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Hunter hero

Discover the under-appreciated jewel in Australia’s wine crown - perfect for your Zoom happy hour!

northsider wine guru Denis Gastin has contributed to The Australian, Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine, and has been a wine columnist for a number of Australian magazines. He has lived in the local area for 30 years.

Hunter Valley, NSW wine, white wine, semillon, grapes, vines, winery

First published northsider Spring 2019

"Many years ago I asked the world’s premier wine commentator, Jancis Robinson, what she saw as Australia’s most precious contributions to the world of wine. Her answer was: South Australian Riesling, Rutherglen Fortifieds...and Hunter Valley Semillon. And here we are, just down the road in Sydney, but Hunter Semillon is not so easy for us to find! This suggests that local drinkers may be unaware of just how impressed they can be with Hunter Semillon, so here are some clues of what you can expect to discover.

"It's a wine with substance and expression that builds with cellar age."

First and foremost, it’s a white wine that doesn’t have to be crammed into hot summer consumption. Yes, when very young, its tight citrusy tones are refreshing. But it’s a wine with substance and expression that builds with cellar age and can be enjoyed all year round. I have vintages dating back to the late 1960s in my cellar and, if the cork has done its job in carefully preserving the contents of the bottle, the wine really is a magnificent drink. With a screw cap it works every time, assuring lengthy ageing capacity and, therefore, extended delights.

The key to this lengthy lifespan is that the Hunter Semillon vines deliver aroma and flavour in the grapes early, at low sugar levels and, if picked then, relatively high acidity levels. The acidity is the key ingredient for ageing the wine and because of the lower sugar level, the wines are lower in alcohol. Many Hunter wineries offer buyers two choices with their Semillon - a fresh style for relatively early drinking and another released after five years cellar maturation, showing the deep aromas and rich flavours that this variety can offer with age. For me, the aged Semillons bring to mind Rowntrees lemon fruit pastilles - an appealing combination of rich fruit and acid crispness.

My own buying strategy is to get some of the fresh releases. Some I drink and some I set aside to age in my cellar. I also take advantage of the second releases by the big name Hunter producers. It’s a strategy I strongly recommend – and it’s one that I’m not alone in following. National wine icon, Huon Hooke, has two Hunter Semillons in his list of the Best Australian Wines of 2018: the Tyrrell’s 2013 Belford Single Vineyard and the Tyrrell’s 2005 Vat 1.

Looking for Hunter Semillion locally? Check out my picks below. Cheers!"

Semillon stars

The Youthful Version

2016 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon, $22.99,

is a fresh wine with lively citrus and green apple aromas and matching flavours that carry all the way across the palate. The gentle acidity adds a crisp expression and a lingering finish that would welcome oysters, scallops and rich seafood dishes - and it is just 10% alcohol.

Available at Chambers Cellars, 12 Ennis Rd, Milsons Point

The Cellar Release

2009 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon Cellar Aged, $33.99,

is a delight, showing all the benefits of cellar ageing – lemon fruit pastille all the way! Deep lemon colour, with a golden tinge, intense citrus aromas, a rich and fruity mid palate with a lingering grip – and 10.5% alcohol. It will deliver its delights for many more years.

Available at Chambers Cellars, 12 Ennis Rd, Milsons Point

Something Different

2017 Margan Semillon, $18.99,

is youthful, bright and fresh, with early depth and complexity that will concentrate with extended cellar ageing. It has rich citrus aromas and flavours - lemon peel, a tinge of Japanese mandarin - with a good balance of fruit and acidity that gives a lingering expression at 12% alcohol.

Available at Chambers Cellars, 121 Blues Point Rd, McMahons Point

Words: Denis Gastin -


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