As will always be the case, there were half a dozen wineries with equally strong claims to be accorded this accolade. Given the restrictions imposed by the climate and soil of the Hunter Valley, it might seem an unlikely environment to foster a winery with a range of wines, varieties and prices to edge out all others, as Tyrrell’s has done. I hasten to add that it did not (in diving parlance) receive a ‘degree of difficulty’ bonus: the wines are what they are.
It is obvious the cornerstone of the Tyrrell’s portfolio is semillon, in turn that of the Hunter Valley as a whole. Tyrrell’s’ development of the range of single vineyard semillons, some from very old plantings, has added a layer of character and choice unmatched by the other makes in the region. To back this up is Vat 1 Semillon, which has won more trophies and gold medals than any other Australian white wine.
There has been a similar enriching of the shiraz portfolio: the Single Vineyard Old Patch 1867 comes from the celebrated Stevens Vineyard, the Winemaker’s Selection 4 Acres from the block on the right-hand side of the road as you drive up to the winery planted in 1879, the original planting was so close-spaced that in 1964 every second row was removed to allow tractors onto the vineyard.
Then there is Vat 47 Chardonnay, the first quality chardonnay to be made in the 20th century, for long the pace setter. The development of cool-climate regions, notably Margaret River and the Yarra Valley, and the arrival of the new Dijon clones from France, has meant the overall quality of Australian chardonnay has risen dramatically since 1971, the birth year of Vat 47. Notwithstanding this, Vat 47 still holds its head high, as does Tyrrell’s Belford Single Vineyard Chardonnay.
Single vineyards and old vines are not enough, of course. The potential has to be realized in the winery, and this is achieved with seeming ease by the winemaking team headed by Andrew Spinaze. Here the credo is let the wines speak without interference or embroidery.
Next is the exceptional quality of the high volume Old Winery range with a RRP of $12, and a discount price well below that. Finally, there is the undoubted truth of Bruce Tyrrell’s belief that, in his words, ‘We are entering a golden age for Semillon.’ It is a wine more prone to the vagaries of cork than any other, even low levels of sporadic oxidation wreaking havoc, let alone high levels or cork taint/TCA proper. The screwcap has ended all that, giving a guarantee that good semillon will cruise through its fifth, tenth, twentieth, even fiftieth, birthdays, changing as it does, gaining character and complexity, albeit losing primary fruit flavours and freshness. You can pick your moment to drink the wine, knowing there will be no nasty surprises waiting for you.