Recent retreat from wine writing

I want to apologize for not writing a wine post for one month.  I usually try to get one, if not two out every week.  The lack of wine writing has been due (1) intentionally taking six weeks off from looking at Wine Sense, so as to scrutinize it from the reader’s view – not the writer’s view, and (2) I have been focused on building a publishing platform for the book including doing the book cover graphic design, images, formatting and layout.  It is all coming together nicely for an early 2014 release.

But I have missed the constant attention to wine bloggin and will be getting back into it next week.  We will be three weeks in The Hunter Valley, which has been a source for previous wine writing inspiration!  It will be great to have both the time and a glass by my side most days.  As Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober.”  I never write drunk, but do enjoy a taste or two while putting fingers to the keyboard.

I also wanted to be in The Hunter Valley to validate and finalize some of places I will be recommending for Parts Two and Three in the four-part piece on The Hunter Valley I am writing.  I am certain there will be some disagreement over my choices of best places to stay and eat, but I will hopefully introduce you to some exciting new finds.  There are so many great reasons to visit the Hunter Valley.

Hunter Valley view

I am very excited about Wine Sense and what it has to offer.  Further teasers and information will be released in the next few months which hopefully excites you to read the book.  We have established a writing and publishing company, InkIT Publishing to handle our writing and training needs (yes, we are also doing an online training course on wine appreciation!), including the release of Wine Sense.  I wanted to prove to myself and others that they can write and publish a book of merit without using a major publishing company.  I spent the last three months analyzing and evaluating this decision and have concluded I wanted to go it alone to truly understand the process required and be able to then help others write and publish.

But for now and the next few weeks, it is back to wine blogging!  I had a lovely 1993 Penfolds Grange yesterday which will be the focus of my next post!


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

Best Hunter Valley wineries to visit

This is the first part of a four-part series on visiting the Hunter Valley.  The other three blog posts which will be introduced over the next month, include:

  • Places to stay in Hunter Valley
  • Places to eat in Hunter Valley
  • Hunter Valley events and activities

But visiting The Hunter Valley is first and foremost about wine, so we will start there.  With over 150 wineries in The Hunter Valley, there is bound to be some differences of opinion, so let me start off by saying that my recommendations do not mean I am recommending the very best wines in The Hunter Valley, even though that is a large component of my ratings.  I often get asked what are the best wineries to visit, often with the qualification of wanting to find a secret or lesser known one off the beaten path, and not just be directed to the ‘big boys.’  But it would be a discredit to some of the big boys to leave them off the list.  I am offering my opinions based on (1) wine quality, (2) landscape and ambiance, and (3) any other unique or interesting features to consider.

#1 overall winery in The Hunter Valley:  Tyrrell’s Wines

From my point of view, the clear winner as the best winery in The Hunter Valley is Tyrrell’s Wines.  They are located on Broke Road in Pokolbin.  This is the safest stop of any winery as they have the best wines from whites to reds and in every price range.  Everyone can find a wine here they enjoy.  The prices are very reasonable.  Tyrrell’s is also an Australian First Families of Wine and is one of the oldest multi-generational winemaking families in Australia.  They have beautiful views, are host to the annual Jazz in the Vines jazz day and concerts and provide interesting tours of the vineyards and winery.

Tyrrell’s is known for their iconic and numerously awarded Vat 1 Semillon and Vat 9 Shiraz among many great wines.  The 1999 Tyrrels’ Vat 1 is listed as one of the 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die.  The 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 received so many Gold medals they have to overlap them to fit them all on the bottle!  They also offer a very nice loyalty program.  If I do not know who the audience is who asking where to visit, I will state Tyrrell’s is a must stop.  Many of the very best Australian winemakers got their start at Tyrrell’s.

#2 overall winery in The Hunter Valley:  Meerea Park

Similar to Tyrrell’s, Meerea Park has excellent wines, both white and red in all price ranges.  The winemaker, Rhys Eather, is one of the annointed six Next Generation Winemakers in the Hunter Valley.  He makes truly outstanding wines.  Their top-end Alexander Munro series museum wines will last a quarter century or longer.  The biggest, best Shiraz I have ever had is the 1998 Meerea Park Alexander Munro and it is still tight at 15 years of age!  On the other end is their XYZ series of wines, which are outstanding wines and great value for the money.  Meerea Park just moved into the Tempus Two complex at the corner of MacDonalds and Broke Roads in Pokolbin.  They also are a small family-owned business with Rhys making the wine and Garth selling it.  I have learned a lot about wine just chatting with Garth who is open and friendly.

