This is Semillon country, with a supporting cast of Shiraz, Chardonnay and Verdelho.
Semillon’s traditional home of course is Bordeaux, typically made in a sweet style . In the Hunter, the dry style rules with its unoaked crispness, singing with citrus, green apple and grassy notes, whilst the region’s older, bottle-aged Semillons are famous for their full bodied notes of toast, straw, honey and vanilla.
Hunter Shiraz tends to be lighter than its southern cousins, more savoury with brooding dark chocolate and coffee leaning into cherry and spiced plum, whilst its Chardonnay, with less use of oak, ripples with notes of citrus and stone fruits.
Recent vintages have seen a move towards organic, biodynamic and lower alcohol wines (thumbs up considering this is Australia), as well as the introduction of new varieties that embrace impending global warming.
THE WINE SCENE
As home to Australia’s first commercial vineyards, I was expecting row after row of big-name wineries in the Hunter. Yes, there are a few big guns here (Tyrrells, McGuigan and Drayton’s to name a few), but the norm is quite different.
Driving 100 miles northwest of Sydney, the mountains ebb and flow into the town of Cessnock with its wide roads and low tin-roofed cottages, leading on to gentle sloping cattle farms, dotted with skyscraper-tall blue gums and symmetrical rows of lush vines.
Having swerved Phylloxera that destroyed most of Europe’s vines in the late 1800s, many of the vines here are old, if not (ironically) old-world, producing some of the country’s most prized wines.