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The Wine Show: episode ten – liquid time travel

The Wine Show: episode ten – liquid time travel

by Amelia Singer Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Amelia Singer takes a trip down memory lane with the help of some very special Australian port in one of the country’s most celebrated cellars.


More from this series:

Amelia is a WSET Diploma-trained wine expert and the founder of events business Amelia's Wine. She has experience of working on vineyards all over the world, and appears on ITV's The Wine Show.

In this episode the concept of wine appreciation is conveyed in two very different ways. At the beginning of the programme Joe looks at wine trends in Hong Kong – the wine centre of Asia. There he meets Asia’s first master of wine, Jeanie Cho Lee, who explains the current obsession in Hong Kong is the extremely limited and therefore extremely expensive Burgundian estate, Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Joe visits a wine club where clients can easily spend up to £200,000 a night on special vintages from both Bordeaux and Burgundy. And we also see Joe going to a wine auction where dizzyingly high bids are being given to wines which due to their exclusive status have had to go through sophisticated security checks in order to confirm their provenance. For a certain social demographic in Hong Kong, wine is shown as a luxury and acts as a status symbol – with the in vogue wine being reflective of its rarity.

My trip to the Seppeltsfield in the Barossa valley shows wine of equal rarity but their winery experience allows you to engage with wine in a totally different way. Set up in the mid nineteenth century by a Silesian immigrant, Joseph Ernest Seppelt, it is now becoming one of Australia’s – and the world’s – wine showpieces for fortified wines. To find stocks of much older wine it pays to look at those parts of the world that used to produce fortified wine in quantity but have seen them fall from fashion.

I had no idea what to expect from this trip. It was the first piece of filming that I was doing for The Wine Show. I had never been to Australia and was fresh off a twenty-four-hour flight. I just didn’t quite know how to picture this iconic winery that was surviving on these vinous relics. Within the first sighting of the drive I was in awe. With its avenues of majestic palm trees, Seppeltsfield is the most recognisable landmark in the Barossa. I felt like I was going back in time as the property includes a historic homestead, atmospheric stables and outbuildings, a cooperage and even the Seppelt family’s neo-classical mausoleum. I didn’t choose to spend too much time around the latter. Apart from the mausoleum, which obviously has been added to over the years, and a recently built restaurant called Fino, I really felt like everything was more or less the same since Ernest Seppeltsfield first set up the winery.

Centuries of tradition

 
 
I was led into the Centennial Cellar by Nigel, the winery’s on-site wine educator. The tasting I had with him was perhaps the most momentous tasting I have had in my whole life. I very much believe that for truly memorable wine experiences to occur, you need to be engaged physically, cerebrally and emotionally. This tasting was all of those and more.

Amelia Singer

However, the element that puts this winery on the world wine map is its Centennial Collection. In this remarkable and unique cellar you can try the Centennial Tawny Port collection – an irreplaceable and unbroken lineage of Tawny Port of every vintage from 1878 to the current year. This Collection was started by Benno, Ernest Seppeltsfield’s son, who in 1878 selected a puncheon of his finest wine and gave instructions that it was not to be bottled for 100 years. This single barrel of 1878 Tawny port was to remain maturing in a separate room from the other wines, untouched in the same location for a century. And it was still very much there, in that condition, on the day of my visit!

You can also find stocks of old Muscat at Rutherglen and Yalumba, Penfolds and McWilliams – these wineries all have long histories of fortified wine production. None of them though have such an impressive showcase as Seppeltsfield, which remains the only winery in the world to release a 100-year-old, single vintage wine each year. The new owners are busy repackaging the wines – some of the older rarer wines are being packaged in tiny 10cl bottles – and they have signed up with a Negociant distribution company owned by Yalumba to spread these treasured liquids around the globe.

I was led into the Centennial Cellar by Nigel, the winery’s on-site wine educator. The tasting I had with him was perhaps the most momentous tasting I have had in my whole life. I very much believe that for truly memorable wine experiences to occur, you need to be engaged physically, cerebrally and emotionally. This tasting was all of those and more.

On a purely rational and physical level, this cellar was an awesome portrayal of Australian geography and drinking trends. It is hard to imagine but in the middle of the nineteenth century Australia was exporting millions of bottles of wine, mostly back to the British. These were no Aussie shirazes but rich, sweet wines which, due to being fortified, could last the sea journey. No one sold more fortified wine than Seppeltsfield. Sadly, nowadays Australian fortifieds are experiencing a decline in sales. These days, sales of fortified wines account for a tiny proportion of Australia’s domestic market. This seems shocking as until the 1960s, the fortified wine category accounted for eighty percent of the Australian wine industry. These liquid souvenirs of the past are now just a sideshow. This is especially heartbreaking when you visit this one cellar as you can appreciate the sheer magnitude of history and tradition behind this national treasure.

Port of call

Port often creates nostalgic memories, punctuating festive occasions or exceptionally convivial dinners. At Seppeltsfield, that concept is revolutionised in the Centennial Cellar. In this beautiful barrel bedroom you can vinously ‘go back’ in time and taste port directly from a barrel which is as old (or young) as you are. This adds a whole other cerebral and emotional dimension. Tasting these ancient nectars proved my theory that a wonderful wine is half based on its technical make up and half based on how it is enjoyed and the emotions it evokes in the drinker. It is incredible to be able to taste back through the decades and appreciate how wine evolves and matures through the ages.

However, what made this tasting extra special was that unbeknown to me, The Wine Show team had managed to get their hands on some photos from the family album. As I went to taste my first port, one from the year of my twenty-first birthday (2007); a photo of me in my party dress, tiara, singing on the microphone appeared projected over the whole cellar. It was absolutely incredible and so unexpected. I didn’t know how to react. I was so shocked, moved, surprised. My baby photo of me in a pink jump suit was a little embarrassing but it definitely made me appreciate these wines and the gravitas behind them. As I tasted these sensational ‘stickies’ accompanied by memorable photographic souvenirs of my personal family history, I was engaging all my senses: the cerebral, emotional and physical. The port’s heady aromas and dried fig-like flavours transported me back to family milestones while also reminding me that, like humans, wine is a living thing. It is bottled history and these barrels were vinous time machines.

To experience a liquid memory bank in the form of these custodial oak casks made for the most moving tasting I have ever experienced, and epitomised how wine not only creates memories but can also preserve them. At first I had found the new, contemporary restaurant at Seppeltsfield an odd choice. It seemed a bit disjointed compared to the winery’s history and older buildings. However, after this tasting, the modern tasting room and restaurant made sense. These wines aren’t dusky relics which linger in a tomb. They are showcased and celebrated in this cellar as they are very much alive, characterful and part of our times. We relish in the pleasure we get them from them now in the present moment, and the memories and experiences which they stir up for us from the past.

 
 

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