The Hunter Valley is not Australia’s best known wine growing region – that honor arguably rests with the historic Barossa Valley, or perhaps the iconic Margaret River region in the West, or maybe the renowned cooler areas of Tasmania.
That being so, the Hunter Valley has a lot going for it, including being less than a two drive north of Sydney and close to the trendy port city of Newcastle.
There are over 130 wineries and grape producers in the Hunter Valley, as well as boutique breweries and distilleries, all manner of restaurants and cafes, cheese and chocolate makers, and other attractions that make it a “must visit” destination for all lovers of food and beverages.
But when it comes to wine, I can do more than quote Jancis Robinson.
Ms Robinson is one of the best known authorities in the wine world, holder of the rare and prestigious Master of Wine qualification and editor of the most comprehensive wine book, The Oxford Companion to Wine.
It was Jancis Robinson who said:
“Hunter Semillon is Australia’s great gift to the wine world…”
Now, Semillon is the not the best known white grape variety on the planet, but it probably should be. The reason for this is that it ages superbly for up to twenty years.
The Hunter Valley wine makers pioneered the development of Semillon in Australia in the early 19th century, and it is fermented without oak.
It can be drunk when young and exhibits a fresh lemony style. As it ages, the magic happens and it develops a complexity with nut and honey undertones.
Semillon can also be made into dessert wines as the grapes have relatively thin skins enabling introduction of the botrytis fungus, the “noble rot” which makes for the most amazing sticky sweet wines.
A bottle aged Hunter Valley Semillon is a true delight, and one which is unique to this region. Whilst Australian wine parlance does not generally refer to “terroir”, in this case it is really the local conditions which play a major role in the uniqueness of this wine.
Of the many producers in the Hunter Valley, perhaps the two with the most experience (and success) in the production of Semillon are Brokenwood Wines and Rothbury Estate.
Aged Semillion remains a well kept secret, and perhaps is an acquired taste to some degree, but the result is that older vintages can be very reasonably priced.
The challenge is to find them of course, and as the Hunter Valley produces only about 2% of Australia’s wine, this can be a daunting task at times but well worth the effort.
Whilst this article has focused on Semillon, the Hunter Valley produces other exceptional wines, including Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz styles.