Put simply, great producers make great wine. So when offered a taste of Tyrrell’s new single vineyard releases, I was excited. I have tasted releases of these wines many times, and they have all been delicious, but a taste of these seven wines left me convinced that Tyrrell’s just gets better and better.
Tyrrell’s has been shifting towards site specific wines rather than ‘estate’ wines. Even the Vat 1 comes from a single site, the Short Flat vineyard, and the vast bulk of the Vat 47 also comes off the same vineyard. From north to south, the Tyrrell’s vineyards are dotted over 25km. The Hunter Valley has incredibly diverse microclimates and as Chris Tyrrell would say, “things can change a lot in 10 metres”. The whites are made in exactly the same way and provide Australia’s finest example of the treasures of unique qualities of site.
Three Semillons (HVD, Belford and Stevens), a Belford Chardonnay and three Shiraz’s (Mothers, Stevens and Old Hut) made up the tasting. Two of the reds, Mothers and the Old Hut are recent additions to the portfolio and, no doubt, will in time become classics. All the other wines are classics now and will be familiar favourites to lovers of Hunter Valley wine and Tyrrell’s in general.
Curiously, after the tasting I dropped off some wine to a friend, including a chilled bottle of the 2005 Tyrrell’s museum release Vat 1. Opened and drunk before lunch, it was incredible to taste youth in such a mature wine. My friend, a wine professional, and I discussed wine in a broader context and I claimed that I couldn’t imagine finding better value fine wines than the ones tasted that day. Taking a sip, and smiling with glistening eyes I said “Isn’t that just perfection?”.
My friend expanded the point, “You know, the whole world is dirt and terroir. To drink Tyrrell’s is to drink history. Unique wines that speak of place, and only one place. And they are amazing to drink. To think that there is nothing from Tyrrell’s that I can’t afford is pure pleasure. I used to think terroir was Burgundy. Now I know it’s everywhere and the stories that are told are as relevant here as there. There is one key difference. The price. Burgundy has lost its pleasure, because it’s become a fetish. The prices are not commensurate with pleasure and they only want to sell to the very rich. That’s not why I got into the industry. It’s obscene”.
Tyrrell’s has typically age released their Semillons, so that they are more approachable. To be sure, all of these wines have an immense future to those who wish it. Numbers don’t make the wine, but they all have remarkably low pHs and high acidities. Crucial for ageing. Further, the fruit is deep, abundant and balanced.
Length is the other factor determining a wine’s ability to cellar and it is clear that these wines will outlive most of their predecessors. There is more fruit, greater buoyancy and greater textural complexity. The whites, unusually for the Hunter, have mineral infused finishes, pushing the length and creating a more complex picture.
The reds have brighter fruit, are truly very deep, texturally complex, tense structures that melt into the background and tertiary notes of flowers and spice. They are classic Hunter Valley, but better than anything that has come before them. Digestible and effortless, Burgundian elegance threaded with Bordeaux ease.
These wines offer remarkable value, in both the domestic and global context. I truly believe many vignerons from other wine regions would be incredulous at the quality offered at these prices. Don’t waste your money. Buy Tyrrell’s.
The wines tasted:
2016 Stevens Semillon – Kiwi, lemon, lime marmalade, honeysuckle and grapefruit. Slightly waxy texture. Very mineral with a spicy grip to close. Similar to Vat 1 in style. Tense and focussed.
2015 HVD Semillon – White flowers, peach, lime and grapefruit. Soft and pure middle palate with a lemony, chalky finish.
2015 Belford Semillon – Lime, kiwifruit, grapefruit and pomegranate. Subtle savoury, leesy and toast notes. Almost full bodied yet its linear, tense, spicy and mineral. For me, the most complete wine of the group.
2018 Belford Chardonnay – Very few chardonnays can pull off 100% new French oak, but this one does. Classic Tyrrells nose of cashew, lime, and grapefruit with complex nougat/leesy notes. Tight, fined grained and spicy oak really focuses the palate, a tight corset for the fruit. Very fresh acidity and persistent. Needs at least 5 years to loosen the threads, and then some.
2018 Stevens Shiraz – Kirsch, dark cherry, raspberry, rhubarb, blackcurrant, chocolate and geranium. Medium to full bodied and buoyant. It’s all about the fruit. Tannins and acid threaded perfectly. Absolutely no doubt, the best Stevens ever made.
2018 Mothers Shiraz – Darker than the Stevens and more closed. Darker fruits and Christmas cake spice from whole bunches. Sweet red fruits, plush palate. Focused and linear with strong spicy notes on the finish. Glorious wine and the best wine made from this vineyard.
2018 Old Hut – More lifted nose, with greater spice elements and geraniums. Red fruits mainly, with a glorious, tight and focussed palate. Remarkable tannins, velvety and persistent, hanging on and on. Complete wine and a masterclass of wine production. The best Old Hut ever made and for me, a game changing Australian shiraz.
We tasted the wines twice, from different bottles, and my notes are consistent. The second time was via a zoom tasting with Chris Tyrrell. I have visited the Hunter Valley dozens of times, but I felt I learnt more in one hour or so with Chris than all our visits combined. A terrific tasting and it was lovely to know there’s so much more to learn!
Chris Tyrrell on their reds: “Our shiraz game has lifted. Years ago there was a big shift with an influx of winemakers from outside the Hunter Valley. Many of them were making big South Australian reds and their hygiene wasn’t good. It did bring in new ideas though and really challenged our perception of ourselves. Some have stayed and are making great wines, but it has enabled us to really focus on the styles of wine that we like and are best suited to the Hunter.
We now have a purpose built facility for reds. Every winemaker will understand logistics and how it can impact what you want to produce. We have given ourselves more options. In the past we had throughput issues. Now we are able to vinify every site separately and in the way we want. In the past we used to make 10 per cent of what we wanted to do, the rest was a logistics game. The shiraz ferments were short and we worked the wine really hard, spending 5 to 6 days on skins. You can’t make really great wine with 5 to 6 days on skins. The wines were medium bodied, but they were forced, with darker fruits and more obvious structures.
This has changed. There’s only large format oak. Ferments run for as long as they need to, maceration lasting for 2 weeks. We don’t crush the fruit, so only whole berry ferments. This gives us fruit driven wines, with natural tannins that aren’t overt. The tannin and acid structure is there, but it’s in the background. It’s funny that in lighter years, we use more new ok, to build flavours and structure. In the better years where we have good concentration, we dial the oak back and let the fruit speak.”