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McDonalds Road, Pokolbin 2320
Phone: (02) 4998 7684 Fax: (02) 4998 7324
Website: www.lindemans.com.au

This is a producer with a great tradition in the Hunter, now part of the Southcorp empire and making wines with fruit sourced from all over Australia. However, big isn't always bad, and I was pleasantly surprised by my experience at the Lindemans cellar door: not only was the reception relaxed and friendly, but we also got to try a large range of interesting, mainly locally produced wines. When the cellar door staff realised I had a genuine interest, they kept bringing out older wines not normally available for tasting. My only complaint was the inadequate size of the tasting glasses: these tiny receptacles are entirely unsuited for tasting good wine in.

First, a comparison of three Hunter Semillons: These traditional, unoaked Hunter Semillons are often picked a little early, are often light in alcohol (10% is common), and in their youth are fresh, lively wines that, while being potentially good food matches, are a bit simple. After about five years in bottle they undergo a fabled transformation, putting on weight and character, and usually lasting for a decade or so longer, improving in this time. They are very unusual, and a bit of an acquired taste: many people on first trying aged Hunter Semillons go away convinced that the wines have seen some new oak, which they invariably haven't.

1995 Hunter Valley Reserve Semillon Bin 8650 (A$20.50)
Unoaked Semillon, made for extended bottle ageing: this really needs some time. Lean and acidic. Intense with some complexity. Not showing too well: perhaps too cold?

1998 Hunter Valley Semillon Bin 9255 (A$18.00)
Rougher, rawer style with a strong citrus component. Lively stuff, interesting.

1987 Hunter Semillon
Rich golden colour. Nutty and toasty, with some honey. Still citrus-laden: complex and delicious, savoury and intense. Very good.

Although Chardonnay doesn't have the same mythical status in the Hunter, this variety performs well here, and the pair of Hunter wines which follow are quite different to the subsequent duo from Padthaway. I was unconvinced by the older wines from both regions.

1998 Hunter Valley Chardonnay Bin 9281 (A$20.00)
Fermented in stainless steel, this wine then sees new oak for a short time. It has a lovely, lifted, oaky nose. Fresh, lively fruit combines nicely with the oak. Well put together; good.

1994 Hunter River Chardonnay Bin 9481
Nutty, baked bread nose, with coffe-ish notes. Lean and savoury on the palate, beginning to thin a little. Mature, unusual Chardonnay. Very interesting: an acquired taste, but still alive.

1998 Padthaway Chardonnay (A$15.50)
Not from the Hunter, but instead from a cooler region in South Australia well known for producing great Chardonnays. I was really impressed by this wine. Fully barrel-fermented. Deep yellow colour. Complex fruit flavours combined beautifully with new oak. Rich, intense and concentrated, with figgy, tropical fruit and spice notes. Superb stuff. Very good +

1994 Padthaway Chardonnay (A$42)
You'd think that for more than double the price, the museum release of the above wine would be a real treat. I'm not convinced, and prefer the wine in its youth. Deep yellow/orange coloured. Butterscotch nose with honey and toast. Very intense, with a soft honey and butterscotch palate that is beginning to dry out and shorten. Interesting and unusual, but not my thing: instead, I think it has seen better days.

1999 Nursery Coonawarra Riesling ($19)
Lifted floral nose with a touch of citrus fruit. On the palate this is crisp and dry with bracing acidity. A good food wine? Intense and unusually floral for an Australian Riesling. Good.

Now for three impressive Shirazes, all displaying noticeable regional character, and needing time to show their best.

1994 Hunter River Shiraz Bin 8803 (A$25)
Lovely, rich, tarry nose. Softened on the palate with a nice complexity. It is not a fruit-driven wine but has plenty of earthy character. Very good.

1995 Hunter Valley Shiraz Bin 9003 (A$20)
Younger-tasting than the 1994 version, with less developed nose and more tannic structure. Good.

1996 Hunter Valley Steven Vineyard Shiraz Bin 9225 (A$26.50)
New oak for this single-vineyard wine, which has a more tannic structure than the previous two. Still tight, and coming across a little more like a typical Aussie Shiraz (the new oak responsible here?). Will be interesting in a few years; good.

Finally, two superb wines of quite different character.

