Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay shines bright

Tyrrell’s chief winemaker Andrew Spinaze (Photo: YouTube)

Tyrrell’s Wines celebrates its 160th anniversary this year, and to mark this milestone a back-tasting was held of the last 14 vintages of Vat 47 Chardonnay, 2004-2017. The 2004 was chosen as the starting point because it was the first vintage sealed with a screw-cap. As a participant in the previous Tyrrell’s Vat 47 retrospective tasting, held in 2002, I can vouch for the fact that the wines have aged much better under screw-caps than they used to under cork. Indeed, there is little comparison.

What impressed me most in this tasting was that the quality of the wine was consistently high.The wine itself has also changed markedly in that 14 years. It used to be a blend of vineyards: today, it is virtually a single-vineyard wine, and the volume produced has dropped commensurately. The quality has also risen and the style is more consistent, year to year. The main vineyard is the Short Flat, which is directly across Broke Road from the winery front gate. This is the best chardonnay vineyard, according to proprietors Bruce and Chris Tyrrell and chief winemaker Andrew Spinaze, who hosted similar events around the country.

Four or five other vineyards are considered each year for Vat 47, but the vast majority of fruit is from Short Flat.

It is a great vineyard: Vat 9 Shiraz and Vat 1 Semillon both contain Short Flat grapes.

I love the name Short Flat: it harks back to the days when wine people gave practical, sometimes unglamorous, names to their paddocks. These days a marketer given the freedom would re-name it Eagle’s Eyrie or Murray’s Mountain, and damn the truth.

Describing the changes, Bruce Tyrrell said:

“The production is about one-third what it was in the early 1990s because it’s virtually a single vineyard wine.”

It’s also held back longer than most Australian chardonnays: the 2014 is just being released now. Incidentally, it is a cracker. From a great red vintage, it is perhaps a shade fuller-bodied than normal, certainly bigger than the delicate 2015, still to come. And the price is fairly high as a result of these changes: AUD $75, although it’s only risen AUD $6 over the last six vintages.

Spinaze said major changes in winemaking were less oak influence; more solids in the fermentations; increasing use of the basket press since 2007 to the extent that from 2013 on, it’s 100% basket pressed.

“This reduces colour, retains better natural acidity and lower pH because there is less pumping. The juice comes out milky, not opaque, and there are less bottoms (lees which are wasted). For me, the basket press has changed the style and gives us better mid-palate depth.”

They also work more closely with coopers to ensure they get the right barrels.

What impressed me most in this tasting was that, notwithstanding vintage style variations, the quality of the wine was consistently high. Even the 2008, from a lesser, wet vintage, is drinking very well. The 2009 and 2013 were my stand-outs; 2014, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2006 close after.

Vat 47 is still one of Australia’s great chardonnays. It may not be from one of the regions most fashionable for chardonnay right now, but it has maintained its position, largely as a result of hard work in the vineyard and winery by the Tyrrell’s team. Three cheers.

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