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The Experts

Angus Hughson
Wine Expert
+ About Angus Hughson

About Angus Hughson

Angus began his career in the wine trade with a PhD on the psychology of wine expertise at the University of Sydney. Thereafter Angus moved to London and managed wine bars in Knightsbridge and Soho for La Reserve, one of the United Kingdom’s top independent wine merchants. Since returning to Australia, Angus has worked in a range of capacities within the wine trade and is currently Brand Director for The Glencallum Scotch Whisky, Champagne Audrey Dupois and Lambloch Estate. Angus is also a wine and spirits writer with regular columns in the The Australian, Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, Herald Sun and Mindfood as well as being an occasional contributor to Gourmet Traveller Wine and judge at various wine shows including Royal Sydney, Hunter Valley and Macedon.    

Italian stallions

Friday, March 05, 2010

As autumn approaches in the town of Alba in north-western Italy, the frenzy and excitement of a new harvest grips the local population. While the local white truffles sit under the soil waiting to be gathered, there is another reason that bon-vivants across the globe worship these beautiful and ancient hills, that being the rows of Nebbiolo vines and the majestic wines they spawn. It is no exaggeration to say that at their best, from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, the wines are wonderfully charismatic and among the finest on the planet.

For over 700 years, Nebbiolo has been grown in the hills South of Turin. In Italy, the wines are revered and saved for special occasions with the most famous, Barolo, known as the Wine of Kings and King of Wines. They are not for the faint hearted.

Robust, especially in their youth, the wines show massive concentration and structure, and are built for the long-term. But the most enchanting part of Nebbiolo is its wonderful bouquet with aromas of tar, rose, dried flowers and tea. The best examples from Barolo and Barbaresco are not inexpensive but from producers such as Gaja, La Spinetta, Roberto Voerzio, Luciano Sandrone and Bruno Rocca they are more than worth it.

But like all great wines they also pose a question. What makes them so special? The simple answer is time and place. While Nebbiolo used to be planted all over this part of Italy, it is now restricted to only the best hillsides. Lesser vineyards are used to grow the other local staples, Barbera and Dolcetto.

This culling of poor sites over time combined with modern winemaking and viticultural technology make the current wines on the whole better than any that have preceded them.

This is where many countries with a greater vinous history than our own have an advantage in that the best hillsides and flats have been discovered and exploited. In Australia and New Zealand, many great vineyard/grape combinations are undoubtedly waiting in the wings for their moments in the sun.

The second important factor and one that is often mused about is place, or the natural environment of which the vineyard is part. The quality of wines is intimately connected with the vineyard from where they are grown. The soils, the climate, the geography as well as a host of other factors each have their own input on what finally makes it to the table and glass. In addition, some grapes are perfectly suited to particular natural environments and one such combination is found between Nebbiolo and the hills of Piedmont.

Think Barossa Valley and Shiraz, and you get my drift.

In Australia, there are plenty of producers wrestling with Nebbiolo with dreams of greatness well and truly fixed in their sights. Only time will tell whether they will hit the mark.

To date, Southern Australia has produced some good wines although many are from young vines so will certainly improve in the future. The best come from places where the climate is closest to Nebbiolo’s native Alba, such as Longview and Arrivo from the Adelaide Hills or more particularly Pizzini in the King Valley. Beechworth on the edge of the Australian Alps is also a region to watch. But one thing that is for certain is that with its irresistible charms Nebbiolo is one Italian star that true wine lovers can not afford to ignore.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


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The valley of dreams

Thursday, January 14, 2010

For over 150 years, the Hunter Valley has been a wine region of great renown.

With famous names such as Maurice O’Shea, Len Evans and James Halliday having made some tremendous wines there it remains an iconic Australian wine region.

In fact, today more than ever before it is a fabulous place to travel through and taste wines from many boutique and high quality producers. Among the old historic names of Mount Pleasant, Tyrrell’s and Lakes Folly there are also a new breed coming through, such as Andrew Thomas and Meerea Park, who are also now making a name for themselves with some sensational wines.

