Tag Archives: Hugh Johnson

“Hanging Out” with Tyrrells and Tindals on Google

Earlier this month, Tindals Wine Merchants held another of their very-21st-century tastings on Google Hangout. The last time I partook in one of these high-tech events was last October when Craggy Range of New Zealand was the winery in question (which you can read by clicking here), but this time we jumped across the pond to the historic, family-run Australian winery Tyrrells.

The premise was the same once again: at a predetermined date and time we would all log on to Tindals’ page on Google Hangout and – hey presto – we would all, in our very disparate locations and situations, be audio-visually connected to partake in a virtual (yet very real) tasting of some very nice wines.

Harriet Tindal was in her kitchen in Wicklow, fellow blogger Frankie Cook was at home in north Dublin, and I was here in my home office, and at various points we were also joined by the Searson’s team in their shop – though technical issues cut their involvement short – and a chap called Marco and his group of friends. The microphone of the latter wasn’t working unfortunately, but judging by their very animated expressions they were all having the craic.

Joining us on this IT adventure was Chris Tyrrell himself, fifth generation of the family and assistant winemaker at the winery, who had risen at an ungodly hour to entertain the whims of a bunch of Irish winos on the other side of the world.

We had all hoped that on this occasion Chris could take us on a live wander of the Tyrrells vineyards, but a slight miscalculation of the time it would be in Oz meant that it wasn’t possible on this occasion unfortunately – for all that Australia has going for it, the sun does not shine at 4am, no matter how much we willed it.

Tyrrells Hangout

A screengrab of the live Hangout. That’s Chris Tyrrell in the main image with (l-r) Frankie, Marco (and friends), Harriet and me (looking smug!)

Tyrrell’s Wines – a Brief History

Tyrrell’s are based in the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine region located 160kms north of Sydney. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge of Tyrrell’s or their wines before the tasting, apart from a vague appreciation that they were somehow part of Australia’s historic firmament.

A cursory look at Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion confirmed as much, informing me that Chris’s grandfather Murray Tyrrell was a key figure in the revival of the Hunter Valley in the 1970’s. Not only that but their Vat 47 Chardonnay was the first commercially available Chardonnay to be produced in Australia, something which not only took the world by surprise but also the Aussies themselves, and as such it can be credited with helping kick-starting the meteoric rise of Aussie Chardonnay in the 1980’s onwards.

They’re also known to be one of the best producers of Semillon in Oz (“Australia’s greatest”, according to Johnson), and Oz Clarke calls them “top notch”. Douze points all round, then.

Tyrrells
The wines ready for tasting

The Hangout

There were four Tyrrell’s wines to be tasted, with mine very kindly sponsored by Tindals and delivered straight to my door a few days in advance. There were three varieties from the Lost Block range – Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz – with their Rufus Stone Shiraz providing gravitas to the proceedings.

I really loved the Lost Block’s packaging: cartoonish caricatures of an Aussie winemaker looking perplexed and in perpetual search of something. The winemaker is, in fact, not a Tyrrell but Cliff, their vineyard manager who, in the midst of the 1993 harvest, was with his team of 60 pickers working feverishly on a plot of Semillon.

Suddenly Murray Tyrrell pulled up in his 4×4 and instructed them to drop everything and tend to their prized plot of Chardonnay 10 minutes up the road as there was a storm coming; the less resilient Chardonnay was to be given priority over the Semillon, and so off they all went.

It was two weeks later when Cliff remembered that they forgot to finish picking that Semillion plot, so with a small team he went out to finish the job. Given the grapes had two weeks extra hang time on the vines the resultant wine was considerably softer, richer and more approachable – a style considerably at odds with their traditionally more lean and acidic ‘traditional’ Semillon – and in a decision that was years ahead of its time they decided to continue to produce a small portion of Semillion in that style.

The vat in which the wine was originslly fermented was jokingly labeled “Cliffy’s Lost Block” by a young apprentice, and the rest as they say is history. The range has now been expanded to include Shiraz and Chardonnay – which we were about to taste – as well as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all from either Hunter Valley, Heathcote, Limestone Coast or Orange.

The actual Rufus Stone

The Wines

We started with two whites – Semillon and Chardonnay, both from the Hunter Valley – and then two Shirazes – the Lost Block and Rufus Stone – which were both from Heathcote, north of Melbourne in Victoria, some 1,000kms away from the Tyrrells home in Hunter Valley.

During harvest it takes refrigerated trucks packed with grapes approximately 12 hours to travel from Heathcote to the Tyrrel’s winery in Hunter Valley. Chris has obviously been questioned on the environmental impact of doing this ad nauseum in the past as, unprompted, he very quickly defended their reasons for doing so: we’re all very used to buying apples from New Zealand and grapes from Chile which have been frozen for weeks and flown by plane around the world, so sending a fleet of trucks 12 hours up the road once a year is small change in comparison. Fair point.

