Hunter Valley – the oldest wine region in Australia – is regularly haunted by hail storms and torrential rains during harvest time. Someone said that only an idiot would start to grow grapes in this area.
Still a couple of world class wines come from Hunter every year and most of them are Semillons – underrated, misunderstood and unwanted by many wine drinkers in Australia and also worldwide. I am certainly not the first one who says that Hunter Sems are hidden gems with heaps of character, unprecedented longevity and elegance. But there is more – a terroir. Semillon is a ridiculously simple grape to process: it ripens early, goes straight to the tank and is bottled as soon as possible, therefor there is (usually) minimal influence in the winery.
Due to Hunter’s long history, local vignerons learned to spot the best Semillon sites as well as their differences and they can (and often do) produce terroir driven single vineyard wines. Tyrrell´s has three single vineyard Semillons in their portfolio (plus renowned VAT 1) showing many shades of this variety in Hunter. Belford and Stevens are my favourite single vineyard expressions from Tyrrell´s as they are like fire and water, they are true wines with roots.
Tyrrell´s Wines Belford Single Vineyard Semillon 2012, Hunter Valley, RRP $35
Belford is your friend. Unlike many Hunter Sems it is quite approachable after only a couple of years with rich, broad and welcoming aromas and flavours. When I say rich and broad, I mean rich and broad in terms of Hunter Valley Semillons which generally are everything else but big fat juicy whites. They need their time of development to show the best. Still Belford is not such a razorblade as Stevens when young. Complex and ripe aromas of wax, roasted nuts, smoke, lemongrass, orange peel, white peach, apricots and chalk. It doesn’t have the furious energy on the palate of some other single vineyard Sems but it offers gentle, rich and well-behaved flavours of green apple, roasted walnuts, oats and apricots. Finish is long but a bit bitter with a peach pip aftertaste.
The vineyard: Vines planted in 1933 with their own roots (not grafted on resistant rootstock), dry grown. Soil – very fine and deep alluvial sandy loam, almost talcum powder in consistency providing optimal water management. Sheltered from harsh westerly sun light in summer by oak trees what protects grapes from sunburn and uneven ripening.
Grapes picked on 15th of February 2012 (unusually late for Hunter Valley Sems due to cool weather conditions in January), bottled 3rd of July 2012.
Alc. 11,0%, pH 3.03, TA 6.92g/l
Tyrrell´s Wines Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon 2012, Hunter Valley, RRP $35
Stevens needs more bottle age to open than Belford. I had this wine about a year ago and it was just like an acidic laser beam completely unapproachable for many. Definitely more welcoming now with fantastically elegant and lifted aromas of roasted walnuts, lemon grass, roasted lemon, green apple, apricot, white flowers and chalk. Complex and mesmerizing. The wine is driven by a furious acidity but five years in bottle helped to develop an array of flavours like apricots, nectarines, green apple, lemongrass and touch of honey. Finish is long and slightly salty. This wine is dancing in ballerina´s shoes on your back palate. Superb and classy Hunter with many years to go.
The vineyard: Glenoak Vineyard owned by Neil Stevens. First vintage harvested and processed under Tyrrell´s label was 1993. combination of light sand and red clay soils are responsible for chalky flavours and mineral finish.
Grapes picked 16–17th of February 2012 (unusually late for Hunter Valley Sems due to cool weather conditions in January); bottled 5th of July 2012
Alc. 11,3%, pH 3.03, TA 6.90g/l
Worth to notice that both wines share almost identical wine analytics, dates of harvest and bottling as well as fermentation process. It is rare to find such a benchmark conditions to compare two single vineyards.