Tyrell’s Wines located in the Hunter Valley of NSW is a fifth generation family company. Their flagship wine is the Vat 1 Semillon, a wine I have been collecting for the past 16 years. Having been spared the scourge of the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out the great vineyards of Europe in the 19th century, the Hunter Valley is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world. This reflected in many of the wines, in particular the Semillons.
I also belong to an “options wine club” where wines are presented blind (identity hidden) and 5 multiple choice questions are asked on each one. In April, I put the wines on and the Tyrell’s Vat 1 Semillon was my first wine. It contained an interesting outcome because while a majority of the room (30 attended) picked Semillon as the grape variety, no one got the age correct. The options were 2004 (correct) and 2008 and 2012. 2004 was the first year that this wine was bottled under screw cap with previous vintages all being under cork.
The wine presented with characteristic lemon notes with high acid and still relatively pale in colour. It had good fruit definition and quite a long finish with alcohol of 10%. A very good wine indeed but being closed by screw cap meant that the longevity of this wine has been increased greatly. I drank my last bottle of 2003 a couple of months ago and while a different year it was quite a contrast. The older wine (sealed by cork) was darker in colour and much more developed with toasty aromas on the nose. It should be noted that James Halliday (wine guru) rated the 04 vintage in the Hunter only marginally better that 03 and that he gave both wines the same rating of 94.
The younger wine, albeit by one year, was in stark contrast with its sibling sealed by cork. What we can draw from this, is yet more confirmation of what a game changer screw caps are. The vast bulk of wine bought in Australia is drunk within 48 hours of purchase, but for aficionados like me who patiently lay wine down, the drinking window on white wines with the potential to age (like Rieslings and Semillons) has just been extended dramatically with a commensurate rise in quality.
It is a win for both consumers of wines and the makers. Many unwary drinkers in the past would have been put off by wines that they probably weren’t aware were cork affected. In the case of older wines, dodgy corks also allow premature oxidisation. You had situations where customers marked down some wines (and hence the maker) through no fault of the winery.
In the past, premium white wines with the ability to age were definitely restricted by corks. In our Club, white wines that were presented which were 10 years of age or older really went into the cork lottery category – we were thrilled if they were in good condition but more often than not they were well on the way to being very expensive vinegar!
In conclusion, screw caps have changed the wine industry in Australia for the better. It is interesting to note that in the Old World (ie Europe) there is far greater reluctance to introduce screw caps. They believe there is resistance by the drinking public to associate premium wines with screw caps and persist with corks. Long may Australia show the world the way with screw caps!