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Tasting Wine in the Hunter Valley by Ned Goodwin MW

Hot on the heels of his recent Hunter Valley tasting for the Wine Companion, Master of Wine Ned Goodwin looks at trends in Australia’s oldest wine region. Ned looks at reds (read here), whites (read here) and how he approaches tasting 200 wines in three days. Explore our Hunter Valley wine portfolio here.

 

Wine Companion Hunter Valley specialist Ned Goodwin MW

Wine Companion Hunter Valley specialist Ned Goodwin MW

 

I was recently hosted by the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourist Association for a few days of tasting in Pokolbin. My modus operandi was to taste as many wines as possible for The Wine Companion, en situ. While this seems logical, the usual approach is that wines across the jurisdictions that I cover (the Hunter, regional NSW and McLaren Vale) are sent to temperature-controlled storage space.

In years past, I would get there by public transport (for obvious reasons), wheel a trolley to my rented cell, put my code into the security box and pull out whatever wines were in front of me, often anonymous boxes with little but the courier’s stamp and my details written on them. I would then wheel as many boxes as I could balance out of there, making sure that each security protocol was met before taking the trolley to a communal conference room that I reserved in advance. Here, equipped with foam roller, spittoon and ABC Jazz, I would sift my way through a deluge: cartons, styrofoam (care of the inconsiderate), capsules, cork and, of course, a phalanx of near-full bottles.

Disposing of the trash is arguably more work than the tasting itself!

The pandemic has proved to be a spanner in the works this tasting season yet, fortuitously, tasting in the Hunter enabled me to meet producers, gain greater insight and to taste categories arranged according to variety, style and chronology. It also allowed me the respite of walking away from the tsunami of debris in the hope that local makers and their assistants would swing by after hours and taste.

 

‘ Beer, Champagne or Beaujolais on the other hand, are always welcome! ’

 

After all, it is seldom that virtually every wine made in a single region is open at once! While it sounds like a veritable smorgasbord, the last thing many of us in the game want to drink after tasting is more wine. Or at least wines of a similar mien. Beer, Champagne or Beaujolais on the other hand, are always welcome! In any case, I liberated myself from the room each day without having to worry about recycling, hauling boxes about, my various niggles, the predilections of various neighbours and the thirst of the mini Daschund next door for white wine! My only battle wounds were small lacerations on my fingers from foils, caps and lousy wine openers.
The sandstone cellar door at Margan

The sandstone cellar door at Margan

The first day was aligned with Semillon. The second, Chardonnay and other white varieties, including some brilliant Fiano and Albarino. The third, Shiraz, Cabernet and other red grapes, including Margan’s impressive Barberas. In all, I tasted close to 200 wines, each logged into a communal database that the tasters for The Wine Companion use. These are sent to an editor and firstly posted to the online membership platform before, ultimately, to the annual tome.

I have an option to save a review, allowing me to revisit it at a later stage during the tasting, before sending it to my editor. This is particularly useful when comparing different iterations of a single variety from the same producer, for example. The wines may be made almost identically albeit representing different sites and their varying geologies, soil structures and mesoclimates. Tyrrell’s brilliant single-site Semillons, a case in point. The nuances, subtle. Only by comparing and contrasting forensically-preferably in silence in these instances-can one detect which has the superior balance, length and complexities that constitute a superior wine.

Now, some of you are surely thinking along the lines of ‘but I like what I like and hey, wine tasting is so subjective’. Well, yes, it is. However, it takes a great deal of training and discipline to develop an acute palate that enables one to deduce, relatively objectively, the salient points that constitute a superlative wine as opposed to a value proposition with some character, versus a soulless mutt. Price, of course, comes into play. After all, in one of the world’s most expensive countries it is challenging to make a rewarding wine for under $30. Spain plays hardball in that space with lower land and labour costs, not to mention the lack of Australia’s extraordinary levies on wine. A different topic for another time, perhaps.
‘ A wine has to have character; a sense of place; an X factor. ’
Many of you likely recall me chortling about the very useful acronym, BLICC, be it on Langton’s TV, or Taste with Langton’s. While covering each point therein (balance, length, intensity, complexity and concentration) is a useful approach to maximising marks in the Master of Wine exam when assessing wine quality, when it comes to differentiating the quality between a very good wine and the best of the region, there is more to it. A wine has to have character; a sense of place; an X factor. It has to demonstrate that it is delicious now, while remonstrating with you during tasting that it will be even more finessed, rewarding and delicious down the track. Embellishments such as oak, lees, sweetness and whatever else, must serve as conduits into a wine’s poise and beauty, rather than extraneous adornments.
‘ ...there are many 98 point wines that I would rather not drink! ’
In essence, coming to conclusions of quality requires a systematic and objective approach, based on years of tasting the world’s benchmarks, formal training and guidance from those generous enough to take you under their wing. This is accentuated, of course, by some je ne sais quoi! It is only then, once we are able to determine what is super premium, premium, mid-tier and entry-level, however these categories be titled, that we can speak of our subjective preferences. After all, there are many 98 point wines that I would rather not drink! I prefer listening to the Stones than to Bach, for example, but I am under no false illusion that Bach is anything but brilliant. And yes, the beauty of a wine is defined by the fleeting moment that defines our moods. Sometimes we are not in the mood for grandeur. A throwaway tune from Kylie is fun. But it is the equivalent of an 87-91 point wine, a happy window for everyday drinking that in a few years will have faded from the cerebral deposit box.

When I am tasting for The Companion, fleeting moments do not matter. I am fully aware, too, that some drinkers don’t care beyond spending $25. This doesn’t affect my scoring, although I will certainly give a nod to a wine offering good value. I burrow into the wine in my glass, gleaning its intrinsic qualitative traits and transcribing my thoughts as words, as ineffable as the greatest wines tend to be. I try to bring the wine to life for the reader. I strive toward shorter sentences, although the flow of a great wine across the palate seems, intuitively, to suit longer ones!

Whether you follow my reviews, or prefer somebody else, is up to you. Our tastes as wine lovers tend to find alignment with certain arbiters over others. I prefer reading Walter Speller on Italian wine than Antonio Gallioni. Speller loves Italy. He digs deep, in search of soulful expressions rather than the obvious high scoring wines. He is a sensorial archeologist, burrowing, excavating and searching for more. I feel that way too when I taste. That said, I subscribe to Gallioni’s ‘Vinous’ because I adore Neil Martin’s writing on Bordeaux, Burgundy and pop music!

During and after I taste I try to drink water. But as much as I try to scarf three-litres, it is not enough. Dehydration tablets are handy. The gym each morning, rough going, but compulsory. Teeth cleaning once the March deadline is hit, imperative. Whitening, a no go. It weakens the enamel making one’s teeth more sensitive to the ravages of pigments, acidity and tannin. When you feel something hard in your mouth while querying a wine’s texture, only to realise that a piece of your tooth has fallen into the glass as mine once did, you start to ask questions about where it is all heading. All I know is that I am being led by a love of wine developed as an Art History student in Paris and that I am being led by some inexplicable forcefield to the next glass.

Read more about Ned Goodwin's white wine and red wine insights from his Hunter Valley tasting or shop our Hunter Valley portfolio.
Further Reading
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Hunter Valley Trends in Red Wine
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Hunter Valley Trends in White Wine
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Hunter Valley Wine Tasting 2019
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