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Hunter Chardonnay: “shaking the foundations of the Chardonnay elite”

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Flexing the trophy-bearing muscles: Liz Jackson, winemaker at Silkman and First Creek Wines, Hunter Valley

While the Hunter Valley can take credit for producing Australia’s first commercial release of Chardonnay (Tyrrell’s Vat 47 ‘Pinot Chardonnay’ 1971), it lost the Chardy crown to the country’s cooler climate regions long ago.  But the Hunter is staging a comeback.  Last month, 98-pointer Silkman Reserve Chardonnay 2014 was named Australia’s best chardonnay in the 2015 James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge. It was made by Hunter winemaking couple Liz Jackson and Shaun Silkman and is not the first feather in Jackson’s Chardonnay cap this year.  

When I judged with the talented, super down to earth winemaker at the Hunter Valley Wine Show in August,  she was still buzzing from winning Grand Champion Wine of the Show, the Best White Wine, the Best Chardonnay and the Best Young White Wine at The Royal Queensland Wine Show for First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2014.

As for the photo of Jackson (top), I took it at the Hunter Valley Wine Show awards ceremony where the show’s Chair, P.J. Charteris, proudly intoned to loud cheers “Hunter Chardonnay continues to go from strength to strength” and “is shaking the foundations of the Chardonnay elite.” As will the James Halliday award.

At the Hunter show, First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2014 scooped the George Wyndham Memorial Trophy Best Current and One-Year-Old Chardonnay and the Murray Tyrrell Chardonnay Trophy Best Chardonnay, while Silkman Reserve Chardonnay 2014 won a Gold Medal. Below are my notes from the show on both Chardonnays (also Silkman’s exciting maiden Pinot Noir Shiraz), followed by a list of other Hunter Chardys which impressed me during my stay.

Silkman Reserve Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley)

Toast, flint, grapefruit and sweeter lemon rind mingle on nose and seductive palate, which features the Hunter’s signature (for me) cashew nut richness.  Good acid line/backbone makes for a long, well-focused wine.  Lovely balance. 13% A$40

First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley)

Tauter and flintier than the Silkman, with pronounced struck match and a racy, lemony  palate.  Though it has that Hunter cashew note, this wine really put me in mind of the Yarra’s more linear styles.  Very on trend. 12.6% A$60

Silkman Shiraz Pinot Noir 2013 (Hunter Valley)

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Maurice O’Shea’s Hunter blend of old is undergoing a revival.  This is Silkman’s first.  Fruit was sourced from two vineyards and fermented separately (varietally).  I tasted it at a winemaker dinner on my first evening in the Hunter. Jackson was keeping shtum about the source of her Pinot Noir, other than to say it was from 30 year old vines on clay. Why make it?  The winemaker gave two reasons.  First, because this historic blend has produced some of the Hunter’s great wines.   Difficult to argue with that!  Second, because, when it’s picked early, the Pinot gives freshness and lends itself to “a true medium bodied Hunter red.”   Certainly, one very true to its nomenclature of old – “Hunter Burgundy.”  This 60:40 Shiraz Pinot Noir blend was aged in old 500l puncheons for 9 months and has delightful crunchiness to its fresh, bright red cherry and pomegranate fruit.  Silky tannins make for lovely fluidity. Seamless, very balanced and persistent.  13%

Other Hunter Chardonnays to watch out for

Muscular styles

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Tyrrell’s Vat 47 – the original & fabulously ageworthy as a bottle of 1995 demonstrated over dinner.

Chateau Pato Chardonnay

Lakes Folly Chardonnay

Lakes Folly Hill Block Chardonnay

Linear styles

Eagles Rest Maluna Chardonnay

Gartlemann Chardonnay

Oakvale Ablington Chardonnay

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