Tag Archives: Harriet Tindal

Tasting the Past: The Port From 1916

“Epic” is a grossly over-used adjective nowadays, which is unfortunate since it is the most appropriate word I can think of for an incredible event I attended recently.

The occasion in question, held by Tindals Wine Merchants, was billed as an exciting but nevertheless not uncommon tasting of a range of old Dow’s Port vintages. But it actually turned out to be an intensely familial affair that involved history, war, revolution, fire and tongs, a long-lost treasure, a travel through time and a heartfelt toast to those gone and those yet to come.

What caused this tasting to be more than a relatively straightforward retrospective was the inclusion of an exceedingly rare and long-forgotten bottle of Port from 1916. Not only was it a century old, but its significance was heightened by the resonance that particular year has on us Irish.

The more experienced and established wine writers have at least one vinous experience in their lives that was for them transformational or transcendental, or both. I thought it would be some time yet until I had mine – until this event, that is.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old Port

 

Out of the Frying Pan…

In case enough stops weren’t pulled out by Tindals, the venue was One Pico, a restaurant I highly admire but ashamedly hadn’t been to in some years. What’s more I was welcomed on arrival with a glass of Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain, a very fine and elegant Champagne which I also have to admit I hadn’t tried previously, but one I’m sure to revisit many times again.

After some small talk with the always-ebullient members of the Tindal family I was introduced to a gentleman I didn’t recognise but whose name immediately rang bells: Johnny Symington, of the eponymous family who own a host of the most well-known Port brands such as Graham’s, Cockburns, Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinto do Vesuvio, and more.

Johnny was an absolute gentleman, a disposition that seems to bestow itself liberally on the family members of winemaking dynasties. He burned with keen interest in everyone he spoke to, and spoke eloquently about his family’s wines and history over the meal.

port1

Ah yes, the meal. The food was sublime. Really, One Pico is a true Dublin icon, and I urge everyone to make it their next destination for a meal out. In the noise generated by the Michelin stars and edgy, modern openings, it’s easy to forget the restaurants that are just simply classically excellent, day in, day out.

We started with the largest slab of foie gras parfait I’ve ever faced, and doubts about my ability to finish it were quickly dispelled via warm toasted brioche and fig chutney. This was paired with the Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port (see below for tasting notes), a sublimely decadent treat.

Next was an autumnal Wicklow venison with beetroot, Roscoff onion, chanterelles and blackberries, a hearty and lusciously savoury dish paired excellently with the Quinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro (again see below for tasting notes), a dense wine that shared many of the characteristics of the dish.

The final course, a selection of cheeses, was to be paired with the flight of Ports about to be presented to us. But first, there was the matter of opening that bottle of 1916.

port2

… into the Fire

The moment arrived for the grand opening of this piece of history. There were no markings on the bottle, apart from a barely legible “1916” imprinted into the cork. But the corks on these antique bottles are now so brittle that corkscrews would easily disintegrate them – how then to access the ancient liquid inside?

The answer, as befitting the occasion, was quite dramatic. A pair of long-handled tongs was heated over a gas burner (with great patience!) by Nigel Werner, the Tindals Director of Fine Wine. Once red-hot, they were clamped around the neck of the bottle for a short while, before quickly being replaced by a cloth soaked in iced water.

The sudden change in temperature splits the neck of the bottle in a razor-sharp, clean line, with no shards or splinters to worry about. It’s quite a sight to behold.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old Port

Now opened, we were each treated to a not insignificant measure of this rarity, a 100-year-old wine. Though everyone present was grateful for the chance to witness its release from its century-old tomb, not many held too much hope for a successful end product: it was stored upright all that time and not exactly in cellar-like conditions, so the odds were definitely stacked against it.

The liquid that poured from the neck of the unlabeled bottle into my glass was a pale tawny in colour and tasted … well it tasted really quite excellent, actually. In fact it was really delicious. The air in the room changed perceptibly as everyone else realised that they had, as the American saying goes, “lucked out”.

The 1916 Dow’s Port was light and ethereal, round and long, with coffee, toffee and pipe smoke flavours. Johnny noted that it was quite feminine in style, in contrast to the more concentrated Vintage Ports we’re used to today. It was an experiential treat, and one surely to be unrivaled.

 

The past beats inside me like a second heart” (John Banville, The Sea)

The 1916 bottle had an interesting history to it, as you might expect. It was donated to the tasting by siblings Sofia and Toby Couchman from Carlow, who discovered it in the back of a press in their family home. It was purchased by their grandfather some time ago and ‘tidied away’ by their grandmother, which goes some way to explaining how it may have been forgotten until now.

port3

Johnny introduced the rarity by informing us all that it was his great-grandfather, Andrew James Symington, who made the wine, most likely with his son, Johnny’s grandfather, at his side. In his preparation for its big reveal, Johnny delved into the archives to see what his grandfather made of the wine at harvest.

As it turned out, AJ Symington’s prediction was eerily prescient: “This vintage was quite good – I can see these wines lasting for some time.” I thought it touching to envisage Johnny reading his great grandfather’s hand-written notes of a wine that he now had in front of him.

