THIS month Bruce Tyrrell and his team have been in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney treating wine writers and the liquor trade to tastings of 14 vintages of Tyrrell’s Vat 47 chardonnays.
The events mark this year’s Tyrrell’s 160th anniversary, the 47th vintage of Vat 47 and the evolution of this Australian trail-blazing chardonnay.
On Friday the team came to Newcastle for me and other writers and traders to taste Vat 47s from 2004 to 2017 – vintages that saw screwcaps replace corks and, from 2007, the gentle basket press handling of fruit.
To me it was a fascinating update on a 2002 tasting of 21 wines from the inaugural 1971 to the then-new-release 2000 marking the 30th Vat 47 vintage.
Although the late Alf Kurtz of Mudgee Wines made Australia's first straight chardonnay, labelled white pineau, in 1964, Tyrrell's Vat 47 was Australia's first commercially bottled and labelled chardonnay and ignited the chardonnay boom.
It happened after Murray Tyrrell wanted to make chardonnay in the 1960s when the French white burgundies he loved became too dear.
Aided by NSW viticulture chief Graham Gregory, small plots of chardonnay were found on Kurtz land and the then-Penfolds-owned Pokolbin HVD vineyard.
Penfolds wouldn’t help, but on a 1967 moonlit night Murray climbed the HVD fence to filch some discarded vine cuttings and plant them in his Short Flat vineyard.
The vines in 1971 produced the first Vat 47, a tag applied because that was the number of the old oak cask the wine matured in.
In Friday’s Newcastle tasting led by Bruce, his son Chris and chief winemaker Andrew Spinaze, there was great stress on the impact of screwcaps in eliminating cork taint.
Hand-sorting to eliminate poorer grapes and the use of basket presses for Vat 47 had also had a major impact, Bruce said.
In 2007 an old Morpeth-manufactured basket press had been brought out of retirement and in 2012 replaced by an Italian hydraulically powered basket press – pivotal in the evolution of Vat 47 and its ability to live and develop in the bottle.
That shone through to me in the excellence of the 2004 to 2017 wines. The 2004 showed amazing freshness and balance, the 2017 was full of youthful elegance and the promise of future greatness.
My favourite was the 2013, which maintained the superb balance and vibrant nectarine, fig, lemon curd, flint and cashew oak elements that made it my 2017 Wine of the Year.
It’s now sold out, but the new-release 2014 reviewed below is almost its equal.
TOP-NOTCH VAT 47
WITH brassy gold hues and enticing crushed almond scents, the Tyrrell’s 2014 Vat 47 Chardonnay brings lovely ripe golden peach flavour to the front palate. The middle palate shows pear, lemon curd, mineral and creamy oak and the finish slatey acid. It’s at tyrrells.com.au, the Broke Rd, Pokolbin, winery and bottle shops. PRICE: $75. DRINK WITH: lobster and avocado soufflé. AGEING: 15 years.
RATING: 5.5 stars
RICH BAROSSA RED
REGISTERING 14.5% alcohol, deep purple hues and fruitcake scents, the Schild Estate 2016 Barossa Valley Shiraz is good-value drinking with rich, ripe plum front-palate flavour. The middle palate has briar, caramel chocolate, capers and nutty oak characters and peppery tannins come through at the finish. Get it on schildestate.com.au. PRICE: $22. DRINK WITH: lamb koftas. AGEING: four years.
RATING: 4 stars
A ZESTY QUAFFER
THIS Taylors 2017 Promised Land Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc is a fresh and zesty quaffer that’s pale straw, has honeysuckle scents and herbal lemony front-palate flavour. The middle palate features gooseberry, apple peel and flint characters and the finish has steely acid. It’s at taylorswines.com.au and in bottle shops. PRICE: $14. DRINK WITH: peperoni and eggplant pizza. AGEING: two years.
RATING: 3.5 stars