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First taste: Tyrrell’s latest Semillon & Shiraz releases

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Hakkasan Mayfair was buzzing last Thursday, perhaps a little too lively (and dark) for a super-serious analytical tasting of wines but it was fun to catch up with Bruce Tyrrell and do what normal people do, drink the stuff over dinner!  And from previous experience – an extensive tasting with Hakkasan’s wine buyer no less – I know just how well Hunter Valley Semillon works with Hakkasan’s  modern Cantonese cuisine, especially these exquisite dim sum.  

Speaking of which Tyrrell gleefully reported that Semillon (his personal obsession) has been very well received in China, especially by the country’s knowledge-thirsty women wine drinkers; its low alcohol is a help. More generally he believes that, with fewer disappointing corked wines, overall Semillon sales have significantly benefited from the shift to screwcap (to which Tyrrells converted 100% in 2004 having bottled the 2003 under cork and screwcap).

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As for the wines themselves,  Tyrrell brought a diverse array of Semillon styles and vintages (all within the Hunter’s classic bone dry spectrum). Made for earlier drinking the entry level Lost Block is picked perhaps a week later for more up front fruit and palate richness. Tyrrells Lost Block Semillon 2013, (with new label, pictured left below) jangled with zesty ripe lemon and lime fruit; a very flavoursome Semillon with nice palate weight and well integrated and balanced acidity.  RRP £14.49 Wine Direct, Lewis & Cooper.

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Naturally fermented from traditionally basket pressed fruit with minimal clarification it’s the winemaking process not the fruit ripeness which lends texture and palate weight to Tyrrells Johnno’s Semillon 2011 (11% abv), RRP £62.99; 2010 C. £50 at Wine Direct).  But sourced from the eponymous Johnno’s vineyard which was planted in 1908 on own roots, it is a very well focused, tightly drawn wine of exceptional crystalline minerality with a firm backbone of acidity.  Tons of potential.    Terrific.

Next up the iconic Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon (RRP £35.99, Handford Wines, Loki, Oxford Wine Company, The Wine Society).  In 2009 (this vintage is just being shipped), though just 11% abv, it’s a relatively rich, round Vat 1 with delicious honeyed lemon and developing toast notes. A kick of firm lemony acidity and youthful lime grass lift to the finish remind you that this wine has great pedigree when it comes to ageing.  But it’s very delicious now.

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A burgundy glass really brought out the stony minerality, oilskin and porcini earth notes of the oldest of the wines, Tyrrells HVD Semillon 2007 (still a baby in Hunter terms), RRP £28.99 Taurus Wines.  A really limpid, lucid, softly, stonily lingering wine – great balance.

For his next trick, Tyrrell produced from a remarkably capacious (and sturdy) paper bag a couple of Hunter Valley Shiraz plus a Heathcote Shiraz from a vineyard which the family acquired in 1994.  Once again, I was blown away by Tyrrell’s Four Acres Shiraz (this time the 2009 vintage) which is made from a vineyard planted in 1879, RRP £62.99, Solent CellarWine Direct.  I’d first encountered it during a visit to Tyrrells in 2010 when I tasted the 2006 and 2007.  I’d say stylistically this very silky, pretty bright red berry and cherry fruited 2009 is closest to the 2006 in style; it also worked brilliantly in a Burgundy glass.  And with the food where, as Tyrrell pointed out, “we’re all about fruit and acid” (tannin isn’t the easiest of companions for spices or fish).

Though 12% abv Tyrrells Vat 9 Shiraz 2011 – a blend of top vineyards – seemed weightier, more assertive in style than 4 Acres.  It had darker, fleshier damson fruit, but was still very fresh with a tight backbone of acidity which will allow it to age very well indeed.   Lost Block Shiraz 2012 (also with new label), RRP £14.49 (see stockists above) is from the Heathcote vineyard and exhibits the region’s juicy blackberry fruit.  Aged in old oak the emphasis for this entry level wine is where it should be, on the fruit which, thanks to its freshness is bright and animated.   Nearly as chatty as its maker!

In and amongst discussion of the wines I caught up with a couple of new developments.  Apparently for reasons as yet unknown the Hunter Valley’s old vineyards “are going through the roof,” producing bigger yields.  Research is underway to find out the reason.   Watch this space. Also looking ahead the next Hunter Valley Show will feature a new category for innovative wines.  Tyrrell shrugged when I asked what innovations he is expecting to see.  It would seem that he is content to leave this to the next, fifth generation.  Not that he is in any hurry to hand over the reins.  Just like his father, he mischievously observed.

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