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HUNTER VALLEY BLOG

With more than 150 wineries and cellar doors, 65 restaurants and 180 comfy accommodation places to stay, where do you start?

Follow our insider tips by the people who know best… the locals. We ask talented winemakers, chefs, farmers, brewers and journalists to blog about their favourite places and experiences in this fertile wine region.

Sacred Shiraz Sites of the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is renowned for producing world class Shiraz and stylistically it’s in a world of its own. The region’s signature red variety generates a great deal of intrigue, consistently tops wine columns and shapes out wine shows and guides and has firmly secured the Hunter Valley’s position as one of the great Shiraz producing regions of the world.

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But its wines like Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz and Thomas Kiss (amongst others) have really put the Hunter Valley on the contemporary Shiraz map for all to see and unlike the more staid styles of old, these producers have evolved the style and arguably the region’s reputation over the past decade or two. 

They all have in common an evolutionary style progression away from the deeper darker styles of Hunter Valley Shiraz of the bygone era and really letting the purity of fruit dominate. With less reliance on oak, and certainly a shift away from the big American oak styles, the pristine fruit, medium bodied, savoury wines now have a certain elegance, finesse and flair that defines the Hunter Valley style of the new era.

With the exception of the Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea, these iconic wines are all single vineyard wines. The Maurice O’Shea was historically off the original plantings of 1880 but in recent vintages has comprised a blend of Old Paddock and Rosehill 1946 and 1965 blocks which showcase a classic Hunter Valley savory, medium bodied style.

It’s not that these sites were planted in the bygone era, quite on the contrary, in fact most of these vineyards were planted as recently as 50 years ago, but are really hitting their strides. What’s deemed critical to their sacredness is that the wines are reflective of both time and place. Time being the season and place, their site.

Take the Graveyard Vineyard for example, located just south of the Brokenwood winery on McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, it’s a 10Ha vineyard on a gentle east facing slope with vines varying in age from the original planting in 1968 to the most recent plantings in 2009 and planted entirely to Shiraz. Planted on heavy red soil the original cuttings were taken from one of the original Mount Pleasant vineyards.

As winemaking and trends ebb and flow over time, as has the style of Graveyard Shiraz. Early releases were matured almost exclusively in American Oak barriques and hogsheads, whereas today, the wine is matured in one year old French Oak puncheons

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Brokenwood’s continual focus on the importance of single vineyard sites is what winemaker Stuart Hordern values the most both in terms of wine quality but also the lineage and pedigree they represent. With a strong desire to show case the fruit from the vineyard rather than winemaking techniques, it can be said that this wine has almost come full circle.

Having been included in every Langton’s Classification since the first release in 1991, and one of only 22 wines classified as Exceptional, one could argue that the James Halliday 2021 Wine of the Year - Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz really is a true Hunter Icon.

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The relative newcomer to this list of iconic Hunter Valley Shiraz, Thomas Kiss is exactly as its name suggests – and a Keep-It-Simple-Stupid approach to winemaking and an insistence on using only the best grapes from an exceptional single vineyard site in great years, has seen this wine evolve from a signature wine in this small producer’s stable to a wine of international note.

The lesser-known site from which Kiss emanates is located diagonally opposite the famed Graveyard Vineyard on McDonalds Road and was planted in the ensuing year. It’s gentle slope and heavy clay soil, ensures a naturally low cropping yield of pristine fruit brimming colour and hallmark blue to red fruit flavours with ripeness and intensity that the style has gained an enviable reputation for.

“It really was opportunistic that I came across this vineyard back in 2001 when I made a wine under contract for a client and managed to secure a parcel of the fruit for myself. I couldn’t believe the quality and over time gained an intimate understanding of the site, what makes it tick and developed a nice connection to it. We’ve nurtured it over time and now this lovely combination of a pedigree vineyard, and my commitment to how we treat it in the winery, has led to us creating a wine that stands up against some of the region, or perhaps world’s best Shiraz.”

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It could be said that Mount Pleasant has been an integral part of a Hunter Valley Shiraz revolution over the past 10 years, and their flagship Maurice O’Shea named after its founder and one of Australia’s most respected winemakers, has led the way with a part market, part winemaking led decision to reduce the dominance of oak and respect the fruit and region.

Representing the best possible wine that Mount Pleasant can make in any one year, this wine will always tell the story of that vintage and truly reflect the site from which it hailed.

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These three examples of modern Hunter Valley Shiraz be they named after a person, a vineyard or a philosophy, all go to show that over time Hunter Valley Shiraz has evolved in style, personality and popularity, and that the Hunter Valley overall is a site sacred to Shiraz.

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