It was time to toast the occasion. Picture the scene: we all held aloft glasses of a pale tawny liquid that came to life in the year that our own young country was awakening. Indeed, mere metres from where we were standing young men fought and died for a freedom that we enjoy today. Elsewhere in Europe, many, many others were perishing for a much greater cause.

A few years later a man bought a bottle of wine as a treat to himself; today, two of his grandchildren were sharing it with the great grandson of the person who made that very same drink.

We were all literally drinking the past, and what’s more it tasted alive, elegant, deferential … so very present. The past was now living on inside us, beating like a second heart.

And lest we ever forget about our own transient appearance on this earth, Johnny Symington signed off with the most resonant toast on this most symbolic of afternoons: “Here’s to the next hundred years.”

 

THREE TO TRY

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortDow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

€48 from Searsons

I’ve really taken to Tawny Port this year and it’s guaranteed I’ll have some on my Christmas table this December.

Tawny differs from other Port styles in that it’s aged in barrel rather than in the bottle, meaning it loses its bright red colouring and takes on a nutty, dried fruit character. What’s amazing about this (and other Tawnys) is its balance: sweet but refreshing, never cloying, decadent yet elegant, and just so moreish.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortQuinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro

€60 from Searsons

Quinta do Vesuvio is another Symington family property.

Most well known for their very highly-regarded Ports, this is one of the two still red wine offering from the property.

It was very dense and intense, with dark plum, blackberry and chocolate. A chunky but elegant wine, and ideal with the venison that day.

 

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortDow’s 1994 Vintage Port

€180 (Magnum) from Searsons (in-store only)

The fact that you can pick up a magnum of 22-year-old Vintage Port from Dow’s for €180 is a travesty, but one anyone with half a wine brain should gleefully exploit. Though I didn’t get to taste the actual 1994 on the day I couldn’t let this recommendation slip by, and having tasted the Dow’s Ports back to 1916, 1947, 1963 and more, I can however absolutely attest to its longevity. The Wine Advocate give this 96 points this year, too – need any more reasons to pick up this beauty for Christmas?

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

Advertisements

“Hanging Out” with Tyrrells and Tindals on Google

Earlier this month, Tindals Wine Merchants held another of their very-21st-century tastings on Google Hangout. The last time I partook in one of these high-tech events was last October when Craggy Range of New Zealand was the winery in question (which you can read by clicking here), but this time we jumped across the pond to the historic, family-run Australian winery Tyrrells.

The premise was the same once again: at a predetermined date and time we would all log on to Tindals’ page on Google Hangout and – hey presto – we would all, in our very disparate locations and situations, be audio-visually connected to partake in a virtual (yet very real) tasting of some very nice wines.

Harriet Tindal was in her kitchen in Wicklow, fellow blogger Frankie Cook was at home in north Dublin, and I was here in my home office, and at various points we were also joined by the Searson’s team in their shop – though technical issues cut their involvement short – and a chap called Marco and his group of friends. The microphone of the latter wasn’t working unfortunately, but judging by their very animated expressions they were all having the craic.

Joining us on this IT adventure was Chris Tyrrell himself, fifth generation of the family and assistant winemaker at the winery, who had risen at an ungodly hour to entertain the whims of a bunch of Irish winos on the other side of the world.

We had all hoped that on this occasion Chris could take us on a live wander of the Tyrrells vineyards, but a slight miscalculation of the time it would be in Oz meant that it wasn’t possible on this occasion unfortunately – for all that Australia has going for it, the sun does not shine at 4am, no matter how much we willed it.

Tyrrells Hangout

A screengrab of the live Hangout. That’s Chris Tyrrell in the main image with (l-r) Frankie, Marco (and friends), Harriet and me (looking smug!)

Tyrrell’s Wines – a Brief History

Tyrrell’s are based in the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine region located 160kms north of Sydney. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge of Tyrrell’s or their wines before the tasting, apart from a vague appreciation that they were somehow part of Australia’s historic firmament.

A cursory look at Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion confirmed as much, informing me that Chris’s grandfather Murray Tyrrell was a key figure in the revival of the Hunter Valley in the 1970’s. Not only that but their Vat 47 Chardonnay was the first commercially available Chardonnay to be produced in Australia, something which not only took the world by surprise but also the Aussies themselves, and as such it can be credited with helping kick-starting the meteoric rise of Aussie Chardonnay in the 1980’s onwards.

They’re also known to be one of the best producers of Semillon in Oz (“Australia’s greatest”, according to Johnson), and Oz Clarke calls them “top notch”. Douze points all round, then.

Tyrrells
The wines ready for tasting

The Hangout

There were four Tyrrell’s wines to be tasted, with mine very kindly sponsored by Tindals and delivered straight to my door a few days in advance. There were three varieties from the Lost Block range – Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz – with their Rufus Stone Shiraz providing gravitas to the proceedings.

I really loved the Lost Block’s packaging: cartoonish caricatures of an Aussie winemaker looking perplexed and in perpetual search of something. The winemaker is, in fact, not a Tyrrell but Cliff, their vineyard manager who, in the midst of the 1993 harvest, was with his team of 60 pickers working feverishly on a plot of Semillon.

