Tyrrell's Dream Vertical
The world of wine attracts people to it for all sorts of reasons. For some it’s lifestyle, others money; some are agriculturally inclined, and some get caught up in the romance of it all. Then there’s folk like the Tyrrells, where wine has fused itself into their DNA over the course of five generations, and is at the heart of everything they do.
To help us celebrate the momentous 50th anniversary of Tyrrells Vat 47, the family have given us access to a small batch of iconic wines. This triple pack, and personally signed commemorative case, is a true collector’s edition and is exclusive to Wine Selectors.
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The famous Tyrrell’s old hut and cellar door.
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when the only Chardonnay you could get your hands on had odd names like Bourgogne, Meursault, Pouilly-Fuissé or Chablis. The Hunter’s Murray Tyrrell had a soft spot for these wines and decided to make his own.
This was 1967, plantings here were scant and mostly elsewhere. The only vines in the Hunter were at the then Penfolds-owned Hunter Valley Distillery (HVD), but Murray’s requests for cuttings were rejected. Undeterred, he “liberated” some prunings and planted them in his Short Flat vineyard. Only time would tell the results.
Four years later the resulting wine was released, candidly named Vat 47 after the number on the cask it matured in. Unlike pretty much all of the white wines being made in Australia at the time, the oak gave the wine extra flavour, width and depth... and for some was a bit much.
“I remember McWilliam’s Chief Winemaker saying, ‘well Murray, you have messed that up – no one in Australia will ever drink white wine with oak in it’,” recalls Bruce Tyrrell of his father’s creation.
“The Chairman of Judges of the Brisbane Show where it got six out of twenty said to me ‘the wine is either volatile and oxidised or it’s the greatest white wine I have ever seen in Australia.’” Funnily enough, it went on to win Best White of Show in Adelaide later that year.
This year Vat 47 celebrates its 50th vintage with its 2021 release and, as the first commercial Australian Chardy, Vat 47 has to be our most iconic, with its influence, success and evolution emblematic of our continued – sometimes contentious – love affair with this special grape.
Tyrrell’s Chairman Bruce Tyrrell, Chief Winemaker Andrew Spinaze, Senior Winemaker Mark Richardson, CEO Chris Tyrrell.
SITE, EXPERIENCE, CARE AND DETAIL
Fifty-odd years on Chardonnay is now Australia’s widest-planted variety beside Shiraz, and from the rich, ripe wines of the 80s and 90s to the streamlined and elegant Chardys of today, Vat 47 has charted its own path through it all.
Bruce is the only Tyrrell that has played a part in all 50 vintages, with Chief Winemaker Andrew Spinaze adding 43 years of skill and experience to that mix, having joined Tyrrell’s in 1980. Andrew has contributed greatly to the success and evolution of Vat 47, as well as the “other” great Tyrrell’s white, Vat 1.
Add CEO Chris Tyrrell’s and winemaker Mark Richardson’s contributions to this 100 years of experience and it’s easy to understand why Vat 1 is the most-awarded white wine in the country, why Vat 47 is the vanguard of Australian Chardonnay, and why Tyrrell’s red wines are held in the highest esteem here and across the wine world.
Experience aside, what makes these wines so special is the holy trinity of site, attention to detail, and a commitment to quality: generational in this case.
“Vat 47 and the majority of Vat 1 comes from the deep sandy soils off the Short Flat Vineyard,” explains Andrew. “It’s an exceptional vineyard that is sandy and well drained. Both varieties are old cane pruned dry grown vines with the Semillon dating back to 1923 and the Chardonnay dating to 1968.
“We give the vineyard lots of detailed attention to get the best possible wine whether it be a wet or a drought year, and we apply our experience and common sense to make the best we possibly can.”
Vat 47, the Chardonnay that shaped a revolution.
The historic red earthed vines of Tyrrell’s.
FAMILY, HERITAGE AND ENDURANCE
When it comes to wine, high capital requirements always diminish the prospects of short-term fortune building. Ultimately, the businesses that have the capacity to endure are the ones that craft special wines that build legacy. In Australia, our legacy wines are almost always family-driven and, like the Tyrrells, they promote heritage and the importance of the wines beyond what is in the bottle.
“Some come to this business with grand dreams and they don’t always come true,” Bruce explained. “When things go south or get rough some cut and run, some dig in and endure. Personal pride plays a big part, so you hang on, you live off nothing and move forward.
“I remember when I was a kid there was no bloody money, I went to high school in a pair of football boots and football shorts. There wasn’t any money but it was ok. Who we were, what we did and where we lived meant something to us.”
Three litres of premium history.
SITES THAT SHINE
Vat 47 and Vat 1 are just the start of the wines that illustrate “beyond the bottle” significance, with their Sacred Sites Shiraz from their 4 Acres, 8 Acres, Johnno’s and Old Patch vineyards convincingly reinforcing the hypothesis
“It took a little while for me to truly understand it,” explained Chris on the importance of site and heritage. “I just remember that point in time, in my mid-twenties, when my understanding of what we have and what we are doing clicked in.
“I went from ‘just going to work,’ to jumping out of bed and ripping in every day. No one has as many 100-plus-year old vines as we do, some have one, maybe two, but we have eight and the world of old, ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines is just starting to shine – we are very well positioned to take advantage.”
Barrels and history at the Tyrrell’s winery.
To celebrate Vat 47’s half-century and get closer to the wines that fly the Tyrrell’s flag the highest, Selector was treated to a series of verticals that illustrated the special heritage that defines the Tyrrell’s story.
