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HUNTER VALLEY BLOG

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Go dry this July with these delish dry reds

Confession time. I've never managed to stick to Dry July. I know, I know, I should – it's a great cause and my liver would thank me, but I just love having a glass of wine with dinner. Sometimes two.

In our house, we've compromised and go alcohol-free midweek and on weekends only drink dry reds. Okay, maybe the occasional dry white sneaks in there too but on chilly July days we usually reach for a warming red to slurp while sprawled as close to the combustion fire as we can get (and the dog allows).

Yeah, you may say it's a cop-out, but it works for us.

So, what is a dry red I hear you ask? The simple answer is that it's a red wine that doesn't have any of the grape sugars left after fermentation (which winemakers call residual sugar). And that's pretty much it.

A dry red can be made from oodles of different grape varieties with assorted flavours, so you're bound to find one you like. Everything from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Barbera and Gamay to name some – all of which you can find in the Hunter Valley.

But where do you start? With so many cracking brands to choose from we often go with a theme: one month we might choose our wines alphabetically ie one night a wine from Adina, the next a Briar Ridge wine, then Calais, De Bortoli and so on – another month we might try wines from the pioneering families of Hunter wine like Tyrrell's, Tulloch, Audrey Wilkinson, Drayton's etc.

This month we've decided to do Dry July with reds from some of the younger winemakers in the Valley. Our hit list includes:

Hart & Hunter

Husband and wife winemaking duo Damien Stevens and Jodie Belleville have been hitting it out of the park with their handcrafted 100 per cent Hunter wines for 10 years now. While their main game is classic Hunter varieties – the Twenty Six Rows Chardonnay is a cracker with several awards under its belt – they also like to play around with alternative varieties so this month we're opening their smashing savoury Sangiovese to enjoy with pizza. Italians pair pizza and Chianti all the time (the Italian Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany) so who can argue with that?

​Usher Tinkler Wines

Love what go-getters Usher and Ebony Tinkler have achieved at the quaint Pokolbin Church, built in 1905. After a total refurb of the interior they've created a light, airy space where they offer the wine-tasting holy trinity – wine, cheese and salumi. It's a mecca for wine worshippers who make the pilgrimage to sample Usher's boutique wines. The Reserve Chardonnay and Shiraz are out of the box, but he really pushes the envelope with the Nose To Tail range, mixing varieties to create some beguiling blends like The Cow Shiraz Pinot blend, which we're going to serve with roast beef.

​Gundog Hunter Cellar & Gourmet Pantry

Neighbouring Gundog Estate offers textbook Hunter Semillon and Shiraz in the old Pokolbin schoolhouse. The historic weatherboard building has had a smart fit-out with the cellar door at one end and a pantry/gift shop up the other with grazing platters and other gourmet goodies.., and did I mention the canine sculptures? Well, it is named after the family dog after all. Anyhoo, we have a thing about winemaker Matt Burton's wonderfully elegant wines – we can't get enough of them and each and every one scores high in our household. The Hunter's Shiraz is perfect with a hearty beef casserole so it's a regular on our mid-winter wine list (but if you're after something with a twist try something from the Indomitus range).

​Vinden Estate Wines

Angus Vinden is another trailblazing young winemaker who's a bit of a nonconformist. He took over the family business about six years ago and branched out from the classic Vinden Estate brand with a novel new label called Headcase that offers some intriguing (you could say oddball) wines. The family vineyard is the only one in the region that grows Alicante Bouschet, a red-fleshed grape from France, which under the Estate brand has been used to make a sparkling wine, but Angus has fashioned a new spinoff called The Vinden Headcase Charmless Man. It's a medium-bodied blend of Alicante Bouschet, Tempranillo and Shiraz that's silky smooth and there's also a terrific Headcase Tempranillo but, alas, it's sold out and the new vintage isn't available until September.

​Saddler's Creek Wines

This boutique brand also has a talented young winemaker holding the reins. Hunter born and bred Brett Woodward joined this family-owned brand in 2011 and was promoted to head winemaker in 2013, masterminding some beautifully structured wines that are a pleasure to consume. The Saddler's range offers drink now wines that are full of flavour – and the cracking Estate Blend is a great example. It's a delicious mix of Hunter Valley Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot that's just what the doctored ordered when it's cold and wet outdoors.

So that's what I'm going to be sampling this month, but I always wonder what winemakers are drinking, don't you? So I asked a couple to reveal their favourite Hunter dry reds.

GWYN OLSEN, PEPPER TREE WINES

"Hunter dry reds are perfect drinking at any time of year, but I particularly love them in the cooler months – it's a great time to slow down and savour them with a delicious meal somewhere cosy and warm."

Her five faves are:

Silkman Shiraz Pinot – the splash of Pinot in this Hunter Shiraz gives this blend a lovely aroma and silky texture… and it's oh so easy to drink!

De Iuliis LDR Shiraz Touriga – the ultimate Friday night footy wine to pair with a homemade beef and red wine pie.

Briar Ridge Dairy Hill Shiraz – if you're invited to a Christmas in July party you need a celebratory wine – come on down Dairy Hill Shiraz.

Tyrrell's Wines Gamay – Gamay is a lighter style of red that's a great midweek wine to have with pizza.

Mount Pleasant Rosehill Shiraz – a prized old Pokolbin vineyard and a wine of great pedigree. What more do you want on a chilly winter's night?

ADRIAN SPARKS, MOUNT PLEASANT WINES

"Beautiful and elegant flavours are the essence of any dry red from the Hunter," says Adrian. "As the pinnacle of true medium-bodied wines, dry reds expertly express the region and vintage through their savoury notes making them one of my all-time favourites to drink with or without food at any occasion."

His five faves are:

Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz – impress your significant other on date night with this flagship Shiraz.

Brokenwood Wines Verona Shiraz – red wine and cheese is a match made in heaven and you'll be on cloud nine with this combo.

Tyrrell's Wines Vat 8 Shiraz Cabernet – if you're looking for a bigger style of dry red to pair with a hearty winter meal, like slow-cooked lamb shanks, try this this fruit-driven blend.

De Iuliis Wines LDR Shiraz Touriga – who doesn't love chocolate right? This is Adrian's numero uno to pair with chocolate desserts.

Mount Pleasant Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz Magnum – add a bit of wow factor to your next party with a super-size magnum of this opulent drop. Also makes a fab gift for your wine-loving friends.

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