In our throwaway world it isn't often you get a chance to commune with things that are truly antique—100 years old. So when we sampled the latest vintage of Seppeltsfield Wines century-old Tawny, we decided the best way to do it was with accompanying cigars.
If there was any disappointment at all, it was that we couldn't rustle up any centenarian cigars to go with it. We settled for the best in the box at the time and sat down to contemplate a wine that was made when Woodrow Wilson was president, World War I had not yet begun and trains had just started rolling through New York's Grand Central Terminal. For this writer, the Tawny had even further significance as it represented the birth year of his mother.
We've had superannuated spirits before (Scotch whiskies in their 60s and rum five decades old), but this Tawny made everything else seem like youngsters. Set and setting are the bywords for enjoying a tasting like this. As much as such, shut yourself off from the modern world. Turn off all cell phones and mp3 players and disconnect the doorbell.
Just as this incredibly viscous wine is in no hurry to pour out of the bottle, you should let time slow down as you sit and puff away in reverence to a simpler era.
The company that brings you this opportunity is no stranger to time-capsule experiences. Seppeltsfield, an Australian winemaker famous for its Centennial Collection, started the custom of laying aside wines for hyperaging in 1878 and has released 100-year Tawny when it became available ever since. This fortified wine is made like Port, a style highly praised for pairing with cigars. However, as it comes from Australia and not Portugal, it can't be classified as Port.
Now Seppeltsfield has a library of Tawny in its Centennial Cellar at its winery in Australia's Barossa wine region and each year releases a new 100-year-old vintage. Seppeltsfield is the only winery in the world to release century-old products on such a regular basis. This year's was first released in February and is called 1913 Para 100-year-old Vintage Tawny.
As well as offering wines at such an extraordinary age, Seppeltsfield also supplies it from any special year in the past, whether it be meant to commemorate a birthday, anniversary or special date. The wines come in presentation boxes, numbered and customized with a certificate of authenticity that indicates the customer for whom it was bottled.
Visitors to the winery can enjoy a small sample of the 100-year-old as well as their birth-year Tawny for $85.
Seppeltsfield 1913 Para Vintage Tawny (42.4 proof, or 21.2 alcohol by volume; 100 years old; tasted from bottle number 109; $330 a 100-milliliter bottle, $990 for 375 milliliters)
APPEARANCE: It seems to be the color of very dark chocolate at first glance, but a closer inspection shows hues of red, yellow and amber, almost like iodine, if iodine tasted really, really good. The liquid is hugely viscous and syrupy, and we hesitate to talk about it in terms of legs as it more or less coats the glass.
NOSE: This old lady is still a bit kittenish as she feeds aroma in dribs and drabs. First comes a floral note, distinctively rose attar, and then bits of orange peel before the heady red-wine bouquet—a fine Claret or Cabernet Sauvignon—that one expects from a Port. Suddenly, it deepens with rich wood aromas with leather and a pleasant lacquer smell that we associate with the antiques stored in grandma's attic.
PALATE: Mouth feel is the overwhelming first impression. This wine is so viscous you're tempted to spoon it onto your tongue. Once you get used to the syrup sensation, the taste of a full-bodied Claret takes over with hints of licorice and hard candy. After a flash of deep dark cherry, the wine's acidity breaks up to be followed by a parade of mellower, more savory flavors, including caramel, molasses, pecans and almonds.
FINISH: The ending is almost a dessert, flirting with chocolate and presenting the distinct sensation of coffee ice cream. Almost as if it's trying to show off the years that went into its making, you'll be reminded of this wine's flavors for hours after it's finished.
CIGAR PAIRING: Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto (4 inches by 50 ring gauge, £10.82, 91 points, Cigar Aficionado, August 2013). Medium to full in body, this sawed-off robusto starts out leathery and brawny with black pepper notes as well, though the smoke has a creamy texture. With the Tawny the cigar gets a marked increase in body as the leather transforms into a very chocolaty taste. In fact, the whole pairing is suffused with chocolate as that flavor is teased out in greater abundance from the Seppeltsfield as well. A successful pairing, if slightly one-dimensional.
Padron Family Reserve 85 Natural (5 1/4 inches by 50 ring gauge, $20, 94 points, Cigar Aficionado No. 4 Cigar of the Year 2012). A neatly box-pressed cigar whose complex smoke starts with an earthy, herbal character. Flavors become both sweet and savory with black cherry and black truffle. The cigar becomes quite nutty with a sweet praline character. In turn, the Padron coaxes out more chocolate and elicits huge nuttiness from the cigar with an increase of the truffle notes as well. While it becomes hard to distinguish which component is contributing more, a synergy of flavors occurs, which widens the parameters of sweet berry and savory notes. This one is the bang up pairing you're hoping for with a spirit of this age—a gigantic, complex marriage of smoke and spirit.