But the last 20 years has also seen the Valley extend past simple pleasures of the vine to become a vibrant place to visit that offers something for every traveller making it is a must-see destination and one that is conveniently located only 90 minutes north of Sydney.  

First and foremost wine is still the greatest attraction for visitors to the Hunter Valley. All guests, even if they are simply here to play a round or two of golf, will inevitably taste and probably visit at least one cellar door.

The Hunter Valley is one of the oldest wine growing regions in Australia having been first planted in the 1820s.

Ever since its fortunes have ebbed and flowed with a current resurgence as drinkers increasingly look for wines of subtlety and finesse. Before you start tasting, there are a few important features of the local wine industry.

First and foremost, the Hunter Valley is not your average wine region.

While many Australian wine regions make big, full-bodied reds, the Hunter Valley is renowned for medium weight wines that trade more on complexity and subtlety than upfront fruit. But don’t think they won’t age well with wines such as the Andrew Thomas Kiss Shiraz, Tyrrell’s Old Patch Shiraz, Brokenwood’s Graveyard Shiraz and Mount Pleasant Rosehill Shiraz all capable of aging in the bottle over the medium to long term.

There is also the widely misunderstood and low-alcohol Hunter Valley Semillons. These are fresh and lively wines when young that can also age beautifully for up to 15 or 20 years.

Classics worth tasting, and buying, include Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon, Andrew Thomas Braemore Semillon and Pokolbin Estate Semillon.

But that’s not all that is to be found with grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir also planted with the Cabernet blend and Chardonnay from Lakes Folly regional standouts, and wines that age handsomely.

Cellar doors that should be on every winelover’s itinerary include Lakes Folly, Tyrrell’s, Mount Pleasant, Brokenwood, the Boutique wine centre, the Small Winemakers Centre, Capercaillie and De Iuliis Wines.

Unsurprisingly, the wide assortment of quality wines available has also bought with it plenty of establishments to serve up superb food, in a range of styles. One of the best places to spend a lazy lunchtime is at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company, which is located on McDonalds road and is a part of the McGuigans Cellar Door complex. There you will find a wide assortment of locally made and perfectly ripened cheeses for sale that can be enjoyed at the outdoor seating or if you are really well prepared, relished on a blanket under the trees. Cheese and wine are natural partners and behind the doors at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company, there is a smorgasbord of delights including Branxton Brie and goats cheese dusted in grapevine ash. But don’t stop there because nearby a wide variety of restaurants and cafes for the more serious diner are easily spotted.

The most recent addition is Bistro Molines under the stewardship of local legend Robert Molines. Robert was behind the burners at Robert’s Restaurant for a number of years and has bought his usual flair to the new venture.

Another standout is the two-hat Rock Restaurant, above the Poole’s Rock Cellar Door, where intricate and thought-provoking cuisine is combined with a serene atmosphere and fine wine-list. This is a true fine-dining experience in a country setting.

Inevitably, with so much grand food and wine around the Hunter Valley there are some whom will be looking for a way to burn off some of those extra calories. For visitors with an interest in golf, there are four quality courses that attract players from Australia and overseas. Perhaps the greatest recent addition has been the Greg Norman designed Vintage Golf Club, on McDonalds Road. Other courses worth visiting include the Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club, The Oaks Golf and Country Club and the Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club. Each of these courses is also paired with some luxury accommodation that can act as a base for a tour of the vineyards or a home for the total golf experience.

Talking of accommodation, the Hunter Valley has every level of comfort you could hope to find. At the very top end are venues such as Tower Lodge, the brainchild of the late Len Evans. Guests staying at Tower each have their own themed rooms with the Chairman’s room and Oriental Room the pinnacle of luxury accommodation. There is also a stunning lounge and bar where guests can enjoy the finest of local wines or partake in the odd bottle of Single Malt Whisky, Cognac or Champagne, should the need arise. Other venues of note are the Sebel Kirkton Park, the Crowne Plaza and the stylish Peppers Convent.

