Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla 42

The art of preceding a meal with fortified wine is need of revival.

To be fair, I don’t often drink fino sherry, but every time I do, I feel I ought to indulge more often. This wine was served in the context of a tasting and placed against an Australian fino from Seppeltsfield. Although the local wine was flavoursome and refreshing, this is on quite another level.

Overtly complex, this is a wine of outstanding finesse in the context of a wine style that can be fairly pungent. Classic aromas of nuts and sea spray combine with notes that are so far from table wine they seem to reside in alien terrain — this is the pleasure of fino styles and for those with a taste for these wines (like me) there’s simply no substitute.

In the mouth, tremendous verve and impact. It’s not a heavy wine and moves through the palate with good articulation, fanning its flavours across the tongue with precision. There are a great many things going on in terms of flavour profile, a mix of aldehydic and fresh points that recalls avant garde fragrance as much as wine. As good an aperitif as this would make, it also screams for food that might match its piquancy.

Excellent wine.

Equipo Navazos
Price: $A67
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Fonseca 40 Year Old Tawny

While in Portugal, I made a visit to Quinta do Panascal, Fonseca’s flagship estate in the Cima Corgo sub-region. It’s an incredibly good visit; the self-guided audio tour, in concept quite off-putting, is actually fantastic, and the estate itself is one of the more scenic in the Douro. I was there during harvest and, in a region that is discovering ways to ease the cost and pain of making wine, Quinta do Panascal is quite old-fashioned in the winery. Lagares were full and hordes of Portuguese men were treading the grapes for hours on end. It was like stepping back in time and, although none of this necessarily means a better wine, it’s certainly fascinating to see such old traditions being practiced.

One can taste though a pretty comprehensive range of wines at the Quinta, which of course I did. I’ve chosen to write this one up as a companion note to the Quinta de Noval 40 Year Old Tawny. Both show an angularity of flavour that pushes them into more distinctive territory than their 20 Year Old counterparts, though this wine much more so than the Quinta de Noval.

Whereas Fonseca’s younger tawnies have the sort of familiar generosity one expects of this style, the 40 Year Old is immediately more challenging. There are some pretty funky aromas here that move past a familiar nutty oxidation into territory that encompasses sardines, sea spray and decaying vegetation. In the mouth it comes alive by presenting its flavours within a strikingly rich, yet incredibly clean, palate structure. This feels more structured than, say, then 10 Year Old, with a good whack of tannin on the finish, carried easily by its rich body. I love the combination of funky and clean here, and find it the most characterful wine of all the Fonseca tawnies.

Price: $AU200 (approx)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Quinta de Noval 40 Year Old Tawny

I’ve tasted so many wines over the past couple of weeks it’s difficult to know where to start in terms of writing them up. I’ll begin with a highlight of my recent visit to Northern Portugal. Tasting in the Douro Valley and Vila Nova de Gaia, it’s at times tempting to focus on the new breed of table wines, as there’s considerable excitement in the region for these styles. But in tasting both these and the vast array of more traditional Port wine styles, I was struck by the effortlessness of the fortified wines, whereas the table wines, at times truly excellent, also showed an occasional struggle to achieve finesse. The strengths of some regions are just self-evident.

This particular wine jumped out during my tasting blitz of the region, not because it was the best wine tasted by any means (that honour goes to various 2011 vintage ports) but because it provides such deep satisfaction. Tawny port is such a great style in terms of the immediacy and ease of its pleasures; there’s no digging deep here, just a pure, hedonistic wine experience. The aroma is wild, certainly wilder than its 20 year old counterpart, with a striking savouriness and clarity of aroma, well articulated and clean despite its richness. Indeed, this isn’t a combatively expressive wine. There’s no shortage of aroma, but it doesn’t suffocate the nostrils as some richer fortified wines can. Interestingly, the typically nutty oxidative aromas are here, but not in as much abundance as in the 20 year old. Perhaps it has evolved past even those notes.

As good as this smells, it’s all about the palate. It’s amazingly unctuous and mouth-coating, seeming to press its flesh against every last corner of the mouth. Interestingly, there’s still good tannin and decent freshness, and it’s not a heavy wine, despite its rich flavours. Indeed, this is a pretty good example of how refined a very old tawny can be. It’s tempting to look to these styles for impact and overwhelming intensity of flavour, but that sort of scale isn’t an inevitability; this has plenty to give, but it never feels assaultive.

Just lovely.

