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Hunter Valley Shiraz Member Tasting

Hunter Valley winemakers have embraced their unique style of Shiraz and it’s set to become a timeless classic

Fashion is a strange beast. Whether it’s moulding what we wear, what we eat or the car we drive, it’s hard to escape its influence. Even winemaking is at the mercy of fashion with critics often the ones to set the trends. One of recent history’s greatest influencers has been Robert Parker Jr, a US-based doyen of wine who has been described in The Wall Street Journal as being “widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic.”

Parker has always shown a predilection for Barossa Shiraz with its bold, generous, full-bodied characters and during the 1990s he really helped put this South Australian region on the world wine stage. But where did that leave other regions whose Shiraz fell short of Parker’s preference for the voluptuous? According to Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Thomas, Shiraz producers in his region attempted to emulate the Barossa style. “They left the fruit on the vine for longer, added tannins, used too much new oak.”

That wasn’t the only challenge affecting Hunter Valley Shiraz at this time. Unfortunately, some of the region’s wineries were affected by a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces, which led to the development of the ‘sweaty saddle or barnyard character’ you might have heard associated with the style. While it should be savoury, Andrew says, Hunter Shiraz shouldn’t have these characters.

An Optimistic Outlook

This all added up to a crying shame because the Hunter has its own unique brand of Shiraz that’s very different to that of the Barossa, but with equal appeal. Thankfully, Andrew goes on to describe, around ten years ago, Hunter winemakers made a unified effort to rid the region of Brettanomyces. They also came to the realisation that they had something special to offer and embraced the Hunter’s distinct style of Shiraz.

The key to allowing Hunter Shiraz to show its true beauty is “letting the vineyard do the talking”, says Andrew. Fellow Hunter winemaker and Hunter Valley Living Legend Phil Ryan agrees, calling the vineyard the “principle number one factor” in Shiraz success. Add to that vine age and site selection, where you’ve got red soils over limestone, and you’ve got a winning formula.

The result is a style of Shiraz that’s vibrant, fruit driven and, as Phil describes, “more user friendly”. While in the past winemakers had to rely on bottle ageing to soften the wines, Phil says, today “they’re basically made to drink as they’re bottled.” That’s not to say that Hunter Shiraz has lost its capacity to age. “The great vineyards have the potential to mature for decades,” Phil says.

So Hunter winemakers are excited about their Shiraz and success is rolling in on the wine show front, but does this equate to consumer appeal? Happily, contemporary Hunter winemakers now have fashion on their side. Having recently returned from a European sojourn, Phil experienced first hand the demand for fresh, flavoursome reds with a lighter tannin structure. “Hunter Shiraz with its medium body and fruit sweetness on the palate can compete with what people see as modern red wines –Sangiovese Tempranillo or even Pinot Noir from various countries.”

The Wines of the Tasting

Peter Drayton Wines Premium Release Shiraz 2014

Tulloch Wines Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2014

Allandale Matthew Single Vineyard Shiraz 2014

Brokenwood Wines Shiraz 2014

Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014

Margan Shiraz 2014

Hart & Hunter Single Vineyard Series Ablington Shiraz 2014

Mount Eyre Three Ponds Holman Shiraz 2014

De Iuliis Shiraz 2014

Sobels Shiraz 2013

The Little Wine Co Little Gem Shiraz 2013

Andrew Thomas Elenay Barrel Selection Shiraz 2014

First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Shiraz 2014

Usher Tinkler Wines Reserve Shiraz 2014

Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 9 Shiraz 2013

Mount Pleasant Rosehill Vineyard Shiraz 2013

Leogate Estate Wines The Basin Reserve Shiraz 2013

Petersons Back Block Shiraz 2013

Judge and Jury

When it comes to the attraction of Hunter Shiraz, the Tasting Panel needs no convincing. As our resident Hunter expert Nicole Gow describes, “there’s nothing overpowering about this style and its beautiful savouriness and medium weight makes it a wonderful food wine.” The question is, are Australian wine-lovers on board with the new face of Hunter Shiraz?

