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
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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
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz – will it work with pork?!

I am experimenting this evening by opening a Shiraz to go with pork fillet, mash, vegetables and gravy.  Usually I would play it safe and go with a good Pinot Noir for this meal.  It is difficult to find a much better food / wine matching combination than a Pinot Noir with pork!

But I really wanted to try another bottle of the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 as it is a superb wine and at 15 years of age, I needed to check it out to make sure (that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!) it will cellar for a while yet as I have about a ten bottles left.  I don’t want to wait too long, but I do want to pace drinking this wine over the next several years or longer if I can.  I would hate to wait too long and have it go off, as it is drinking very well now, but I am hoping to make it last as long as I can.

I have a great deal of respect for James Halliday and subscribe to his wine service.  But he missed the mark when evaluating this wine as he gave it an 86/100 and said to drink it by 2008.  This wine is still very big, yet elegant, with lively fruit, tasting of blackberry with light overtones of spice and leather.  It is well integrated, and nicely balanced with strong tannins.  The finish is moderate to long, and you can feel the accumulated tannins on the inside of your cheeks for a long time.  This is an excellent wine, regardless of how Halliday and others scored it.

I had this wine as one of my three red wines at my 58th birthday party over two years ago.  This was the first red, followed by the 2001 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz and the 1981 Penfolds Grange.  All three red wines were spectacular, but the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 got the consensus vote for the best red wine of the evening.  It could be that it was the sequencing and by the time we drank the 1981 Penfolds Grange, we were over-satiated.  Or it could be that the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 is just that good!

So why is having a Shiraz a risk with pork?  It is because a Hunter Valley (and many other) Shiraz’ are heavier and spicier than most Pinot Noirs and could overwhelm the pork and side dishes.  But the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 is an elegant, more refined Shiraz than many others.  I know it will be fine with the pork dinner and wanted to see if it works to provide some variety from always using a Pinot Noir with pork.  If not, I will go back to Pinot Noir!  But if you don’t try, you will never know!

I have also had this wine with spaghetti and it worked very well.  My wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, makes a very fine and spicy spaghetti and the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 matched up extremely well with it.  This is a versatile Shiraz!  Andrew Thomas made this wine while still at Tyrrell’s and I remember talking to Andrew about it several years ago and the fond memories he had for this particular vintage.

On its own, this is a great wine (I know as I am on my second glass while writing this) and it should be fine with the meal.  I will let you know in a follow-up blog post how it works with the pork.  And once I finish off the last of my 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9, I will move onto the 2007 Tyrrells’ Vat 9.  In fact, I will probably try my first bottle this weekend or next to see how it goes.  Halliday rated the 2007 Vat 9 at 95/100 and drinkable until 2025.  Campbell Mattinson rated it 96/100 and as one of the best reds released in 2010/11. This must be an amazing wine!  But for now, I am drinking the 1998 and greatly enjoying it.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

Is there a better Semillon than the 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1? Possibly

There may be and I will get to that in a minute.  The 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon is considered by some to be the best Semillon ever made.  It is featured in the book 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die.  And 1999 was an iconic vintage for Hunter Valley Semillon.

I love the 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon and am fortunate to have a little under a dozen left.  I also love some of the older (especially the 1992) Waverley Estate Semillon.  But let’s stick with the 1999 vintage for a while.  This was a great vintage.  Meerea Park makes great wines and along with Tyrrell’s and De Iuliis, are my three most favorite wineries in the Hunter Valley.  Meerea Park has the 1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon which is comparable to the 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 in quality.  It is slightly different in style, but both are classic Hunter Valley Semillons and I have faced these two off against each other previously with split results as to which one is better.

