The Hunter Valley and Sydney have a symbiotic vinous relationship. If the journey was four hours, not two, the Hunter would be a pale shadow of its present self. It’s a thoroughly frustrating place to grow grapes. There are a few patches of red volcanic soils ideal for shiraz, and limited sandy flat soils that grow semillon. And unless you grew up in Sydney drinking semillon, there’d be little chance of falling in love with it. Riesling is a hard sell, semillon 10 times so.
The climate is upside down from a tourist viewpoint: the winter weather is far better, and more predictable, than the summer. Winemakers have to grow and harvest their grapes in summer, one day at 45C, the next with heavy rain. So why do they bother trying to beat the odds?
Two reasons. Sydney is a captive market, bigger than that offered by any other capital city to its satellite wineries, and Sydney does in fact get semillon. Second, when the weather is kind, the Hunter makes magnificent medium-bodied shiraz with an average alcohol around 13%, and glorious long-lived semillon with 10.5% alcohol. (And deceptively good chardonnay, too.)
There’s another answer. Back in 1978 Brokenwood made a shiraz cabernet blend, buying the cabernet from Coonawarra. It had been done once before by Mildara in 1958, but Brokenwood was dealing with a poor vintage needing help from the best cabernet available. It was then a small producer, very much a hobby. Today it has two bookends of Graveyard Shiraz and ILR Semillon, only made in the best vintages.
It is able to offer cellar-door visitors riesling from Canberra, sauvignon blanc from Orange, pinot noir, sangiovese and tempranillo from Beechworth, and distinctive shiraz from McLaren Vale. In each case the union of climate and variety is perfect. A full hand, aces on kings.
2014 Brokenwood Sunshine Vineyard Hunter Valley Semillon
The wine’s magic has nothing to do with the winemaking, everything to do with the site and seven years in bottle. The bouquet of lemon zest, frangipani and toast leads into a mouth-watering citrus and honey-accented palate, all singing in perfect harmony. 11.5% alc, screwcap 97 points, drink to 2030, $66
2019 Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard Beechworth Shiraz
A four-day cold soak with 30% whole bunches led to a five-day open ferment and 10 months’ maturation in French puncheons. The colour is an arresting royal purple, the bouquet firing the fresh medium-bodied palate, red and black cherry fruit the mainstream flavours. 13.5% alc, screwcap 95 points, drink to 2029, $75
2019 Brokenwood Rayner Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz
Crushed and chilled, thence to the Hunter Valley via tanker, a 36-hour deluxe cold soak, fermentation finished in barrel. The bouquet and palate use different mediums to convey an eerily similar blend of plum, vanilla bean and dark chocolate, framed by cedary oak. 14.5% alc, screwcap 96 points, drink to 2034, $100