Quinta de Noval
Price: €60 (375mL)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Grand Muscat NV

After indulging in so many fine wines over Christmas, the challenge isn’t finding wines to write about but choosing which to spend time on! A particularly good small grower Champagne was tempting, but the best wine of the period was this one, a spectacularly lovely Rutherglen Muscat. The wine is so good, and the style so terminally daggy, I feel some Full Pour attention is deserved.

Those unfamiliar with the wide variation between house styles may be surprised to learn how different a wine this is from, say, the same grade of Muscat from Morris. Whereas the latter pursues a rich, treacled expression of the style, the Chambers wines are always at the light, delicate end of the spectrum. There is no sacrifice in intensity or complexity, however. These are just less full bodied styles, arguably allowing nuances of flavour to more clearly express themselves. Certainly, the Chambers Muscats and Tokays Topaques Muscadelles are amongst my favourites of the region.

To the wine, then, this presents complex, floral aromas that surprise with their freshness and vivacity. Plum pudding, spice, fresh berries – the list of flavours goes on, and is less interesting than their tight integration and subtle expression. There’s just a lot going on here but, aside from its complexity, there does not at first seem much to differentiate the aroma from some of the lesser Muscats made with younger material.

It’s only on the palate that the wine’s quality becomes fully apparent. The nose’s complex flavours are articulated with utmost clarity and impressive impact, making sense of the aroma profile in retrospect while adding whole dimensions of interest. This has the thrust and drive of all the upper echelon Rutherglen fortifieds, but its charm lies in its transparency. This seems totally effortless; it simply unfolds in the mouth and does its impressive thing. No cloying sweetness, nor sticky mouthfeel, nor distracting alcohol, nor roughness. It might be the closest these wines come to elegance, and indeed that may be off putting to some. For me, it’s just one more reason to love both this house and the regional style.

At $50 or so for a half bottle, this isn’t cheap. But it’s several times cheaper than its Rare stablemate ($250 for 375mL) and about as good a wine as one could reasonably want.

Chambers Rosewood
Price: $A50 (375mL)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stanton & Killeen Vintage Port 2001

A tasting earlier this year at the Stanton & Killeen cellar door was notable for a lineup of quite spectacular vintage ports (and for the relative lack of excitement generated by its muscats and tokays, usually the highlight of any Rutherglen cellar door). These wines are interesting in part through their mixing of Portuguese grape varieties with Shiraz, traditionally used in Australian VP styles, and Durif, a variety strongly associated with the Rutherglen. What’s pleasing is how achieved the resultant wines can be.

A light yet piercing, complex aroma showing grilled nuts, dried fruits, old wood, and a streak of banana-skin freshness that I’m probably describing badly but which strikes me as distinctive and attractive. In short, there’s plenty going on, yet there’s a mellow, relaxed vibe to the whole that suggests settled confidence and encourages contemplative consumption.

The palate is again both light and powerful. The wine’s essentially savoury character established by the aroma carries through here, with few stylistic concessions to the Shiraz component. Indeed, this is very far from a typical Shiraz VP, a style I happen to love but which typically shows much richer, fuller fruit flavours than are present here. So, the key to enjoying this is to observe more delicate flavour components and savour the transparency that comes with lighter wines. Deliciously savoury fruits, peel, nuts, nougat. A well-balanced line that maintains strength right through the rather long finish.

I had this with some plum pudding on the big day, and it was somewhat overwhelmed. It’s much better tonight on its own, a light yet utterly indulgent dessert.

Stanton & Killeen
Price: $A28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Flaxman Shiraz VP 2008

I love a nice Aussie Shiraz VP and this is certainly one. As an aside, I generally drink this style as a table wine, with food, and I feel it works tremendously well in this context. I guess that’s why I have a soft spot for some over those overwrought, overripe red table wines that exist between medium bodied sanity and the delicious lunacy that is the Shiraz VP style.

A woollen blanket of aroma, all prickly and comforting. Such dense smells of chocolate, ripe plum, spice, nuts, vanilla and leather. I can’t tell if this is complex or just overwhelming; it’s certainly seamless and expressive. The palate is pure luxe. Quite cool and slippery on entry, it quickly floods the mouth with sweet plum and chocolate, and that unmistakable mouthfeel that goes with 17.5% abv. Aside from abundant flavour, there are equally abundant tannins, silty-fine in character, and a burn of alcohol through the after palate and finish that speaks of decadence rather than imbalance. 
Admittedly, this isn’t a style for everyone, but those who enjoy these wines will find great reward here. Will go for ages.