To find out, the Panel decided to put a line-up of Hunter Shiraz to the taste test in the company of some Wine Selectors members. Joining the judging team of Nicole Gow and Trent Mannell were members Melissa and Tony Calder and Marilyn Willoughby, along with winemaker Andrew Thomas.

The Tasting

When the guests were asked what they liked in their reds, the resounding answer was smoothness. One of the smoothest Shiraz of the tasting turned out to be Andrew Thomas’ Elenay Shiraz 2014, which Marilyn also admired for its lovely spicy appeal.

The story behind this wine is a colourful one, so perhaps skip to the next paragraph if you’re sensitive to strong language. In 2011, Andrew found himself with some leftover barrels of two of his other premium Shiraz. These barrels became known as the ‘lips and arseholes’, but when they were blended together, they actually produced a standout Shiraz. So the label – Elenay (L and A) was continued and has enjoyed great success since.

While the majority of the wines in the tasting lived up to the regional reputation for being medium-bodied, there were a couple of fuller styles among the standouts. The Little Wine Company Little Gem Shiraz 2013 was described as “a wine for the oak-lovers”, which Melissa and Marilyn both enjoyed. The other was the Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014, which Nicole praised for its generous plummy fruit.

The wine that really brought all the tasters together was the De Iuliis Shiraz 2014, which was described as having “beautiful balance with long, spicy elegant tannins”.

Overall, our members left impressed with the Hunter Shiraz they tasted and will definitely be adding more examples to their collection. So let’s hope that now there’s a new found confidence in the style from local winemakers, wine-lovers will share in their enthusiasm and Hunter Shiraz will become a timeless classic in the world of wine fashion.

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Magic Mediterranean - Vermentino
Words by Daniel Honan on 15 Oct 2017
The Italian varietal Vermentino is winning fans for its wonderfully refreshing characters and textural mouthfeel making it the drink for this summer. You heard it here first – Vermentino is the new white! There are fewer wines around that are as sexy to say, taste as good, and are perfect paired with a spread of fresh seafood on a summer’s afternoon. In fact, drinking a glass of Vermentino is like going on a Mediterranean holiday. Indeed, Vermentino hails from the type of places where warm sun and cool sea breezes, cellar doors and summer afternoons are in abundance. Just off the coasts of Italy and France are the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, which lie (almost) in the middle of the Mediterranean, split between the Balearic and Tyrrhenian Seas. Here you’ll find a melting pot of different soils (limestone, granite, sandstone and clay) and climates (maritime and continental) mixed together to provide the perfect growing conditions for this unique grape variety. Aussie Vermentino Just like its home in the Med, here in Australia, Vermentino seems especially at home near the coast, in regions like McLaren Vale , Margaret River , even the Hunter Valley . Yet, this grape variety is also finding favour, and flavour, in other places a little further from the shore, such as King Valley , the Barossa , and the Riverland wine region around Mildura. Inland wine growers, Chalmers, have been pioneering alternative varietals for over 15 years. The family first planted Vermentino back in 2000, and were one of the first wineries in Australia to make wine from the variety. 

“Vermentino was one of our first flagship wines,” says Kim Chalmers. “It’s a variety that loves warm summers and sunshine, which is perfect for our Australian conditions. Its big bunches and juicy berries make it quite resistant to long heat waves. We’ve had a lot of success growing Vermentino at our vineyards in both Heathcote and Mildura.”

- Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Wines, Riverland
That is the great thing we’ve discovered about this (and other) Italian varietals recently trialled across the many wine regions of Australia - their adaptability. If you speak to a European producer of Vermentino, they’ll probably tell you that the grapes must be grown in close proximity to the sea, so that they can possess and express their inherently unique and refreshing sea-spray aroma and flavour. “Our experience growing Vermentino would suggest otherwise,” counters Kim. “We’ve only ever grown the variety very inland, and yet we still get that delicious sea-salt, briny character in all of our wines made from the variety. I think the closeness to the ocean rumour might be an old wives tale.” Key characters
The unique textural and sensual characteristics of Vermentino are what make this variety such a delicious alternative to your typical tipple of, say, Sauvignon Blanc , or Pinot Gris . The dominant aromas and flavours expressed by the grape include juicy lemons and limes, fleshy grapefruit, crunchy green apples and crushed almonds. Sometimes, you may notice the briny scent of ocean-spray drifting over fresh jasmine. At other times, you might smell a hint of beeswax and musk, or taste fresh tropical fruits, crispy pear, with a touch of salt. This all depends, of course, on where the grapes are grown, when they’re picked, and what the winemaker’s intent is when making Vermentino into wine. If the grapes are picked early you will, typically, note freshness and citrus, with bright, crunchy acids. If the grapes are allowed to ripen and are picked a bit later, you get a fleshier, juicier, more tropical style of wine. “The thing about Vermentino is it’s a very late picked varietal, for example, in the Hunter they pick it after Shiraz,” says winemaker David Hook, who has been specialising in Italian varietals for 30 years. “Some go for that lighter, crunchier style, which is picked earlier and is great for everyday drinking. But in Orange, where I source my Vermentino, I like to wait as long as I can to pick it as it gives a bigger, richer style that really highlights the varietal characters and the texture is ramped up.” Phil Ryan, co-Chairman of the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , echoes David’s preference for the fuller, riper style of Vermentino, saying that it offers so much more for the drinker. “The riper style of Vermentino offers far more complexity and intrigue to the wine,” says Phil. “It also allows those delicious stonefruit characteristics to come to the fore and plays to one of its major appeals, which is its texture.” Vermentino’s textual qualities (the way the wine feels in the mouth when you drink it) also boosts its food matching ability and is one of the reasons why this varietal stands out from the rest of the wine crowd.

Vermentino always goes down well by the glass, here. We’ll often get people sitting at the bar snacking on a bowl of salty, crispy white bait. Personally, I love it matched to a plate of grilled blue mackerel with fresh tomato, olives and chilli.

