WINE: Innovation celebrated at Hunter Valley Wine Show

 THIS year’s Hunter Valley Wine Show at Singleton introduced a new award, the Innovation Trophy for wines that push the boundaries of traditional Hunter winemaking.

The inaugural prize was won by the $40 De Iuliis 2013 Shiraz-Touriga Nacional – a blend of shiraz and the Portuguese touriga nacional grape.

I reviewed the wine on August27 and the Singleton judges hailed it as “a beauty”.

For most of its 179-year history, Hunter winemaking has been dominated by semillon whites and shiraz reds and, along with chardonnay, they are the varieties that have brought the region national and international fame.

But today our wine producers are also making a remarkably diverse, if small-volume, range of wines from uncommon varieties and the Hunter Valley Wine Show is to be congratulated on turning a spotlight on this spirit of innovation.

Many examples spring to mind: Andrew Margan’s pioneering first Hunter plantings of the Italian-origin barbera variety in the Ceres Hill vineyard next to his Broke winery. The vines have since produced wines that have won a haul of show medals, the latest being a 2014 Hunter Valley Wine Show gold medal for the $40 Margan 2011 White Label Barbera in the 2012 and older other red varieties class.

And there is the introduction of the Italian fiano variety to the Hunter in the Mount Eyre vineyards owned by Coonabarabran medicos Eve Tsironis and Aniello Iannuzzi. That initiative earned the Mount Eyre 2013 Three Ponds Fiano the 2013 Hunter Valley Wine Show trophy for best any vintage alternate varieties dry white and a gold medal in 2013 other varieties dry white class.

Much of the experimentation with new varieties has been driven by response to climate change. That certainly was the motive when De Iuliis family wine company’s winemaker Mike De Iuliis persuaded his father, Joss, to plant touriga nacional on his Pokolbin vineyard.

In its native Portugal, touriga nacional has proven suited to hotter temperatures and Mike was impressed by wines from the variety being produced by a South Australia-based friend.

By blending the touriga with Hunter shiraz, Mike De Iuliis claimed the Innovation Trophy for the best other red varietal or blend and a gold medal in the any vintage, any variety dry red class.

Tempranillo, pronounced tem-pra-nee-yo, is another red variety seen as a counter to climate change and an increasing number of Hunter producers are growing  it.

The Belebula and Little Wine Co brands have been Hunter tempranillo trail-blazers.

The Belebula wines are made by Andrew Thomas from grapes grown on Richard Friend’s vineyard on the Old North Road and are sold at the McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, cellar door or on the website  pokolbinestate.com.au.

The Little Wine Co wines are made by husband-and-wife winemaking team Suzanne and Ian Little and are sold at the Small Winemakers’ Centre in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, or on the website thelittlewinecompany.com.au.

Two Hunter tempranillo reds I have enjoyed recently are the $24 Hollydene 2012 Wybong Shiraz-Tempranillo, and the Leogate Estate 2012 Brokenback Vineyard Tempranillo.

The Hollydene is sold at Arrowfield Estate cellar door at 3483 Golden Highway, Jerrys Plains, or on hollydeneestate.com.

The Leogate Estate 2012 Tempranillo is available on leogate.com.au and at the 1693Broke Road, Pokolbin, cellar door.

Ballabourneen winemaker Dan Binet is also applying his considerable skills to the variety and his Domaine de Binet 2013 Tempranillo last month won the trophy for the best any vintage other varietal red at 2014 Hunter Valley Boutique Winemakers’ Show. The wine sells for $25 at 477 Lovedale Road, Lovedale, cellar door and on ballabourneen.com.au.

Tyrian is an unfamiliar name among wine grape varieties, but has found its way to the Hunter in the IronBark Hill vineyard on Hermitage Road, Pokolbin.

It is a crossbreed of cabernet sauvignon and the Spanish sumoll variety developed by the CSIRO Plant Industry Division especially for Australian conditions.

McWilliam’s Wines planted tyrian in its Riverina vineyards and marketed the first commercial release, the McWilliam’s 1999 Riverina, in 2000.

Peter Drayton is the youngest son of Caroline and Hunter Valley legend Max Drayton and, in 2001, he yielded to the lure of winegrowing by forming a partnership with other parties to buy the 40.5-hectare IronBark Hill property. He is currently offering IronBark Hill 2011 and 2012 tyrian reds in 500-millilitre bottles and the 2012 is reviewed today in Wine List.

Vermentino produces zingy, refreshing white wines and is being embraced by an increasing number of Hunter producers.

The Griffith-based De Bortoli family wine company established the first vermentino vines in the Hunter in 2005 and in 2009 released at $16 a bottle the inaugural DBV 2008 Hunter Valley Cellar Release Vermentino.

The Little Wine Co, Bimbadgen Estate and the Tallavera Grove arm of John Davis’ Pepper Tree-Briar Ridge group have since produced enjoyable vermentino wines.

The $26 Little Wine Co 2013 Vermentino, which I reviewed on April2, was made from grapes from the BHP Billiton-owned Ogilvie’s View vineyard.

The Bimbadgen Estate 2014 Hunter Valley Vermentino is reviewed today in Wine List.

Arneis is described in the Oxford Companion To Wine as a white grape variety of with “herbaceous aromas and almond flavours”.

It is best known in the Piedmont area of north-west Italy and is still fairly rare in Australia. Wendy and Bill Lawson’s love of Italy led them to plant some of the Hunter’s first arneis, barbera and dolcetto vines on the Catherine Vale vineyard at 656Milbrodale Road, Bulga.

The current-release $20 Catherine Vale 2013 Arneis can be bought at the Bulga cellar door,  65791334 or from the website  catherinevale.com.au.

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