Tag Archives: 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

“Hanging Out” with Craggy Range and Tindal Wines on Google

Last night I completed Tindal Wine Merchants‘ second ever “Google Hangout” which on this occasion involved New Zealand wine producer Craggy Range.

Tindal must be commended for this very innovative use of Google+, which up to now I’ve seen as a poor attempt to muscle in on the social media scene, though I now see that it offers a really interesting medium for a disparate group of people located around the globe to come together audio-visually but without the need to download separate software, e.g. Skype or similar. The rest of Google+ is still pretty shite though.

As per instructions from Tindal I picked up a couple of bottles of Craggy Range from Searson’s Wine Merchants in Monkstown, which of late have become one and the same. So with that I chilled the white, popped the red (or unscrewed it to be exact), and logged on to Google+ at precisely 8pm on Tuesday  21st to undertake a very 21st Century wine tasting…

 

Craggy Range: The Winery

I didn’t know Craggy Range at all before this tasting, beyond a vague recognition of the label, but a hasty look at their website made me fall in love with the story of how they started. You can read it in full here, but here’s a snippet:

When Terry Peabody arrived home from a four-week business trip in the fall of 1993 his wife Mary, and daughter Mary-Jeanne, cooked him dinner. The meal was long and leisurely, but not without purpose. Terry wasn’t allowed to leave until he had agreed to go into the wine business. The specification was that the business must never be sold. It was to be a family business, an enduring heritage legacy.

So Craggy Range was borne of love, and if I make that sound soppy and limp-wristed then I don’t apologise one jot. The best wines, as far as my experience is concerned, come from those wineries that are family-owned and prioritise pride in their work above profit margins and shareholder returns.

Don’t get me wrong, many commercial wineries can make some really good wine at great prices, but you can’t replicate the almost intangible energy in wine instilled by the weight of having your family name attached to the product, whether that be directly (e.g. AntinoriHugel, etc.) or indirectly (e.g. Masi, Craggy Range, etc.).

Quite simply put, pride and honour trumps finance in every aspect of winemaking, in my view. I’m delighted to add Craggy Range to my list of those producers who go above and beyond making nice-tasting alcoholic grape juice to offer us something special.

But beyond this, what of the practices in the vineyard? I was delighted to hear Steve take a dichotomous approach to his wine philosophy: he regards with great admiration the Old World’s approach to terroir and the texture etc. but feel that they miss out somewhat on the New World ‘fruit forward’ characteristic which makes these types of wines a hedonistic delight.

So by combining these two somewhat disparate approaches – i.e. a food-friendly wine that’s enjoyable by itself – Craggy Range take a “bilingual” approach to winemaking that could be considered too ‘catch-all’ but which I think should be lauded; why not enjoy wines that can be enjoyed literally throughout a meal, from apéritif to digestif?

The Craggy Range family
The Google Hangout

We were joined by Steve Smith MW, founding director and current Director of Wine & Viticulture (or “arch viticulturist and Craggy Range boss” according to Decanter) and also chief winemaker Matt Stafford. Being the bossman, Steve spoke most with Matt chipping in at various points to add a more precise and technical spin to Steve’s garrulousness.

Despite being a bit blurry and unfortunately back-lit (don’t sit with your backs to a window, guys!), it was an incredible experience to be chatting live to two winemakers in New Zealand with an audience of Irish wine lovers based in kitchens and living rooms across the country.

An unfortunate IT mix-up meant that I was able to spectate but not participate until five minutes from the end, but the whole experience was very enjoyable and worthwhile. Keep an eye out for the next Tindal Google Hangout on their site – you won’t regret it.

Craggy Range Google Hangout
The Google Hangout with Steve Smith MW and Matt Stafford

 


 Craggy Range: The Wines

So, how did they taste on the night?

 

Craggy Range ‘Te Muna Road’ Single Vineyard Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
€19.99 from Tindals and Wines on the Green

This was a really classy Sauv Blanc which began with all the hallmarks of the Kiwi take on the grape which has made it world famous, namely some pungent pea and asparagus notes that leap out of the glass.

But the Old World mentality kicks in and this brash New World aspect is replaced by a more floral character and herbal, grassy notes underlaid by a subtle, flinty, smokey character that gives it a sort of grilled vegetable nuance when combined with the pea and asparagus mentioned previously.

I loved Steve’s simile of this wine being like a “walk through a meadow,” in other words a plethora of fragrances that come and go:  floral, grassiness, clover, earth, lime tree, nectarine… Definitely the “Old World” care and attention is evident here.

This approach is re-affirmed on the palate, which is uncharacteristically smooth, at least based on the highly acidic experiences with most of the plethora of NZ Sauv Blancs on the Irish market today (and which we seem to go in for in a big way for some unknown reason).

Supple and soft but still with a bit of a kick to keep it refreshing, at two and a half years old (for the Southern Hemisphere harvest is at the start of the year) I found this to be caught somewhere between youthful freshness and mellow maturity. The length, surprisingly, was average, but that’s not to detract from it’s overall quality. Definitely recommended.

 


Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ Gimblett Gravels Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay Blend 2010
€24.25 from Tindalls

When we speak nowadays about the “Bordeaux Blend” this usually means some blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the two icons of the region and a combination that has been mimicked the world over, not least by New World producers hoping to replicate this classic iconic pairing in greener pastures.

However Craggy Range have taken this one step further and seem to me to have incorporated every possible viable Bordeaux grape into one bottle, so for Te Kahu 2010 they’ve included 80% Merlot,  8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec, a veritable what’s what of Boredaux grapes. These proportions vary year-on-year, with some vintages even receiving a dollop of Petit Verdot.

The nose offers a typical red and black fruit mélange which I found hard to pull apart, but for me it was the palate where this really shone. Given the presence of some big players here – Cab Sauv and Malbec I’m looking at you – the palate is amazing light, supple, delicate and balanced .. in fact disarmingly so. My notes mention “amazingly light” in some form or another a number of times, so much so it’s almost similar to a ripe, quality Chilean Pinot from the likes of Cono Sur. It has the light acidity and gentle tannin to keep it fresh and interesting too. A beaut.