Yesterday, I opened a bottle of the 1999 Meerea Park Terracotta Semillon and what a treat that was!  While cheaper than the Alexander Munro, this is a magnificent wine with quite a different style to the Alexander Munro or the Vat 1.  It is slightly less acidic, tastes of honeyed flavored roasted nuts, caramelized pear with a touch of citrus, and could almost pass as a dessert wine (if it was sweeter still).  This would make a great wine to pair up with quiche, fritatta, or anything else with eggs.  (As if I really need a ‘breakfast’ wine!)

I had this wine last night with a mushroom risotto and it matched better with the risotto than the Nuits St George Burgundy which I also tried.  (I wanted to try both to compare.)  Most wine critics would recommend a Pinot Noir with a mushroom risotto, but the 1999 Meerea Park Terracotta Semillon was excellent (of course, I also used 100 ml of the Terracotta Semillon in the risotto!) and matched better than the Nuits St George Burgundy at three times the price!

I tend to like my white wines dryer – as in Riesling, and more acidic and on edge – as with aged Chardonnays, but when it comes to Semillons, I find the slightly sweeter and honeyed toasted flavor to be more to my liking.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 and the 1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillons, but the 1999 Meerea Park Terracotta Semillon has won my heart as the one to match up with a lot of different food dishes!

This is a great wine for the money and worth trying.  Check with Meerea Park or on auction sites to see if you can find some – it is well worth the money.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


Impressing or expressing? – a good night out with the guys!

The five of us were all looking forward to a good night out.  One in the group was returning to the US after two years living in Sydney, others reflecting on completing one of the greatest banking IT projects ever run anywhere in the world, which we all touched in one way or another over the last few years, but mostly we just wanted to get together to share some companionship and some great wine.  And what a wine line-up we had!

Owen, David, Mark, Daniel, Steve

We had been planning the evening for about a month, but except for agreeing on the date, no one did any real planning at all!  So we decided to meet at the Small Bar in Crows Nest and take it from there.  Mark and I arrived first, drinking some 2012 David Hook Pinot Grigio from the Hunter Valley.  After a glass each and some nibblies, we got another full bottle as the other guys were arriving.

After some good banter, we all started showing off the wine we had brought along for the evening.  It was suppose to be a ‘big red’ night and it certainly turned out that way!  As I mentioned, we all apparently wanted to impress, but not in that manly competitive way of “You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine!”  It was more about being respectful of each being part of a friendship and wanting to share something special with each other.  The other four in the group had been especially tight over the previous few years and I had only circled in and out a few times, so it was great to be part of the group that evening.  We all knew and enjoyed our wines and made sure we each brought a very good bottle along!

I brought along a 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon to start us off with an iconic Australian white wine which I thought would go with whatever Asian food we decided to eat that evening.  Since the evening was about the friendship and the wine, we weren’t sure where we would eat (so we went to the closest place which was the Vietnamese restaurant Phuong immediately next door to the Small Bar!).  In fairness to my friend’s taste and Phuong, some of the guys had been there before and it was an outstanding choice.

I felt we should start with one bottle of white wine and I wanted to test and share what I knew would be a great Australian white in the 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon.  Once we got the food ordered (Banquet Menu B, showing again how much effort we would be putting into non-wine related topics!), we got into the red wines.  The line-up was a stunner:

  • 2008 Trinity Hill Homage Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend (from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)
  • 1997 Penfolds 389 Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon blend
  • 1994 Brokenwood Hermintage
  • 2002 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz
  • 2003 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec
  • Some bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought at the bottle shop because for some reason he did not think we had enough wine for five guys!

Except for the 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label which was gifted to Andrew (the guy returning to the US), the 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz (which we deemed too young to drink), and the bottle Pinot Noir that Mark bought, we did drink all the wine with dinner.  You can tell because of how careful we were with our plates and food (and this does not show the broken glass on the floor or the mess I made of Daniel’s shirt!).

