James shares the backstory of the only wine he's ever awarded a perfect 100-point score and puts it alongside sibling wines that show it at different stages of its development.
I only give one wine 100 points in my annual Wine Companion and it is always the new vintage of the wine in question: the Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para Vintage Tawny. It is unique in the true sense of the word, for no other winery in the world can release a wine every year that is 100 years old.
It was created – if that is the right term – in 1878 by Benno Seppelt to celebrate the opening of a new port cellar for the fast-expanding company he ran. He chose two hogsheads (500 litres each) and stipulated that the wine couldn't be sold until 1978, and so on for every ensuing vintage.
Improbably his heirs followed his wishes, making the wine each year, but not selling it until its due time. Nor did the corporate owners who followed – partly due to the fact that the National Trust classified winery and its many associated buildings were of greater concern, and partly due to the fierce commitment of former winemaker/custodian James Godfrey to the 100 Year Old (and its innumerable vinous children).
Godfrey was the first to track the chemical changes that occur as the wine ages. Its blend of grenache, mourvedre and shiraz is partially fermented before the fortifying spirit is added, taking the alcohol to 17%. During the next 100 years, the changes take place at different rates. Alcohol increases rapidly from 17% to 24% over the first 20 years. The baume (sugar) doubles to 12.5 over the first 60 years, then to 14 baume over the final 40 years, and acidity increases from 4 g/l to 9.5 g/l during the first 40 years. The most visible changes are from a deep purple-red in its first few years, to dark mahogany with an olive-green rim at 100 years.
The three wines profiled allow you to see Para at the end of 10 years, at the end of 30 years and, of course, at the end of 100 years. The cellar door offers a smorgasbord – at a price.
1996 Seppeltsfield Para Tawny
Well into tawny colour, with only a faint twitch of red, powerful and intense. It’s already a complete wine, rancio hard at work introducing an edge that cuts across the intense, layered sweetness of the palate. 19.7% alc.
RRP $88 | Seppeltsfield
1987 Seppeltsfield Vintage Tawny Para Liqueur
The intensity and complexity of the bouquet catches you unaware if you’ve not previously experienced a barrel-aged wine of this stature, warm spices and melted toffee one starting point, but expanding rapidly into an Aladdin’s Cave of textures, flavours and yet more spices than you have ever previously encountered. 20% alc.
RRP $120 | Seppeltsfield
1917 Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para Liqueur
The consistency is not far short of treacle, pouring more reluctantly from the glass into the mouth, which is already quivering like a bird dog after swirling the glass to savour the toweringly rich and complex bouquet. The aromas are a distillation of every spice you have ever encountered,. An electric current trickles into the mouth when you can't bear waiting any longer before taking your first sip and your senses spin. 21.4% alc.
RRP $700 (100ml), $2000 (375ml) | Seppeltsfield
Next article: read James' take on the rich, savoury red wines of Barossa Valley winery Kellermeister.