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A20 (375ml)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cockburns Vintage Port 1967

When my father and my mother married in 1967, they had their reception at the Islander, a classic Tiki-themed restaurant in my home town of Stockton, California. Mai Tais were served in tiki-shaped glasses; the wedding pictures are a hoot. I wasn’t around then, but while I was growing up, I knew they were about to celebrate an anniversary when my Dad fetched a bottle of this wine from his cellar the week before, careful to give it plenty of time in an upright position, hoping to reduce the thick sludgy sediment that would wind up in their glasses.There were originally four cases of this wine, I think; my parents aimed to drink one on every one of their anniversaries until their fiftieth. In the meantime, they’re still happily married, but the bottles are a bit scattered: they joined the Peace Corps when they retired, I took over maintenance of the remaining cases, and it’s always been a small hassle getting the bottles to them in time for their anniversaries (they live in London, a short twelve-hour plane ride away from San Diego).When last I checked, I still had seven bottles in my cellar – just enough to make it to their 50th anniversary in 2017 as they’ve still got one in their flat. I reported this to my Dad last weekend and he said, you know what? You and Dan are celebrating your first anniversary this weekend, so I think you should share one of those bottles yourselves – and this is why I’ve got a glass of this wine in front of me right now.Amazingly, opening the bottle wasn’t the disaster I was fearing. The remaining bottles have started to weep a bit over the past few years, climate-controlled storage notwithstanding; the capsules are sticky and they smell, well, porty. I chose the one with a huge dried stain of escaped liquid on its side, washed it as best I could, and hacked away at the capsule with a knife. Thankfully, it came off fairly easy. I tried to wash the gunk off of the neck, but didn’t get too far. Removing the cork was surprisingly easy; although it was soft and not particularly tightly sealed, I managed to get it out all in one piece. Yes, it looked like a Stilton cheese you’d forgotten in the back of the fridge for a year, but at least it didn’t fall apart.Similarly, there wasn’t a lot of sediment still suspended in the wine; it all flowed smoothly into the decanter and left a huge block of crud behind, which promptly fell off the bottle walls shortly after I set the bottle back upright.The wine’s a very thin, pale liquid at this point, and yet it looks like watered-down pomegranate juice in the right light, still dappled with some brighter reds mixed in with the weary browns. It’s starting to look a bit like sangria at this point, but it’s also over-still, seemingly devoid of life.The smell is a shock: this wine does not smell forty-two years old. If I didn’t know anything about it, I’d have mistaken it for a run-of-the-mill decent quality Port at first, something like a LBV. However, a bit more time thinking about it and it smells of finely ground, lightly roasted coffee, with hazelnuts and milk chocolate, neon red strawberries, rancio notes, pistachios and rosewater… there’s a lot going on here. Overall, the effect is of imaginary Turkish coffee served next door to a bazaar specializing in oudh.Rich, unctuous, and plush in the mouth, an initial sip is briefly overwhelmed by very fine, sharp acidity before fanning out into a slightly hot, calming whirl of semi-dried sultanas, Nutella, and Turkish delight – but the overarching flavor is ironically that of simple, direct, rich red fruits, a strong echo of a good harvest nearly half a century later.If, as Randall Grahm recently tweeted, the mysterious, zen-like point of all wines is to bring us back, then this wine certainly brings me back. It brings me back to an imagined 1967 Portugal, where I’m standing in the Douro Valley wondering where all of this work will lead. It brings me back to the Islander in Stockton, California, drinking a mai tai out of a Tiki-shaped mug. It brings me back to childhood memories of my parents celebrating their marriage with a shared ritual year in, year out. It brings me back to standing in a port lodge with good friends just a few years ago, drenched from winter rains. It brings me back to bad truck stop bacalao, to the first time I ever tasted port at my uncle and aunt’s house in Oakland, to the first time I fell in love, to the first time I ever met my partner.Finally, I get the sense that this wine has someone returned full circle as well. I remember it when it was younger, deeper colored, stronger. I remember my Dad expressing disappointment that it had started to fade several years ago. And yet here it is, quite possibly no longer what it once was, and yet it brings me right back to the beginning.Thanks, Dad.Cockburns
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Wendouree Muscat of Alexandria 04/05

An oddity. Wendouree, known for its distinctive reds, also makes this fortified wine from the Muscat of Alexandria grape (better known for its contribution to Nanna’s Cream Sherry).

A golden honey colour. The nose is fresh and somewhat grapey, with a lovely rich honeysuckle note, as much floral as sweet. There’s a striking, viscous texture on entry, very fresh, soft yet supportive acidity, more sweet florals and fruit. The mid-palate is again rich and full, with good intensity of flavour. The acid structure is very slightly rough, which I like as it adds some complexity and interest to what is a sweet and slightly spirity wine. In style, it’s far from your regular botrytis-affected “dessert sticky” wine, both lighter and fresher, and more obviously alcoholic. The fruit’s flavour profile is also quite different. The wine’s finish is satisfyingly long.

