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Tasting: Tyrrell’s Wines Brookdale Semillon 1994

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In the first of a two part tasting of a couple of amazing back vintage wines, I get the chance to check in on one of the Hunter Valley’s true pioneer families and a single vineyard Semillon at 24 years of age.

I have mentioned a few times before that, as a rule, I don’t review Hunter Valley wines. But like all rules, there comes a time when that rule needs to be bent a little, and times when it needs to be broken. This is definitely one of those times.

Working for a Master of Wine certainly has its perks and over the last two plus years I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to taste a range of wines that otherwise I’d never get the chance to taste. It’s one of the true joys about getting to do the job I get to do.

Last year I was able to taste a 1986 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 (at 31 years of age and totally in its prime) and a 1978 Chateau Pichon-Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville, among others, that the boss brought up to the Hunter. All the wines I’ve tasted have been extraordinary in one way or another.

This was another extraordinary wine.

The timing for this wine could not have been more perfect, with my article for The Vintner Project on Semillon only published recently and the thought of aged Semillon very much in my mind.

A bit of background on the wine, first.

Tyrrell’s is inarguably one of the Hunter’s most important families. They have been grapegrowers and winemakers for five generations and counting, the first Tyrrell’s block planted in 1858 by English immigrant Edward Tyrrell. But the most interesting fact for me, is that Tyrrell’s didn’t bottle wine under their own label until Murray Tyrrell released the first Tyrrell’s wines in 1969. Prior to that, the wines were sold to wine merchants under the merchant’s names. Murray Tyrrell’s confidence in the product and the name behind it laid the foundations for the business that is Tyrrell’s Wines today.

This Semillon comes from the Brookdale vineyard in Pokolbin that was, at the time at least, owned by another of the Hunter Valley’s leading families – the Drayton family (it may still be, I haven’t researched it for this tasting note). The back label stipulates the block sits on ‘typical Pokolbin yellow sandy clay’ which produces ‘distinctive Semillon’. Indeed.

This particular line of Tyrrell’s single vineyard wines continue to be made today, however it is now sold exclusively through one of Australia’s larger liquor retailers or direct via the winery. I couldn’t comment if the style today matches the style in this wine.

Medium, but not quite deep, gold in colour tells the story of the wine’s age, but almost remarkably for cork bottled, and certainly running counter to common belief about aging whites in general, this is holding up perfectly. For what it’s worth, I’ve tasted enough aged Semillon and other whites to know that common misconceptions around aging whites are just that.

The nose – oh boy, where to start. There is something unmistakable about aged Hunter Semillon. Lush honey and buttered toast fill the glass and behind it is hints of citrus that would have been the hallmark of its youth. I could spend days just smelling this wine. The aromas are intoxicating in the most perfect of ways, and they almost leap out of the glass.

The palate has an amazing amount of freshness – it still has crisp acidity for days, good body and hallmark Hunter alcohol levels (bottle suggests 10.1% which seems spot on) – and this freshness takes me a bit to get over. I’m expecting deep, honey flavours and waning acidity, but whilst there is some honey flavours in there the palate is crisp lemons and limes and then only just the faintest hint of honey, honeysuckle and butter. The finish is long and protruding, with the lemon tang sitting around in no hurry to leave the mouth.

This is outstanding. On the one hand, I’m disappointed to drink it now because I know it still has so much more to give. But I also know that there’s another four bottles down in the cellar so this may not be my final taste of this wine.

I certainly hope not.

Robin was kind enough to give me half the bottle to take home so I had the opportunity to enjoy this over several hours. It moved with every sip. This is what wine is about to me – the ability to just floor you when you think you know what to expect, the ability to evoke a truly emotional response to, ultimately, a drink. It’s unparalleled in virtually any other context.

Other people can have their ‘fun’, ‘everyday’ wines – give me this any day of the week.

Just brilliant.

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