1995 Pyrus, Coonawarra (A$39.50)
Leaving the Hunter and moving to South Australia, this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. It is seductive stuff. A big, minty, leafy nose gives way to soft, mint and berry flavours of great intensity and concentration. Tasty stuff. I'd drink this now while it still has the lovely intensity of fruit. Very good +

1991 Hunter River Sparkling Shiraz (A$35)
Superb! Concentrated but soft strawberry fruit with liveliness and complexity contributed by the bubbles. Very unusual and attractive wine for those who fancy trying something a bit different. Very good.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate

Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin 2320
Phone: (02) 4998 7505 Fax: (02) 4998 7761

Founded in 1921 by Maurice O'Shea, McWilliams was originally centred in the Griffith region of NSW, but purchased this Hunter Valley cellar door facility a few years ago, which has been developed into an impressive operation. Still family owned, McWilliams has 400 Ha of vineyards and a further 200 Ha worked by contract growers. When I visited the staff were only modestly helpful and seemed anxious to go home -- even though the cellar door was supposed to be open until 4.30 pm, all the bottles vanished at 4 pm. I took the hint and left, a little disappointed not to have had more time. Perhaps things would have been better had I chosen another time to visit, but a friend visiting a few days after me reported that they were similarly put off by the reception received here.

1996 Elizabeth Semillon
A wine with a loyal following and a reputation for being one of the best bargains in Australia. Sold for a modest price, usually with a few years of bottle age, already on release this usually gives a glimpse of what aged Hunter Semillon is about, and carries on improving for some time after. I say 'usually', because for some reason McWilliams are releasing the 1996 much sooner than they usually do (the 1994 is currently on the shelves in the UK), and the wine has not yet had enough time to develop the character of aged Semillon. It has a citrus-laden nose, with a fresh sharp palate. Currently a bit simple, it will likely improve, although I'm not quite sure about this one.

1990 Nursery Release Elizabeth Semillon
Honeyed and nutty on the palate, this is fatter with more weight than the 1996, but is perhaps beginning to show some signs of decline. Good, but I was expecting more.

1997 Mount Pleasant Chardonnay
6 months of French oak. Full on palate with some spicy oak. Pleasant, savoury stuff with some complexity. Very good.

1996 O'Shea Chardonnay (A$29)
8 months of French oak. I was really impressed with this wine. Lovely rich nose, complex and toasty. On the palate the rich fruit is combined with well handled new oak, to give an intense and powerful wine. Very good/excellent. Well priced too.

1995 Philip Shiraz
Soft, rich, spicy and tarry. Has a sort of flavour profile that I would say is typical of many Hunter Shirazes. Very good.

1997 Rosehill Vineyard Shiraz
Lovely and rich, with a soft, spicy character and some slightly gamey notes. Very good.

Gillards Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Phone: (02) 4998 7563 Fax: (02) 4998 7786
E-mail: sales@scarboroughwine.com.au

Website: www.scarboroughwine.com.au

This pleasantly situated winery was established as recently as 1987 by Ian and Merralea Scarborough. A Chardonnay specialist, the vineyard holdings consist of two terroirs, the hillside terra rossa and the clayey creek flats, and from these two styles of Chardonnay are made. The Export style ('Blue Label') comes from the creek flat grapes which are picked earlier, together with some bought-in grapes. The wine sees only a partial malolactic fermentation and 12 months in older French oak barrels. The Traditional ('Yellow Label') Chardonnay is made from grapes grown on the terra rossa soil, sees full malolactic fermentation and spends 18 months in new French oak. There are also 2 acres of Pinot Noir. Scarborough have recently purchased 100 acres of vineyard land some 10 km north of the existing vineyards. The cellar door reception we received was relaxed and welcoming, and together with the great quality of the wines, I'd say this winery is a must visit for anyone touring the Hunter.

1998 Blue Label Chardonnay (A$18.50)
Attractive, crisp wine with subtle oak. Some honey and bread-like notes, with a touch of spice. Very good.

1997 Blue Label Chardonnay ($A19)
More subdued wine. Less spiciness; some smoky notes. Full flavoured. Good.

1997 Yellow Label Chardonnay (A$20)
Yellow colour. Much more substantial in texture and flavour. Plenty of new oak, but this is in harmony with the spicy, rich fruit. Very good, and my pick of the three Chardonnays.

Pinot Noir NV (A$20)
Only 400 cases or so of this wine was made, and it is mostly 1996 fruit, with some younger wine blended in for freshness. Soft, dense red berry fruit (strawberry and plums dominate), but with underlying tannic structure. Full flavoured and quite dense for a Pinot Noir. I bought some of this. Very good.