top of page
  • Quentin Von Essen

Rad Reds of the HUNTER VALLEY

If you live anywhere with a hint of a chill, chances are you’ve got red wine and a raging open fire on the brain!

Home to some of the oldest vines and biggest names in Australian wine, the Hunter Valley is a mecca for lovers of quality wine renowned for their thoroughly unique and distinctive style and ageing ability.

Here you can find a diversity of red wines just perfect for those looking for something different.

SHIRAZ {aka Australia's favourite red variety}

Shiraz is by far Australia's most important red variety and is tremendously flexible in its ability to adapt to virtually any combination of climate and soil. The Shiraz grape is said to have originated from the Rhône wine-growing area of France but is now grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce powerful red wines, which can be both varietal or blended.

Shiraz is the Hunter's premium red variety and the most widely planted grape variety in Australia - currently representing 40% of the total red grape crush and constitutes one-fifth of all wine grape production in Australia.The typical young Hunter Valley Shiraz is a medium bodied wine showing red and dark berries, spices and a great deal of tannin.However, its real character is seen in wines with longevity. With age, the wines become afar more complex, full-bodied, yet smooth and richly flavoured wine with some earthy tones.

Food Match: Shiraz is a good match with veal dishes, steak (especially peppery steaks),kangaroo, roast duck, Indian and Middles Eastern dishes, chocolate and smoked cheese

CABERNET SAUVIGNON {The world's most loved red wine}

Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most recognised red grape variety famous for its ability to age for decades at a time. This classic red variety of Bordeaux is second only to Shiraz in importance in Australia.

Despite its prominence in the world of wine, the grape is a relatively new variety being the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc sometime during the 17th century in south western France. Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be medium to full bodied, typically leafy with ripe cassis-like flavours, well-structured and elegant and powerfully aromatic.

The bouquet can be rich with fruity notes of black cherries and currants, her by notes of peppers and olives and spicy notes of ginger. Typically, this wine features naturally high levels of tannin, but barrel ageing allows for slow oxidation to reduce these levels and infuses the wine with its flavours.

Food match: Cabernet Sauvignon tends to overwhelm most foods,so it is best paired with rich, creamy dishes that will neutralise the tannins and bring forward the flavour of the wine. It also pairs well with grilled or roasted red meats such as lamb, beef or wild game.

As well as with duck, roast chicken or a meaty fish like tuna and a variety of cheeses such as cheddar, mozzarella and brie.

PINOT NOIR {The most romantic of wines}

Pinot Noir wines have been one of the strongest performing wines over the last ten years and considered by some to be the next “wine fashion”- with plantings of pinot in Australia increasing from 4200 ha in 2006 to 4800 ha in 2012.

With its origins in France, the Pinot Noir grape is a light-skinned,aromatic grape and one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated to make wine. While widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, it is just as well recognised for being a difficult variety to cultivate.

Pinot Noir is very sensitive to wind and frost, cropping levels and soil types and requires optimum growing conditions made up of warm days followed by cool evenings. Pinot Noir is also highly reflective of its terroir (more so than other black grape varieties), with different wine growing regions producing very different wines which makes vineyard site selection an important factor.

Described as "the most romantic of wines” due to its sensuous and gratifying perfume, Pinot Noir tends to be light to medium in body with a broad range of textures and flavours, including a variety of complex aromas reminiscent of black or red cherry, raspberry, currant and blackberry.

Food Match: When it comes to food pairings, Pinot Noir goes well with a wide variety of foods but is best suited to simple, rich foods.Dishes that best demonstrate the delicacy and texture of this wine are grilled fish such as salmon or swordfish, roast beef, roast lamb, game bird and duck.

MERLOT {The most pleasurable wine experience}

Merlot originates from Bordeaux in France, where it is often used to produce some of the world's most famous and most expensive wines.

In Australia, it is considered to be one of the most important red grape varieties - coming in 3rd after Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is renowned for its wonderfully fruity, well rounded, even fleshy character and is grown in just about every wine growing region of Australia.

The summer heat of the Hunter is considered to providethe ideal growing conditions for this versatile grape variety. In recent years, Hunter Valley Merlot has experienced a surge in popularity and is often considered to be more robust and fleshy than other well-regarded varieties with a rich bouquet providing one of the most pleasurable wine experiences.

Food Match: One of the best qualities about Merlot is its ability to match well with many different types of food from roasted meats to Italian-style, red-sauced pasta or even salads. The agile sweet fruit characters of some Merlots are best to match with roasted poultry, steak and game meats, or slightly sweet meats such as ham or Mediterranean vegetables.

For cheese or pâté, try a Cabernet-Merlot blend, where you can enjoy all the supple, sweet fruit characters of Merlot, enhanced with some acidity and tannin from the Cabernet. Light bodied Merlots can go well with shellfish like prawns or scallops. Equally, it is a fine wine to enjoy on its own.

