Wine Talk

Snooth User: Terence Pang

Ports done Down Under

Posted by Terence Pang, Oct 13, 2012.

Warning *relatively long post* Australian ports are more attractive price-wise for the average wine buyer, and more easily used to convince younger drinkers that it isn't simply something their grandparents had after dinner. I've consolidated 3 separate posts from my site into one here.

Within Australia, when port or fortified wines become the topic of conversation, there is only one region which emerges in my mind – Rutherglen. However in recent years, this region of immense historical richness has been enduring a marketing nightmare owing to the wrangles originating from EU agreements pertaining to traditional and geographical identifiers. Legally, the terms ‘port’, ‘sherry’ and ‘Tokay’ are no longer permitted on labels, and the local industry has had to re-align themselves with ‘Vintage/Ruby/Tawny Fortified’, ‘Apera’ and ‘Topaque’ respectively. From a consumer’s perspective, I can confidently state that this uptake has been even slower which, coupled with persistent erosion of interest in younger drinkers, is much to the detriment of this sub-category of wines. However, there is much to be experienced if one invests their time in tasting through the wines.

I do not have much of a sweet tooth, and admit to preferring Topaque *cough* Tokay *cough*, but I get really excited to be able to taste the wines of Morris and Stanton & Killeen which are undoubtedly one of the most traditional winemaking families of the Rutherglen stable. In a recent tasting organised by Sommeliers Australia conducted at Bottega, I had the opportunity to compare and contrast the ports of both wineries in the company of David Morris and Simon Killeen.

We started by examining the various spirits and brandy that are made available to winemakers for the production of port. Aged brandy which spends at least 2 years in oak is very much different to the spirits used which tend to be between 78 – 86% alcohol (v/v). Of course the actual alcohol content is adjusted down in the final blend; although the possibility of presenting a goblet of flaming port alongside an ice-cream dessert sounds rather appealing. Both winemakers didn’t hide their preference for spirit over brandy, with DM suggesting that aged brandy tends to sit atop the fruit and doesn’t integrate well. SK agreed and followed up by saying that he looks for the addition to add texture on the palate beyond just the slight flavours, aromatics or the slight oily nature. He also added that SVR (Latin: Spiritus Vini Rectificatus) which is meant to be very clean but have a hint of oiliness still. When asked about the producers of spirit and what options there were for winemakers these days, DM remarked that there was less choice in recent years and the spirits tended to be of poorer quality with producers typically offering buyers light or heavy spirit ($4/L). The quality is highly important because unclean or poor quality spirit may have rotten vegetal or rubbery notes. There was less discussion of SVR which is a neutral, high strength spirit produced by fractional distillation of mark which is used in fortification of muscat and tokay.

1) Light Spirit (Low Strength): Clear, soft aromatic profile which is clean with hint of benzoaldehyde (dried apple, marzipan, wedding cake), American oak and slightly grassy. The finish is clean, with grip on the back palate. It was pointed out that if more aromatics are desired from the wine, this spirit would be used instead of the heavy spirit.

2) Heavy Spirit (Low Strength): A hint of cloudiness, certainly a lot more benzoaldehyde characters compared to the light spirit. Also aromas of raw crushed grass and chlorophyll. It imparts a broader mouthfeel, weightier finish and a hint of bitterness.

3) Aged Brandy: Slight tint from exposure to oak. Soft benzo notes akin to a young whisky. It has an oily texture, lacks flavour and has only a slight grip on the finish. DM described this as ‘dead’.

4) SVR: Reminds me of the medical grade ethanol we have at work. Clean alcohol vapours pour forth from the glass. If you want a lifted perfumed bouquet, this is the thing to use. Don’t know what the final % was for this one, but would have been close to 95% (I didn’t even entertain the thought of swallowing this one)

To contrast the characters imparted by the different spirits to the wine, this bracket ended with two 2012 wines which had either light or heavy spirit added.

5) 2012 wine with light spirit: This was a wine made from Touriga Nacional, medium ruby colour with rusty, cherry syrup aromas. Medium-bodied with flavours of cherry and rose syrup. Light, balanced feel and well-rounded finish. The aromatics were certainly a more prominent feature of this wine.

6) 2012 wine with heavy spirit: This wine was a blend of Touriga Nacional and Grandnoir. Also medium ruby coloured, but a shade darker than #5. Immediately felt like a more serious drink than #5 due to more earthy aromas and dark cherry notes. The mouth feel was more generous, yet overall it felt softer and had a longer finish.

Just a note of interest about Grand Noir (France: Jurançon). It is one of a long list of permitted grape varieties for port production in Douro, Portugal. However, it is listed as one of the ‘bad’ options (although I don’t know what the scientific rationale for that classification is). It is considered a ‘very black’ variety with very high anthocyanin levels which impart colour readily. Anthocyanins are flavanoid compounds which are odourless and flavourless (they give pansies their colour).