The Rufus Stone, lest we forget, is a small range encompassing their “top non Hunter red wines” – in other words just two Shirazes, one from Heathcote and one from McLaren Vale. The Rufus Stone takes its name from a story dating back to the year 1100 when the English King William II, known colloquially as Rufus, died unexpectedly on a hunting trip.

He was with his friend Sir Walter Tyrrell, and though official records state that it was a stray deflected arrow shot by Sir Tyrrell that killed the king, his immediate and unexpected flight to France straight afterwards spurred rumours about whether it was an accident at all. Either way, the Rufus Stone (pictured above) now stands at the site where the king was found dead.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2014
100% Semillon, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This improved considerably after a little time in the glass – I had it too chilled initially which killed much of the nuance of the wine. When a little warmer there was some slight herbal notes and white stone fruit on the nose before leading to a lovely creamy palate that ended with a nice citric kick. Would be amazing with seafood and especially with shellfish. Apparently Semillon used to be known as “Shepherd’s Riesling” in Australia before they discovered what it was – not that that makes a contribution to this note, but it’s a nice trivia factoid nonetheless.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Chardonnay 2014
100% Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was a really lovely, toasty, very Aussie Chardonnay that made me smile on first sniff. Though many recoil at the thought of oaked Aussie Chardonnay, I’m young enough to have avoided the excesses of the style in the 1990’s and so I can approach these wines without any baggage. That said this is still a nicely balanced wine that’s both fresh and rich, with some tropical and lychee flavours over the creamy toastiness. This opened up in the glass later too, softening out over the course of the evening and making it dangerously more drinkable as the night went on.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Shiraz 2013
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was surprisingly lighter than expected, though I do have the habit of approaching every Aussie Shiraz as if it’s going to be a chocolatey spice bomb. Medium bodied and fragrant, it alternates between sweet and savoury notes with kirsch, black cherry and spice noticeable. This was a real joy and very good quality – another excellent companion to an evening chatting with friends (which is exactly what happened after the Hangout)

 

Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Shiraz 2010
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€30.00 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

Considerably more intense, this is concentrated and brooding, and I couldn’t but help feel this needed more time to shine through. Smoky and dark, I tried it again the next day where softer, more savoury flavours were evident. The quality is unmistakable, but I’d love to revisit this in a few years’ time.

 

Conclusion

It was a real joy to be part of another Tindal Hangout, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the novelty of chatting with a winemaker who is literally on the other side of the world while sipping his wines in the comfort of my own home here in Ireland.

Soon after the Hangout finished a friend called over to ensure that the rest of the wine would not go to waste. The overall conclusion was that, though I was impressed by the power and seriousness of the Rufus Stone, I found myself reaching for both the Lost Block Chardonnay and Shiraz more and more, alternating between the two throughout the evening.

But then again the situation suited the wines I think: the Lost Block is perfectly at home at an informal chat late into the evening; if this had been a serious dinner or more special occasion it might have been more of an occasion for the Rufus Stone, given a couple of years. Still, they were all excellent wines and I’m delighted to have finally been introduced to Tyrrells.

Now, how do I get my hands on a sip of that famous Vat 47?

VIEW THE ENTIRE HANGOUT ON YOUTUBE BY CLICKING HERE

 

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A Foray into Niepoort

I was lucky to be invited to a preview of  Niepoort wines the night before the Wine Mason portfolio tasting a short while back (though I could not make the portfolio tasting itself, unfortunately).

I must admit that, apart from a brush with one or two of their famous ports, I was completely unfamiliar with Niepoort until recently. As mentioned, Niepoort is perhaps most famous for its Ports, but the last couple of decades have seen this shipper place much more focus on its dry reds. In particular, it’s the 5th generation of this famous wine family, Dirk Niepoort, who has made it his particular goal to expand the expertise of this historic wine family beyond the fortified.

Exchequer Charcuterie
Charcuterie … lots and lots of charcuterie

The Niepoort family has been creating Port wines since 1842, but it wasn’t until 1991 when Dirk Niepoort started a new era in the company with the creation of their first red dry wine, “Redoma”. What followed was a white in similar vein, then an alternative red – all receiving exalted praise. The rest, as they say, is history.

Indeed, Hugh Johnson has high praise for this sea-change, noting in his famous Wine Companion that, “With restless energy [Dirk] Niepoort continues to acquire small estates and parcels from which he produces an expanding portfolio of table wines of remarkable character and individuality, and usually steering clear of the massive, oaky styles that are coming to dominate the region.” High praise, then.

In recent years Niepoort have looked to Dão and Bairrada, completing what they call “The Niepoort Triangle” of different terroirs: Schist  in the Douro, Limestone in Bairrada and Granite in Dão, creating a range of wines vinified to best represent these areas and their particular characteristics.