- Stuart Knox, , Owner and sommelier of Fix St James, in Sydney.
For renowned Vermentino producer Joe Grilli from Primo Estate in McLaren Vale, the big attraction of Vermentino is the combination of freshness and texture. “Our Vermentino has aromas of fresh melon fruits, then some intriguing almond notes, followed by the slightest touch of citrus to finish,” says Joe. “What makes Vermentino so delicious is when all these facets are wrapped up in a lighter bodied wine with still enough texture to really satisfy the tastebuds.” In fashion There is no doubt Vermentino is one of the hottest whites around. Its increasing popularity in wines bars and restaurants around the country is reflected in its growing success at wine shows, particularly the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, held each year in Mildura. Organiser, Kim Chalmers says that Vermentino is one of the most popular wines of the show. “It’s massive,” says Kim. “We’ve had a Vermentino class since 2008 and for a number of years only a handful of wineries entered wines into that class. Within five years, the numbers have boomed. Last year there were 93 entries, and now the class has split into two separate classes: one for the lighter and fresher styles, and one for the more fuller bodied, richer styles.” There’s even a third style to be found in Australia, these days. It’s said that the name Vermentino derives from the Italian word, ‘fermento’, which relates to the fizzy characters of the young wine and this might have inspired Fowles Wine, from the Strathbogie Ranges, to make a fun, sparkling style of Vermentino. “I’m a huge fan of the tangy lemon and light florals of Vermentino and thought it might be fun to see those characters sparkle,” says Matt Fowles. “We make our sparkling Vermentino in a Prosecco style, and, I must say, I’ve been surprised just how well it’s been received!” The tasting For this tasting, over 50 Vermentinos were submitted to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel . For a wine considered to still be an ‘emerging’ varietal, the pass rate was impressively high with around 75% scoring a medal. The top 20 wines were hotly contested and, as expected, the spread of regions was vast with multiple entries from the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale and Barossa, as well as Riverland, which doesn’t often get much kudos in wine shows, but is proving to be a real contender with Italian varietals. The styles were varied, which is to be expected, given all the variables, but the underlying characters remained true – delicious stonefruit flavours balanced with freshness and texture with subtle sea salt notes and energetic acidity. You just have to find the particular nuances that appeal to you. Yep, Vermentino is here. Whether enjoying a warm afternoon with a sumptuous spread of seafood or sitting in a cosy bar planning a potential Mediterranean sojourn, pairing your activity with a glass of your favourite Vermentino seems like the perfect thing to do. The Standout Vermentino from the Tasting Trentham The Family Vermentino 2016 (Murray Darling) Chalmers Vermentino 2016 (Heathcote) Stone Dwellers Limited Release Vermentino 2015 (Strathbogie Ranges) Lovable Rogue The Italian Jobs Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) Parish Hill Vermentino 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Seppeltsfield Cellar Door Collection Vermentino 2017 (Barossa) Tulloch Cellar Door Release Vermentino 2017 (Orange) Chalk Hill Wines Vermentino 2016 (McLaren Vale) Saddler’s Vermentino 2015 (Barossa) Alejandro Vermentino 2016 (Riverland) Alternatus Vermentino 2016 (Mclaren vale) David Hook Central Ranges Vermentino 2016 (Orange) First Creek Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) La Maschera Vermentino 2015 (Barossa)
Wine
Chardonnay Members Tasting
Words by Patrick Haddock on 13 Nov 2017
