enough but I would argue with more complex, structured and better made wines that a better indicator is required than last years batch (take note Lake’s Folly). I appreciate that for some of the smaller boutique vineyards who depend on every bottle being sold to make any money this will be a challenge but surely to grow as a business you need more people to enjoy your wine at its peak, buy more now and reinvest the money in expansion and developing new products? How else will you survive?
Anyway, I cannot be the only relatively curious wine appreciator who has noticed that the Cellar Door system is flawed and that we as the consumer deserve better. We would arguably buy more if we had more than a hint of what the wine ‘could’ taste like in the future!
Go visit the Hunter Valley, if you like Semillon and Shiraz it’s well worth a visit.