 

The next bracket was set up to showcase Morris and Stanton & Killeen as distinct but traditional styles of the Rutherglen. General comments about the wines in this bracket were that the Rutherglen 2009s show off a lot more (primary) fruit characteristics compared to the Fonseca which is already showing off its tannins. The tannins in the Rutherglen wines need more time to be revealed like in the 2005/06s where the fruit is resolving. So even though the Fonseca is the youngest wine in this bracket, it appears to be the more mature one. DM speculated that this might be due to the type of work(?) that the Fonseca fruit undergoes. That sets it up for longevity but in the interim, it might not be as accessible.

Morris VP 2009: A blend of Durif, Touriga Nacional and Shiraz (50/27/23). Intense ruby colour. Youthful, dark cherry aromas with side notes of dried black tea leaf and macerated raisins. Lovely weight on the palate, with the rich cherry and raspberry flavours at the forefront. Good grip on the finish. Drink now – 2027. 92/100.

Stanton & Killeen VP 2009: A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Tinto Barroca, Shiraz, Durif and Tinto Cão (33/28/28/8/8/3), yes that’s quite a lot of varieties even by blend standards. Intense ruby colour but still half a shade lighter than the Morris. Lighter strawberry aromatics, simpler than the Morris but more generous. Dry on the palate, especially on the finish. The alcohol doesn’t make much of an effort to hide. Good structure, sufficient fruit weight and will be nice once the alcohol blows off. Drink 2017 – 2027. 89/100.

Fonseca VP 2009: Of course there had to be a proper ‘Port’ in the line-up. The Fonseca is technically the youngest wine because Portuguese vintage was a full 6 months later than the Australian harvest. Intense ruby that clings onto the glass. Intense brooding nose, very serious, dense and unyielding. Notes of blackberry, black currants, tar, earth, meatiness and hint of truffle. Rich flavours of blackberry and sweetened dark chocolate are presented on a velvety texture and a firm backbone of acidity. Good grippy finish. Drink 2015 – 2030. 93/100

Morris VP 2006: Dark ruby colour. A youthful nose of pepperberry, blackberry and dried herbs. Lovely well-rounded mouth feel, I sense some tension in the wine involving a balance of the fruit weight with the acidity. Slightly dry on the finish, matched by grip which fades off to allow the fruit to come through again. Very nice wine. Drink now – 2020+. 91/100.

Stanton & Killeen VP 2005: Dark ruby colour. A weightier nose compared to the Morris 06. Fleshy cherry fruit and dark berries, crumbled chunks of dark chocolate spongecake (ref: forest floor dessert). Fruit flavours are forward, well-rounded mouth feel with flavours of wild berries and red cherry. The finish is slightly muted, but that might be a perceptual notion due to the softer palate grip at the end. Drink now – 2017. 89-90/100.

 

After tasting the recent vintages, we shifted to ports of ages past. So in the third bracket, we evaluated how the Morris and Stanton & Killeen VPs stood up to the test of time by tasting VPs that were 10, 20 and 25 years old.

Morris VP 2002: 100% shiraz. An elegant nose showing age but one gets the feeling that there is still more room for development. Aromas of dark berry fruit and black tea leaf. A well-rounded mouth feel, good tannin load and the wine is kept interesting by fresh acidity. Rich flavours of dark berry and red cherry. Less grippy, a pleasing finish. 92/100.

Stanton & Killeen VP 2002: The aromatics are more lifted than the Morris. Rather primary with cherry fruit on the nose and cherry syrup flavours. One gets a sense that this is more advanced in development than the Morris head-to-head. A nicely distributed and well-rounded finish though, there is slightly more grip here. Drink now. 89/100.

Morris VP 1991: A blend of Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon (85/15). A dense brooding nose of fresh tiny black berries and raisin. Rich and still fresh berry flavours that aren’t looking their age. Not as grippy on the finish, but with elegant tannins that are more expressive on the palate. Long finish, maturing very nicely. Drink now – 2022. 93/100.

Stanton & Killeen VP 1992: A blend of Shiraz, Touriga Nacional and Durif (90/5/5). SK pointed that they had used dirty spirit in this vintage. A developed nose with blackcurrant characteristics. There is still fresh acidity to keep the palate interested, with berry and red cherry notes. Dry finish suggesting it is tired, a sign of its age. Late. 86/100.

Morris VP 1985: A blend of Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon (54/46). Tight restrained nose of black tea, dried cherry, dark berries and dirty leather. Elegant mouthful, still looking fresh with the acidity balanced with soft tannins. Slightly grippy on the finish as the fruit fades. Still enough to keep me interested. 88/100.

Stanton & Killeen VP 1985: Dark earth, black berries, almost sourish tea-like. Lighter overall than the Morris in terms of palate weight. Savoury characteristics which some might be inclined to think as secondary elements of aging, but I personally think this port is past its drinking window. 85/100

Replies

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Reply by gregt, Oct 18, 2012.

Long and interesting post Terrance. Thanks. I don't know much about the rationale for the different types of spirits used so it was a nice overview.


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