Tag Archives: Semillon

Hunting Down Some S&M

Confession time: I clean forgot about Hunter Shiraz. It barely exists in London and wasn’t on my radar when I returned to Melbourne. But then some young blokes set my screen a-bleeping with the news they were coming to Melbourne on an interstate charm offensive.
The six-man group, calling themselves Next Generation Hunter Valley, arrived last May. They were armed with buckets of the obligatory Semillon. Young, old, bone- or off-dry, it was great. No surprise there. But what struck me was the way Shiraz, in this Shiraz-soaked land, stood out so handsomely.
“It’s a very different style from what the world would think of as Australian Shiraz,” Andrew Margan preaches to the reconverted. “It’s more savoury, it’s earthy, it’s structured around acidity, it tends to age very well and goes really well with food. It’s coming more into vogue as people get sick of the sweeter-fruit styles.”
Margan cut his teeth making Shiraz under the tutelage of the great Murray Tyrrell. He had access to some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the country and, with them, several strata of old Hunter wisdom. He’s dug even deeper to unearth the region’s potential with the likes of Andrew Thomas, Mike de Iuliis and Iain Riggs of Brokenwood. “We get together and talk about where the Hunter is going and work accordingly,” says Margan. “The style’s evolved wonderfully into a combination of terroir with more fruit ripeness plus fruit weight and texture, all made possible through viticulture.”
But let’s leave those straight Shirazes for another day. Many other days, I hope. Because this is about Hunter Shiraz with a twist, born of a happy accident and discovered at that Next Gen HV tasting.
Shiraz Mourvèdre – the S and M of GSM blends – is a rare beast in the Hunter. Margan’s version is a field blend made from 40-year-old bush vines grown on the red-clay soils of the Vere vineyard in Broke. When Andrew and wife Lisa took on the vineyard in 1997, the Mourvèdre vines were randomly interplanted with Shiraz and other varieties. The other randoms have since been grafted over to Shiraz, but the small, sweet, thick-skinned Mourvèdre berries, whose vines comprise about 14% of the vineyard, have been picked and co-fermented with the Shiraz ever since. The resulting wine is aged in mainly one-year-old French and American hogsheads for nine to 12 months, though it might see some new oak if the Mourvèdre tannins are really ripe.
Mourvèdre buds and ripens late – up to two weeks after Shiraz – so this limited-release bottling is restricted to years when its flavours develop fully. That means picking the Shiraz at a pretty advanced stage too, so the blend is relatively soft and approachable when young.
“I love the fact it’s different. It’s the only Hunter Shiraz Mourvèdre,” enthuses Margan. “When the conditions are right, Mourvèdre has such an impact on the Shiraz, it really lifts it and you really get the spice coming in.”
So taken is he that the field blends are going to keep on coming. “I picked Tempranillo, Graciano and Shiraz together this year and have got some other things up my sleeve too,” he says.
I look forward to seeing what Margan’s patch of Hunter dirt conjures up. I’ll also be stashing away some of the Shiraz Mourvèdre to enjoy down the track. But first I’d better to get back to basics and plough into some earthy Hunter Shiraz. I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for.
2014-02-19 11.15.20
Margan Shiraz Mourvèdre 2011 Hunter Valley

Clear deep ruby with a heady, complex and slightly evolved nose of red, blue and black berries, beetroot, earth, pencil shavings, clove and more. The attack is savoury before sweet plum and briary fruit come tumbling in with a strong undercurrent of earth, spice and vanilla bean. It’s medium bodied, soft and fleshy but neatly framed by ripe, savoury, blackberry-tinged tannins. These lend it a dusty texture and combine with lively acidity to deliver pulsating, berry-charged length. Drink now to 2024. Drink with slow-roasted lamb.

Costs $45 direct from the producer – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 19/02/14

The Sem But Different

It reminded me of the one about London and the streets there being paved with gold. ‘I’m not falling for that one again,’ I thought. But then it turned out to be true: Clare Valley really did have a Riesling trail! You can even taken a short detour from this path of enlightenment to Polish Hill River and drink even more Riesling. And they leave it to you to work out how good the Cabernet and Shiraz are.
But if the Cab and Shiraz are well-kept secrets, Semillon is the Treadstone of Clare. You don’t need a bunch of fake passports and black belt in kali to get to the truth, though. Twenty bucks and an open mind will do it.
It was Tim Adams that gave me my initial taste on that first visit to Clare long ago. I’ve since enjoyed this same wine with several years of age, when it’s deep golden green, toasty, waxy and mellow lemony. Winemaker Brett Schutz says this is the drop he reaches for at the end of a hot day’s work in the Clare summer. “A lot of people who come to the cellar door are amazed by it,” he tells me.
The reasons for their amazement, I suspect, are threefold. One: Semillon. Once the most widely planted quality white-wine grape in the world, these days it often has to settle for the role of Tweedledum to Sauvignon Blanc’s Tweedledee. Two: Clare. People who know Semillon as a varietal table wine will be familiar know the piercing youngsters and glorious aged numbers from the Hunter Valley. At a pinch they may know it in the Barossa, where the wonderful Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon flies the flag. But not Clare. And what was the third reason again? Oh yes, this wine is bloody good.
Oak is part of the story here, and also in the fine renditions at Mitchell and Mount Horrocks. At Tim Adams, fruit sourced from the Watervale sub-region is given about 12 hours’ skin contact before barrel fermentation in new French hogsheads. It doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation and sits on lees for about nine months. In 2010, about 65% of the final blend was fermented and aged in barrel, with the rest in stainless steel to retain lift and freshness. Once bottled, it’s left for up to 24 months before release to soften the acid and let everything come together.
Tim Adams Semillon 2010 Clare Valley

Gleaming medium lemon in colour, with the slightest tinge of green. The nose shows freshly squeezed lemon, pastry, roast nuts and cream, plus a touch of toast and smokiness. On the palate, it gives an initial impression of being blunt and even broad but tapers quickly as puckering lemon, quince and lime pith spear their way through the mouth, with cream and nutty characters folded through. It’s a touch more than medium bodied, with texture and some grip. Refreshing, cleansing acidity takes hold from the mid-palate and leads to a finish that is long and clean, with a lemon soufflé afterthought. Drink with crayfish risotto.

RRP $23 – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 11/12/13