Seppelt 100 Year Old Para Liqueur Vintage Tawny is the most remarkable of wine curios. It is Australian wine heritage in a bottle, a direct link to our colonial past. For 125 years Seppelt has been laying down puncheons (475 litre barrels), arguably making it the longest unbroken collection of wine vintages held any where in the world. Unlike many 100 year-old wines, these tawny style Para Liqueurs are still drinking beautifully with rancio/leather/spice/raisined/prune/chocolate aromas and flavours. Some have a slight burnt orange/toffee complexity, but all are unctuous and incredibly concentrated wines.
It is a rather extraordinary and wondrous experience to drink these wines, knowing their historical context. In 1878 for instance Ned Kelly, the notorious Australian bushranger, formed the Kelly Gang and the colonial painter Conrad Martens died. The Cleopatra needle was installed in London. Monet painted his Chrysanthemums and Ambrose Bierce wrote: “There is no recorded instance of punishment for shooting a newspaperman. The restrictions of the game law do not apply to this class of game."
Seppelt has been at the forefront of fortified wine production in Australia for around 150 years. Established in 1851 Seppeltsfield became a focal point of the fledgling Barossa wine industry. Originally a wheat and sheep farmer, Joseph Seppelt (a chemist by training) saw local vignerons struggle to make decent wines. The new winery, located in Seppeltsfield’s dairy, began operating in 1855 and worked in a similar way to a co-operative with many back-yard type local growers supplying fruit. Benno Seppelt took over running the cellars at the age of 21 and oversaw a rapid expansion during the late 1800s. By 1902 it accounted for one third of the regions vintage crush. The original stone cellars, considered state of the art in 1888 and designed to allow gravitational flow of wine, is still used today including its open slate fermenters and brandy still (which was commissioned in 1877). The historic bluestone winery, family mausoleum and stands of date palms are a reminder of Benno Seppelt’s eccentric genius and pioneering enthusiasm for the Australian wine industry’s future.
Seppelt 100 year-old Para Liqueur Tawny is essentially a blend of Grenache and Shiraz. Early vintages have a percentage of Mataro (Mourvedre). The fruit is picked at approximately 15 to 16 degrees Baume and fermented in original open slate fermenters. The wine is then fortified with brandy distilled at Seppelt and laid down in oak puncheons. During the first half century the wine is topped up using reserve stock. Over two thirds of the wine - the Angel’s Share - evaporates during the 100 year maturation period! Only 500 litres is left to bottle. Research has shown that both sugar concentration and acidity levels stabilise after 50 years. Alcoholic strength varies according to storage conditions. James Godfrey – the custodian winemaker – says that Seppelt’s early winemakers were just as concerned about refinement of style. Analysis has shown that they experimented with various formulae. The wines have now settled into a routine. After 100 years the differences are quite subtle, usually because of variation of vintage conditions. What makes Seppelt 100 year old tawny so remarkable is that it has been a tradition honoured by every custodian winemaker since inception. This is a wonderful example of accumulated knowledge and generosity of spirit.