Six of the reds we drank were Shiraz or Shiraz blends – that’s heavy lifting for one meal!  We opened with the Trinity Hill Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend and finished with dessert and the Pinot Noir, but everything else in between was Shiraz!  I believe we all agreed that the wine of the evening was the 2002 Penfolds St Henri.  The 1997 Penfolds 389 was absolutely splendid and lasted better than I thought it would.  The 1994 Brokenwood Hermitage was a classic older Hunter Shiraz with great body and finish, but still maintaining  the elegant style of an old world Hermitage.  The 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz would have been a delight, but we passed on it as it will last another decade or more and improve with age.  And the 2003 Penfolds St Henri was another wonderful wine.  Each of these reds would usually be considered the featured wine to finish a meal with, but we had no problem over-indulging with all of them!

We then walked in the rain down to Bravo’s for some gelato and other desserts where we did finish off the bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought before finding our individual ways home.

Great friends, great food, great times and great wine all go together.  We were not trying to impress in a competitive way – just expressing gratitude for each others friendship and respect for each others palate!  It was a rare evening where everything worked – at least it seemed so with that much good wine!

What a weekend hoot discussing party wines on Food in Focus

We have had so much going on the last few weeks, both work-wise and personally, it seemed we did not get an evening together at home for several weeks.  This meant I was tired going into my 60th birthday party weekend.  Fortunately, surrounded by great friends, great food and great wine, I was able to pick myself up to make it through the weekend.  And even more fortunately, I had some leftover 2006 Penfolds Yatarnna and some 2005 Chateau Haut Bergeron which I am drinking now while blogging!

With friends from the US and Melbourne in town, we had five of us for a fabulous meal at Fish on the Rocks with great matching wines Friday evening. And then the bigger affair with 11 of us on Saturday evening with an outstanding wine and food line-up cooked by Jay Huxley, Masterchef finalist and his crew.  But first I want to discuss the fun I had participating in Food in Focus radio show Saturday afternoon.  This is a regular Saturday feature at 4 pm which Natascha Moy has been hosting for four and a half years now on FM 89.7 radio.

We had great fun.  Natascha always has three guests from various aspects of the food and wine industry.  I was privileged to be on the show with Lisa Margan, owner and proprietor of Margan Estates in Broke in the Hunter Valley, and with Nick Wills, owner and Brad Sloane, the chef of The Riverview Hotel at 29 Birchgrove Road in Balmain, NSW.

I have been to Margans several times and have some of their great 2003 White Label Shiraz and their 2006 Barbera in my cellar.  It is a beautiful setting for doing a tasting, having a meal, or even for getting married!  I have not been to the The Riverview Hotel, but will definitely try it now that I have sampled some of these guys food!  And if I remember correctly, they do a very nice pizza for $20 and on Tuesday, you can get two for $20!

I was the ‘wild card’ wine guy for the show.  I brought along three bottles of wines as representative party wines.  The wines I brought were the 2010 Vavasour Pinot Gris from New Zealand, the 2009 Tyrrell’s Verdelho, and the 2005 Kelman Shiraz, both from the Hunter Valley.  The winning wine among the guests was the first one we opened and tasted, which was the 2010 Vavasour Pinot Gris.  It had a very smooth texture, and mandarin and a bit of grapefruit flavorings.  And everyone really seemed to enjoy a New Zealand white wine which was not a Sauvignon Blanc!

So what did I have to say about party wine?  It can be summarized as follows:

  • You don’t need to spend more than $20 per bottle for party wines and you can still impress.  All three bottles I brought along were between $12 – $18.
  • Don’t bring Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc as everyone else is bringing those, so bring something else to provide some choice.
  • Parties can get warm if there are a lot of people or if outside, so if you are only bringing one bottle, make it a white wine.
  • Good white party wines can be Pinot Gris or Verdelho which are easy and enjoyable to drink on their own and go with canapes, dim sum, etc.  A Marsanne would not go as well or be appreciated by a wide variety of people.  A Semillon or Gewürztraminer would be ok, but not have the wide-spread appeal that a Pinot Gris or Verdelho would on its own.
  • If you are bringing a red wine, try a secondary grape to treat people to something different.  A Barbera, Tempranillo, or Sangiovese is different and easy to drink.
  • Or bring something unusual or a bit more personal.  That is the reason I brought along the Kelman Shiraz, as it can only be bought at the cellar door, and it is associated with the winery where I have a place to live.
  • Don’t bring a bottle of wine if you do not know how it will taste or are trying to recycle a bottle received from someone else!

