An under-loved Hunter Shiraz, by the fire, with a lamb burger

Vat 9

Ahhhh, the Hunter Valley Shiraz.  The poor thing has been kicked in the guts more than a dud race horse.  At one point there it was felt by many non-fans to only be the domain of the over-patriotic New South Welshmen.  Those from the southern states shunned it, and many still do, to their own detriment!  The Hunter Shiraz has changed, well not really, it has returned to its roots.

The popularity of the big juicy heavy shirazes from the South Australian wine regions meant that many Hunter Valley producers bastardized their wines trying to alter them from the deeply earthy, peppery and savoury medium bodied wines with gentle runs of mulberry and blueberry fruit into full bodied overly-oaked head-knockers that just couldn’t achieve the intense fruit flavours of the popular wines they were trying to emulate from the south.

wine wankers wine blogs blog images a top aged hunter valley shirazBut some producers stayed true to what a Hunter Valley Shiraz is all about, and what was once old, is now new again.  It’s back, and has been for a while, and you’d be crazy not to re-connect yourself with a Hunter Shiraz.  Maurice O’Shea, regarded as the godfather of Australian Shiraz, would be proud.

The Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz is often regarded as the benchmark for all others to try and knock from the top.  It’s great, but I also love Shiraz produced by Meerea Park, like the Alexander Munroe, the Hell Hole, and the Terracotta, and these wines are biting at the heals of The Graveyard.  Thomas Wines makes the sensational Kiss.  And, of course, there’s the Maurice O’Shea from McWilliams Mount Pleasant.  Then there is the Tyrrell’s Vat 9. I’d recently enjoyed a 1978 vintage with my wife for her birthday. It was a lovely wine full of aged Hunter Shiraz characters and still some interesting fruit flavours, but that’s a story for another day.

I too went through a stage of dissing the Hunter Shiraz, and sucking down the biggies from the south instead (and still love them too).  But I returned to the Hunter Shiraz a few years back, thankfully.  Maybe it’s just that I too am one of those overly-patriotic New South Welshmen, but I’m ok with that, because I’ve re-discovered just how unique a Hunter Shiraz can be, and I’m at that stage where I want to enjoy wine experiences that are different rather than sticking to a preferred style.

IMG_2646Now, I love my simple food and wine combos.  I’m also an avid veggie gardener.  We’ve had a rather mild winter here in Sydney, although it was cold over the weekend in the evenings, and I’d only just picked the last of my cherry tomatoes.  I’ve got loads of lettuce, spinach and other greens still so I decided to make some lamb and spinach burgers rolled through with rosemary, garlic, lemon and pepper, then tossed them on the BBQ. Neal had recently given me a 2003 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz to try and he said it was a cracker.  Naturally, with my peppery lamb burger it was the perfect choice.

One thing about good quality Hunter Valley Shiraz is that it ages well and the 2003 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz was true to form with very well developed savoury characters but not so intense that they took control.  There was lots of pepper in there, and the hints of earthiness one would expect.  There was complexity of flavours with the savoury and even leathery aspects rolling together with the dark berry fruits that still remained after ten years in the bottle.  This wine was clearly a little more fruit driven than some aged Hunter Shiraz. It had quite a bit of length with a buttery finish off the end of the palate that brought you back for another sip.

A bite of the burger with its peppery and rosemary lamb combined with the layer of Greek yogurt and a drop of fancy tomato based sauce, followed by a sip of this true to form Hunter Shiraz, created the food and wine synergy I had hoped for. And finishing it off by the fire – a great end to a simple wine occasion.

Reconnecting with Hunter Valley Shiraz has become one of my more recent wine moments!

Update December 2013

Wine Wankers Wine Blogs Best Blog Great Wine Online Tyrrells Vat 9 Shiraz 1978wine wankers wine blogs best blog great wine online stories 1978 tyrrells vat 9 shiraz sediment

Recently I had another bottle of the 1978 Tyrrell’s Vat9 Hunter River Dry Red.  This really is a great example of aged Hunter Shiraz.  Although no doubt way past its prime it was still a very enjoyable wine dishing out all the scents and flavours you’d expect from a flagship Hunter Valley red with a decent amount of age.

