Sitting in the office next to the Binny’s Australian wine buyer (and fortified wine buyer) affords me some interesting opportunities, so it didn’t seem unusual to me when an Australian-sounding man came into the Australian wine buyer’s office. His name: Nathan Waks, the managing director of the Seppeltsfield winery. The wines he brought with him were anything but ordinary. Thinking about what we tasted, I’m buzzing with excitement. Also caffeine.
The Seppeltsfield winery is a piece of Australian fortified wine history. It was recently sold by Foster’s Group (Lindeman’s, Penfold’s, many more…) and produces some of the most popular fortified wines in Australia under various brand names. Now they’re breaking out internationally with a portfolio of stickies ranging from amazing values to amazingly old.
So we started with their commercially available wines. Hopefully Binny’s will carry the The Cellar No. 7 Tawny, an affordable Aussie tawny good caramel tones with a thick mouthfeel showing notes of raisin and caramel. Also, expect to see the Cellar No. 9 Muscat sometime in September, with its hints of fresh orange peel and unmistakable and lively muscat character.
I’m trying to talk our buyer into picking up the Tawnies as well the Para Grand Tawny (Red Label, 10 Year) and the 1987 Para Vintage Tawny (Black Label, 21 year). These fortified wines show wonderful honey and butterscotch, baking spices and vanilla, all underlined with viscous, syrupy mouthfeel yet framed by acidity. The value is in that acidity, adding complexity and lift to these big, sweet dessert wines.
“Well that was pretty cool,” I thought, getting ready to put away my notes. That’s when Mr. Waks pulled out an archaic-looking case, a little too big to carry a clarinet. This was an original case that Seppeltsfield salesmen used to carry wine back in the day. It opened to reveal a row of small medicine vials, held by cracked leather straps, holding wines in their Paramount Collection. It was all part of the sales pitch, but it worked – it would have felt more natural if the case were colored in sepia tones. He also brought one example bottle, as pictured to the right, of the actual, for-sale package that a customer can purchase.
The Seppeltsfield Paramount Collection is sourced from casks with over fifty years of age. He said that the bottles are all marked XO because the wines are extra old. So old, in fact, that the winemaker isn’t exactly sure how old, just that they’re mostly over 50 years old. Prices for these wines would run in the $250-$350 range.
The Paramount wines are unreal. The Sherries are defined by their bracing acidity, like lemon zest at the tip of your tongue. The XO muscat and tawnies are incredibly viscous and extracted, like molasses, but still show delicate nuances like orange blossom and wildflower honey, and despite their weight and age, exhibit wonderful lift. Binny’s probably won’t stock these wines, but if you want a bottle, we can likely get it for you.
Just as I was getting ready to put away my notes again, Waks pulled out a tiny 100mL flask with just a dribble left of a pitch black syrup inside. He asked if we had smaller glasses to taste the next sample. Suddenly, it all seemed oddly familiar – the case, the old, old Australian tawnies, all of it. That’s when I realized that Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator had blogged about this same exact thing just a few days earlier. I hadn’t watched the video.
I was handed a tourist’s novelty shot glass commemorating somebody’s visit to Hollywood Boulevard, with a tiny little bit of wine, just enough to cover the bottom of the glass. This was how I tasted Seppeltsfield’s 1909 Vintage 100 Year in the barrel Tawny.
It is espresso-black, with a deep, deep nose showing a laundry list of descriptors: I smelled cloves, cinnamon, dried vanilla bean and coffee. Just a tiny sip was all I needed. The stuff is palate-coatingly thick, deeper and more extracted than espresso, and has the coppery and burnt flavors that I get when I bite into a coffee bean. Did I mention that I like coffee? The stuff almost knocked me out of my seat. It was one of those few wines that changed the way I think about wine.
Anybody know what I’m talking about? Have you been there? How do you describe that experience without getting too wordy (or worse, snobby)?
The amazing Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para Vintage Tawny is available by order. They’ll literally run some out of the vintage cask of your choice, into a 100mL ($250) or 375mL ($975) flask. This is an absolutely unreal wine that I’d never be able to taste if I wasn’t at the right place at the right time, which I am thrilled to have tried.