QUALITY: Assistant winemaker at Brokenwood Wines Kate Sturgess … Brokenwood produces a top Hunter semillon. Picture: Simone De Peak
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So, you know the Hunter Valley makes impressive wine, but not much more?

Relax, you’re not alone. And yes, wine talk can be downright intimidating. Besides, youdon’t know if what they’re saying in the bottle shop is codswallop anyway.So here is a quick rundownon Hunter wine. And not a word to confuse you.

Let’s start with white wine.

Semillon: This is the Hunter’s star. Nowhere on the planet does it better. True. Trouble is it’s notnecessarily an easy wine to like. It can be a bit tart. Semillon flavours are lemon, lime and citrus.That’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Personally I love the stuff, but that’s me. It’s an acidic, fresh, zestystyle of wine and if you want to see it at its best, try it with seafood. It’s a wonderful match. Oldersemillon (say, five or six years) is more golden and picks up richness and complexity – honeyed,toasty flavours. If you can afford two bottles, buy a young wine and an older and taste thedifference. Labels: Mt Pleasant, Brokenwood, Thomas, Leogate.

Chardonnay: These days the Hunter’s best can sit up with ’s finest. As a matter of fact FirstCreek Wines have been taking out some major national awards in recent times for theirchardonnay. In general terms (and chardonnay can have wide ranging flavours) the top Hunterchardies tend to have white peach flavours, and some citrus bite. The entry level chardonnays (lessexpensive, drink now wines) tend to have yellow peach flavours, and have a bit broader flavourprofile. Not as concentrated. A good way to experience this is to taste the Scarborough chardonnays– they make a range. Find the one that suits you best. Food? Go for roast chicken. Labels:Scarborough, First Creek, Tyrrell’s, Wombat Crossing, Lake’s Folly, Allandale.

Verdelho: This is a terrific wine for novice drinkers. Why? It’s a fruit salad in a glass. Full of bright,fruity flavours, it’s a good option for a hot day. Buy a bottle, make sure it’s well chilled, and sharewith friends. I’ll bet it disappears pretty quickly. Geez, even my Dad likes this stuff. Labels: Tulloch,Margan, Tempus Two.

They’re the big three, but there are two other Italian varieties that are starting to make a mark.

Vermentino: An Italian variety that the Hunter is starting to do well. Think pears, citrus, andminerally grapefruit or green apple flavours. Can be tight and racy or made in a bigger, fuller style.Like semillon, it goes well with seafood. Labels: Little Wine Company, Tallavera Grove, HungerfordHill.

Fiano: The new kid on the block. A touch hard to define, with pear flavours common, but it can alsohave ginger and musk, as well as a crisp, tangy finish. Absolutely worth a try. It goes well withseafood, but also lighter pasta dishes. Labels: Briar Ridge, Hart & Hunter, Comyns &Co,Mount Eyre.

Now to the reds.Again, the simpler the better –we’ll call it simply red. When it comes to an idiot’s guide, I’m your boy.

Shiraz: The Hunter’sstar red, with daylight second. But here’sthe thing, ifyou’reafter full bodied, macho, blood and thunder reds, then the Hunter is not your boy. For those,you’relooking at the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. The Hunter makes medium bodied, elegant shirazthat ages gracefully. Don’tbefooled, the Hunter’s finest are truly superb – I said elegant, not wimpy. They’ve faced some hurdles though. For years global demand was for big, blockbuster reds. It wasall the rage. But the cycle has finally turned. Balanced, elegant wines are back in vogue – HunterValley (drumroll please), come on down.

Local shiraztends generally to have a flavour profile of mixed red and black fruit, with an earthyquality about them – you can taste the soil (in a good way) – and they’resavoury. Food wines. Veal,beef, pizza even. There’sso much good shiraz in the Hunter it’shard to go wrong, so here’sjust afew- Gundog, De Iuliis, Thomas, Tyrrell’s, Brokenwood, McGuigan, McLeish, Usher Tinkler. By the way, sometimes they blend shiraz with another variety, often cabernet, making a shiraz cabernet –or a cabernet shiraz. Whichever is named first, makes up the majority of the blend.

Cabernet: There’snot a lot of cabernet in the valley, but certainly Lake’sFolly leads the charge. Itmakes a beauty, but at $70, it’s a bit steep for the novice wine drinker. A more affordableoption would be Margan or Meerea Park. Food – red meat … lamb, steak or venison, or just a good cheddar.

Pinot Noir: It’s lighter and more fragrant than shiraz. At its best, its stunning, but it prefers a cooler climate. A couple of local wineries produce it –Scarborough andTyrrell’s included – while others blend it with shiraz, making a shiraz pinot(Brokenwood, Briar Ridge, Meerea Park). It’salighter, more perfumed alternative tothestandard shiraz – and oh soeasy to drink.

Tempranillo: A Spanish variety that is feeling very at home in the Hunter. Medium body, a goodinitial hit of flavour – cherries, some spice. It’s agoodchoice for a wide range of foods,from salami to pizza and Mexican. Labels: Glandore,Audrey Wilkinson, Domaine De Binet.

Barbera: Northern Italian wine, medium bodied,fragrant and smooth – drink it young andenjoy. Mixed red and black fruit – strawberry and dark cherries, sort of thing – with violet aromas. A good one for a barbecue. Labels: Margan, David Hooke.

That’s it, you’re all schooled up. Now break out the creditcard, it’s Christmas.