World-class wines from Australian wine royalty

A group of family producers are determined to prove that Australia produces fine wine

Two of the oldest wine families in Australia visited Ireland recently. Yalumba, owned by the Hill-Smith family and with a tradition going back to 1849, is the older of the two by a few years. The first vintage for the Tyrrell family didn’t take place until 1864. Both are members of Australia’s First Families of Wine, a group of family producers determined to prove to the world that Australia produces fine wine.

Tyrrell’s is based in the Hunter Valley, just north of Sydney, a region much visited by Irish tourists to Australia. Here, five generations of Tyrrells have farmed one contiguous 120-hectare block with ever-changing soils, and ungrafted vines planted a century or more ago. This is one of the legendary estates of Australia, and produces arguably the world’s greatest Semillons.

Hunter Valley Semillon is a unique and delicious wine, low in alcohol, usually unoaked, that will evolve for decades. I have bottles of the Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon from the late 1990s. You can, however, enjoy the younger, fresh and racy versions too. After a few years it takes on subtle waxy notes and then later still, it develops notes of grilled nuts, honey and toast.

As well as Semillon, the Hunter Valley produces uniquely light, refreshing Chardonnay (the first Australian Chardonnay was planted here) and distinctive, elegant Shiraz.


Australian bushfires

According to Wine Australia, less than 1 per cent of Australia’s vineyards have been affected by the recent bushfires. Tyrrell’s seems to be very unlucky. Although they are not close to the fires, smoke has been funnelling in from the nearby Broken Back Range for more than three months. At the tasting they announced they would lose 80 per cent of this year’s crop due to smoke taint. Since then they have said they will not make any 2020 wine in the Hunter at all.

Yalumba has its roots in the Eden Valley in south Australia. Here they have their own vine nursery, cooperage and vineyard holdings that include ungrafted vines going back more than a century. As well as the Yalumba varietals, readers might be familiar with their Oxford Landing range of wines, as well as the Pewsey Vale Riesling. Yalumba also own vineyards elsewhere in Australia, including sparkling wine producer Jansz in Tasmania.

Robert Hill-Smith, one of the best-known wine people in Australia, has been at the helm since 1985. He was responsible for introducing many innovations and bringing the company through a period of growth without losing the family ethos. More recently he has been joined by his daughter Jessica. In recent years they have become the leading advocates of Viognier in Australia, and now offer a string of very good wines, including the Samuel’s Collection.

Tyrrell's Hunter Valley Semillon 2018, 11.5%, €21.99
Delicious fresh, clean, green apple fruits, citrus peel and a beguiling creamy texture. Calls out for a bowl of mussels. 
Stockists: McCreevy's, Westport; Clarke's SuperValu, Barna; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny,; Alain & Christine's, Kenmare,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Brady's, Shankhill,; SuperValu, Skibbereen,; Martin's Off Licence, Dublin 3,;

Samuel's Collection Viognier 2017, Eden Valley, 13.5%, €24.99 
A very moreish Viognier with nicely textured luscious apricots and peaches, a touch of orange peel, while still retaining a lively freshness. Try it with chicken or rich seafood.  
Stockists: The Hole in the Wall, Dublin 7; Alain & Christine's, Kenmare,; Field's SuperValu, Skibbereen,; Number 21, Blarney; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Next Door Clonakilty,; Matson's Wine Store, Youghal,; JJ O'Driscoll, Ballinlough,

Tyrrell's Hunter Valley Shiraz 2017, 13.5%, €21.99 
The lively aromatic nose leads on a medium-bodied wine with a core of concentrated ripe dark fruits, a savoury edge and a dry finish. It will taste even better sipped alongside lighter red meats or full-bodied vegetable dishes. Drink it with stew or red peppers and bean with (or without) meatballs.  
Stockists: McCreevy's, Westport; Clarke's SuperValu, Barna; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny,; Next Door, Clonakilty

Samuel's Collection Bush Vine Grenache 2018, Barossa Valley 14.5%, €24.99
A fragrant, easy-drinking yet powerful wine, with warm supple ripe strawberry and cherry fruits. Try it with a roast of pork. 
Stockists: The Hole in the Wall, Dublin 7; The Village Greengrocer, Castlemartyr; Matson's Wine Store, Youghal,; Alain & Christine's, Kenmare,; Field's SuperValu, Skibbereen,; Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Waterford,; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2,; Whelehan's Wines, Loughlinstown,; Dollard & Co, D2,