Fussy Bastards Serve Up the Same Stuff

It can be difficult to stir up interest in old established brands. Everyone focuses on what’s new – and there’s always a lot that’s new. It’s a global syndrome, worse in Europe because there’s so much there that’s very old. Take the noble Tuscan house of Antinori (tastings), for instance: it’s big, traditional and very old (over 600 years), and the pressure must be enormous to keep doing new things to keep the public interested amid the incredibly fertile and creative European wine scene.

The Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest major wine region, has tried a few angles over the years. They were promoting The New Generation for a while, but now these guys have mostly passed 40, they’re getting a bit grey for that. The latest hook is ‘Fussy Bastards’. The slogan is ‘The Hunter Valley produces less than two percent of Australia’s wine. Fussy Bastards.’ But it’s not clear who the fussy ones are: we consumers, or them, the producers? Maybe we’re the fussy ones – for choosing 98 percent other regions’ wine.

Of course, the subtext is that Hunter wines are rare, and therefore all the more desirable.

In an apparent effort to break any staid stereotypes, they chose a slightly grungy pub in Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, for their latest promotion. The Norfolk was dingy and cramped and the food (if you really needed to eat) was sliders and deep-fried pickles.

There’s no escaping that the Hunter’s best grapes are nothing new: semillon and shiraz. The main angle was current-release shiraz, but the semillons were more consistently good wines.

If only the world could be persuaded to love semillon.

At a very meaty Porteno restaurant dinner after the Hunter event, I liked all of the semillons poured: Tyrrell’s Vat 1 ’05 (tastings), Margan White Label Belford ’05 (tastings), De Bortoli Murphy’s Block ’05 (tastings), Brokenwood ILR Reserve ’06 (tastings), Glandore Elliott ’06 (tastings), Marsh Estate ’02 (tastings although one bottle was corked), Bimbadgen Signature ’07 (tastings), Mount View Estate Reserve ’07 (tastings), and David Hook Pothana ’04 (tastings), in that order of preference.

The shirazes were less consistent. Again, Tyrrell’s led the charge with a sublime Vat 9 ’07 (tastings), followed by a classic old-style regional, sweet-leathery Tulloch Private Bin ’05 (tasting), a dense, tannic and remarkably youthful Margan White Label Shiraz Mourvedre ’05 (tasting), an oaky but rich and fleshy De Iuliis Limited Release ’07 (tastings), and a tight, tense and still youthful Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard ‘04 (tastings). Mount View Estate ’07 (tastings) was a bit coconut-oaky but pleasantly smooth and medium-bodied, De Bortoli Will’s Hill ’07 (tastings) appealed in a light-bodied, elegant style, while Glandore Hamish ’07 (tastings) was funky and pleasant enough in a spicy oak-driven style. But I found Marsh Estate Sinclair ’07 (tastings) too earthy and rough-oaked, James Estate Reserve ’07 (tastings) over-oaked, Bimbadgen Signature ’06 porty and David Hook Pothana 2000 irredeemably damaged, probably by its cork.

At the tasting in the Norfolk, the wines were also a very mixed bag, some which I thought did not deserve to be on public display – but that’s nearly always the way at wine exhibitions. The usual suspects such as Tyrrell’s, Thomas, Tulloch, Audrey Wilkinson, David Hook, Brokenwood, Mount Pleasant, De Bortoli and De Iuliis were as consistent as usual, but there was one wine that really knocked me over: the Tower Estate 2010 Shiraz (tasting current at $38). This decadent, voluptuous shiraz achieves its richness with a medium-full body and just 13.5 per cent alcohol. It’s filled with meaty, spicy and ripe-berry flavours: a drop-dead gorgeous shiraz, and quite modern in its textural and aromatic profiles.

So the question remains: what IS new in the Hunter? Andrew Thomas is surfing on the off-dry riesling trend with his off-dry semillon, labelled Six Degrees (tastings). Glandore Estate has a 2010 savagnin ($20) – the first I’ve seen from the Hunter and also one of the most appealing examples I’ve tasted lately of the grape formerly known as albarino. And, while it’s not really that new, Andrew Margan’s shiraz mourvedre blend (tastings the ‘09 is $35) is the only example of mourvedre in the Hunter, to my knowledge. And it’s a very good wine, adding a worthwhile point of difference to Margan’s portfolio.

I’ve yet to see an interesting pinot gris or grigio from the Hunter, and verdelho is hardly new, although Tulloch consistently fields one of the most attractive in the region (the 2011 is $20). Hunter winemakers continue to source other varieties from far and wide, especially Orange. Other that that, it’s semillon and shiraz as usual. Fussy though, mind you.

Andrew Thomas is celebrating after winning six trophies at the recent 2011 Hunter Valley Wine Show. His 2009 Thomas Wines Sweetwater Shiraz ($35 tastings) won four trophies, capped by best red of show and including best premium vintage red and best currently available red, and his 2007 Braemore Cellar Reserve Semillon (tastings) won two trophies including best 100% Hunter white wine and best named vineyard white. Pepper Tree (tastings) won most successful exhibitor.

First published Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 30 August 2011.


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