Hunter Valley wine region: The home of Semillon and Shiraz

Thomas Wines Shiraz vineyard
In 2028, Australia will celebrate 200 years of the Hunter Valley. It is our oldest wine region and despite its prestige, there are no hard and fast rules about what it can and can’t do. It’s home to some of the best Semillon and Shiraz on the planet, as well as a deep knowledge of winemaking that will only continue to grow.

We recently spoke to Andrew Thomas, owner and winemaker of Thomas Wines about his three decades spent winemaking in the Hunter Valley wine region. Recently awarded Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year for the third time, we easily fell into a deep conversation about two of his biggest passions: Semillon and Shiraz.

A growing passion for the Hunter Valley

Andrew grew up in McLaren Vale, but moved to the Hunter Valley wine region to work as a winemaker with Tyrrell’s in the 80s and never looked back. After 13 vintages developing a passion for the Hunter Valley, he decided to explore the opportunities of creating his own brand. He made a very clear decision to not produce everything for everyone and focused on the two signature varieties of the Hunter Valley.

His single vineyard examples of Shiraz and Semillon explore the subtle and stylistic diversity of his sites. If someone were to describe Hunter Valley Semillon, they would speak of its freshness, vibrancy, and varietal purity. Its citrus characters and acidity make a perfect match with fresh and delicate seafood, such as shucked oysters, sashimi, and prawns. Any food that you would squeeze a lemon on works beautifully with Hunter Valley Semillon.

Thomas Wines’ Shiraz is also unique to the region, with the vines, aspect, row orientation, and terroir of their sites playing a big role in shaping its identity. Guests at Thomas Wines are even shown jars of soil when experiencing a wine tasting to help them understand the landscape’s influence on the flavours in the wine.

Andrew Thomas from Thomas Wines

The Hunter Valley Wine Region's Icons: Semillon and Shiraz

The great thing about Australia is that there are no rules as to what you can and can’t do, and Chardonnay, Verdellho, Vermentino, Fiano, Barbera, and Pinot are also explored in the Hunter Valley wine region, as winemakers look for the next best thing. However, Semillon and Shiraz are proven time and time again to be suited to the region’s ancient soils and unique climate. The Hunter Valley is a patchwork of different soil types that have evolved over the millennia and white varieties, particularly Semillon, enjoy the lighter, lower-lying, sandy loam and alluvial flats formed from ancient water courses. On the other hand, red varieties tend to perform better on darker, heavier soils.

The Hunter Valley is close to a subtropical climate and its annual rainfall is distributed fairly evenly over the year. However, in some years, there is rainfall through the growing season, challenging the grapes and making them susceptible to disease and mould.

Very early on, vignerons and winemakers worked out that if they picked their Semillon grapes a bit earlier, they could produce a very unique style. Earlier picking means the sugar levels are lower, the flavour is right, the acidity is balanced, and the alcohol level is lower. This has resulted in the unique style that Hunter Valley Semillon is known for.

Semillon grapes at Mt Pleasant Lovedale

The Hunter Valley is a patchwork of different soil types that have evolved over the millennia.

Vibrant Semillon

As a young wine, Hunter Semillon rarely sees any oak and is bottled within a few months of picking the grapes. This is done in an attempt to capture the freshness, vibrancy, zest, and varietal beauty of the citrusy style.

While it may be one of the most delicate wine styles of the world, it is also long-living and after five to six years in the bottle, lightly browned toast and beeswax characters emerge and the citrus notes evolve into something more like lemon curd and lemongrass.

Even though the majority of Thomas Wines’ Semillon is sold within the first 12 months, the team still sets aside a portion for cellaring and re-releases it with six years of bottle age so that people can enjoy the complexity that arises.

A Lighter Touch Shiraz

McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley are home to the big, bold, full-bodied, and fleshy Shiraz that Australia is known for. However, Hunter Shiraz presents a different story. Its contemporary style is more in the medium-bodied spectrum, with vibrant red and blue fruits, rather than the darker fruits. They have a savory texture compared with South Australian wines which tend to be fleshy and sweet. They are also food-friendly and are growing in popularity due to their lighter touch and approachability.

While Hunter Valley Shiraz doesn’t have to be aged to be enjoyed, over time the strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry flavours give away to tertiary flavours that are more earthy and leathery. The wine becomes more complex, and very bright crimson and purple colours move into brick-red tones. The tannins also become softer and more subtle.

A man working in vintage 2022 in the Hunter Valley

Energy and growth in the Hunter Valley

Tyrrell’s was established in 1858 and has become one of the most influential companies in the world of wine. While the long-standing family-owned wineries like Tyrrell’s have helped shape the region’s standing, younger winemakers such as Andrew Margan, David Hook, Scott and Missy Comyns, PJ Charteris, Aaron Mercer, Valentina Moresco, and Angus Vinden are helping to make the future bright. While they are technically all competitors, the community is close, knowing that collaboration brings colour, energy, and diversity to their long-standing regional offering.

Australia’s largest urban population is only a two-hour drive away and the Hunter Valley is full of world-class food and wine trails, restaurants, and accommodation. There is plenty of potential for the region’s strong reputation to continue growing.

Discover some of the Hunter Valley's best boutique winemakers

Want to meet talented winemakers in the Hunter Valley? Get started by reading our interview with Tranquil Vale Vineyard.

Image Credits

Top to bottom: Thomas Wines Vineyard, Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines, Mt Pleasant Lovedale Semillon, and Vintage 2022 courtesy of Chris Elfes and Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association.