Aussie Elegance

By / Wine + Drinks / November 8th, 2012 / 1

The Australian wine industry is slowly but surely re-establishing itself after taking a bit of a slip off the global wine map. The reasons for losing the limelight are many, including currency fluctuations, a production glut and intense global competition. “We also lost a bit of who we were,” admits Bruce Tyrrell of Tyrrell’s Wines who was in Toronto recently for a taste and a chat with local wine journos. “We developed a reputation of producing industrial wines, and we lost the ability to put Australia first as a brand.”

Tyrrell’s observation regarding “industrial wines” is well taken. The Aussie wines that at one point seemed ubiquitous tended to be the “critter” wines or the “colour” wines – named after an indigenous animal, a particular label colour, or both. And they made Shiraz a household word. They tended to be moderately priced and soundly made. Their downside was a certain homogeneity from brand to brand, and a tendency to be “one note” players. A big whack of fruit, and equally big whack of oak and that was it. They were also typically high in alcohol, often re-acidified to add a bit of balance to the alcohol and jammy fruit, and were difficult to match well with food (bbq excepted). More often than not, they were enjoyed as cocktails rather than dinner wines.

While the popularity of these wines went a long way in establishing Australia as an international winemaking force, they tended to distract from the fact Australia could produce upscale wines that favoured elegance, poise and complexity over brute strength. Wine like the ones made by Tyrrell’s.   

We tasted through a range of Tyrrell’s wines including the Rhône-style 2010 “Vat 9” Shiraz; the surprisingly Pinot Noir-like 2011 Four Acres Shiraz; the mildly peppery, cigar box-tinged 2010 Brokenback Shiraz, and the complex, superbly balanced 2011 Moon Mountain Chardonnay. All were stylish, perfectly integrated and memorable. However, it’s Tyrrell’s range of Semillons that were perhaps the most intriguing.

Conventional wisdom dictates that age-worthy white wines should have a decent whack of alcohol and/or sweetness, decent acid levels and perhaps a kiss of wood. Apart from the acid, Tyrrell’s Semillons have none of those attributes. Low in alcohol and fermented and aged without any wood contact. Yet they age miraculously.

The three Semillons tasted (all from the Hunter Valley) included the 2008 Single Vineyard Stevens Semillon; the 2007 Single Vineyard HVD Semillon (from vineyards planted in 1908), and the 2006 Winemaker’s Selection Vat 1 Semillon. The highest alcohol level of the trio was a mere 11.5 per cent. Though they may not have kicked hard, all displayed captivating aromas ranging from lime, white flower and green apple through to wet slate, honey, beeswax, peach pit and gunflint. Flavours were balanced, complex and persistent with barely a suggestion of real maturity and hinting at great things to come down the line. Australia’s wines may be on the road back to popularity town; but let’s just hope that they look towards Tyrrell for stylistic guidance.

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