While wine tasting is the local hobby there is plenty more to be enjoyed in the Hunter Valley. Adventurers will feel at home with sky diving and ballooning available close to Cessnock. There are also regular concerts with the annual Tyrrell’s Jazz in the vines and Opera at Wyndham Estate. These events plus the stunning local wine and food scene make the Hunter Valley an attraction that is not to be missed on any tour around Sydney.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


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The Smoky Isle

Friday, December 04, 2009

Rocking gently in a boat off the west coast of Scotland, the Island of Islay sits off in the distance. On approach it is a relatively bare and desolate landscape; just rolling hills with only the odd group of hunched over trees in sight. Small groups of houses huddle around some of the bays, almost for warmth, as the mid-summer temperature hits a barmy 16 degrees. Yet beneath the almost haunting beauty of the place lies a secret that gives the local spirits a character that is adored by whisky lovers around the world. This is Islay, the smoky isle, and home to what many consider to be the best single malt whisky in the world.

There is no more masculine whisky than that found on Islay. Much of the island is covered by peat; the remnants of ancient marshlands that once covered it. It is also a place regularly lashed by the Atlantic storms with driving winds and sheeting rain. Snow a common occurrence. And it is these local characters that that make the whiskies so special. The driving cool weather gives the spirits of Islay a fresh tang and bite. The peat, from which the local water drains through, helps to flavour the spirit as does the drying process, whereby the malted barley is heated by the burning of smoky peat. This is what gives Islay whiskies that smoky, seaweedy, almost iodine-like flavours, that lovers of the style find irresistible.

On the island ,there are currently eight distilleries with a new project currently on the drawing board. Of these the most famous is without doubt Laphroaig. Since the 1820s, it has made certainly the most distinctive of the local malts. For many its pungent medicinal and slightly tarry characters are all too much yet the brand still boasts devotees around the globe. Another classic, although in quite a different style, is Lagavulin. This very fine whisky is always a great introduction to the Islay style with rich, malty sweetness combined with some very attractive smoky characters. The Lagavulin 16-year old has always been particularly good.

Long-term barrel maturation is a very important part of whisky production, with some whiskies spending 25 years or more slowly growing smoother, sweeter and more complex. One of the more recent trends in modern whisky production has been the use of different types of casks. From the usual sherry and bourbon casks they have added sauternes, madiera, port and burgundy, among others. Lagavulin have for some years now released a Pedro Ximinez cask bottling, matured in lusciously sweet sherry casks, which is a wonderfully hedonistic and full-throttle example of the smoky Islay style. It is a seductive malt of great character and personality. Another whisky well worth searching out is Ardbeg, which is fortunately quite widely available in Australia. It is a classical Islay style full of smoky, iodine characters, although not quite as pungent as Laphroaig, which will be a relief to some.

While Islay is most noted for its smoky character, one distillery in particular is trying to break this mould by producing mainly unpeated whiskies that display, unimpeded, the finesse and salty bight of Islay. The whiskies from Buichladdich, made by the renowned Jim McEwen, are lovely, delicate and fresh spirits; light and floral, and perfect for drinking in our warm climate. The team behind Bruichladdich are also responsible for Islay’s newest distillery, Port Charlotte, which will open its doors in 2009 with plans to make a more traditional Islay peated style. What is for sure though is that with the breadth of Single Malts now coming from the smoky Isle, there is an Islay style to suit every palate.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


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Glorious sparkling shiraz

Monday, October 26, 2009

They worked day and night; prospectors scratching at the dry, dusty ground in search of precious gold. It was the 1860s and Victoria was consumed by a gold rush, the likes of which it had never seen before, nor since. When the ore was finally exhausted, the miners departed as quickly as they had first arrived. But some lingered just long enough to begin the famous tunnels, or drives, at what is now the Seppelt winery at Great Western in Victoria.

Little could they know at the time that these drives would one day help to create Australia’s greatest gift to the world of wine; sparkling shiraz, that deeply coloured sparkling ruby that knows no equal.