You can see from the empty bottle just how much sediment had dropped out of the wine over its many years.  You could make a meal out of it!  And you can also see that it still retained a deep dark red colour in the glass.  It smelt oh so delicious with a smoky whiff carrying hints of berries and a bit of perfume.  This represented life and it made me extremely keen to get it onto my lips!

This little old beast did not disappoint.  It had clearly evolved into a more earthy, smoky and even dusty wine than a young Hunter Shiraz.  These savoury characteristics were quite complex, and there was hints of spice, all carried by enough remaining fruit to make it a rather delicious wine that lasted for long enough in the mouth to contemplate all these flavours.

Aged Hunter Valley Shiraz, a treasure if you can find it!

Author: Conrad



  1. I totally agree with your sentiments. Love those earthy traditional Hunter shiraz too. Mount Pleasant Rosehill another good one. Unfortunately I don’t see a lot of Hunter shiraz in Melbourne’s bottleshops – unless I hunt around for it. (Sorry for the pun.) 🙂


    • Oh, and interestingly, the Rosehill is just less than half the price of the Maurice O’shea at about $32 versus about $65 yet James Halliday gives the 2010 of both wines 94 points vs 96 points respectively and they both have a peak drinking period at least to 2040! They could probably go longer than that under the right conditions. Even their $15 Philip will go out to at least 2020. Definitely long lived wines, if you have the patience.


  2. I like some wine in the Hunter valleys but find some are’nt cheap enough. I did some work in the coalies around there and found McGuigons did good ones. They even have my favourite wine De Botlies but they don’t do there casks there so not happy jack!


  3. I an super jealous, it’s hard to find a good Shiraz here in the states. We get to choose from the over produced critter label wines, or big fat Shiraz like Grange that cost more than its worth. I will be on the look out for some of the wines you’ve mentioned. So far, my favorite Shiraz (At least my favorite that I can easily find here int the states) is Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa.


    • I just spent some time searching and it does seem that Hunter Valley shiraz is hard to come by in the US. That is a shame. If you do come across proper Hunter Valley shiraz (labelled as such, rather than a multi-region blend) then make sure to grab a bottle. All that critter wine has done damage to the Australian wine brand but then again that is what the US mass market like, or did like until recently. It’s cheap, semi-sweet and pretty easy to gulp down and most people want cheap. You always have to pay more for quality, of course. Oh, and Hunter Shiraz is very different from the fruit driven shiraz from SA (including the Barossa). It’s earthy and savoury, the opposite to that semi-sweet easy downing cheap critter stuff.


  4. yes to “simple food and wine combos.” It’s all of 8 a.m. as I read this and I want nothing more than a (big) glass of red and a lamb burger for breakfast.


  5. My great aunt was an old friend of Murray Tyrell – but she was such a windbag and shameless name dropper, that I regularly switched off during her elaborate, but extraordinarily detailed, reminiscences. Thankfully her late husband was a self effacing and delightful man and we spent many a happy evening with some great Private Bin Hunter Shiraz after she had gone to bed.


  6. First time here for me and within seconds, I had hit Like and Follow. Then I emailed a friend to point to your blog – she has a better palatte, a bigger budget, and she is a fabulous cook with a wicked sense of humor. So glad to have found you. I love Shiraz and now I’ll be on the lookout. Thank you. Best ~ HuntMode


  7. I’m almost convinced…………. where would I find some in Melbourne?….. preferably on the east side……. but I will travel for a good Shiraz.
    Thanks for the post and your frequent visits.


  8. Quite some years ago, a group of Hunter Valley winemakers assembled their 1991 Shiraz wines for an informal tasting. The Lindemans Steven Vineyard was the pick of that drought effected vintage. That vineyard is now owned by De Iuliis Wines and the 2011 is a cracker.
    The Steven vineyard was planted in 1968.


Please let us know your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s