SIGNIFICANT anniversaries of celebrated painters and sculptors are often marked by retrospective exhibitions of their best works.
On notching up his 50 years in the wine industry, 69-year-old Hunter Legend of Wine and former Mount Pleasant manager-chief winemaker Phil Ryan decided to do something similar.
So last week, for a group of seven friends, he staged a retrospective exhibition of his high-wine artistry.
The event at Australian Wine Selectors' Honeysuckle headquarters starred tastings of 22 wines dating back to 1984 from Phil's own cellar. There were McWilliam's Lovedale vineyard semillons and Rosehill shiraz reds from 1984 to 2007, OP and OH shiraz from 1985 to 2011, Maurice O'Shea shiraz from 1987 to 2007 and two new-release 2014 wine from his Ryan's Reserve label.
I joined the lucky seven, who also included Phil's wife, Sylvie; Lyndey Milan, the chair of the Sydney Wine Show committee and last year a recipient of an Order of Australia Medal for her contribution to food and wine; leading wine judge and Sydney Morning Herald wine writer Huon Hook; Australian Wine Selectors (AWS) chief Greg Walls; AWS winemaker-procurement manager Christian Gaffey; and AWS senior buyer Nicole Gow.
AWS' involvement reflected Phil's position as joint chairman, with fellow Hunter Legend Karl Stockhausen, of the Wine Selectors' tasting panel.
The tasting's Lovedales, made from grapes grown on the Wine Country Drive, Pokolbin, vineyard planted in 1946 by the Mount Pleasant founder Maurice O'Shea, were the 1984, 1998, 2003, 2005 and 2007. The 2005, last week still amazingly fresh and vibrant, was in 2007 judged the world's best single-vineyard white and best semillon at the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.
My favourite, however, was the 2007 - currently available and reviewed today in Wine List. The wine has received many garlands, including the 2014 International Wine Challenge trophy for the best Australian single-variety white over £15.
The Maurice O'Shea reds tasted were the 1987, 1991, 1998, 2000 and 2007.
The 1987 testified to the longevity of this marque, the 1991 and 1998 beguiled, but the silky smooth, multi-faceted 2000 was my top of the tree. It was the wine that famously in 2005 was rated the top red and top shiraz by James Halliday in his Australian Wine Companion.
The OP and OH wines come from the 88-year-old Old Paddock and 119-year-old Old Hill vineyards at Mount Pleasant and Phil Ryan gave us the 1985, 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2011 to savour.
The 30-year-old 1985 was still packed with lovely fruit flavour and the 2005 and 2007 were inseparable as my pick of the bunch.
Among the line-up of 1984, 1987, 1991, 2005 and 2007 Rosehills, the 1991 shone brightest for me.
Phil's two Ryan's Reserve wines, the 2014 Vanessa Shiraz and the 2014 Semillon, held their own well in the august older company and are also reviewed today in Wine List.
Ryan's Reserve is Phil's small post-retirement venture in association with the Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin-based Saddler's Creek wine company that sees Phil crafting a range of wines from his own Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin, vineyard and other vineyards in the Hunter and beyond.
The wines can be bought through Australian Wine Selectors, on saddlerscreek.com/cellar2u, at the Saddler's Creek Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin, cellar door or by telephoning 4991 1770.
Phil and his identical twin brother, Stephen, were born in Britain in 1946 and came to Australia with their parents in 1951, setting up home at North Bondi.
Phil's boyhood career choice was becoming a professional surfer, but after school he began a Bachelor of Applied Science and Chemistry at the NSW Institute of Technology in Sydney and got a job in the research laboratory of Berger Paints.
Then in 1965, his mother saw an advertisement for a laboratory assistant at McWilliam's, Phil applied and landed the job. When Phil told his Berger boss he was leaving, the man gravely warned him that wine was a dead-end commodity, whereas paint had a solid future.
Phil became McWilliam's Pyrmont laboratory manager, then quality control manager and in 1972-73 moved to McWilliam's Chullora site to take charge of quality control.
In 1974 he embarked on the winemaking course at the Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University and gained his degree in 1978 - just in time to take up a Hunter winemaking post at Mount Pleasant, beginning a run that saw him preside over 34 vintages and rise to the position of chief winemaker-manager.
That appointment made him only the second person after Maurice O'Shea to serve as manager-chief winemaker at Mount Pleasant, and brought many highlights up to his 2012 retirement.
In 2006 Phil won the NSW wine industry's highest accolade, the Graham Gregory Award, which had Murray Tyrrell, Deen De Bortoli, Brian McGuigan and former McWilliam's chairman, Don McWilliam among its past winners.
In 2009 Phil was inducted as a Hunter Living Legend of Wine, joining a select group that includes his 1956 to 1978 predecessor at Mount Pleasant Brian Walsh and other such other industry greats as Max Drayton, John Tulloch, Karl Stockhausen, Perc McGuigan, Max Lake, Brian and Fay McGuigan, Jay Tulloch, Bruce Tyrrell, Chris Barnes and Don McWilliam.
Laurels for First Creek
THE Hunter's First Creek winery scored a remarkable coup at the recent 2015 Brisbane Wine Show when its $60 First Creek 2014 Winemakers Reserve Chardonnay claimed the trophies for the grand champion wine of the show, the best white wine, the best chardonnay and the best young white wine.
The wine, described by chief judge P J Charteris as showing "great balance and finesse, while fulfilling the definition of the contemporary style of Australian chardonnay", can be bought at the First Creek winery, in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, and on firstcreekwines.com.au.
Its Brisbane triumph continues First Creek chardonnays' run of show success, which chief winemaker Liz Jackson attributes to a reduction in oak intensity to produce more elegant, fruit-dominant wines.
McWilliam's Mount Pleasant was also among the big winners at the Brisbane judging as its 2009 Lovedale Vineyard Semillon won the trophies for best mature white of the show, the best semillon and the best single-vineyard white.
The wine is not currently available.
Other notable trophy winners were the Hungerford Hill 2014 Classic Pinot Gris (best pinot gris), the Lillypilly Estate Noble Blend (best sweet white) and the Topper's Mountain 2014 Barrel Ferment Gewurztraminer (best other-single-varietal white).
I reviewed the latter on May 13 and its sells for $35 on toppers.com.au.