Vintage Fortified

Or port as it used to be called

By Ian Hickinbotham
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Stanton and Killeen, Rutherglen, Victoria

Stanton and Killeen, Rutherglen, Victoria

Australian Plonky by Ian Hickinbotham
Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky


Winter time is port time! At least it used to be, as 'port' was the word we once used. Since that word is derived from Oporto, the city in Portugal, we are now required to use other names for the fortified and aged red wines that were once the dominant style of wine that Australians drank.

An early job, when an apprentice, was in a cellar in the Barossa Valley where port was the only wine made from the dominantly black grapes of the Barossa Valley. In less than ten years, that winery made dry red, from the grapes grown on the same supplying Barossa vineyards – and no port at all. Some of the port made nearly a decade earlier remained aging in that cellar – because it could not be sold.

Basically, there are still two types of 'port'. One is aged in barrels and is universally known as 'Tawny Port', now 'Tawny' for Australians, while the other is aged in bottle and we know it as 'Vintage Port' (which we should now call 'Vintage Fortified', apparently, seemingly led by Stanton and Killeen of Rutherglen). Tawny is usually 'continuously' made: stock is drawn from barrels for bottling and immediately replaced with the port of the current vintage, for decades, if not centuries.

Some 40 years ago, Seppelts earnestly marketed a Tawny Port of one vintage: it was very old and sold with great acclaim, causing near sensations at auctions. The story goes that authorities stopped sales on the grounds that a Tawny Port could not also be a 'Vintage' Port: it was a case of the word having two meanings.

Another trade story concerns a Bordeaux negociant visiting his English wine merchant. The negociant vigorously expounded the quality of the vintage of his wine as being one of outstanding quality. At the end of the transaction, he was taking his leave when the merchant suddenly exclaimed, 'But you said last vintage was the vintage of the decade', to which the negociant nonchalantly responded, 'We all have to make a living.'

Historically, the great port houses of Portugal declared by universal agreement whether the wines of a particular year would be a 'vintage' year or not. Only then would such wines be 'Vintage Ports'. Now there is news that some port houses are declaring 2009 a 'vintage' year while others are not. Of course there are varying opinions about quality of the wines in question, but the crux of those differences is due to – global warming.


Ian Hickinbotham, one of the most innovative and influential oenologists in Australia over his 50 year career, is the author of Australian Plonky (see related reviews below).



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June 07th, 2011
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