Mother’s milk from Hunter hits jack­pot

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

IWAS (vi­nously) suck­led on Lin­de­mans Hunter Val­ley semil­lon, in those far­away days var­i­ously la­belled ries­ling, chablis, white bur­gundy and hock. The process started be­fore I was 10 and con­tin­ued through to the time I went to St Paul’s Col­lege at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney in the mid-1950s, when I dis­cov­ered there was a wine world out­side Lin­de­mans and, among many things, that there were other mak­ers of Hunter semil­lon, though none so brave as to give it four names.

It started a love af­fair that con­tin­ues to this day: top-class Hunter semil­lon be­tween five and 15 years old is my favourite Aus­tralian white wine, just edg­ing out sim­i­larly qual­i­fied ries­ling. So one of the great at­trac­tions of judg­ing at the Hunter Val­ley Wine Show is the large num­ber of semil­lon classes for young and old vin­tages alike.

In the terms of the show, held midAu­gust, cur­rent vin­tage means just that, 2007. Th­ese wines have been bot­tled some­where be­tween May and July, and many are al­ready on the mar­ket, though some will be kept back for re­lease when five years old.

In most years, judg­ing th­ese wines is a some­what clin­i­cal process: they are al­most wa­tery in colour, the aroma sub­dued and the palate dom­i­nated by min­eral acid­ity. The task is to un­cover flavour com­po­nents that at first aren’t ob­vi­ous but, more im­por­tantly, to find and re­ward those with the great­est struc­ture, bal­ance and length, qual­i­ties that will change the pu­pae to the bril­liant but­ter­fly in the months and years ahead.

Then you have the other years. In 2005, for ex­am­ple, the new wines were full of lemon flavours, rang­ing from lemon tart to lemon juice to lemon, herb and grass. All spoke loudly and clearly. The 2007 vin­tage was al­ways bound to pro­duce wines of un­usual char­ac­ter. It was the ear­li­est on record; not­with­stand­ing the early pick­ing, the wines have an ex­tra de­gree of al­co­hol (the typ­i­cal 10.5 per cent be­came 11.5 per cent) but also had more nat­u­ral acid­ity (with more lac­tic acid­ity) than usual.

The out­come has been a range of ar­rest­ing wines with an ex­cep­tional range of flavours, as likely to ap­peal to those who nor­mally dis­miss young semil­lon as taste­less as to semil­lon afi­ciona­dos. I was al­lot­ted two of the four main semil­lon classes by show chair­man Iain Riggs and very nearly got away with a third (con­fis­cated when Riggs re­alised what he had done). Thus, spread over two classes, I tasted 89 semil­lons from ’ 07. As I moved through the first class, I won­dered what the other two judges on my panel would make of the wines.

Some­times you get mul­ti­ple jack­pots, when all three judges give gold medals to sev­eral wines prior to any dis­cus­sion; in oth­ers, gold medals will be scat­tered, some given by only one judge, oth­ers by two. As a panel chair­man, I in­sist that any wine given a gold must be re­tasted along with the oth­ers, re­gard­less of the num­ber of golds (one, two or three) awarded.

I was very sur­prised to find the num­ber of jack­pots in the two classes in ques­tion. In­deed, it was mainly a dis­cus­sion about which gold should be top. Hunter wine­maker Jim Chatto and I were like con­joined twins but my sur­prise turned to amaze­ment when Tony Guis­mondo (our over­seas judge from Van­cou­ver, Canada) came up with the same an­swers when he joined the panel for class 27.

In class four, the top gold went to the McWilliam’s Re­serve, fol­lowed by the Ca­per­cail­lie The Creel (al­ready re­leased), First Creek and McWilliam’s El­iz­a­beth. In class 27 there was a tight con­test be­tween Bro­ken­wood ILR Oakey Creek (top at 56.5 points), Bro­ken­wood Stan­leigh Park (56 points), fol­lowed by Meerea Park Ter­ra­cotta (55.5 points). None of th­ese wines has been re­leased and you will have to wait five or so years for the ILRs.

You won’t have to wait so long for the de­but next year of the McWilliam’s Re­serve, which won two tro­phies, in­clud­ing for best cur­rent vin­tage dry white. But the main bat­tles were be­tween older wines. More on that next week.

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