#3 overall winery in The Hunter Valley:  McWilliams Mount Pleasant

McWilliams Mount Pleasant is another winery with great selection of whites and reds in all price brackets.  They have excellent Semillons and Shiraz and a very nice Muscato from Evans & Tate.  They have magnificent facilities in terms of cellar door, tasting rooms, a nice restaurant, and also have some of the most beautiful vistas in The Hunter Valley.  McWilliams is often a starting point of breakfast followed by a mid- or late-morning tasting before heading off elsewhere.  If you are into the facilities and scenery, you would place McWilliams as #1 or #2 winery in your list of Hunter Valley wineries.  One of my very favorite wines is the 2007 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz which Campbell Mattinson awarded as the best Australian Shiraz for that year.  McWilliams is also in the elite Australian First Families of Wine group.

Best red winemaker in The Hunter Valley:  De Iuliis Wines

In my book, De Iuliis Wines under the ownership of Mike De Iuliis makes the best reds available.  De Iuliis, year-in, year-out makes some of the best Shiraz in The Hunter Valley.  He also now controls arguably the best Shiraz vineyard (Steven vineyard) in The Hunter Valley.  Michael is also one of the six Next Generation Winemakers in the Hunter Valley.  Visiting the cellar door at De Iuliis is a great experience.  The produce great white wines also, but I focus on buying my reds from DeIuliis.  They also have a nice restaurant and craft shop.  De Iuliis is located on Broke Road just down past Tyrrell’s.  The thing I love about De Iuliis is that you often find Michael behind the counter or just around the corner and their cellar door manager is among the most knowledgeable around.  You always get great service and tastings at De Iuliis.

Best white winemaker in The Hunter Valley:  Scarborough Wines

There is a lot of great Semillon and Chadonnay wine produced in the Hunter Valley and based on vintage, a number of wineries could qualify for this award.  But overall, year-in, year-out, one of the best tasting experiences of white wines comes at Scarborough.  They have two locations in the Hunter Valley and I still like the original location on Gillards Road as the best in terms of scenery and ambiance.   Their newer location is on Hermitage Road.  They make three quite different style Chardonnays and I personally like the White Label the best.  Their tastings are one of the best run I have been involved in and it is always a privilege to bring people to Scarborough for a tasting.


View from Audrey Wilkinson winery

Best all-around visit, landscape and architecture:  Audrey Wilkinson

Audrey Wilkinson’s is perched up DeBeyers Road in Pokolbin.  It has beautiful vistas and the architecture and buildings are among the most beautiful of any winery in The Hunter Valley.  But they would not make the list unless they had great wines also.  They have some excellent whites and reds in all price ranges.  Their Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon is among the best I have had.  This is a great place to visit, taste and take pictures.

Best new-found winery (by me anyway!):  McLeish Estates

I had heard of McLeish Estate for some time, but with so many other great Hunter Valley wineries I was already familiar with, I never made it by to try their wines.  But when I read that their 2007 Reserve Semillon took global honors, I knew I had to stop by and try them out.  And so glad that I did!  They have an excellent lineup of wines, with the Reserve Chardonnay and Semillon really being outstanding.  They also have an excellent Rose which got me drinking Rose again after 30 years and I am glad I did!

McLeish Estates is on the other  side of DeBeyers Road (from Audrey Wilkinson) and behind Lake Folly’s so you know they have some excellent parcels of land for growing grapes.  What I love about McLeish is that it is a true family run business.  If daughter Jessica is not behind the counter, then parents Bob and Maryanne are.  Bob tends the vines when not serving and Maryanne the accounts when not serving.  This is a great place to visit and show your visitors you know The Hunter Valley and all of its special spots!  And Andrew Thomas is the Chief winemaker, another one of the six Next Generation Hunter Valley Winemakers.

Other wineries of note and worth a visit

I have picked out 7 of the 150 or so wineries in The Hunter Valley and each deserves a visit.  The other great thing about these wineries is that they are within kilometers of each other and it is possible to do all 7 in one day or over a weekend.  But there are so many other good wineries to try including Lindemans, Brokenwood (both in the heart of Pokolbin), Margans (past Tyrrell’s and De Iuliis) for tasting and food, Two Rivers in the Upper Hunter Valley (about 75 minutes away), Waverley Estates for some of the best aged white wines you can find, De Bertoli for stickies, Tamburlaine for organic wines, Tintilla Estate for Sangiovese and Shiraz, and so on.

