The mofo guide to | Hunter Valley

Nick Baum
By Nick Baum
2 months ago
5 min read

The Hunter Valley - one of Australia's oldest and most renowned wine regions amongst mofos in-the-know. Keen to be one of them? From semillon to shiraz, here’s a quick guide to what puts the region up amongst the grape greats.


The location

A while back (and we’re talking a few million years) the Hunter Valley wasn’t the green and lush landscape of today - it was underwater, and the soils were part of an ancient sea bed. Skip forward a little, and humans arrived when the land was first settled by the Wonnarua some 30,000 years ago.

Original plantings here date to slightly-more-recent 1823 - making the Hunter home to some of the oldest vines in Australia. Viti-kleptomaniac James Bushby was instrumental in bringing many of the prominent varietals you’ll find here, returning from his collecting trip to Europe in 1832 with 20,000 or so vine cuttings (including the famed Hunter Valley semillon, which we’ll get to shortly). Like some of Australia's other first established wine regions, you’ll find a few incredibly old vines still knocking about - with some shiraz plantings going strong after being planted in the 1860s. 

The Hunter Valley is hot and humid, with summer rains a key feature. It means that canopy management is a balancing act here - grape growers keen to retain coverage to reduce exposure to the hot sun, whilst also needed to make sure there’s enough air moving through the vines to stop anything fungal finding a home.


Image credit: Wine Australia

The grapes

Say “Hunter Valley” and “grape” to any cork dork and you’ll get the response “semillon”. After 150 years of putting runs on the board together they’ve formed a partnership to last, constantly scoring trophy winners on the world stage. Sem represents about a quarter of the vintage crush, with chardonnay the only grape more widely planted here.

Shiraz is also notably found in the Hunter, and you’ll find pockets of merlot, verdelho, pinot noir, tempranillo and cab sauv too. 

But wait… there’s more! Green-fingered types are constantly planting other new and alternative varietals in the region to see what other delicious potential is still there waiting to be unlocked, so don’t be shocked to see Hunter gewürztraminer, fiano or barbera on a wine list or website near you.


The key wines

As always, we’re going to speak very generally when it comes to describing what to expect with these wines, as half the joy of discovery is sipping around and seeing which producers and pockets of the Hunter Valley you like best. Here’s the majors to mark on your “need-to-know” card though.


Hunter Valley semillon’s greatest trick is that it undergoes a radical transformation as it ages, and develops into something remarkable. When it’s young it’s clear, glassy-grey, full of citrus and a tell-tale lanolin (waxy wool) note on the nose, with a crisp acidity and low alcohol (think around the 11% mark). Fun, approachable and straightforward – but give Hunter Valley semillon a few years in bottle to get to know itself and you get a completely different experience. Although it doesn’t spend any time in oak, it develops flavours that will trick you into thinking it did – that chatty acid profile dropping down a touch and flavours of honey, toast, hazelnut and vanilla coming to the forefront. That lush citrus still remains though, resulting in a wine that has incredible depth that’ll keep you topping up your glass to discover what other layers are waiting to be revealed. Perfect with barbecued or grilled fish on a hot summer’s day.


Because of the warm climate to be found here, Hunter Valley chardonnay tends to trend towards being riper in its fruit profile - think ripe peach, nectarine and mango. Traditionally also defined by a robust oak programme too, Hunter Valley chardonnay is now undergoing a bit of a renaissance as makers experiment with creating drops that have less of that spice, toast and vanilla, whilst still being big and vibrant in style. Pair with pork belly and mango or the old favourite sparring partner for chardy, roast chook.


As with chardy, Hunter Valley shiraz tends towards a riper profile - lashings of red and black fruits with a touch of pepper spice and cocoa thanks to generous oak. Not as full in body as those heavy hitters from the Barossa Valley, here you’ll find shiraz that sits more in the medium-bodied range, and frequently with a savoury flex that makes it ideal for pairing with a whole heaps of foods - as always charcuterie is a no-brainer for a pairing, but a classic Moroccan lamb tagine or pan-fried barramundi are winners too.

Keen to start exploring the Hunter Valley from the comfort of home? Shop our latest and greatest finds here.

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