Another trade event, this time hosted by George Street Wines who have recently picked up Tyrrell’s here in SA. I was very much looking forward to this retrospective from a Hunter Valley legend. We’re sadly underexposed to Hunter wines here in SA and this would hopefully help shed some light for me.
Vat 1 Hunter Valley Semillon
The night started with the 1999 and what a place to start with a gorgeous nose of wildflowers, lanolin and lemon curd. The palate however didn’t live up to the promise of the nose and was only barely holding together which I conclude is the result of pernicious cork.
This was followed by a very nice 2004, which showed some fascinating sweaty, oyster-shell and flint minerality followed by crisp, fresh finish with lovely direct lines of acid and very nice length. This was a well judged weight, but probably nearing the end of it’s drinking life.
The standout of the semillon bracket was the 2005 which had the most focused and powerful nose, with even more oyster shell / flint and lemony goodness. The palate was immaculate - powerful, fresh as a daisy, still very much in the prime of its life with a long way yet to run.
The 2006 for mine looked quite shy and reserved compared to it’s forebear, and altogether weaker. Apparently this was a warmer vintage, which showed in the lower concentration throughout the wine. Perhaps this was in an ugly phase - I’d certainly fancy another look in a year or two.
Vat 47 Hunter Valley Chardonnay
Having been introduced to this wine by a friend a year or so ago, I was very much looking forward to this bracket. The flight opened with the 2004. The first thing that struck me was the presence of the same oyster shell note that I’d spied in the semillons - very interesting. Beyond this, a predominance of white peaches but with some nice toastiness. Nothing much subtle here, but certainly engaging. In the mouth this was long and dense, still lively and with decent persistence, but a touch hot.
Next up the 2006 which, in contrast to the extreme heat which plagued the earlier parts of this vintage, left me feeling cold. Pungent nose on first approach with plenty of tropical fruit, some white pepper and creamy oak. The palate though…bleh. My notes read: “weird and unbalanced, bitter almond finish, do not like”…couldn’t have written it better myself.
2007 hit me with a massive whack of oak on the nose, and I’ve written “slightly aminalistic” - not sure what I meant by that, but I’m sure it’s not good. I think the word ‘Hot’ written in large hand and with three exclamation marks gives away my next impression of the wine. Wildly unbalanced alcohol - 14.5% apparently, but probably higher. Next.
I was starting to despair by the time I got to the 2008. The slatey, minerally, vibrant and focused nose immediately made me grab the bottle and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed - 12.2% alcohol. Much more like it. Sweet, ripe fruit but beautiful weight. Just lovely. I’d happily drink an awful lot of this.
I’d rather not have to mention the 2009. My notes were “overhot on palate, tasting dead”. Oh dear…
Vat 8 Hunter Valley Shiraz Cabernet
The reds started with the 2007. Powerful, perfumed nose with red berries predominant. I don’t think they got this quite right however, as it was looking a little porty for mine. In the mouth the American oak pokes through much more obviously, lending itself to an overriding impression fo sweet portiness. Not a great start.
Moving along two years to 2009 and this seemed quite gun shy to me. Certainly a better wine than the 2007 with plenty of restraint in comparison, but the palate left me a little underwhelmed. It was a good impression of a fine wine, but the weakness through the mid-palate let everything down.
I was about to declare that the Vat 8 was not going to be to my liking until I got to the as-yet-unreleased 2010. Boom! What a wine! Far out, this was the wine of the night for me. Beautifully perfumed with plenty of pretty cherries and red berries and a waft of some very sexy oak. The palate was tight, focused, clean with firm but silky tannins and all the elements required to make this a long term proposition.
Vat 9 Hunter Valley Shiraz
The 2004 opened with a soft, musky perfume and a not-unpleasant port-like smell - not that of dead fruit but of that exotic touriga pot-pourri sort of thing. Unfortunately the oak was poking through a little too obviously. In the mouth…it was holding itself together, but not really much more to go. Slurpable but not worth hunting down.
Moving on to the 2007, I caught the first whiff of those darker sort of fruits more common to the shiraz of SA. It was an intriguing nose that showed some chocolate and dried oranges, and I was quite happy to stick my nose in there a good many times. Yet again though, the palate was let down by over-obvious alcohol, with nowhere near enough fruit weight to support it. I didn’t enjoy this.
According to Bruce Tyrrell, 2009 was a ‘classic Hunter vintage’ for the reds. Still a little shy at this young age, but lovely perfumed red fruits abound. Gorgeous palate weight (13% alcohol), silky, moreish and beautifully balanced. Ran second to the 2010 Vat 8 by a whisker. A really lovely wine that we South Australians should drink far more of.
In conclusion, a thoroughly enjoyable tasting and a fantastic insight into a venerated old stalwart.
As something of an aside, I had a moment of insight that is probably not original other than that I came to the conclusion by myself. Some of the young Turks of the Barossa are using a combination of viticultural techniques, early picking, whole bunch fermentation, carbonic maceration or old oak maturation to deliver the sort of flavour profile that is par for the course for the daggy ol’ derided Hunter. Far be it from me to discourage such experimentation, but perhaps the cool kids of wine might be able to learn a trick from these old dogs.