Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2011
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In 1858, Edward Tyrrell planted his first vines in the Hunter Valley. In 1959, Murray Tyrrell took control of the winery and started producing Tyrrell’s wines under their own labels. Tyrrell’s pioneered Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Australia and quickly received international recognition. While remaining a family company, Tyrrell’s has reached out to larger wine markets: in recent years, it has expanded its traditional Hunter Valley vineyard base to other famous vineyard areas in Australia.
Even as a hot subtropical growing region, the Hunter Valley region on the eastern side of Australia produces world-renowned and admired white wines from the Semillon grape.
Hunter Valley Semillons are known to achieve such fresh and bracing acidity levels that while they can be enjoyed in their youth, evolution typically brings their best qualities forward. Most will develop favorably for upwards of 10 to 20 years. These wines are fairly low in alcohol and when young, can be tart and citrus-driven whites with piquant herbal and mineral notes. The best examples, when aged, develop notes of caramel, honey, browned butter and roasted nuts. Some are fermented or matured in oak but it is often undetectable in this fresh style.
Soils in the Hunter Valley are volcanic basalt and white alluvial sands, favorable for aroma development in Semillon.
While winter and spring drought is common, summer and fall brings a good deal of precipitation. Warm summer nights allow the Semillon vines to ripen with haste but constant cloud cover in the fall reduces vine stress and the impact of their heat load. Ripening comes early at the end of January or early February, equivalent to early August in the northern hemisphere.
An unassuming but noble variety capable of wines with considerable structure, depth and length, Sémillon is an uncompromising white variety with the power to create wines that improve for several decades. It is the perfect partner to the aromatic and vivid Sauvignon Blanc; the two are most commonly found blended in their home region of Bordeaux. Sémillon especially shines in Sauternes, one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, with highly concentrated flavors of honey and dried apricots. While Sémillon is not the most fashionable grape in the rest of the wine world, it enjoys great success in Australia's Hunter Valley, where it can produce elegant, complex dry wines with aging potential.
In the Glass
Sémillon is most notable for its smooth texture and significant palate weight. In youthful dry wines, it expresses subtle aromas of lemon, green apple, pear and stone fruit. Aged or sweet Sémillon wines show more complex characters of lanolin, beeswax, honeysuckle, ginger, saffron, vanilla or toast.
Thanks to its moderate acidity, this fairly full-bodied wine can stand up to pretty boldly flavored food. Think lightly spiced Asian or Indian white meat or fish dishes, or anything with cinnamon, clove, or star anise. It’s also great with autumnal vegetables like kabocha squash, yam or potato. Botrytised Sémillon, as in Sauternes, is a perfectly decadent pairing with foie gras.
Sémillon was once the most common variety in South Africa—so common, in fact, that in 1822, when 93% of the country’s vineyard area was planted with it, it was simply referred to as Wyndruif, or “wine grape.”