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Postcard from Australia 2: Hallo from the Hunter!

Emily O Hare from the River Cafe is the winner of the James Busby Travel and Imbibe Sommelier 'Blog your way Down Under" competition

Out in Hunter Valley, 2 hours from Sydney – it is BAKING, we’re all in shorts and flip flops. So beautiful here – I think a bit Friuli’ish - gently sloping hills, lush and green, set off by the blue’y blacks of the mountains behind them – the Brokenback Range.

Over the last 2 days we’ve visited 2 wineries, met 5 winemakers and tasted over 40 wines. The principal grapes here are Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz (pronounced “Shirar” …no, we cant get used to it either). There is some Cab Sauv, Merlot and Verdelho too, although the plantings of these grapes are much smaller. Apparently the Hunter is the oldest area in Oz for viticulture, vines were planted here in the 1820’s, from cuttings taken from France and Spain. We’re told Phylloxera has never hit the Hunter, so old vines are a common sight. Bruce Tyrrel has a 130 year old Shiraz vineyard, super gnarly, and he tells us it isnt so low yielding – that whole ‘older vines means lower yields’ thing is tosh, his ancient Shiraz crops 2 tonne per acre.

The wines have been so exciting, I've felt overwhelmed by the character and the class of what we’ve tasted. We tried the most amazing Semillons from Keith Tulloch, Brokenwood, Andrew Thomas, Andrew Margan and Mount Pleasant. In their youth they look SO harmless, we were tasting the 2010 and 2011’s and they are waterwhite in colour, lightly lemon pithy and apple peely on the nose, but on the palate! They have the most thrilling acidity, I physically shuddered after a sip. Jet lag disappeared instantly. Fabulous. These Sem’s are as dry as Muscadet, as crisp as a Rheingau Riesling, around 10/11% and yet they come from this hot, hot place. The older Semillons are even more fun, with age they begin to glow gold and they develop an amazing array of aromas and flavours. Pistachio, honey, candied peel, things get so exotic in those bottles,

The reds have been just as good. The Shiraz here is deeply coloured. The aromas are intense, but they’re not sickly sweet, they are fresh and fragrant, perfumed even. My notes are like those of someone considering the nose and palate of a red Burgundy or something from Barbaresco. Best of all though, in the mouth these Shiraz are medium bodied and refreshing, the alcohol levels barely go over 13%. We left Tyrrels hungry, despite having had lunch before the tasting. These wines demand food, so they can show off a little more, prove their worth against any great Euro red.

Post tasting we drank beer, ate prawns and watched rugby with the locals (they were supporting France) at The Aussie, a pub down the road from our motel. Tim insisted that we follow up the prawns with Chicken Parmigiani “Australia’s finest contribution to world cuisine” he said. Breadcrumbed chicken is fried and then served with tomato sauce and grilled mozzarella. I matched this dish with a couple of pints of Tooheys. Not bad. Anyway, enough about my classy adventures, I'm off to the Yarra Valley, for more reds, more whites, and no doubt more surprises.

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