Introducing Hunter Valley
The region was established by ‘the godfather of Australian wine’, James Busby, alongside a list of Hunter Valley wineries that read like household names – Tyrrell’s, McWIlliams, Tullochs and Draytons.
The Hunter Valley region is beloved by Sydney-siders who have made it a holiday and weekend destination for a long time. Indeed it is one of Australia’s leading tourist attractions, and Hunter Valley wine tasting is one of the iconic experiences for those visiting Australia.
The Hunter Valley is separated into the Lower Hunter and Upper Hunter, with most significant Hunter Valley wineries located in the Lower Hunter in the southern foothills of the Brokenback range. Hunter Valley red wine is dominated by Shiraz grapes, while whites are produced from an assortment of different grape varieties, but none more iconic than Semillon.
Where is Hunter Valley?
Hunter Valley is located just north of Sydney, New South Wales. Hunter Valley vineyards are best accessed by road, with under three hours of transit expected between Sydney and Hunter Valley wineries. If plane or helicopter travel suits, Cessnock and Newcastle airports are both proximate to the Hunter Valley region, and regional airlines and private charters service these airports daily. Coach tours to Hunter Valley's best wineries are also available, and bespoke tours also available from Sydney.
Hunter Valley Climate
The Hunter Valley region is considered one of the hottest and wettest wine regions in Australia. Hunter Valley weather is distinguished by the regions sub-tropical climate. The region is also affected by maritime influences. The region is considered warm climate, with summer temperatures often pushing towards 40 degrees Celsius, though mitigating breezes from the ocean are often pulled into the Hunter Valley region.
Unique Characteristics of Hunter Valley
White wines are harvested as young, fresh grapes, typically sitting at between 10 and 12 percent alcohol by volume as finished wines. As Hunter Valley weather conditions can bring pressure on harvest with excessive heat and severe rain periods, grapes are generally harvested earlier than all other wine regions in Australia. Red wines are typically picked at modest alcohol levels yet reach full ripeness, with medium bodied, savoury, spicy red wines typical of the region.
Wines to try from Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley wine tasting reveals that the Hunter Valley region is truly distinctive for its wine styles. Hero grapes are considered to be the unique Semillon of the region, alongside the Hunter Valley red wine staple, Shiraz.
While Hunter Valley wineries typically produce Semillon and Shiraz, Chardonnay is also intrinsically linked to Hunter Valley region history, as are the often-overlooked but highly drinkable wines produced from Verdelho grapes. Hunter Valley wineries are also experimenting with a host of newer-to-Australia varieties, including Barbera, Vermentino and Tempranillo. There are mature plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but these are generally overlooked for the famed Shiraz wines of the Hunter Valley region.
Shiraz is at the apex of Hunter Valley red wine. Originally planted over 140 years ago, Shiraz is synonymous with red wines of the Hunter Valley region. A generation ago, Hunter Valley Shiraz was often tarnished with an image of being ‘horsey’ or ‘leathery’, but best modern examples are fresh and vibrant with pure fruit character, are medium weight, show judicious spice and oak handling, and are typically bottled at between 12 and 14 percent alcohol by volume. These are supremely elegant wines that are approachable in youth, but can age brilliantly between ten and thirty years.
Hunter Valley vineyards produce unique white wines from the grape Semillon. The Hunter Valley staple style of lean, racy, light in alcohol Semillon wines is not replicated anywhere in the world. These are wines that in youth appear nervous, tense and tight, and in best examples from Hunter Valley's best wineries show a desirable line and length. These are citrusy and grassy wines in youth, but with maturity (and these wines can often gracefully age over decades) can become honeyed and mellow.
UK wine writer Jancis Robinson MW has been quoted saying Hunter Valley Semillon is “Australia’s greatest gift to the wine world…”.
Must See Hunter Valley Wineries
The Hunter Valley region is known for its founding wineries with a roll call of famous Hunter Valley Australia family names like the legendary Tyrrell’s, Drayton’s, McWIlliam’s, Tulloch and Rothbury Estate however new generation wine companies and producers have also garnered international attention.
While visiting the generational family wineries of the Hunter Valley region is a wonderful history lesson steeped in superb wine, it’s also pertinent to pay attention to producers like:
- Mount Pleasant
- Hunter Collective
Key Hunter Valley Wine Event
Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival
Spanning over the months of May and June, this greatly anticipated annual event showcases the regions diverse wine and food culture with a series of themed activities. This event is for everyone. Dine with leading Hunter Valley winemakers and chefs, take part in the fun and interactive cooking classes or simply relax beside an open fire with a glass of premium Hunter Valley wine and a cheese plate. There is no better way to see some of the best of the 150 plus wineries in the region.
The future of Hunter Valley Wine
Hunter Valley wineries can rest assure that over 150 years of winemaking history holds them in good stead for the future. However, the Hunter Valley region has lost some traction with wine drinkers, sommeliers and wine industry gate keepers, who have forgotten that the iconic styles of the Hunter Valley region are not only exceptional in quality, but also suited to our modern drinking and dining culture.
Light, fresh white wines and medium bodied, savoury, spicy red wines are perfect complements to our casual dining, love of seafood, Mediterranean focused diets and al fresco living. The recognition of Hunter Valley wine being more suited to Australian lifestyles is part of a bright future for the region.
- Hunter Valley