Uncorking Legends: 

Tyrrell’s Old Vines and Iconic Wines

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Uncorking Legends: Tyrrell’s Old Vines and Iconic Wines


My recent vinous adventure at the iconic Tyrrell’s winery, nestled in the heart of Australia’s Hunter Valley since 1858, was truly unforgettable. With a rich history as one of the country’s pioneering and most awarded wineries, Tyrrell’s boasts over 160 years of crafting exceptional wines. Their dedication to quality and showcasing the unique terroir of the Hunter Valley shines through in every bottle. Renowned for their iconic Vat 1 Semillon, Australia’s most decorated white wine, Tyrrell’s continues to impress with an extensive range of reds, whites, and single-vineyard bottlings. A deep respect for tradition and a commitment to sustainable practices make Tyrrell’s a shining example of Australian winemaking excellence.

A highlight of the visit was my conversation with Bruce Tyrrell himself. We shared a laugh over tales of daring (and slightly perilous) missions in the 1970s, fueled by a few good wines, as he and a friend chased away frost with silver iodide cannons in the vineyards. The burns on his hands from the hot wax stand serve as a permanent reminder of their spirited (and slightly scorched) escapades. Andrew, the winery’s legendary winemaker, then generously offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the magic and challenges of crafting these iconic wines.

The Ever-Present Threat: Hail

Our journey began in the vineyards. Bruce and Andrew vividly described the region’s biggest foe: hail. It could strike any day, they explained, leaving devastation in its wake. Green-tinged clouds, harbouring the icy menace, would creep in, and all they could do was hope they’d drift over the Brokenback Range, sparing the vines. The sprawling layout of Tyrrell’s vineyards across the Hunter Valley is a strategic response to this threat. A single hail cloud can decimate one area while leaving others untouched. Andrew recounted a heartbreaking vintage where the 1933 Belford Semillon vines were stripped entirely bare in just one hour by hail just as the tractors drove in to harvest.

Treasures of Time: Ancient Vines and Traditional Techniques

Tyrrell’s boasts some of Australia’s oldest vines, with the “Old Patch” Shiraz block dating back to 1867 – still producing exceptional wines at nearly 150 years old! The average vine age across the estate is a remarkable 50 years, with new plantings coming solely from cuttings, preserving the unique character of these historic vineyards. Sustainability is paramount. Hand cane pruning, though more expensive, minimises the risk of disease in the region’s humid conditions. The private bin fruit is also hand-harvested – “You can’t use machines on the old vines,” Andrew emphasised, “you’ll bust them!”

A Glimpse into the Historic Cellar

Stepping into the winery, we were transported back in time. The original fermenting concrete vats, built in the 1800s by the Tyrrell family, were a sight to behold. Andrew also explained their intriguing use of cold water (6-7°C) for temperature control, a method rarely seen elsewhere, replacing the more common glycol.

Celebrating Single Vats & Vineyards: 

A fascinating story emerged about Tyrrell’s iconic Vat 1 Semillon. In 1989, with a touch of admitted mischief, Bruce stashed away 1,000 cases from his father for ageing. The success of that daring move is now celebrated with every release of the Vat 1 Semillon, the current vintage reflecting the date those hidden cases were finally unveiled five years later. The legacy of Bruce’s father, Murray, lives on in the naming of the Vat series. Murray began the practice in the 1960s, reserving the best fruit for designated oak vats, each marked with a number. This dedication to showcasing the influence of specific parcels & vineyard sites is a cornerstone of Tyrrell’s philosophy. I was lucky enough to taste through new vintage Shiraz block wines directly from the lab bench, offering a sneak peek at their upcoming releases. Each block produced a distinct expression of the grape, highlighting the unique characteristics of its terroir. Their commitment is evident in the gentle handling of grapes for their Private Bin Chardonnays. Whole bunch basket pressing minimises extraction, preserving the delicate flavours. The grape marc is composted and returned to the vineyards, a testament to their recent certification in the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia program. The winemaker, Andrew, further extends this philosophy of letting the fruit shine by foregoing malolactic fermentation for the Chardonnays, preserving their natural acidity and fruit character. Additionally, many of the wines remain unfined, allowing each vineyard parcel to express itself fully. This dedication to minimal intervention is evident across all of Tyrrell’s wines, resulting in expressive and age-worthy bottlings that capture the soul of the Hunter Valley.

