Port wine has an long and esteemed history dating all the way back to 1756 in Portugal, where the Douro Valley was declared the third protected wine region in the world behind Chianti (1716) and Tokaj-Hegyalja (1730). Port’s name can be attributed to the nearest seaport being Porto at the mouth of the Douro River where this luscious fortified wine was shipped and introduced to the world.
In its homeland of Portugal, over 100 grape varieties are permitted to be used in the making of Port, but only 5 are widely used due to their quality and ease of production. The Touriga Nacional grape is considered the most desirable, but its low yields mean Touriga Francesa is the most widely planted grape.
Port’s fermentation process is stopped with the addition of grape spirit, this leaves residual sugars in the wine and raises the alcohol content. The result is the wonderfully full-bodied, succulent and sweet wine.
Essentially the grapes are fermented until the wine reaches the desired sugar level, at which point the fermentation is stopped and wine spirit is added. This leaves residual sugars in the wine and raises the alcohol level to between 15% and 20% Alcohol by Volume (ABV) resulting in a wonderfully full-bodied, succulent and sweet wine.
Tawny is the name given to Australia’s most popular fortified wine style, formerly referred to as ‘Tawny Port’. Australia recently agreed to discontinue the use of the term ‘Port’ in line with international labeling agreements, with ‘Port’ now used exclusively by the Portuguese.
Australian Tawny is unique in style, being generally produced from French varietals including Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon, although the Portuguese variety Touriga can be found. These varieties are grown on low-yielding vines in the warmest regions, including the Barossa and Rutherglen and produce wonderfully intense, rich, sweet grapes. Australian Tawny is richer, sweeter, nuttier and with more aged characters than its Portuguese counterparts of the same name.
Different grape varieties can shape Port in many different ways. From the lighter and youthful styles of Ruby Port, all the way to the deep and concentrated Vintage Port that requires years of aging to be at its best.
Wood-aged or bottle-aged is also one of the key factors when making a port style wine. Bottle-aged versions have limited exposure to air and therefore age at a much slower rate. This means they retain their rich colour and tend to be much smoother on the palate. Barrel-aged Ports go through oxidative aging, causing loss and change of colour at a faster pace. Their so-called ‘Angel’s Share’ evaporation results in a more viscous wine with a distinctive nutty character known as rancio. Over many years the colour of the wine changes from Red to Tawny, hence the name. The oldest wines can show an olive green hue.
The other major difference in Port wines is their vintage, or lack of. Traditional Tawny Ports are usually barrel-aged, sourced from multiple vintages and blended together to attain the ‘house style’ that each producer (or shipper) desires. Vintage Port on the other hand, as its name suggests, is produced from a selected vintage of great quality and bottled within two and half years. These wines of intensity usually require over 10 years of cellaring to show off their very best. The older the wine, the more evolved and integrated the spirit, making it appear less raw and volatile. The wines also become denser and more concentrated – the oldest examples are literally like drinking treacle.
Today, Australia makes some of the most interesting and beautiful fortified wines in the world, often eclipsing our European counterparts. In fact, Australia has one of the most important wine treasures in the world: the Seppeltsfield Centenary Para.
The story of this wine started back in 1878 when Benno Seppelt put a barrel of his finest fortified wine aside and decreed that it would not be opened and bottled until it was 100 years old.
True to their word, Seppelt released the first of its treasured Para Ports in 1978. Wine critic, Huon Hooke described Para’s unique beauty in these few words:
“Like the ’51 Grange, like a Streeton painting, a Melba recording, a Bradman bat, or a Lawson short story, it’s part of the Australian ethos. A true icon.”
This magnificent tawny has an average of 16 years, and show the complex, nutty rancio characters that only long years of barrel maturation can produce. A classic!
An average of twelve years gives this iconic tawny luscious flavours of fruitcake and raisin, balanced nicely by nutty rancio characteristics.
Widely regarded as one of Australia's benchmark fortified wines, the Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny rightfully lays claim to such a title. High quality blending stock has been lovingly matured in small oak casks, and creates a wine of immense complexity and depth.