“Depth without the width” is an appropriate summation of the modern Vat 47s. Translated, it means the total complexity of the wine surpasses its weight in the mouth and pushes into the ethereal. Vat 47, particularly from 2005 onwards, lets restraint do the talking.
Fine, delicate and expressive, even in warmer years, these wines are fine-boned, taking their time to open up, illustrating that the drinking window for Vat 47 goes beyond the general perceptions of the varietal’s limits. Generally characterised, Vat 47s sit in the citrus and melon stonefruit spectrum, with fine textural components coming from solids fermentation and lees contact.
The 2021 Vat 47 is soft, flinty and complex with grapefruit, lemon and pear aromas that will unfurl well into the future to become a classic. The 2017 was tight and mouth-watering, the 2009 was fine, nutty and delicate with tidy savoury/sour balance, the 2005 was creamy and relaxed, and the 1995 was beguiling with layers of balanced development, structure, drive and length. The star of the show however, was the 2013, illustrating that around ten years is when Vat47s take flight and start to shine.
There’s not much left to say about Vat 1 that has not already been said. The sheer volume of awards nationally and internationally makes it a clear favourite for Australia’s greatest white. There really is not much like Hunter Semillon in the world and Vat 1 tops that pile; arguing its legendary status is futile.
The whole bracket was a treat, from the lithe 2022 with its ethereal complexity, to the textural, elegant, lemon/ lime flow of the 2017 and the clean and fresh drive of the 2013. The power of the 2005 was on full display with the zesty lines of the nearly 30-year-old 1994 mesmerising. The star amongst the stars however was the 2009, with its fine, almost fragile freshness balancing on the knife-edge of its open, textural elegance. Incredible.
To properly understand the Shiraz from the Tyrrell’s sacred sites, it’s important to understand the DNA of Hunter Shiraz. Hunter Shiraz in its purest form is medium-bodied, high in acid (making it great for ageing) and has rich, gamey, earth-driven characteristics that tend towards the savoury end of the spectrum.
In their youth the wines are bright, spicy, fleshy and herb-lined, but as Hunter Shiraz ages, they take on leathery characteristics. As the tannins soften, the wine becomes rounded and supple, and as the fruit moves slowly from primary through to tertiary it settles, somehow taking on purity and definition. Like Hunter Semillon, Hunter Shiraz is a singularity unmatched in the wine world.
Planted in 1879, 4 Acres is the lightest and most delicate of all the Tyrrell’s Sacred Site Shiraz. Perfumed, silky and glossy, the weight of these wines do not dictate their complexity. The 2018 was finely textured and expressive with rhubarbs and black cherries filling out its palate, the 2014 was glossy, textured and just starting to show some complexing development, and the 2009 was polished, generous and just starting to throw out its leathery, sweet/ sour complexity. The youthful 2022 4 Acres won the day however, throwing out loads of fresh red and blue fruits, black plums, blackberries and cherries and a silky mouthfeel promising much for the future.
Planted in 1892, 8 Acres is characterised by a richer, darker fruit spectrum and weight than 4 Acres, with more black and purple fruits topping the red berries that fan out to a rich palate finish. The youthful 2022 was tightly wound and complex with spice and earth, and the 2018 was in a fantastic spot: open and glossy, with a range of sweet and savoury fruits pulsing across the palate to a nicely textured and defined finish.
Planted in 1908 and despite being from soils sandier than its red-earthed brothers, Johnno’s Shiraz has a muscular, wild and gamey element to its character. The 2022 is fleshy, soft and finely textured, the 2018 is weighty, juicy and muscular with dark fruits and spice filling out its glossy frame. The 2014 is in a lovely spot, showing classic Hunter characters, nicely textured and generous, while the 2009 Johnno’s is just starting to pass into its silky, soft phase with lines of nicely woven black fruits, smokey leather, mocha and earth.
Like all Tyrrell’s nomenclatures, “Old Patch” takes a literal path, sitting within the 1867 “Old Hillside” vineyard. With its unique mix of deep-red and purple-ochre, clay loam, its wines are the fuller-bodied of all the Sacred Sites wines with blackberry, mulberry, black cherries, spice and earth driving them forward. The 2018 is rich and well-defined with deep layers of plums, blueberries and raspberries, and the heavily perfumed 2014 is glossy across the palate with leather, rhubarb, red cherry and sweet blackberries dancing over the tastebuds. The 2009 was a favourite with spicy, elegant, Rhône-like aromatics and a still-fresh, silky mouthful of dark cherries, blackberries and spice.
Tyrrell’s Chief Winemaker and Vat 47 custodian, Andrew Spinaze.
The well-worn Tyrrell’s driveway looking out towards the The Short Flat vineyard.
HERITAGE AND THE FUTURE
Vat 47 Chardonnay, just like every other wine and vineyard that is part of the Tyrrell’s story, inhabits an important place in Australia’s wine narrative. It’s a place where history, place and purpose are somehow in sync, creating something today that can be shared well into the future. That it tastes delicious make it all the better!
“It’s in our blood. These great old wines and the great old vineyards that they come from drive our need to carry on,” explains Bruce. “All those old vineyards, all these old vines, that’s my knowledge and I’ll never give it away. I’ll never really retire because I don’t know anything else.”
Taste true Australian wine history with a bottle of 2017 Vat 1 Semillon, Australia’s most awarded white. 2021 Johnno’s Shiraz from 1908 planted Vines, and the 50th Anniversary 2021 Vat 47.
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