I really enjoyed previously listening to Food in Focus and now have really enjoyed being part of the show.  Each week has different topics and guests and is a continual learning experience for anyone interested in food or wine!  Check it out

A super red – the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea

I got quite excited this evening picking out the wines for tomorrow’s Master Chef dinner being prepared by Jay Huxley and attended to by a great group of work colleagues.  I am so excited about the friendship, wine and food!  All the ‘work’ selecting the wine line-up (in a post soon to come!) got me excited to have a nice drop of red while blogging tonight.

That nice red ended up being the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz.  WOW!  What a wine!  Having had glasses of the 2005 and 2006 Maurice O’Shea in the restaurant associated with McWilliams Mount Pleasant winery in the Hunter Valley, I had the impression that the Maurice O’Shea Shiraz was not worth the bottle price and was another over-priced red wine living on its previous reputation.

But one Sunday morning about 11 am having just finished breakfast in their restaurant (and complaining about how the Maurice O’Shea was overpriced!), Nick (who was the restaurant manager at the time) brought me a glass of red to try.  It was magnificent!  He then told me that it was the 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea and was about to be released in the next few days.  I bought four dozen on the spot.  I then found out a few days later that Campbell Mattinson rated it as the best Shiraz that year (2010/11) in his great book, The Big Red Wine Book.

I have been laying it down in the cellar to develop over the last two years, but decided it was time to try one of the bottles.  This wine is spectacular now, but will probably be even slightly better in a couple of years.  Within minutes of decanting, it really opened up.  It is smooth, perfectly balanced, with good tannins.  It has very big, fresh fruit tasting of blackberries and chocolate liqueur.  The hue is a vibrant, deep red, almost purple color.

The only problem now is figuring out the best time to drink this wine!  I expect it will last a long, long time, but is so approachable now.  I will probably have a bottle every three months until I can’t stand it any more and then make this my every day drinking wine until it is entirely consumed.

I bought a lot of the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz’, including the Tyrrell’s Vat 9, Tyrrell’s Stevens, the De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz, the Meerea Park Alexander Munro, the Thomas Kiss, the Pokolbon Estate (made by Andrew Thomas), the Brokenwood Graveyard, the Tulloch Hector, the Glandore Hamish, the Tintilla Estate Patriarch, and about five more to be able to do a side-by-side comparison.  They are all excellent, but the only one I think can compare to the Maurice O’Shea is the De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz.  I just need to do a comparison of those two wines, and do it soon!

I was hoping to save some of this great wine for one of my American friends who is coming to dinner tomorrow night, but I am afraid, I might just drink the entire bottle tonight.  WOW! What a wine!

A more than very fine red wine

My wife is making spaghetti tonight for dinner.  It will be tomato-based, with mince and chirizo.  And it will have lots of garlic, onions and other spices.  Therefore, I needed to select a wine with strong spice and pepper flavors, yet something delicate enough to go with pasta.  There are very few wines that accomplish both.  While many Cabernet Sauvignon are delicate enough, it would be missing the spice.  Some Shiraz’ certainly have the spice, but are often so thick with granular tannins that you can chew the wine on its own!  Very few wines are delicate and spicy at the same time.

