Enjoying another fine Hunter Valley Shiraz!

I write a lot of reviews about Hunter Valley Shiraz (and Semillons) for two reasons:  (1) I drink a lot of them, and (2) they are bloody good, and therefore worth reviewing!  I had pulled out a few bottles to decide between for tonight’s drinking and was going to choose between a 2007 De Iuliis Reserve Shiraz and a 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea (both excellent wines!) before spotting a single bottle of the 2001 Blueberry Hill Shiraz.  Blueberry Hill is lesser known than some of the more iconic Hunter Valley wineries, but a pleasant spot with some good undulating vineyards.  They make one of the better Pinot Noirs in the Hunter Valley and a nice Merlot.  They also have one of the most beautiful wine labels around!

Blueberry Hill labelSo I decided to open the 2001 Blueberry Hill Shiraz and it did not disappoint!  (If you have ever had a 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea or a 2007 De Iuliis Reserve Shiraz, you will know how much of a compliment this is!)  This is a very nice wine.  It is slightly sweeter than other Shiraz, and with lively fruit.  The spices are more savory than peppery, with a mixture of saffron and cinnamon.  BTW, do not take literally the allegory to saffron and cinnamon, but I am limited in my ability to define multiple savory and sweet spices, so you are stuck with that description!  The wine is very smooth, almost velvety with an elegant mouthfeel, like a fine Old World style blend, but lacks the complexities that a blend would provide.  It is light and refined, with a nice alcohol level of 12.5%  I find that level easier and more pleasant to drink than the Shiraz in the 14% – 15% range.  This wine is twelve years old and the fruit is alive, almost tangy on my lips and has a long finish.  The 2001 will not last another decade, but should be good for at least another three to five years.  We will have this wine tonight with a quinoa and vegetable salad and it should work very well.  A heavier Shiraz would not.

I get a lot of requests from friends who are going through the Hunter Valley as to what wineries to visit and they are always looking for a new winery or a boutique winery instead of the big players.  Blueberry Hill certainly fits that bill.  Check them out next time you are through the Hunter Valley.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


Mother Nature makes a real mess of 2013 Hunter Valley vintage

I had recently published a post where I stated the 2013 Hunter Valley vintage would be among the best of all time.  The content for that post was written in early January, 2013.  However, just before harvesting the bulk of grapes for the 2013 vintage, Mother Nature has deluged the Hunter Valley vineyards persistently and forcibly over the last six weeks.  This has turned the 2013 Hunter vintage from superior to below average on the whims of Mother Nature, God, or some force of bad karma.

The tonnage will be far less than expected and the quality of the grapes far less also.  Many grapes were picked too early, too late, or worst of all – not at all.

I spent a lot of time in the Hunter Valley this vintage and saw the growth of the vines and grapes through almost perfect weather conditions.  My excitement and anticipation of both a large and high quality haul of grapes was unprecedented.  After buying a lot of the 2007 Shiraz vintage and some of the 2009 Shiraz vintage, I was excited that 2013 would be a better vintage than either the 2007 or 2009.

But damn if Mother Nature did not wreak its havoc!  Six straight weeks of tumultuous rain had crippled, if not destroyed the harvest.  The cooperative vineyard where we have a place just released their vintage notes with less than satisfactory results.  I have been following the harvesting schedules of  many of the Hunter wineries and they have had to pick early, late or not pick at all.

There will of course be selected pockets of success and the big growers such as Tyrrell’s will have picked as optimally as anyone possibly could have.  But overall, the rain in such a short period of time has turned a once in a decade vintage to an inferior one.  I really feel for the growers and the wine makers.  They may be making 25% – 40% (purely a speculated guess on my behalf!) what they could have had the rain held off.  Why, oh why, is Mother Nature so cruel to wine makers?  And why tempt us all with the promise of such a great vintage to have it mostly destroyed through rain and more rain?

I am heart broken for the Hunter wineries, yet some of them will still do all right.  Bruce Tyrrell will of course still claim it is the vintage of the century as he does most years!  (And having followed in detail the harvesting by Tyrrell’s, they seemed to have done as well as they could!)  But many of the smaller wineries would be suffering and wondering why they are in the game at all.  It is one thing to have dry conditions and add a little in irrigation when necessary.  But when you have torrential rains, there is nothing you can do, especially so late in the season.

But so is the cycle of life. And next year is another year.  And many will fail and many will prosper in 2014.  But I was looking to 2013 as the year that many of the coffers of the Hunter Valley wineries would be lined to provide a buffer for future years and that will not happen now due to the cruelty of Mother Nature.

I hope to hear good news from some of the vineyards as to their success in picking grapes at the right time, but am not hopeful that the Hunter Valley overall will have a great vintage when only two months ago, it look like it would be one of the best of all time.