Tasting the Legacy: A Journey Through Time

No visit to Tyrrell’s is complete without savouring their iconic Semillon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. I embarked on some vertical tastings, exploring different varietal and vineyard block vintages. Here are some of the showstoppers:

Belford Semillon 2017: 5 stars / 94 pts 

$55 AUD – Great Value! 

The 2017 Belford Semillon offers a perfumed nose brimming with floral and lemon character. Honeyed notes emerge alongside a more citrusy profile, hinting at the density of flavour to come. The palate is rich and textural, boasting a pronounced waxiness with a dusty oat texture that adds intrigue. The remarkably low pH of 3.03 lends a Riesling-like vibrancy. Sandy soils leave their mark on this wine. The naturally concentrated fruit speaks volumes about the quality of the grapes and the vineyard, suggesting it will continue to age gracefully for another decade or so.


Vat 1 Semillon 2017: 5 stars /95pts 

$115 AUD

The 2017 Vat 1 Semillon impresses with its richness and serene character. It leans towards structural elegance rather than overt zestiness, revealing a core of chalky minerality and bold palate weight. This is a wine that is both captivating and complex, showcasing the hallmark qualities of top Hunter Valley Semillon. 

Vat 1 Semillon 2006: 5+ Stars / 97pts. 

$200 AUD

Time has wrought its magic on this Vat 1 Semillon, enriching the profile with a deeper complexity. The youthful hay notes have evolved into richer, toasty iterations, intermingling with hints of orange peel and melon. A honeyed sweetness emerges on the waxy mouthfeel, beautifully balanced by zesty acidity and an enduring length on the finish. The floral character, reminiscent of honeysuckle, persists, hinting at the wine’s origins while showcasing its remarkable ageing potential. This mature Vat 1 Semillon is a testament to the exceptional quality of Hunter Valley Semillon and the reward of patient cellaring. Divine. Enjoy now.  





Vat 47 Chardonnay 2023: 5+ stars / 95pts

$115 AUD

The 2023 Chardonnay charms with juicy melon, grapefruit and flinty intrigue. Seasoned oak whispers complexity, never overpowering the vibrant lemon citrus. Balanced acidity keeps the palate powerful and lively, then surrenders to a lingering, delicate finish—a delightful Hunter Chardonnay poised for years of evolution.

And finally, Shiraz:

Vat 9 Shiraz 2022 – 5 stars/ 94 pts 

$150 AUD

The 2022 Shiraz is a veritable perfume bomb, bursting with violets and red fruit with earthy notes. Crunchy cranberry and soft, ripe berry fruit mingle with minerality, adding a playful complexity, while oak plays a supporting role, allowing the fruit to shine. This well-structured wine promises to reward patient cellaring.

Vat 9 Shriaz 2021 – 5+ stars / 96pts 

$150 AUD

Vibrancy developing into depth, the 2021 Shiraz offers a subtle meaty intrigue alongside mixed berry fruit that retains its delightful crunch. The palate impresses with weight and seamless integration, showcasing both power and impressive length. Oak, subtly integrated from 14 months in large format barrels, hints of dried herbs and a dusting of white pepper. This Shiraz is an exemplar of elegance, balancing power with finesse.

A heartfelt thank you to Tyrrell’s for an unforgettable day steeped in their world-class wines and rich history. The Tyrrell team’s passion and dedication shone through, from Bruce’s captivating tales and Andrew’s insightful explanations to Zack’s infectious enthusiasm during the tasting. If you ever find yourself in the Hunter Valley, visiting Tyrrell’s is a must. Your taste buds will thank you for it.