Australian Chardonnay has undergone quite a transformation since the days of ‘sunshine in a bottle’, coming of age as a world-beating white. I partly blame Selector . For cementing my love affair with Chardonnay , I mean. Seven years ago, Selector hosted the most ambitious Chardonnay tasting ever staged in Australia. In attendance were some luminaries of the industry, including Iain Riggs and Tyson Stelzer and it was my first tasting en masse with a variety I’ve come to adore. It ignited a solid relationship with the many styles and regions in this vast land. Yet weirdly, my affair with Australian Chardonnay had commenced a decade or more before. It was the golden era for Chardonnay and I remember dinner tables being awash with names like Oxford Landing, Koonunga Hill and Rosemount as we slated our thirsts on cheap two-for-one deals in the bottle shops of London. It personified a new taste on the UK wine scene that found an unquenchable thirst. Looking back, it was risible that such overly fruity and highly oaked wines could have made such a splash, but Australia saw the opportunity and grabbed it. The New World invasion of the early 90s was pulled off with aplomb. As the saying went: “No wood? No good.” A Sunny Impression
The other insidious ruse that Australia employed was to label their wines with the variety – virtually unheard of in the Old World and it was a genius bit of marketing. When the English were drinking Burgundy, they may not have known it was actually Chardonnay. A classic example was my mum saying she hated Chardonnay, but loved Pouilly Fuisse – a small sub-region of Burgundy that makes Chardonnay. However, the French are far too proud to put the variety on their bottles, causing mass consumer confusion. UK consumers were also buying into the image of Aussie life, summed up by the phrase for Australian Chardonnay, “sunshine in a bottle.” The label was seen as just as important as what was inside. Australia made wines that were soft and easy to drink with obvious flavours. Australia proudly screamed Chardonnay on the label, most often from South East Australia. We had visions of beaches and sun-tanned sheilas picking the grapes; never mind that it actually came from a mass irrigated desert wasteland somewhere near the NSW border and was machine harvested before being relegated to industrial amounts of new oak or worse still, flavoured with oak chips. A Refining Moment
Yet for all the joy of a tidal wave of wood that Chardonnay brought, it all imploded. The bargain bins remained full as the obvious flavour hit of the New World came crashing down and the wines became increasingly like caricatures of Chardonnay. We had some soul searching to do. Was Australia happy to stand on the world stage offering nothing but bargain basement wines, or did we want to be taken seriously? A decade later, in the middle of the noughties, a seismic shift began. A new wave of Chardonnay producers were re-inventing the wheel, spearheaded by intelligent winemakers in regions like the Yarra Valley , Tasmania and Margaret River . Chardonnay went from being Dolly Parton (buxom and generous) to Kate Moss (skeletal and lithe), although the best example of Chardonnay for mine is the Cindy Crawford – curvy and ample, but still chiselled and toned. Earlier picking, less oak, natural acid and throwing away the process of malolactic fermentation saw the rulebook re-written. It was time for Chardonnay to grow up and make an impression. Then in 2010, one of the UK’s most outspoken commentators, the erudite Andrew Jefford, opined that Australian Chardonnay can “compete effortlessly with the greatest wines of Burgundy.” He went on to exclaim: “There is no variety that responds better to craft than Chardonnay, and the greatest Australian examples are perfect syntheses of grape, place and intellectual understanding.” What a renaissance occurred. And the world took notice. Since then, any Chardonnay producer worth their salt has worked hard to improve the breed. Contemporary Style
Which brings us to today and as Hunter Valley winemaker and Chardonnay craftsman, Usher Tinkler describes, “Australian Chardonnay is in the best shape ever.” While winemakers and wine critics are well aware of Chardonnay’s contemporary appeal, has the everyday wine-lover caught on? To find out, we invited some Wine Selectors members and guests along to The Dolphin Hotel in Sydney for a dinner matched with a selection of modern Australian Chardonnays. As I chatted with the guests before the wines started flowing, a common theme arose. The reputation of Chardonnay was stuck in the past. As member Kirsty Bryant described:

