Port can taste mind blowing, as a 132 year old special bottle showed at a New Zealand tasting this month

This column was first published in Your Weekend magazine in The Dominion Post, The Christchurch Press and The Waikato Times on Saturday 30 August 2014.

How long can wine be cellared for and is there such a thing as too long?
This question from a Wellington reader preys on my mind because wine and the places in which it is cellared can vary so widely, but I have just tasted an old wine which blew my mind. And my tastebuds too, truth be told.
The wine in question is a 132 year old port called Graham’s Ne Oublie. Its makers have been sending out email teasers about it for months now, which is all very well if you understand what on Earth an old Gaelic saying has to do with port. I do not, so I headed along to a tasting in downtown Auckland, to learn more.
We began tasting Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny, which is pale ruby in colour – rather than tawny – with almond and plum aromas. Nice. Moving right along, the Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny stepped things up a notch with its deep brown colour and exotic flavours before we got stuck into the serious stuff; Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest Tawny. This $500 bottle ‘colheita’ is a tawny port style, which Portuguese wine law dictates must be aged for least seven years in cask. In this case, 45 years have created flavours of caramelised ginger, golden syrup and cinnamon. Colheita is pronounced ‘col-yate-a’ and it means harvest. This one was served lightly chilled in proper wine glasses with a shot glass of salty caramel mousse on the side. Delicious. Then we were tasted the 132 year old Graham’s Ne Oublie; dark brown and sweet with flavours of figs, cloves, prunes, raspberries and golden syrup. What struck me was that the grapes in it were hand picked in 1882 and carried by ox from the vineyard to the winery. It was humbling to taste it. This port was made to mark the arrival of the English port merchant, Andrew James Symington to Portugal; he has passed on but the wine has been aging in barrels ever since. If it had been left in the barrels untouched, it would have completely evaporated after 70 odd years, but it was topped up time and again to create this staggeringly well aged port. The New Zealand importers at EuroVintage will make a pre-shipment offer on Ne Oublie and Graham’s Single Harvest 1969 in the coming months, which means paying upfront to secure a few precious drops. The contact is Andy Reid, phone 09 588 4283.
By the way, port is complex, but there are just two branches from which all the complicated shoots sprout: bottle aged and barrel (cask) aged. Ruby and vintage ports are bottle aged. They will change and can improve over time. Tawny ports are barrel aged. Once bottled, they do not benefit from more aging. They are paler in colour, nuttier in taste and can hold their own for a long time. How long? Well, you know that piece of string…

Wines of the week

Shoestring sensation

2014 Old Coach Road lighter alcohol Sauvignon Blanc $10 to $14
Love them or loathe them, ‘lighter alcohol’ wines are here to stay and this 9% alcohol sauvignon blanc comes from such a top winery (Nelson’s Seifried Estate) and a great vintage that it is flavour packed as well as top value. From supermarkets nationwide.

Treats of the week

2013 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir $38
Wines this good are rare and should be snapped up by pinot noir lovers as soon as possible. The name Crimson grew from the nationwide native rata and pohutukawa tree planting project, for which winemaker Clive Paton has a nursery. A little of the proceeds from each bottle go to Project Crimson and this wine comes from the spectacular long 2013 summer, so it has dense black and ripe red fruit with a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. From Regional Wines, Wellington; Vino Fino, Christchurch and Liquorland Eastside, Hamilton.

Dow’s Fine Tawny Port $42.99
Time to fess up: I am getting a thing for tawny ports because they are the perfect excuse to indulge in Rachel’s Salted Caramels from Devonport Chocolates (available online), and a little served in a large glass is full of fascinating aromas.

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port $60.99
Intense from Portugal seeks to be understood for its dark plum aromas, blackberry flavours and spicy deliciousness.
Ports are available from Regional Wines, Wellington; Decant Christchurch and Liquorland Eastside, Hamilton.