And so it was that I found myself amongst a small group of esteemed wine trade colleagues within the big and bright front window of The Exchequer Wine Bar in Ranelagh. Paulo Silva, export manager at Niepoort, was on hand to provide the background info for each wine, though if I’m to be absolutely honest I was a little too distracted by the mountains of gorgeous charcuterie laid on by The Exchequer to fully take in everything he said. Below are my thoughts nevertheless…

 


 

Dócil Loureiro, Vinho Verde 2014
€16.95 from Searsons, The Corkscrew, and Hole in the Wall

Vinho Verde carries with it something of a bad rep, if it’s known at all. This huge, expansive area – Portugal’s largest wine region – is most famed for producing easy, quaffable wines that offer simple transient pleasure and nothing much else.

A Vinho Verde can be a blend of a number of grapes in varying proportions; can be red, white or rosé; can range from dry to slightly sweet; and may or may not be slightly spritzy. Oh, and often they don’t bother declaring the vintage either. No surprise then why the region isn’t often taken seriously.

The most popular, or at least well-known, grape here is Alvarinho – better known by its Spanish name Albariño and the Rías Baixas region in which its produced – though other grapes used are Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto/Pedernã, Avesso, and Azal Branco. No, I’ve never heard of any of them either.

But as it the trend worldwide, some serious wines are being made in historically less-than-serious places, with Vinho Verde one such example and Niepoort one such producer.

The wine has tropical fruits, peach and pear drops on the nose; the palate is fleshy and long with a touch of a slight bitterness at the end. Very good quality and a great alternative white for the summer.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2013
€16.95 from Green Man Wines, Redmond’s, Corkscrew, Gibney’s, Blackrock Cellar, Terroirs, Drinks Store, Hole in the Wall, Donnybrook Fair

I’ve written about this before and it’s quickly become one of my favourites for a number of reasons: the flavour being one of course, but the price being another, and the surreal labelling a feather in the cap of this remarkable wine.

However on this occasion the wine seemed different to me: more vivacious acidity and brambly, juicy sweet fruit versus the taut intensity I’d experienced at The Corkscrew Wine Fair. This perplexed me until later I discovered it was the 2013 that was poured and not the 2012 as per the tasting sheet (and the fair), which would explain things somewhat. Either way this is still a very recommended wine.

 

Niepoort Lagar de BaixoLagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2012
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines

This is 100% Baga, for which Dirk Niepoort has a “huge passion” apparently. This is something he’s had to keep in check for some while now, grabbing some small parcels of the grape whenever he could from various disparate estates. But finally in 2012 Dirk was able to acquire Quinta de Baixo and its 25ha. of Baga vines, and thus resurrect the Lagar de Baixo brand.

A meaty nose with dark cherries over a spicy peppery palate that’s nevertheless medium-bodied. Just the right amount of acidity and fruit; delish. Paulo admitted that this is made in a “modern, reductive” style, so accordingly could do with a little airing out beforehand … or let the bottle breathe naturally as you drink it all over the course of an evening with friends, which is the far more Portuguese way of doing things.

 

Niepoort PoeirinhoPoeirinho, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 from The Corkscrew

This is also 100% Baga, and was a really beautiful and elegant wine, with a floral characteristic and violets evident. The palate was light but expressively juicy and refreshing – this was very, very good, with my notes stating that it was a ‘contemplative wine’ – Paulo concurred, mentioning it was “expressive, a wine for smelling”, and that characteristically it was “between Pinot and Nebbiolo”. A really excellent wine, my star of the evening.

 

Niepoort ConcisoConciso, Dao 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland, though Wine Mason say they may be reconsidering this

A mix of 40% Baga, 30% Jaen, and 30% of “others”, this, I found, has a more funky, feral characteristic with heat and spice more to the fore. It had very lovely, dark, damson fruit elements to it and the acidity was just right, with a grippy yet light finish. Many will love it, but for my money the more elegant Poeirinho for the same price was more to my taste.

 

Syrah, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland

Another funky, reductive nose blew off after a short while of swirling to give a more approachable, chunky, chocolatey characteristic. The palate, though, was very surprisingly light and elegant, with an almost saline element to it; I noted white pepper and black olive too – in other words a Northern Rhône style, which is exactly what they’re aiming for (and a region for which Dirk has great affection, apparently. He’s full of affection, Dirk is).

Indeed, Paulo noted that this was “atypical of the region, a winemaker’s wine” which was originally meant to be Merlot, but since that didn’t work out to plan they tried Syrah instead, given they’d a 1ha. plot of 20+ year old Syrah vines hidden in plain sight at Quinta de Baixo.

A winemaker’s wine indeed: it’s aged for 20 months in one single 2500L barrel of Austrian oak, is a variety that should be nowhere near Portugal and is produced biodynamically … in other words a fantastic, caution-to-the-wind experiment for which we are all grateful beneficiaries, for I found this to be really excellent. Hopefully it’ll be available in Ireland soon!