Suddenly Murray Tyrrell pulled up in his 4×4 and instructed them to drop everything and tend to their prized plot of Chardonnay 10 minutes up the road as there was a storm coming; the less resilient Chardonnay was to be given priority over the Semillon, and so off they all went.

It was two weeks later when Cliff remembered that they forgot to finish picking that Semillion plot, so with a small team he went out to finish the job. Given the grapes had two weeks extra hang time on the vines the resultant wine was considerably softer, richer and more approachable – a style considerably at odds with their traditionally more lean and acidic ‘traditional’ Semillon – and in a decision that was years ahead of its time they decided to continue to produce a small portion of Semillion in that style.

The vat in which the wine was originslly fermented was jokingly labeled “Cliffy’s Lost Block” by a young apprentice, and the rest as they say is history. The range has now been expanded to include Shiraz and Chardonnay – which we were about to taste – as well as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all from either Hunter Valley, Heathcote, Limestone Coast or Orange.

The actual Rufus Stone

The Wines

We started with two whites – Semillon and Chardonnay, both from the Hunter Valley – and then two Shirazes – the Lost Block and Rufus Stone – which were both from Heathcote, north of Melbourne in Victoria, some 1,000kms away from the Tyrrells home in Hunter Valley.

During harvest it takes refrigerated trucks packed with grapes approximately 12 hours to travel from Heathcote to the Tyrrel’s winery in Hunter Valley. Chris has obviously been questioned on the environmental impact of doing this ad nauseum in the past as, unprompted, he very quickly defended their reasons for doing so: we’re all very used to buying apples from New Zealand and grapes from Chile which have been frozen for weeks and flown by plane around the world, so sending a fleet of trucks 12 hours up the road once a year is small change in comparison. Fair point.

The Rufus Stone, lest we forget, is a small range encompassing their “top non Hunter red wines” – in other words just two Shirazes, one from Heathcote and one from McLaren Vale. The Rufus Stone takes its name from a story dating back to the year 1100 when the English King William II, known colloquially as Rufus, died unexpectedly on a hunting trip.

He was with his friend Sir Walter Tyrrell, and though official records state that it was a stray deflected arrow shot by Sir Tyrrell that killed the king, his immediate and unexpected flight to France straight afterwards spurred rumours about whether it was an accident at all. Either way, the Rufus Stone (pictured above) now stands at the site where the king was found dead.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2014
100% Semillon, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This improved considerably after a little time in the glass – I had it too chilled initially which killed much of the nuance of the wine. When a little warmer there was some slight herbal notes and white stone fruit on the nose before leading to a lovely creamy palate that ended with a nice citric kick. Would be amazing with seafood and especially with shellfish. Apparently Semillon used to be known as “Shepherd’s Riesling” in Australia before they discovered what it was – not that that makes a contribution to this note, but it’s a nice trivia factoid nonetheless.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Chardonnay 2014
100% Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was a really lovely, toasty, very Aussie Chardonnay that made me smile on first sniff. Though many recoil at the thought of oaked Aussie Chardonnay, I’m young enough to have avoided the excesses of the style in the 1990’s and so I can approach these wines without any baggage. That said this is still a nicely balanced wine that’s both fresh and rich, with some tropical and lychee flavours over the creamy toastiness. This opened up in the glass later too, softening out over the course of the evening and making it dangerously more drinkable as the night went on.

 

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Shiraz 2013
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was surprisingly lighter than expected, though I do have the habit of approaching every Aussie Shiraz as if it’s going to be a chocolatey spice bomb. Medium bodied and fragrant, it alternates between sweet and savoury notes with kirsch, black cherry and spice noticeable. This was a real joy and very good quality – another excellent companion to an evening chatting with friends (which is exactly what happened after the Hangout)

 

Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Shiraz 2010
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€30.00 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

Considerably more intense, this is concentrated and brooding, and I couldn’t but help feel this needed more time to shine through. Smoky and dark, I tried it again the next day where softer, more savoury flavours were evident. The quality is unmistakable, but I’d love to revisit this in a few years’ time.

 

Conclusion

It was a real joy to be part of another Tindal Hangout, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the novelty of chatting with a winemaker who is literally on the other side of the world while sipping his wines in the comfort of my own home here in Ireland.

Soon after the Hangout finished a friend called over to ensure that the rest of the wine would not go to waste. The overall conclusion was that, though I was impressed by the power and seriousness of the Rufus Stone, I found myself reaching for both the Lost Block Chardonnay and Shiraz more and more, alternating between the two throughout the evening.

But then again the situation suited the wines I think: the Lost Block is perfectly at home at an informal chat late into the evening; if this had been a serious dinner or more special occasion it might have been more of an occasion for the Rufus Stone, given a couple of years. Still, they were all excellent wines and I’m delighted to have finally been introduced to Tyrrells.

Now, how do I get my hands on a sip of that famous Vat 47?

VIEW THE ENTIRE HANGOUT ON YOUTUBE BY CLICKING HERE