“Although the Chardonnays that come in my regular selections have always been nice, I still have a mental association where drinking Chardonnay equals drinking a tree.”

- Krysty Bryant, Wine Selectors Member
Guest, Lisa Currie was of a similar mind, saying, “Chardonnay has always been a variety that means an intense oakey, woody flavour, very buttery and heavy, which just isn’t to my taste.” To help bring our doubting guests around to the charm of Chardonnay, we were fortunate to be joined by Usher, who offered some insights and, as luck would have it, his Reserve Chardonnay 2016 – a unanimous crowd favourite. To explain why Usher personally loves Chardonnay, he offered a succinct analogy:

“If Shiraz and Cabernet are like Kings, then Chardonnay is the Queen – like the chess piece, it can do anything from anywhere! It’s the most interesting variety to make and to drink.”

- Usher Tinkler, Hunter Valley Winemaker
It’s also extremely food friendly, depending on the style – Chardonnay can be versatile and extremely easy to pair with a variety of dishes. You only need to think of crystalline Chablis with oysters, a generously oaked Chardonnay with roast pork or chicken, and something in between for scallops and lobster. Don’t forget that Chardonnay is also excellent with soft cheeses. It certainly added an extra dimension to the tasting having food to accompany the wines. This was particularly true of the second bracket, which all had high levels of acidity, and so illustrated how food can really enhance the wine experience. The fusilli with crab, chilli and herbs helped soften the acidity, making for a harmonious matching. So Many Regions to Love It
Chardonnay is planted in virtually every region in Australia, but the ones that have excelled include Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley, Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills. Bubbling under for quality there’s Orange, Mudgee and Tumbarumba, Mornington Peninsula and Macedon Ranges, Beechworth and Coonawarra. On the night, it was the Hunter Valley and the Adelaide Hills that got the most nods with support also going to Mudgee, Coonawarra and Margaret River. The styles were varying among the different regions, but showed clearly the development of Chardonnay and the multitude of ways that winemakers are manipulating the variety in their favour to create the best expressions. And for those dubious guests, the tasting certainly had the desired effect. As Lisa described, “I found the flavour nuances really interesting, most were very balanced, yet complex.” Kirsty agreed, saying, “I was delighted to find that when it’s a good Chardonnay, even the more wooded ones don’t taste like trees. They have very inviting flavours.” For member, Robert Vukasinovic, who was already a fan, he found his “love for Chardonnay has grown stronger after the tasting because there are so many new styles available compared to the past bias towards heavily oaked styles.” What it certainly showed is there’s no doubting we’ve come of age and the new dawn of Australian Chardonnay has emerged victorious.
Wine
An organic matter
There is little doubt the organics movement is sweeping the world, particularly in relation to food. The reasons for this are simple – the belief that organic food not only tastes better, but is better for you and for the environment given it is sustainably farmed. When it comes to the wine world, the same fervent push of the organic movement is no less forceful, it’s just taken longer to catch on. Mark Davidson, Managing Director and Chief Winemaker of Australia’s largest organic wine producer, Tamburlaine Organic Wines, reckons he knows why – a lack of understanding of organics in wine production, and a difficulty in breaking down long held practices in viticulture. While conventional viticulture uses chemical fertilizers annually to maintain grape yields, and pesticides to indiscriminately kill bugs, organic farming only uses natural biodegradable inputs and treats bugs with a range of beneficial biodiversity such as companion plants and good bugs. “At its heart, organic viticulture is about improving the health of soils naturally,” says Mark. “It’s about restoring organic matter, which is the home for moisture and microbiology in soils – that’s what makes soils and vines healthy.”
Conventional to contemporary While Mark is a flag bearer for organic farming, he hasn’t always been. When he first started in winemaking at Tamburlaine in the Hunter Valley in the mid 80s, he too used conventional farming. “I came in fairly naively, thinking the chemical providers to the wine industry must have identified what works and what doesn’t. But they didn’t always work and every time they didn’t, there was an excuse,” explains Mark. “We have some challenging soils in the Hunter and I’d made 14 years of chemical applications to improve soils, but without much effect. So what was the alternative? That’s when I started thinking organics. “After a long period of vineyard observation and trials, in 2002 we took the first steps toward organic certification for some of our Hunter Valley blocks. This meant a full management program which replaced synthetic chemicals, improved soil organic matter and simulated the vines’ natural defences.” It was hard work. While there was some limited information on organic farming, hardly any of it was in relation to the wine industry, so Mark’s work into organic viticulture was pioneering. And viewed as somewhat risky. “People thought I had lost it,” he says. “But it actually reminds me of the period when Australia changed to screw caps. Winemakers around the world thought we were mad. Nowadays, science and quality of wines aged under stelvin have proven we were right to ditch cork. I am confident it will be the same with organic winemaking. When you step back, it is really sound contemporary thinking.” Scientifically sound The other challenge to convincing people about organic wines is that it’s not just a bunch of hippies growing grapes and trying to make them into wine without any winemaking knowledge.   “Twenty years ago, what had been produced in the name of organics was not necessarily good stuff,” Mark says. “But that has got nothing to do with what we do today in terms of contemporary organics farming. There is a whole lot of background science to this – it is not just some ethereal feel good philosophy. “Science has moved quickly in our direction in providing biodegradable certified organic products for vineyards and wineries. So now there are many more tools at our disposal to make top class wine. “I know that, so does Vanya Cullen (from Cullen Wines) in West Australia, Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg), Prue Henschke and various professionals around the country, and the world, are moving this way. “We’re all enthused not only about the outcomes, but how practically and effectively we can farm using contemporary organic systems because science is providing improved solutions. “So we’ve got the answers now that we didn’t have 10 years ago, to prove what we know benefits the vines without using inputs that are potentially destructive to soil. As far as sustainable viticulture goes, we now have the answers.”
​ Better wines With 14 hectares of vines in the Hunter certified organic and 200 hectares recently certified in the Orange wine region, Tamburlaine’s award-winning wines are proof that organic winemaking is not only viable, but is the way of the future. Ultimately, consumers will decide by buying wines they love. But if you ask Mark two questions about his experience with organic winemaking at Tamburlaine Organic Wines, it is convincing. Are the soils better, now? “Yes, more organic matter and better pH –  they’re the two measureables.” Are the wines better? “Absolutely. The wines we are making are better than ever. And, they are of consistent quality, and that’s really important.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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