Tag Archives: Hunter Valley

Inspiring wine

A recent event I had to organise for work was called the ‘Inspired Tasting’. It consisted of 102 wines all chosen by members of the wine trade who had visited Australia over the last two years – with the instruction that they each choose a wine that inspired them on their trip. A fabulous hook for a tasting – and just one of the many effective ideas dreamt up by my wonderful boss, the late, great Yvonne May.

Walking around the wines and reading the descriptions each person had given, it was fascinating to see how everyone defined ‘inspiring’.

There were vivid descriptions of wines enjoyed in the vineyard: surrounded by the vines it had come from, standing on the ground that had produced it and in the company of the man or woman who had made it. Others remembered a particular dinner where the wine was drunk and enjoyed with like-minded friends, where the wine helped to elevate the evening to another, more memorable, level. Still more talked of a moment of clarity on tasting that particular wine that helped them to truly understand the style, or helped them to debase an old preconception.

What was true of all of these descriptions was that they talked as much of a feeling experienced as of the wine that was tasted. That wine helped to elevate a particular moment in time, freeze it in their memory, and so enable them to share it with other people days, months or even years later.

It is this feeling that for me is the pinnacle of wine. Something that you look for often but only rarely find. On first sniff the hairs on your arms begin to stand up and then as you swirl the glass a shiver might go up your spine. It is when you realise you’ve been smelling the wine for minutes, lost in it’s scent, and you haven’t even taken the first sip. And then when you do, you close your eyes, a smile lifting the sides of your mouth. Time slows; for a minute you are lost, revelling in the experience of the taste.

But that is not all, there is one missing element. Someone else to share the experience, to discuss the wine with and enjoy it together. Wine cannot be inspirational on its own. You need to share that with someone else – and in the sharing can also come the inspiration.

When Alex and I were in the Hunter Valley last year, the young Semillon we drank on Brokenback Ridge would perhaps just have been enjoyable on its own. But when drank on that ridge with a stunning view over the vineyards, accompanied by friends and winemakers (and the odd oyster), it became something more. The combination of wine, people and place made that occasion truly special, even inspiring.

These special wines and their ability to resonate in your memory long after the last drop has been drunk may not come around everyday, but that is part of their lure – and part of what we monkeys are searching for with each new wine tasted. It is what makes wine so fascinating, intoxicating in both senses of the word, and, yes, so inspiring.


Semillon and Oysters in the Hunter Valley

‘Tonight is our night in the Hunter Valley’…fa la la la la

I am going to be honest, the bar was pretty low as far as my expectations went for Hunter, especially having heard rumours of it being an unattractive and damp mining town. We arrived in the rain and dark after the supposed 3 hour drive from Orange actually took our delightful but geriatric driver (and bus for that matter) Frank the Tank nearly 7 hours. I was in for one hell of a surprise when I woke up. I found myself in a gorgeous colonial styled hotel in the middle of beautiful green rolling hills leading up the edge of the Brokenback Range.

We were picked up in the morning by the force of nature that is Bruce ‘Bruiser’ Tyrell, the equally engaging Simon Steele from Brokenwood and Greg Westwood from McWilliams sporting facial hair that would make the movember men quiver with jealousy. We were driven up to the top of the Brokenback Ridge and poured a glass of Semillon as we paused to soak up the stunning views across the valley from our 600m high perch, as the oysters were passed around. It was spectacular, the cool breeze of altitude and the early morning sun perfectly matched the pure crystalline lime and lemongrass spiced Semillon that was happily swirling round my mouth. In a fit of extreme bravery I was talked into trying an oyster… I must learn to trust my gut instinct more, it was utterly disgusting and the consistency of snot. Luckily the Semillon was flowing like water and helped me regain my zen.

Forced from our vantage point by virtue of the fact that the bottles were empty we descended in to the Hunter Valley for a whirlwind vineyard tour. Understanding the nuances of soil, its impact on vine growth and how that translated into the wine quality could not have been better illustrated than by standing in the vineyard under an autumnal blue sky talking to the winemakers so lit up with passion that it was impossible not to be infected by it, sipping the product of their endeavours. In this fashion we visited McWilliams, Brockenwood’s Graveyard vineyard and Tyrrell’s 4 acre vineyard (which in true auzzie fashion is 1.7acres)

Following this we settled down to a Semillon masterclass, a Chardonnay masterclass and a shiraz masterclass. These were brilliantly presented tastings. 3 varietal wines from different producers and 3 wines of the same wine from different vintages. It was a brilliant way to explore vintage, regionality and varietal expression. And of course that we were presented verticals of Vat 1 and Brokenwood made it all the more sweet! Hats off boys.

The quality of the wines were exceptional and despite what the winemakers fondly call the Hunter Paradox – that humidity and poor weather often produces their finest wines – there was a thrilling sense of place, exuberance of fruit and a linear fresh mineral driven spice and refreshingly low alcohols in both the red and the white wines that made them a joy to drink in their youth. It was the ethereal magic that the wines gained with age however that really sealed the deal for me.

To cap off what had been a pretty unbeatable day we were hosted at the lovely Cellar restaurant by Bruiser and the boys. Dinner was delicious and the wines we were presented with took some beating so we took it upon ourselves to make our vote of thanks at the end of the evening a little more in keeping with the energy of the day. During the day, led by the indomitable Roger Jones of Harrow on Little Bedwyn we had rearranged the lyrics of ‘Is this the way to Amorillo’ to reflect our adventures in the Hunter. On screening the group for any musical talent we made the surprise discovery that Michael Buriak, long time lecturer at the WSET was in fact in a Ukranian dance troop. The combination of our enthusiastic lyrics, hearty singing and Ukranian dancing quite literally brought the roof down and brought to a close a memorable day in the Hunter.
Alex (Monkeyspaz)