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  • Quentin Von Essen

Flagship Wines - When Quality Comes First

The Hunter Valley (one of the longest established wine regions and the most significant for New South Wales) is renowned for producing some of the world's best and most distinctive styles of Semillon and Shiraz which are the hallmark of this region.

The most recognisable of these is Hunter Valley Semillon – the Hunter Valley’s flagship variety and a truly outstanding wine in terms of quality and taste with a style that has not been replicated anywhere else in the world.

Other varieties grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Verdelho which have all produced great Hunter wines. The region is also home to a talented list of winemakers who are at the forefront of innovative and new varieties that include Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Chambourcin and Sangiovese amongst others.

Of the more than 150 cellar doors making up the various Hunter Valley wine trails, you would be hard pressed to find one that did not include a Semillon or Shiraz amongst their flagship or most awarded wines.

The term ’Signature’ or ‘Flagship’ wine does not have a specific definition within the wine industry, so there are no hard and fast rules dictating how a winery chooses their flagship wine or even if they have one.

If a winery does have a flagship wine it could be based on their most awarded wine; a winemakers favourite wine that he or she produced or one that the winemaker believes best represents the style that he or she is trying to achieve. Some winemakers worry that selecting an iconic wine product will limit them, but this is not usually the case.

Wine marketing highlights the need for a winery to select an iconic product to enable consumers to differentiate and recognise the winery. It doesn’t have to be a grape variety, but instead could be a blend, a wine style (such as sparkling or Rosé), or even a unique winemaking technique. This principle also applies to wine growing regions throughout the world with some wine regions receiving global recognition for producing excellent wines amongst certain varieties.

For Argentina it’s Malbec, for Chile its Cabernet Sauvignon, for the major Spanish wine regions it’s Tempranillo, in Italy (particularly Tuscany) it’s Sangiovese and in South Africa its Chenin Blanc and the unique red variety Pinotage.

Closer to home, the flagship variety for the Hunter Valley is its world-famous Semillon which wine critic Jancis Robinson once described as “Australia's wine gift to the world” and Shiraz. For the Swan Valley, it’s Verdelho, and South Australia’s Clare Valley is better known for its Riesling. In the Yarra Valley and also the Tamar Valley in Tasmania, the flagship variety is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

These flagship varieties serve as a means to attract consumers to a winery and to experience all the other varieties on offer in the region at the tasting.

So, what makes a flagship wine? It’s a very subjective category with different vignerons or winemakers providing very different responses to what they consider to be the makings a flagship wine.

At the end of the day, the common theme amongst winemakers is that these are not wines made out of a desire to have a flagship wine or to aspire to icon status.

Instead, these are wines of exceptional quality – wines that reflect the characteristics specific to the winemaker’s vineyard. A wine that reflects a good example of the style and combines drinkability with potential. A wine that embodies the grape varietal and region in which it was grown. A wine that reflects the typical style of the person who has made it.

These are exceptional wines in which ultimately, quality comes first!

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