RedtoBrown was sent these two wines as part of a recent Hunter Valley ‘tweet-up’. I was very impressed with both, and a subsequent trip up to the Hunter gave me an opportunity to visit the two wineries in question, and talk to the respective winemakers, Jim Chatto at Pepper Tree and Mike De Iuliis.
In the end, what I came away with from this visit more than anything, was a sense of excitement about the prospects for two historic vineyards. Both of these sites had been somewhat neglected in recent years. Now, however, through the intervention of these two Hunter winemakers, they are set to see a renaissance and produce some wonderful wines.
The first of these vineyards is Tallawanta. It was planted in 1920, and despite a history of producing great fruit, had fallen on lesser times, and indeed was due to be mothballed until Jim Chatto stepped in to take up the lease at the end of 2009. The other is the Steven Vineyard, which was planted in the 60s by Lindemans, and had been the source of the Lindeman Steven Shiraz. As with Tallawanta, it had been less than fastidiously looked after of late. De Iuliis then also stepped in at the end of 2009 to take over this vineyard.
The thing that struck me was that the two respective wines that came from these two sites, the 2009 De Iuliis Steven Shiraz & 2009 Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz (Tallawanta Vineyard), were made prior to these two gentlemen gaining control of the vineyards, a period in which they were receiving less than meticulous care. Despite this, the two wines are very impressive. I tasted them over five nights, and both integrated and developed beautifully during this time. They are wines undoubtedly for the long haul. This ultimately is testament to the inherent qualities of these vineyards, the quality of the vintage, and the intelligent treatment of the fruit from Chatto and De Iuliis.
The exciting thing is that Tallawanta and Steven in 2009 were like Porsches that hadn’t been fine tuned for many a year - still capable of wonderful things, but certainly not delivering at peak performance. Now, however, they are under more watchful gazes. From the 2011 vintage we should start to see the effects of greater care and attention in both vineyards. I tasted barrel samples of both wines from the 2011 vintage, and while still very young and somewhat difficult to assess at this early stage, they are looking full of promise.
Considering that it will probably take a few more years of effort in these vineyards to see them realising their full potential, it’s exciting to think of the quality of wine that will be produced in future vintages.
A final thing to note is the high levels of natural acidity that fruit from Tallawanta and Steven produce. Both of these wines have a lovely, insistent acidity upon which their longevity will be built. Talking to Chatto about this, he reckons the best sites in the Hunter have always produced fruit with high levels of acidity, and all that is needed to retain this acidity is to not leave the fruit on the vines for too long. To me this is a major part of the Hunter’s appeal, that as a sub-tropical region it is able to produce wines that are acid driven, and hence very age worthy. Indeed Chatto claims that he’s more likely to need to add acid to wines he makes from Coonawarra and Wratonbully (relatively cooler regions), than to his Hunter wines.
2009 De Iuliis Steven Shiraz – $40 - Line and Length. No, I’m not talking about Glen McGrath’s style of bowling, but rather the style of wine. It presents a refined and well defined line and length of elegant, medium-bodied Hunter Shiraz. While it’s very enjoyable now, it’s undoubtedly built for the long haul. Lovely flavours of cherry, violets, earth, meatiness, and just a hint of vanillan oak. A classic Hunter “Burgundy” in the making. 4 stars ++
2009 Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz – $45 - This Shiraz has a different feel compared to the Steven, and highlights the difference between wines that can be savoured and enjoyed when single vineyards are ably expressed. This wine has a darker fruit profile, some interesting notes of pepper and mint, and some lovely oak that integrated well with time. While it’s still in medium bodied territory, it’s more towards the full bodied side of the ledger. It has a nice bit of mid-palate richness before delivering a long finish of lovely sour cherry flavours that are supported by fine, drying tannins. In fact, that finish just got longer and longer over the 5 nights. 4 stars ++
I sometimes shake my head at my own change in attitude towards the Hunter Valley. 5-10 years ago I had a fairly lukewarm view of wines from this region. This was to some extent ignorance on my part (or at least a fairly narrow palate at that stage), but it was also a period in which Hunter wine reached somewhat of a nadir, producing often less than inspiring wines. What then happened gradually during the noughties, was an effort by vignerons to better care for and express their vineyards, as well as work more judiciously in the winery. These efforts continue apace, as evidenced above, and to my mind make Australia’s oldest wine region also one of its most exciting.