What I like most about this wine is the way it unfolds in the mouth, at once precise and voluptuous. I suspect this style will be “love it or hate it,” and from an objective point of view, it’s a simple wine with an oddball balance between its elements. But I like it. Perhaps I am a lush. Potential food matches are tantalising. I’m thinking something sweet yet not too heavy — just like the wine itself. Passionfruit sponge, oh my.

Price: $A25 (375ml)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: March 2008

McWilliam's Show Reserve Liqueur Muscat NV

Uncharacteristically, I didn’t feel like any wine tonight. Well, nothing I had lying around, anyway. So I reached for the only known antidote for such vinous ennui: Muscat. This one is McWilliam’s top Liqueur Muscat, and has won about a million medals and trophies, for what that’s worth. It’s made from grapes grown in the Riverina district, a region not known for premium quality wine. Another bit of useless trivia: this bottle is number 01156 of the “limited release.”

Initially, this was unapproachably hot on the nose, to the point where it was difficult to discern any flavours as such. A few minutes’ swirling made all the difference. Now, the wine is showing mind-blowingly complex flavours that keep changing with each smell. First there are earthy, almost scorched flavours of mushroom and dirt. Then, it shifts to deep oak notes. Still further on to a spectrum of dried fruits. Then burnt sugar. And so on. Usually I don’t get caught up in too many descriptors, but it’s hard not to with this wine, as it throws so much at you. I should add that all these flavours are basically seamless in presentation, moving from one to the next with grace.

The wine’s entry reveals its next trick: the silkiest, most luxurious mouthfeel one could imagine. This wine practically caresses the tongue in a very physical sense. In fact, it’s so striking that it takes a few moments to realise that a whole range of intense flavours have slipped on to the middle palate. I would describe this wine’s flavour profile as relatively “high toned,” in the sense that we’re not dealing with deep, heavy dried fruits so much as aromatic citrus peel, the scent of plum pudding, dried flowers, etc. There’s depth too, with profound vanilla-oak notes underpinning the rest of the wine. The point is, it’s quite light footed without ever suggesting it’s anything but an old fortified wine (a component of this wine dates back to 1964). Line and length are impeccable, as the wine is basically one continuous experience from nose to oh-so-lengthy finish. I’m sitting here a good minute after taking a sip, and I can still taste it all through my mouth. 

This is a truly superb wine. It makes an interesting comparison with another fortified recently tasted, the Chambers Grand Liqueur Muscat. Whereas the Chambers is all about concentration and balanced power, this wine is more elegant and presents even greater complexity of flavour. Quite different in character, but both beautiful wines.

Price: $70 (500ml)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2007

Chambers Rosewood Vineyard Grand Muscat NV

I love our fortified wines — in particular, Muscats and Tokays from North-Eastern Victoria. So when I saw this on offer, it was hard to resist. Material in this wine dates back to the 1950s. Consumed in lieu of dessert.

A brilliant deep brown, sparkling yet dense and rich-looking. The nose captured my attention for several minutes before I moved on to tasting this wine, so surprising is its mix of aged characters and fresh vitality. It’s one of the ironies of this type of wine that these older, concentrated versions simultaneously present a greater degree of both aged complexity and freshness than their younger, simpler and often more cloying siblings. In the case of the Chambers, a lovely floral note, slightly tea-like, but more exotically fragrant, sat prominently alongside intense aromas of dried fruits, plum pudding, etc. So balanced, such elegance and singularity.

In the mouth, the first thing that strikes one is the mouthfeel. The wine is so viscous that it doesn’t immediately unfold in the mouth upon entry. Instead, the wine seems to exist as a bubble for a moment or two, before collapsing and flooding the middle palate with flavour. The first sip I had of this wine shocked my palate with its concentrated flavour, and had the effect of drawing saliva from my mouth, in the manner of eating something tasty when very hungry. Amazingly, and as with the nose, the wine shows a floral dimension that adds lightness to the palate. This is aided by a surprisingly firm acid backbone which drives the wine’s line and helps it to be, ultimately, quite cleansing. The finish just goes on and on.

This is probably one of the best fortifieds I’ve ever tasted and, although it’s not cheap, it’s one of the best value wines I can think of. If you wanted to finish off a special dinner party in style, you could do a lot worse than pull out a bottle of this.

Price: $A60 (375ml)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007