By PHILIP WHITE - This was first published in The Independent Weekly in 2006
Your scribe was chattering on about which port he’d been enjoying, comparing the ’06 to the ’05 and remembering with a certain fondness the ’93, when a colleague interrupted with a fair query: “Whitey, aren’t they a bit young for ports?”
Oh hell. I’d meant the 1906, 1905 and 1893 Para Liqueurs. The 1906 is seeping out now. These incredible Paras are released annually at one hundred years of age, and, seriously seep is the word. Or maybe ooze is better: the wine is incredibly thick and sticky after a full century of evaporation through the old oak of its barrel.
Upon the completion of his magnificent port cellar in 1878, the great Benno Seppelt selected his favourite puncheon (500 litres) of tawny, put it on a special stand, and declared that it was not to be opened for one hundred years. In spite of the incredulity that the hose draggers of the day must have felt, the ritual was repeated in 1879, and again every year since.
James Godfrey, who, as fortified maker at Seppeltsfield, is surely one of the world’s most patient men, explains the ever so gradual ageing process thus: “We lose two-thirds of every puncheon to evaporation. The Angels’ Share. That slow evaporation concentrates every component of the wine, but it all remains proportionate, in balance.”
“The sugars rise as the wine concentrates”, he continues, “peaking somewhere between the fifty and seventy-five year mark. They’ll increase from six-point five baumé at manufacture to as much as nineteen baumé.
“During those first fifty years, the acidity also rises from four grams per litre to around twelve. But the alcohol’s fastest: it’ll go from seventeen per cent by volume to peak at around twenty four percent by the twenty-five year mark.”
So James, at this point you simply sit back and wait for another seventy-five years? Of course. And what do these treasures taste like? A Buggatti Royale? The Brooklyn Bridge? The Crown Jewels? Maybe. Maybe not.
They certainly don’t taste much like wine. Think more of treacle pestled with balsamic, pickled walnuts, and ancient soy. Think of after dinner sweets made from strong, black, bitter cooking chocolate, filled with this syrup. Think of eating them with a shot of Cognac on the deep leather back seat of the aforementioned Buggatti. The lass there wears Guerlain’s Jicky and smokes a Cohiba cheroot. The sticky Para is smudged with the lipstick and flakes of cigar. Husky laughter is in order; smoky whispers through the hair.
In more winy terms, I reckon the ’06 is close in style to the ’05, in that it has less obvious volatile acidity and less oak flavour than in other years. They’re the smoother, more feminine styles. You want something butch on the back seat of your Bug, try a macho year, like the ’93. I know it well, having smuggled some through the dry zone to my dear grandmother Sarah on the occasion of her hundredth birthday. It was her birth year; more tannic, spiritous, and woody, after the mould of an old Shetland crofter, reeking of peat. More smuggler’s boat than billionaire’s Bug.
One thing all these incredible wines have in common is their persistence, and I mean hanging around the drinker’s palate for hours after tasting. You can have your Para, and a smoke, and a few beers, and dinner, for Bacchus’s sake, and still have that wicked sticky alive and prominent in your taste receptors. It won’t go away. It’ll still be there battling your toothpaste in the morning. Get down to bang for your suck, there’s no wine on earth that lasts this long.
Just as there are no other drinks like these centenarian Paras, there is no winery on earth quite like Seppeltsfield, which is, once again, on the market. While Fosters rather blithely announced its proposed sale before the end of last financial year, winning reams of free press, prospective buyers have since muttered frustrations about the vendor being a little disorganised about precisely what’s for sale.
But Fosters PR flack, Matt Schmidt, is non-stick. “We have healthy interest from international quarters”, he insists, “and feel our responsibility is to ensure it goes to a sympathetic buyer who will look after it with respect”.
Seen many Benno Seppelts around lately?
Seppeltsfield Para 1906 is $525 for 375ml., and $1050 for a full bottle at the cellar.