One great exception to that is the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz.  This is one of the best Australian reds ever made in my opinion.  For my 58th birthday, I served up this wine just before the 2001 Yalumba Octavius following that wine with the 1981 Penfolds Grange (which is a great wine!), and people seemed a bit ‘let down’ with the Octavius and Grange!  While both are tremendous wines in their own right, the finish on the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz lasted ‘almost forever’ and had a more delicate sensuous texture than the heavier and grittier Octavius and Grange.

Some of you may think that such a fine wine is an overkill for spaghetti, but my wife, “DAZ in the Kitchen” makes a truly wonderful spaghetti well deserving of this wine!  And it has been a surreal week at work and when I arrived home, I just wanted to embrace the very best bottle of wine I could.  I knew we were having spaghetti, and wanted a wine to go well with it, but I also wanted a special treat to drink on its own as I write this blog post.  (I am well into my second glass now, so expect my creativity to continue to increase!)

The 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 was the second to last vintage of Vat 9 that Andrew Thomas made while the chief red wine maker at Tyrrell’s and I remember him telling me it was one of his favorite vintages.  This is certainly one of my all-time favorite wines.  I was very fortunate to buy all remaining stock of this vintage from Tyrrell’s several years ago (21 bottles) and have about 9 bottles left for special occasions and sharing with great friends.  But tonight, I needed a special bottle to treat myself and something worthy of matching up well with my wife’s most amazing spaghetti!

And that bottle of very fine red of choice for tonight was the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz.  Always feel free to treat yourself when you need it!  I did.

Five best wine meals ever – Part 1

I have had some great wines in my lifetime. Most have been memorable of their own accord. But the memories that last forever are when you have a line-up of great friends, great food and great wine, all which match perfectly. The memories of those times are enjoyed forever!

Over the next few weeks, I will be describing each meal, the event that warranted it, the friends involved and the wines, all which made the evening special. But the ranking to make my Top Five all-time wine drinking meals is judged on the wine itself and the wine line-up being truly great. While the friends and food added to the evening, they did not contribute to how that evening ranked – only the wine counted!

In this post, I will provide the event, and the list of wines. In subsequent posts, I will describe the friends and food that matched the wine that made those evenings special. My Top Five evenings (in reverse order) are the following:

#5 evening – My 59th birthday – November 26, 2011, at The Cut Bar & Grill

  • 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon
  • 2000 Waverley Estate Chardonnay
  • 2000 Houghton Museum Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2000 McWilliams Mt Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 1975 Lindemans Porphry

#4 evening – BPAY Architecture and Support team reunion – August 29, 2012, at The Cut Bar & Grill

  • 2009 Bouchard Pere & Fils Puligny Montrachet
  • 2007 La Belle Voisine Nuits St George
  • 1990 Lindemans Limestone Ridge (Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz blend)
  • 2000 McWilliams Mt Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 2006 Chateau Reuissec Sauternes

#3 evening – My 58th birthday – December 2, 2010, at The Cut Bar & Grill

  • Pommeray Brut Champagne NV
  • 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz
  • 2001 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz
  • 1981 Penfolds Grange
  • 2005 Château Haut Bergeron Sauternes Dessert wine
  • 1997 Château D’Yquem Sauternes

#2 evening – Deanna’s 41th birthday – March 17, 2012, at home with Jay Huxley Masterchef cooking

  • 1998 Pommeray Louise Champagne
  • 2009 Hugel Alsace Riesling
  • 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon
  • 2007 La Belle Voisine Nuits St George
  • 2005 Chateau Brane-Cantenac (Margeaux)
  • 2005 Château Haut Bergeron Sauternes
  • 1997 Château D’Yquem Sauternes

#1 evening – Deanna’s 40th birthday – March 19, 2011, at Lindemans Winery

  • 1998 Pommeray Louise Champagne
  • 1987 Lindemans Padthaway Watervale Riesling
  • 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon
  • 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label (Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz)
  • 1996 Lindemans St George Cabernet Savignon
  • 1995 Yarra Yering Dry #1
  • 1971 Lindemans Limestone Ridge (Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz)
  • 1971 Penfolds Grange
  • 1971 Château D’Yquem Sauternes
  • 1957 Lindemans Vintage Port

While we have had some evenings (such as our anniversaries) where the wines have been just as spectacular, they were limited to two bottles. What made the Top Five truly stand out was that we had more friends and more wines to sample, enjoy and compare.