TEMPRANILLO {Sexy and Spanish}

Tempranillo (from the Spanish Temprano, meaning early) is a premium grape variety originating in the Rioja region of Spain where it is considered the “backbone” of the wines of the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero regions in Northern and Central Spain.

In these regions, it is often blended with varieties such as Graciano, Grenache and to a lesser extent Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo wine is now being made in many wine regions throughout Australia - including the Hunter Valley and is said to be challenging Sangiovese as the up and coming red wine varietal in Australia.

What makes this variety so exciting is that it is easy drinking,medium to full-bodied wine with lower acidity and full fruit flavour that matches well with a wide range of foods. The wine itself, is ruby red,while the aroma and flavours can have characteristic of plum, cherry,strawberry and herb mixed with an earthiness.In Australia, Tempranillo is less frequently bottled as a single varietal and being low in both acidity and sugar content is most commonly blended with Grenache and Shiraz (Syrah).

Food Match: Tempranillo wines are perhaps one of the most food friendly wines around. Spanish style dishes are the obvious food pairing such as tapas style dishes - chorizo sausage, olives, cured ham, goats cheese, pork, grilled or roasted entrees. Vegetable casseroles and grilledor roast lamb are also the ideal meals to accompany these wines.

PETIT VERDOT {A majestic wine}

The bold-yet-floral expression of Petit Verdot is something that all red wine enthusiasts should have the opportunity to try. Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, it is most often used in the region's famous red blends to add a dark violet colour, sturdier tannins and concentrated fruit flavours.In Australia, Petit Verdot is being planted in warmer climates such as the Hunter Valley where it produces full-bodied wines with concentrated flavours and integrated tannins.

Here ripening on the vine is not such a problem and while still used in blends, it is increasingly bottled as a single varietal standalone wine.The characters to look for in these exciting new wines are its intense colour, the wonderful fragrant nose, firm tannins and rich, vibrant blueberry flavour - making it a good choice for true red wine drinkers.

Food Match: When pairing Petit Verdot with food, keep the acid and tannin level of the variety in mind. Rich and strongly flavoured foods are the best matches so experiment with rich cuts of red meat or wild game.Try with dishes such as mint/rosemary lamb, lamb shanks, venison,crispy skin duck, barbequed lamb chops, pork spare ribs and any other rich meats. Hearty casseroles, mature cheeses such as stilt on and fruitcake also work well.

CHAMBOURCIN {Unique in so many ways}

Chambourcin is a relatively new purple skinned French-American hybrid grape that produces deep-coloured light to medium bodied wines with a full aromatic flavour, and no unpleasant hybrid flavours. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level, giving it a pleasant sweetness.

In Australia, the grape did not show up until the late 1970's and is now a widely used variety with an intense dark colour. This has led winemakers to use it to improve the depth of blended red wines without sacrificing the fruit quality of the main variety (e.g., Shiraz). Some producers use the variety for sparkling reds, and it is also used successfully for port-style wines.

Because it is especially resistant to fungal diseases, Chambourcin is a variety that succeeds wonderfully in the Hunter Valley climate and is also most at home in the more humid regions of Coastal NSW and Queensland who all experience wet summers. Chambourcin wines have a lovely, deep red colour.

Most are big and fruity with a lot of raspberries, plums, prunes and even cranberries on the palate. It is not as heavy or robust as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon,which can make it quite attractive to people who don't like red wine. Chambourcin wines also respond well to being oaked, a treatment which can produce vanilla or mocha flavours in the wine.

Food Match: When it comes to food, Chambourcin is a very versatile wine that will pair well with lighter meats, pork, lamb, sausage, poultry,pasta, cheeses and chocolate (or desserts made from the chocolate).

SANGIOVESE {The pride of Tuscany}

Sangiovese is the most-planted red grape in Italy and is the most important grape variety used in the production of Tuscany's greatest red wines. This star amongst Italian wine grape varieties is now making its mark in Australia where it has become increasingly popular over the last few decades.

The variety also has a reputation for being adaptable to many types of vineyard soils and as such is considered suitable for cultivation in some Australian wine regions - such as the Hunter Valley, where it is fast gaining popularity, although vineyard area remains small.

The variety produces elegant medium-bodied wines with powerful aromas and with moderate to high natural acidity. The characteristic flavours are cherries, tomatoes, herbs, spices and tea-like flavours. Australian Sangiovese wines tend to be a little fruitier, with riper flavours and higher alcohol.

Food Match: Like all Italian wines Sangiovese is extremely food friendly and works well with dishes containing tomatoes or acidic tomato sauces. White beans, mushrooms, and grilled red meat are also excellent partners with Sangiovese wines. Lighter styles of Sangiovese pair well with fish, especially grilled or roasted. It also goes well with chicken, pork, pasta, stews and well-aged cheeses.■

bottom of page