Friday, April 8, 2011

The best of Hunter Valley Shiraz may be on the way...

I have commented more than once on my renewed love affair with Hunter Valley Shiraz. It was the first wine of any variety and any region that I got my head around, and back in the ‘70s and ‘80s old vintages (even O’Sheas) could be found if you knew where to look, and they were not as exorbitantly expensive as the few remaining bottles are today.

In the third edition of my Classic Wines of Australia and New Zealand I included composite tasting notes (from tastings held between 1984 and 1996) of 19 different Maurice O’Shea wines, the oldest the fabulous 1937 Mountain A Dry Red. Overall, there were also wines from ‘42, ‘43, ‘44, ‘45, ‘46, ‘47, ‘49, ‘52, ‘53 and ’54, in some instances with two or even three wines from the same vintage.

In those days there was no statement of alcohol on the labels, but I am as sure as I can be that the alcohol levels would have been between 13% and 13.5%. The time of harvesting shiraz in the Hunter Valley is not always in the hands of the winemaker, vintage rainfall, hail, searing heat and sunburn, defoliation and a host of other challenges can mean there is no choice. But in the ‘07 and ‘09 vintages, weather conditions were as good as they are ever likely to be for shiraz, and quite beautiful wines were made in these years.

The uniting feature is alcohol levels with a weighted average around 13.5%. The wines have a purity and balance that will see them develop over 20 years (or much longer given screwcaps) gradually picking up that polished leather, sweet earth and forest litter backdrop of great Hunter Shiraz.

Many will be drunk long before they reach this stage, because they are so easy to enjoy in their youth.

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