Another one I am going to try is 201 in Rothbury.  They make wines out of secondary grapes such as Durif, Chambourcin, and Barbera in addition to Semillon.  I have heard good things about this winery and it being another family-run labor of love.  I am going to check it out next time I am in The Hunter Valley.

These are the wineries I take my visitors to first and make for a great day or weekend out.  But, of course, one has to eat when drinking wine all day, so my next post on The Hunter Valley will focus on where to eat.  Until them happy drinking!


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

New Series on Hunter Valley Hide-aways

I am constantly asked for opinions concerning the Hunter Valley.  I feel comfortable offering advice as we have a place up there, frequent it a lot, and will retire there; 60 percent of the wine I drink is from the Hunter Valley.  I get asked often to recommend off-beaten wineries from local friends and any advice on how to spend a few enjoyable days for those visiting the area.  These requests are occurring more frequently, so I thought I would take the time to record and share the information with, regardless if you ask or not!

This will be a four-part series as follows:

  1. Hunter Valley wineries
  2. Places to stay in Hunter Valley
  3. Places to eat in Hunter Valley
  4. Hunter Valley events and activities

Recognize that these recommendations represent my opinion and may not be suitable for everyone.  Also know that I do not have any commercial relationship with these places nor have I asked their input or permission prior to writing these posts.  This series represents the opinions I have been sharing privately with friends, and I am now making them public.  I am certain there are great wineries, restaurants and places to stay that I will not be mentioning.  But in the end, I can only write what I know.

View from Bistro Molines

Overview of Hunter Valley wine region:

The Hunter Valley is two hours north of Sydney, Australia by car.  It was one of the first areas in which vines were planted in Australia.  James Busby, acclaimed father of the Australian wines industry, brought vine stock from France and Spain and planted them in the 1820s in the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter Valley produces only about 2% of Australian wines, but is internationally known for their excellent Shiraz and Semillon wines.  Few regions around the world grow these grapes better than they do in the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter also produce many excellent Chardonnay wines.  The Hunter Valley houses three (McWilliams, Tyrrell’s, and DeBertoli) of the twelve First Families of Wine, which are multi-generational privately held wineries.  This is testament to how seriously the Hunter Valley takes its wine and ensuring they continue to focus on quality.

You can find out more and keep up to date with upcoming events by following the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association.

Since a trip to the Hunter Valley features wine above all, the next post will be on some of my favorite Hunter Valley wineries.  Stay tuned!


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

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


Win a $100 bottle of wine give-away!

I have been growing a social media presence, but one without significant influence or success to date.  I am the first to admit I am a neophyte and I do not work as hard to increase my presence as I can.  I also get a bit cranky when I realize my writing and copy-writing efforts are suppose to focus on ‘gaming’ Google by targeting my content and copy-writing for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  I love writing for an audience, not Google!  But people tell me that is naive, so I continue to learn and continue to work at it.  I now have a social media strategy, or at least a ‘to-do’ list of things to try.

I have seen a lot of other writer’s conduct virtual blog tours and provide a give-away to help drive up traffic (and ultimately to sell more books).  I am providing a guest blog tour for a writer friend in a few weeks.  But by just providing a beauty package give-away, my wife, Deanna’s World, drove significant new traffic to her YouTube channel.  During that time, her subscription based doubled, increasing significantly, and she had a lot of people sign up for the give-away.  And fortunately, her AdSense revenue also doubled because a lot more people were viewing her videos and clicking through to related ads.

I must say that I have been impressed and have learned a lesson in how to effectively attract social media.  That is why I have decided to copy her idea!  I will now be doing a give-away for following my wine Facebook page (SAZ in the Cellar), and for subscribing and following my wine blog and website (also called SAZ in the Cellar).  Since my upcoming book Wine Sense is still several months from being published, I will be offering a special bottle of a 2005 Reserve Hunter Valley Shiraz which is no longer available to give-away to the general public.  The wine is very approachable and can be drunk immediately, or it will last into the early-mid 2020s (if you have the discipline to keep it that long!).

It is a great wine, and unique in that it is not available from any other source (unless you find someone who has a bottle or two from a while back still in their cellar).  I was fortunate to buy the last several dozen of this wine a few years back.  The wine is worth $100 per bottle and has been cherished when received by select business colleagues and visiting Chinese diplomats among others.