I am actually not sure if I can write about the great time we had for Deanna’s 40th birthday without passing out as just writing up the list has me quivering! I am uncertain if we will ever be able to top that evening, but my 60th birthday is coming up in a few months, so we do have a reason to try! Hopefully, I can use that night to knock off the current #5 and possibly reposition a few of the other four spots!

The Many Faces of Semillon – Part 2: Museum-Released and Aged Semillons

In my post entitled Overview of Australia’s Wine Regions – Part 3 where I described the Characteristics and Grapes of Australia’s Larger Wine Regions, I extol the unique and symbiotic relationship between The Hunter Valley and the Semillon grape.
Hunter Semillons are un-paralled anywhere in the world.  A multitude of Hunter wineries make great, great Semillons, in three styles which really relate to their age in the bottle and when they are released.  They are:

  • Crisp, new Semillons a year or two in the bottle
  • Semillons stored for 5 years before being released
  • “Museum” Semillons being bottled and stored 10 years before being released 

The discussion of young and medium-aged Semillons is covered in the previous post “The Many Faces of Semillon:  Part 1 – Young and Medium-Aged Semillons”.  In Part 2, we will now discuss the beauty of Museum-Released and Aged Semillons.

While I like my young and medium-aged Semillons, “museum-released” and aged (10 years or older) Semillons are in a class by themselves.  The older Semillons can still have a bit of acid, but have soften considerably, and developed a complexity and balance of tastes which is ethereal in experience.  The golden color, followed by nosing such a wine (I actually use Riedel Montrachet glasses instead of the Riedel Semillon / Riesling glassware for my truly aged Semillons.  See recent post on “What’s in a Glass?”) and flavors in your mouth provide one of life’s most precious pleasures!

I find an aged Semillon is best matched by scallops, either fried in butter, or made into a scallop boudin.  The food needs to have some richness to balance the richness of the aged Semillon.

My favorite three Museum Semillons are the 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1, the 1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro, but top of the list is the 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon, their second vintage.  Unfortunately, there is no more to be found and I have only two bottles of the 1990 Waverley Estate left in my cellar.  However, the 1992 and 1996 Waverly Estate Semillons are magnificent also, and the 1998 and 2000 vintages are coming into their own.

I have done a tasting of the 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1, the 1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro, and the 1999 Waverley Estate Semillons and it was difficult to pick a winner.  Each was truly outstanding in its own right.

A 10 – 20 year old Semillon can be truly magnificent.  The only problem is that there is some variability in the taste caused by difference in cork.  I had to pour a 1994 Waverley Estate down the drain because of a poor cork.  They have been good and always replaced a bad bottle for me, but is can still be a disappointment when you have had one great bottle and open a second one of the same vintage to find a small and discernible difference.  That is why I am a fan of moving from cork to screw-top.

As so often is the case when researching material for a post, I came across something already written which does a good job of describing what I wanted to say.  A review of the Semillon grape from Wine Knowledge is worth a read and entirely matches my view on Semillon.

I have not recommended any Semillons from regions other than the Hunter Valley.  There are certainly some great Semillons produced in Margaret River and the Barasso Valley, and certainly some magnificent Semillons produced in the Sauternes and Barsac regions in France, but my deeper knowledge and appreciation of Hunter Valley Semillons makes me favor the Semillons from that region over all others.  My only exception to that would be the great dessert wines made from Botrytis Semillon from Sauternes such as Chataeu D’Yquem.  (See my post on “Why I think Chauteau D’Yquem is the Best Wine in the World”, my most-viewed post of all time!)