As part of the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley, a group of 20 participated in an extensive Masterclass with Chris Tyrrell. It started off in their cellars with a review of Semillon.
Yours truly, 3rd from right
This was a very exciting tasting, as Tyrrell's have four of the five best Semillon vineyards in the Hunter, which may mean in the world.
The first part was a vertical tasting of the famous VAT 1 Semillon. It is a blend of three vineyards, the Short Flat, Johnnos, and Debeyers, with vines up to 110 years old. The Short Flat is the key vineyard.
The 2019 VAT 1 Semillon has lifted and floral characteristics. The citrus flavous and acidity deliver a good linear drive to a balanced finish. The wine has been left on lees for 6 weeks and is inoculated by 'neutral' yeast (95 points).
The 2009 VAT 1 Semillon, 10 years on, still has a light colour, and is crisp on the front palate, but is starting to get some nutty flavours (95 points).
The colour has turned golden with the 1998 VAT 1 Semillon. Almond and toast flavours now dominate. This wine is broader on the palate, but not oily or heavy (94 points).
Drinking these wines next to each other shows the clear line which links them. Even more exciting to me was the comparison of the single vineyard semillons from the almost perfect 2014 vintage.
First up was the 2014 Stevens Semillon (12% alc.) from a vineyard planted in 1911. This vineyard has darker soil than the other Semillon vineyards, and the grapes ripen here first. The resulting wine is the most delicate, quite light, with minerality and some notes of slate, almost like a German Riesling. There is good energy in this wine (95 points).
The 2014 Semillon from the famous 1908 HVD vineyard (10.5% alc.) is grown on free draining sandy soil. This vineyard is cropped at a higher level (not sure what). The result is a broader wine with a bigger mouthfeel (93 points).
And finally the 2014 Belford Semillon (10.5% alc.) from a secluded vineyard in the north, planted in 1933. This vineyard is based on broken-down sandy soil, which feels almost like talcum powder, according to Tyrrell's, and is cropped at 1.5-2t/acre. The vines here get minimal nutrition, and the grapes are picked last. The result is a more intense, slightly honeyed Semillon, a bit like a Chardonnay. I liked this Semillon the best (95 points).
So here were three Semillons from the same year, and different vineyards, with very different expressions and characteristics. This really only comes clear in such a comparative tasting.