I will be giving two bottles away, wherever you may be located anywhere in the world!  One will be awarded if you are the lucky draw from those of who ‘Like’ my Facebook page, SAZ in the Cellar.  The other will be awarded similarly if you are the lucky draw from the group who Subscribes to follow my blog and website, SAZ in the Cellar.  Feel free to join both and be in for two chances to win!  I will be introducing the wine and drawing up the simple rules and conditions  over the next few days, but by Liking Facebook or Subscribing to my blog now, you will be notified when the rules come out and how long we have to go before announcing the winners!

And be sure to help me out as I don’t like losing to my wife, Deanna’s World, and right now I am getting crushed!


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

Great Chefs of the Hunter Valley and Surrounds

When I was on Food in Focus several weeks ago, we were discussing how difficult it is to make a restaurant commercially successful, especially in the prolonged economic environment we currently face.  Natascha Moy, our radio host, mentioned with sadness the closing of one of her favorite Sydney restaurants.  We talked about how important it is for a chef to be the face of the restaurant and truly hands-on to infuse his or her passion and quality to give the restaurant every chance of success.  This made me think about how those of us in the Hunter Valley are fortunate to be able to have some access to some great restaurants and superb meals by some of the finest chefs Australia has on offer.

Two Naughty Chooks VenueMy wife and I took two weeks vacation in early July.  It was great to get away.  For the most part, we took the time to cook every meal at home, had some people over for a nice meal, and really spent the time writing, learning new technology and blogging.  However, we did have four meals out, all which were exceptionally good.  We have a few restaurants in the Hunter Valley we frequent regularly, but none with more enthusiasm than Bistro Molines, up Mount View Road and next to Tallavera Grove winery.  It has beautiful views, but most importantly is one of the few hatted restaurants in rural NSW and under the ownership of Robert and Sally Molines who are Hunter Valley icons.  If we want a good meal or a special celebration, this is where we go about 80% of the time.

However, we were anxious to try a few new wineries and restaurants this trip and were able to combine both by attending two great meals hosted by McLeish Wines.  We really fell in love with their 2012 Rose, 2007 Reserve Semillon (numerously awarded internationally), and the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay.  Jessica McLeish, proprietress of McLeish Wines, also has a fine taste for good food and introduced us to two excellent restaurants, Two Naughty Chooks in Singleton and Paymaster’s Cafe in Newcastle.  Both were outstanding restaurants with great chefs that we are certain to go back to.  The meals were on back-to-back nights and were two of the best meals we ever had.

The next week, we visited Restaurant 221 in Cessnock for another outstanding meal, even though, I must admit that I had a bit of a ‘concept conflict’ with such fine dining in a pub environment.  And the following day we ate lunch at the restaurant at Margan Wines in Broke.

Paymaster VenueFour new restaurants with four great head chefs (actually five as Two Naughty Chooks is a husband / wife team) which we are certain to visit again.  Each restaurant and their great head chefs deserves their own write-up, so I will be writing a post on each of them over the next month or so.  You may feel this has more to do with food than wine, but food and wine go together so well and each of these restaurants has a great wine list and close relationships with wineries in the region.  They all have some ‘special’ wines for consumption and make every effort to provide the best food and wine dining experience available.  That is why I want to introduce you to them as you deserve to know about such outstanding places to eat and they deserve your support.

I wrote a review of the great meal we had at Two Naughty Chooks already.  So I will be reviewing Paymasters Cafe next and their outstanding long-term chef, Rodney Scales.  We did my first ever Australian Christmas in July meal there and it was magnificent.  Rodney is passionate about cooking and serving and is also well versed in social media, so feel free to connect with him and follow what he has going on  in terms of upcoming events and new menu items.


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


Do you suffer from palate fatigue?

Is is possible to have ruined your palate and not be able to discern the taste and quality of the wines you are tasting?  The answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

Several years ago, we spent ten straight days at The Hunter Valley and we tasted a lot of wine.  I was quite enamored by the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz’ (and I still am) and we tasted a lot of them, in addition to expanding our search for some more aged Semillons and some good Australian Verdelhos.  We were relentless in our pursuit.

However, by Day 7 onwards, I really was not liking much of what I was drinking, and thought some of the wines were down-right tainted.  The combination of sampling wines every morning and afternoon and having wine with all dinners and most lunches, I had simply overloaded and ruined my palate!  We may have sampled over 300 wines during that trip!

It was only two to four months later that when trying some of the same wines, that I realized how great a few of them I thought tainted were.  In particular, I had passed over the 2006 Seppelts St Peters Shiraz (not all wines we were tasting were Hunter Valley Shiraz BTW!) as not being suitable, but when I tasted it again several months later, I realized how spectacular a wine this is.  I could not believe this and several other wines I had rated as insufferable only a few months earlier.

