The late great Australian wine man Len Evans was a passionate champion — probably in ascending order — of Australian wine, Hunter Valley wine, and dry white Hunter Valley wine made from semillon.
I well remember Len, some years ago as the highly respected Chairman of Judges at the Hunter Valley Wine Show, firmly laying down the law to fellow judges about how he saw Hunter semillon.
If a wine showed any sign of oak it was to be rejected.
It didn’t matter how good it was. Oak was just not part of the Hunter semillon style the way he — and many others — saw it.
I do wish that more Chairmen of Australian wine shows were as forthright in protecting the nation’s vinous heritage.
Aged Hunter semillon is a style of wine that regular readers of this column know that I’m particularly partial to. I remember the late Melbourne wine writer Mark Shield pondering how something that started life so ‘mean and squinty-eyed’ could blossom into something so complex, rich and charming.
And aged Hunter semillon certainly is all of those things and more.
It’s a uniquely Australian wine style and is should be preserved, even if technology has made it less ‘mean and squinty-eyed’ in its youth.
Perhaps it’s a result of the valley’s winemakers making a virtue of the necessity to often pick their grapes early in a climate where prospective high rainfall, warmth and humidity make viticulture marginal.
Maybe that’s true, but so be it then. The wines are wonderful.
Andrew Margan, one of the gun winemakers in the Broke-Fordwich sub-region of the Hunter Valley, has taken Len Evans’ philosophy to heart and regularly released aged semillons — not to mention a very good batch of other wines to boot.
Margan 2018 Breaking Ground Albarino ($30): This fairly new-to-Australia white variety hails from the Iberian Peninsula, and I imagine that its late-ripening habit make for many sleepless Hunter Valley nights as the weather threatens to close it. As Andrew says, this wine is all about texture and structure, which I think makes it a great food wine rather than something just for tasting.
Margan 2013 White Label Shiraz ($40): Shiraz has traditionally been semillon’s red partner in the Hunter. Like the area’s best reds it’s medium-bodied and earthy rather than being a ‘blockbuster’ like shiraz from areas such as the Barossa or McLaren Vale can be. I think that’s a good thing because it makes the wine more adaptable to food. In most parts of Australia I’d be trying it a hearty winter stew.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Margan 2013 Aged-Release Semillon ($50): This is only part of the way to maturity and is just beginning to hit its straps of complexity and richness, but I’m sure that will develop the full gamut of toasty, nutty flavours with another few years in the cellar. A lovely, well balanced dry white with a pleasing backbone of acidity. Match it with a full-flavoured fish dish, such as baked salmon.
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