From Mudgee, we continued to the Hunter Valley wine region. This hot valley with its long growing season is the largest, most well-known wine region in New South Wales. It is especially known for its semillions, its big, juicy shirazes and its dessert wines. We normally dislike Semillons, which we have found too citrusy and acidic for our taste. We soon learned that aged Semillon is very different—that the fruits mellow, the acids soften and the finish softens. We also discovered that there is much more to the Hunter Valley than these grapes.
Hunter Valley Wineries
Following are the favorites of our many tastings:
- Broke’s Promise Estate, where we enjoyed the modestly oaked 2012 chardonnay and we were pleased to be introduced to 2012 Stix traminer, the chambourcin-based rose and the fortified muscat liquor;
- Nightingale Vineyard’s subtle, slightly oaked 2014 chardonnay, powerful 2014 merlot and especially, two multi-vintage fortified vines; 2011 verdelho liqueur and the shiraz/merlot Gail Force port;
- Constable Estate sparkling cuvee (semillon, with a touch of chardonnay), 2015 premium chardonnay, the light, off-dry Verdelho-based “Sparkling Matilda”, and especially the wonderful 2014 premium shiraz;
- Vinden Estate, where we enjoyed the very young, but already softening 2016 semillon, 2015 unoaked Eule’s chardonnay, 2014 merlot and the 2010 Back Block shiraz;
- Scarborough Wines’ 2011 White Label “Museum” semillon, and the 2013 Blue Label chardonnay, 2014 Vintage Blend pinot noir (yes, another pinot!)
- Thomas Allen Wines’ 2016 “Rule Breaker” chardonnay sauvignon blanc, 2014 MMV Pekolbin shiraz and our favorite, the 2015 Old School shiraz cabernet;
- Terrell’s Wines’ surprisingly good 2014 HVD and The Hill pinot noir (we didn’t expect any nice pinots from this hot valley), and especially several superb premium and limited release wines. These were the 2011 Vat 1 semillon, 2015 Vat 63 chardonnay Semillon, Vat 8 shiraz cabernet and 2014 single-vineyard Steven’s shiraz;
- Brokenwood’s 2009 Latara Vineyard Semillon, 2014 Kat’s Block shiraz, and 2013 Sticky Wicket “Cut Cane” (where the cane with the selected bunch is cut, but left on the trellis for a couple extra weeks to allow the juice to evaporate and concentrate) semillon sauvignon blanc dessert wine;
- McLeish Estate is best known for its semillons—of which we enjoyed three interesting, but very different ones: the 2016 was fruity with low acid and intended to be drunken young. Meanwhile, the 2015 also had more expressive fruit, but with sufficient acid to hold for a number of years. We finished with the delicious 2013 “Jessica’s” Botrytus Semillon, with all the sugar, but not the honey-like consistency of many comparable Botrytis wines.
- Petersons Wines, our last stop, is one of the oldest and most highly regarded small winery in the valley. It is best known for its chardonnay, shiraz and dessert wines, each of which the winemaker guided us through three different styles. We particularly enjoyed two of each. The chardonnays all undergo different, but relatively moderate oak treatment and malolactic fermentation for their particular styles. We enjoyed both the blended 2015/14/13 Vintage Cuvee (which spends about six months in neutral barrels and has crisp, fruity style) and the 2015 “Shirley” which spends more time on the lies and 9 months on a higher percentage of new oak, and has more layers, more complexity and more ageability. Of the shirazes, we enjoyed the 2011 (a big, bold, fruity, complex wine that is just now beginning to soften) and the 2014 “Back Block” (a wonderfully complex wine from the best vintage in recent memory that, while it is just beginning to come together, will be beautiful in another ten years). Then came the dessert wines, where we loved two others: 2013 Botrytis Semillon, which was sourced from the cooler climate of Riverina which is also close to an irrigation canal that helps promote the Nobel Rot; and Madeira Limited Release (a fortified Verdelho made in the Madeira style primarily from winery’s 1986 vintage). A great way to finish off our Hunter Valley expedition.
Hunter Valley Restaurants
- Muse Kitchen is a casual restaurant at Keith Tulloch Winery. We has lunch where we began with a chicken liver pate that had an odd, and less than pleasant sour taste. Much better were our next two dishes: roasted chicken breast with kale, pearl barley, almonds, labna cheese and mushroom sauce; and a side dish of roasted pumpkin with blue cheese and honey.
- Hunters Quarters, a recently opened restaurant at which we shared three dishes for dinner. Joyce’s warm house-smoked Atlantic salmon with spanner crab, sweet corn and spring onion coconut broth was wonderful. Tom felt the sumac crust was a bit pronounced for his barbequed quail, which came with potatoes with sweet mustard, cress salad and truffled quail egg. We were both very pleased with the butter-poached champagne lobster with black barley ragout and asparagus tempura. We chose the lightly oaked, lightly MLed 2015 Aubrey Wilkinson chardonnay from Hunter Valley specifically for the lobster, but it worked with all three dishes.
- Muse Restaurant is the formal, big brother Muse Kitchen. We each had two-course meals, along with an amuse (housemade wafers with flavored yogurt), intermezzo (passion fruit granite) and post-dinner treat (dark chocolate with wattle seeds on a bed of cocoa nibs). Our delicious entrees were cuttlefish and King Brown mushroom noodles with a sake-miso cream-yuzo-ginger cream and ink wafer; and sashimi of ocean trout with citrus koshu, cucumber and yoghurt whey with a dash of liquid nitrogen. The main courses were a mixed bag. First, the venison with pearl barley, fenugreek, wakame, horseradish and shitake was out of this world. Meanwhile, the chicken (with Jerusalem artichoke, date and macadamia nut) was served in three ways: crisp chicken skin, wing, pate and breast. All were quite good except, strangely, the breast, which was tough and tasteless. The restaurant went far beyond what we would expect to address our disappointment with the dish and we walked away with an overall wonderful dining experience.