Out of the val­ley and back in the hunt with real qual­ity

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

WHILE the main brag­ging rights from the Hunter Val­ley Wine Show were shared by McWilliam’s and Tyrrell’s, there was a spread of tro­phies for smaller com­pa­nies.

Not­with­stand­ing the qual­ity of Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardon­nay (and of Lake’s Folly, which has never been en­tered in wine shows), chardon­nay has al­ways been rel­e­gated to sec­ond place by semil­lon when it comes to tro­phy time for whites in the Hunter.

So much so that the show com­mit­tee cre­ated a tro­phy for best chardon­nay, any vin­tage. In per­haps un­con­scious irony, it is named the Murray Tyrrell Chardon­nay Tro­phy. Ironic be­cause, not­with­stand­ing the long and proud record of Vat 47, Murray Tyrrell fre­quently held forth on his be­lief that the two great­est Hunter va­ri­eties were semil­lon and shi­raz.

The tro­phy went to the 2005 Poole’s Rock Chardon­nay (94 points, $29.95), from more than 90 en­tries in six classes. In­ter alia, it beat two Tyrrell’s chardon­nays in the tro­phy taste-off, in­clud­ing the 2002 Vat 47, com­plet­ing the irony cir­cle.

The Poole’s Rock is no­table for its creamy, tex­tured palate, length and drive on the fin­ish and has two pre­vi­ous gold medals to its credit.

De Iuliis Wines, an­other con­sis­tent per­former, won the Alexan­der Munro Tro­phy for best 2006 red wine with its Char­lie Shi­raz (93 points, $25), a youth­ful and mas­sive wine need­ing five years plus to show its best. It is a com­plete con­trast to the el­e­gant and per­fectly bal­anced 2005 De Iuliis Lim­ited Re­lease Shi­raz (94 points, $40), which won the James Busby Tro­phy for best pre­mium vin­tage red. The two De Iuliis wines were joined by the 2005 Thomas Wines Kiss Shi­raz (95 points, $50) com­pet­ing for the Hec­tor Tul­loch Tro­phy for best avail­able dry red, the pow­er­ful tex­ture and struc­ture of the Kiss pre­vail­ing over the more el­e­gant De Iuliis Lim­ited Re­lease.

Au­drey Wilkin­son Vine­yard joined the fray with its grace­fully de­vel­op­ing 2002 semil­lon (94 points $27.50), which took the Ge­orge Wyn­d­ham Tro­phy for best pre­mium vin­tage dry white and the Mau­rice O’Shea Tro­phy for best avail­able dry white. The wine has ex­cel­lent poise, struc­ture and length.

Ter­race Vale Wines was awarded TheNew­cas­tle Her­ald Tro­phy for best mu­seum dry red for its 1998 shi­raz, tak­ing some big-name scalps in a keenly fought con­test. Medium-bod­ied and el­e­gant, it is pow­er­ing along nicely with many years in front of it.

The For­ti­fied Wine Tro­phy went to Dray­ton’s Fam­ily Wines NV Madeira, its ob­vi­ous age and com­plex­ity sep­a­rat­ing it from the rest of its class.

All of which cleared the decks for the big-boy strug­gle be­tween Tyrrell’s and McWilliam’s. On the white wine front, the Tyrrell’s ace in the hole was its 2004 HVD Semil­lon, a vine­yard of con­sid­er­able age (its vines date to 1908) that Tyrrell’s bought when Pen­folds made its ill-judged move from the lower to the up­per Hunter Val­ley.

HVD al­ways seems to pro­duce semil­lon that, with wine­maker Andrew Spinaze’s skill and ex­pe­ri­ence, has an ex­tra de­gree of com­plex­ity. It is true of this wine, which has a touch of funk­i­ness (of­ten found in white bur­gundies) on the bou­quet, then a pen­e­trat­ing, in­deed daz­zling, palate. It won three tro­phies: best named vine­yard white, best 100 per cent Hunter white and best white wine of show.

To ram home the point, the Tyrrell’s Stevens Vine­yard Semil­lon won the tro­phy for best 2006 white. McWilliam’s al­ready had its oar in the tro­phy wa­ter with the suc­cess of its 2007 Re­serve Semil­lon (dis­cussed last week), but its great­est suc­cess came with its 2005 Mount Pleas­ant Rose­hill Shi­raz, win­ning tro­phies for best 2005 red, best 100 per cent Hunter red (any vin­tage) and best red of show. A beau­ti­ful wine, bred to last the way the great wines of Mau­rice O’Shea have (with 50 to 60 years un­der their belt), this is a wel­come re­turn to top form.

Doubt­less driven by the de­mands of cel­lar-door trade, there were a host of other white and red va­ri­eties that were con­spic­u­ously un­suc­cess­ful.The one sec­ond-tier variety to gar­ner two gold medals was the widely planted verdelho. When there is a driz­zle of lemony acid­ity over the nor­mally bland fruit salad flavours, it can rise above its sta­tion.

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