At the time sparkling red was probably furthest from owner Joseph Best’s mind. Rather the tunnels, that eventually reached almost five kilometres in length, were made to store still wines in barrel at a cool temperature before they made it into the mouths of an adoring public. Yet sparkling wines from Champagne were making an impression on the continent and soon the locals, eager to please their colonial masters, decided that they too could make a bubbly that would stand on its own as one of the world’s great wine styles.

Soon thereafter sparkling shiraz was born, not at Seppelt but at the old Auldana winery, located close to Penfold’s historic Magill Estate. But it wasn’t long before Seppelt got in on the act and the great tradition of fine Seppelt sparkling burgundy had begun. Of course we can’t call it burgundy anymore – the French have well and truly seen to that. But burgundy really is the best name for the top echelon of these wines because they are supple and seductive wines of great complexity and poise.

Yet sparkling shiraz could have been lost to the world forever had it not been for winemaker Ian McKenzie. By the early 1980s, the notorious Cold Duck had bought Australian sparkling red to its knees. They couldn’t give the stuff away, even the very best of the best. But then Ian stumbled across scores of old Seppelt sparkling burgundies, piled high, deep in the ancient drives, some of which went as far back as the 1953 vintage.

Give a wine lover an old bottle and there is only one thing to be done – crack the cork and try your luck. Night after night, the pop of sparkling wine bottles were to be heard, and what stunning wines they turned out to be. Sure, the odd bottle was not up to scratch but among them were irreplaceable Australian treasures; still vibrant, youthful and with some bubble left too. There was only one thing to be done – spread these gems around the nation and bring sparkling shiraz back from the dead. And that is exactly what the owners did and it wasn’t long before these old wines were enthralling winelovers again as they had many years before.

There is something very special about Australia’s sparking shiraz, which makes it a definitive Australian style. In the great wines of champagne chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier combine to create a symphony. The chardonnay giving finesse, the pinot noir structure and body while meunier adds a little fruit sweetness. But in sparkling shiraz it is one grape that does it all with spicy aromatic complexity perfectly balanced by fine acidity and tannin, plus that beautiful generosity of fruit that marks all shiraz from around the globe. And while other nations have their own versions, such as the sweet yet savoury Italian lambrusco, there is little doubt that our own sparkling shiraz eclipses them all. And sparkling shiraz still holds one incredible ace in the pack – an ability of the top wines to age slowly and with significant grace.

Whether it is the bubble, tannins or some other mysterious factor but stick the best wines in a cellar for twenty years or more and they come up an absolute treat. As a case in point, reputably the greatest vintages of Seppelt sparkling burgundy come from the 1944 and 1946 vintages and a tasting of the 1946 a couple of years back left an indelible memory with me. It was a pure, complex and subtle beauty; still vibrant and delicious and, while showing considerable age, still had plenty of life in the tank - if only we could all be so lucky at over 60 years of age.

So why then aren’t these wines coveted around the globe, or even here at home?

Limited production is certainly part of the story, as you can almost count the serious sparkling red producers on a single hand. But there is also the issue of occasion. Champagne as well as sparkling whites and rosés fit any celebration, while sparkling of the red variety is a bit lost on its own and is more of a food wine – the magic partner being turkey with a little cranberry sauce.

Today, the wines from two regions stand above all others: Great Western and the Barossa Valley. But for me, the wines of Great Western in Victoria still reign supreme, showing greater elegance and finesse. The entry-level Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz 2005 ($20) is a smart and well-priced introduction to the style with plush fruit laced with spice and finishing with a little grip on an extended finish.

Another wine worth looking out for from Seppelt is their Silverband Sparkling Shiraz NV($35) – a multi-layered and gently spicy wine showing earthy and leathery characters with a finely structured yet powerful palate.

But start saving your pennies because there is another wine in the pipeline which should eclipse all comers, the rare Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz 1996, which is due to released in the next year or two. The rumour is that this stunning wine is up there with the top releases under this prestigious label.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

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