Australian wine - New South Wales

Australian wine - New South Wales. The Hunter Valley is where Australia’s love affair with wine started in 1828 and it still dominates any discussion of New South Wales (NSW) wine. A quick sweep through the arc of winemaking areas around Sydney will take us there.

You would have to start in the small, southernmost area for the name alone: Tumbarumba (Penfolds’). Most of Canberra’s vineyards are in fact in NSW – they’re at very cool altitudes, ideal for Riesling (Helm ), and it was here that the craze for Shiraz-Viognier blends began. Good neighbours are moving in next door in Hilltops (Chalker’s Crossing , McWilliams ) but most grapes still go out to do that élevage thing of being blended to raise the standard of wines from some of the quality-conscious volume players (Casella , De Bortoli – including for their Noble One, probably the best Australian Sauternes-style sweet wine).

The Central Ranges Zone comprises Cowra, for some excellent Chardonnay and Verdelho (Windowrie ); Orange, where, attracted by the coolness at 600m, top winemakers have been all over it like a rash recently (Cumulus , Logan , Philip Shaw ); and Mudgee, where good reds are made by some big names such as Rosemount and Tyrrell’s and some smaller ones such as Huntington and Poet’s Corner.

For all that the upper part of the Hunter Valley is where Australia’s now rather stormy love affair with Chardonnay began (with Tyrrell and Rosemount) in the 1970s, the bit we’re most interested in is, officially, called the Lower Hunter Valley and, universally, just ‘the Hunter’. Its influence punches well above its puny three per cent weight of Australia’s output. It’s a hot, clammy, sub-tropical region with lots of rain but with Sydney only 80 miles to the south it’s very switched on to wine tourism and its ageworthy, dry Semillon is what a lot of those tourists come looking for.

Grassy enough when young to be mistaken for Sauvignon, in ageing for up to twenty years these deeply distinctive wines start to take on buttery, toasty, nutty aromas – the characteristics of oak ageing – but the surprise is that generally no new oak is used. What initially seems so familiar then takes you somewhere completely different, when lanolin and a deep, hard-edged minerality take over. A naturally low alcohol level is another part of the sleight-of-hand and, for geeks, the best producers (Brokenwood , Lake’s Folly , Keith Tulloch , Margan , McWilliams , Tyrrells ) prevent malolactic fermentation taking place. This is what keeps its elbows sharp. The same producers do well with Chardonnay and Shiraz, often somewhat idiosyncratically – the Shiraz is leathery, the original sweaty saddle – and Verdelho is making a comeback, but it’s the Semillon which, along with Rutherglen Muscat and Barossa Shiraz, is one of Australia’s primary contributions to the world’s distinctive wine styles.

But in case we get too fancy – which the Aussies wouldn’t like – let’s not forget that away to the west, in the great square, irrigated block of desert that is Riverina (attractively aka the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area) those hydroponically produced swathes of sunshine in a bottle have changed the world’s wine-drinking habits on a scale so tectonic it makes anything that ever came out of the Hunter Valley look like a ripple on a boating pond.

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