Not that I need to worry about this, but people who exercise regularly find they still need to take at least a day off every week to allow their muscles to recover and build.  And the same is true with wine tasting.  During our ten day trip to the Hunter, I had accumulated so much tannin on the inside of my cheeks and had saturated my palate so thoroughly that I could not discern readily one taste from another.  My palate had been ruined from excessive tasting.  Fortunately, it came right once again.

I drink a glass or two of wine almost daily.  I love drinking wine for several reasons, including that I love the taste, I love the experience of drinking a good glass of wine with a good meal and sharing a glass with friends, and I also find it lifts my spirits and attitude and helps me think, write and do other mental and emotional activities better.  But if I do not take a break of a day or two every now and then, I get to the point where I notice my palate is not working at 100%.  And this will diminish your wine tasting experience.

This is a rare situation where I am writing this blog without having a glass of wine to inspire me!  And I am planning to be wine-free for a couple more days.  By doing this over the last few weeks, I have noticed my palate is functioning better and I have been able to discern far better the characteristics and quality of the wines I have been drinking.  Last night, I attended a members dinner for one of the wineries in The Hunter Valley.  They had 55 wines to sample, but I only tried about a dozen.  By not having any wine the day before and by limiting my selection, I was able to better taste and appreciate the differences and quality of each of the wines I sampled, and was far more confident in my selections (I actually did not buy any, but was confident in my assessment in passing in on them.)

Wine judges have the (enviable!) task of having to judge many wines in a given session.  However, even with spitting out all the wine, they still can suffer palate fatigue which is why they don’t judge more than a maximum of 60 – 80 wines for session.  And they keep their palates in shape and prepare for each judging by ensuring their palate is in optimal shape.  (They also make sure no mint toothpaste, lipstick or other impediments curtail their ability to taste.)

I have found my wine drinking experiences have benefited from following a few rules:

  • Take off a day or two per week from drinking any wine or other alcohol to rest and detox your palate
  • Every month or two, take a break of at least three to five days without drinking anything (or limit it to a glass during that time if you feel the need to imbibe)
  • If you are going to enjoy a great bottle or two of wine, make sure to not drink for a day or two beforehand, so your palate is in optimal shape to enjoy that truly great bottle
  • If you are going to taste or drink four to five glasses or more in any day, mix it up by having some whites and some reds and of different grapes, and follow that with a day of not drinking

I never get drunk while drinking wine.  I drink wine in a controlled manner for the taste and enjoyment and to be able to share the experience with others.  Yet, I still control my approach to wine drinking to get the most out of the experience.  If you are suffering from palate fatigue, give it a rest for a day or two!


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.

Creating, retaining, and reliving wine memories

For me, drinking a great bottle of wine is like being at the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing an original painting.  It is an exquisite experience and even though I may never be able to experience it again, I want to retain and relive the memory.

That would seem quite easy to do in these times of social media with Instagram and Facebook.  We can take pictures of our drinking and eating experiences and immediately post them into a variety of public clouds to share with others and to retrieve whenever we want to.  But while those pictures provide great memories of the experiences we have had and the great friends and relationships we have, they do not focus on ‘the wine!’

I currently do four things currently to create and relive wine memories, and am about to add a fifth which I learned about from my good friend Dave who also has a place in the Hunter Valley.  The four I already do are:

Every time I look at an empty bottle, or a cork, I remember the experience and relive a bit of the wine drinking that went on that evening.  It also invokes memories of the friends and experiences we shared while drinking that wine.

The new thing I am going to do, is to create a wine map of the Hunter Valley and pin the wineries we have visited and plan to visit.  Dave has made one up, hanging in his hallway and we will be doing similar.  It’s a great idea.  Dave used a laminated map of the Hunter Valley, added some information regarding wineries and numbers to locate them, and pins with the coding for if they had visited them already or they were on the list to visit soon.  The back is cork board and he made the frame out of other wine corks cut in half.  This will provide more opportunity for me to use the good corks I have as my two Corkhaus boards will only hold about 110 corks and I certainly have more than that!

These activities are similar to keeping a photo album, but take a little more real estate, especially for the wine bottles.  However, it is not much of a difficulty and helps to reinforce and relive the great memories we have had. I am glad I do these things and recommend that some of them may enhance your wine drinking experiences and lifestyle.  I love having the constant reminders to prompt pleasant memories!