A roll of the dice against the Gods and once more the Gods made their lesson known.  So is the unpredictability and excitement of being a wine grower or wine maker.  Not for the faint of heart!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz, featuring the Wyndham Estate Black Cluster Shiraz

2013 looks to be a spectacular year for Hunter Valley wine.  We have been visiting the region frequently during the growing season and the climate and precipitation have been close to perfect.  Last year was almost a total loss with far too much rain making the grapes moldy or bursting them before picking, causing most grapes to be lost.  And the ones that were saved were likely picked too early and lacked the full fruit flavor that most vintages should have.

Having returned from Qatar in middle of 2009, we were able to taste a number of the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz’ as the premium brands were just being bottled and released.  I fell in love with the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz vintage and purchased at least a dozen of about 14 different brands (and four more different brands of the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz vintage where I have a least a couple of bottles), so I would be able to enjoy and compare them for many years to come.  I thought it would be a fascinating journey to see how each wine developed over the next decade when compared against its peers.  With that in mind, and when tasting the 2007 vintage, I tried to think about how this wine would taste in ten years time.  While some wines were already mellow and very drinkable right away, I was looking for and trying to appreciate which ones were too tight currently, but had the big fruit and complexity to mature into a beautiful wine over the next 5 – 10 years.

I set all of them down in the cellar until 2010, but then would drink an occasional bottle.  Among my favorites were the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea, and the 2007 De Iuliis Reserve.  However, there are many excellent brands from the Hunter Valley in 2007, each outstanding in their own right.  The difference in quality between most of the wines listed below would not be more than several points out of 100.

The wines are now six years old and starting to drink extremely well.  Whenever I need a very good Shiraz and do not want to dip into my last bottles of pre-millenium Grange, St Henri, or Vat 9, I will now retrieve a bottle of a 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz.  I have a lot of them including:

  • McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea
  • De Iuliis Reserve
  • Tyrrell’s Vat 9
  • Tyrrell’s Stevens
  • Tulloch Hector
  • Glandore Hamish
  • Brokenwood Graveyard
  • Thomas Kiss
  • Thomas DJV
  • Meerea Park Alexander Munro
  • Meerea Park Hell Hole
  • Meerea Park Terracotta
  • Audrey Wilkinson Museum Reserve
  • Pokolbin Estate Reserve
  • Pooles Rock HV
  • Rothvale
  • Saddler’s Creek Best Barrique (blend of Hunter Valley and Langhorne Creek grapes)
  • Wyndham Estate Black Cluster

All of these wines are excellent wines, and will last at least another decade, but being six years in bottle already, they are a true delight to start drinking now, so that is what I plan to do.  (Some, however, like the 2007 Meerea Park Alexander Munro are so big though that they need at least another three years before even attempting them.)

Today, I am having a bottle of the 2007 Wyndham Estate Black Cluster.  This is their premier Shiraz and is an excellent wine.  I first had this wine when attending a wine and chocolate matching course at Wyndham Estates last year.  We had a chili flavor induced dark chocolate and this wine was an excellent match, being powerful and confident enough to stand up to chili chocolate!

Drinking it on its own now, you can tell this is a bold wine with many more years left to help it mature.  I may not drink my next bottle for another 5 – 10 years.  It has bold, powerful fruit flavors, strongly tasting of plum, cherry and blackberry with some spice.  It does not possess as strong a pepper taste as some Hunter Valley Shiraz, but you can still tell it is from the Hunter Valley  It also has full tannins, yet a smooth, elegant texture to match the great taste.  This wine has deservedly won four Gold Medals.

When drinking the 2007 Wyndham Estate Black Cluster, and recently having sampled the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea and the 2007 De Iuliis Reserve, I have been surprised to find out how similar these wines are.  These are definitely Hunter Valley Shiraz as compared to Victorian or Barossa Valley Shiraz.  These wines have slight nuances and their own unique characteristics, but they are more similar than different.  It would be very difficult to pick these wines out in a blind tasting.

What excites me about the similarity is that the wine makers let the quality of the grape from the 2007 vintage rule the day.  They did not get in the way and try to manufacture a unique outcome for their wine.  They let the natural flavor of the grape grown with Hunter Valley terroir do the job for them with this resulting in an  excellent batch of wines.

I bought so much 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz and a little 2009 Hunter Valley Shiraz.  2008 and 2012 were bust vintages.  2010 was ‘fine’ and 2011 was also considered quite exceptional, but I did not buy any of those vintages as I have so much of the 2007, but am starting to work through them more rapidly now.  As great as the 2013 Hunter Valley vintage looks, I may pick up some of those also to compare to the 2007 and also just because some of the best winemakers such as Michael De Iuliis, PJ Charteris, and Andrew Thomas are also working with some new sources of grapes (for example Michael now has access to the Stevens Vineyard, one of the best Shiraz vineyards in the Hunter Valley) and I am excited to find out what these wine makers can do with the very best grapes around!

Riedel Vinum Shiraz glassware

If you are looking for a good Shiraz and find a bottle of 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz, you can feel pretty confident that you will be picking up a very good to excellent bottle, no matter how much you pay for it.  These wines deserve to be served in the Riedel Vinum Shiraz glassware also.  They are so big and powerful, that frankly no other glass in my opinion will do.