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Australia's 100-Year-Old Port

Australia's 100-Year-Old Port
© Seppeltsfield
Aging like a tortoise in a stone cellar comes a wine from the Barossa Valley.

Is it a cabernet? Is it a shiraz? No, it’s a fortified tawny port that takes the title of Australia’s most expensive wine.

What's more it doesn't come from Penfolds, even though the South Australian winery recently released a $168,000 wine – in a glass ampoule, in a bespoke wooden cabinet. (In a plain glass bottle, the 2004 Kalimna Block 42 cabernet sauvignon comes in at $661.) The most expensive wine – if you’re paying only for the contents – comes from another Barossa Valley producer, Seppeltsfield.

The Seppeltsfield Para Centenary vintage tawny is a blend of grenache, shiraz, and mourvedre (also known as mataro) that has been aged for 100 years. Fortification takes place during fermentation, by adding a grape spirit of 80 percent alcohol to the wine. This makes the final wine high in alcohol (17.5 percent by volume after fortification, rising to 24 percent at 100 years), and high in residual sugar.

In 1878, when the Seppeltsfield stone port store was originally completed, Benno Seppelt selected a 500-liter barrel (or puncheon) of his finest port wine from that vintage and laid it in the new storage maturation cellar. This barrel was to sit for a minimum of 100 years in the same spot and then be released as Seppeltsfield 100-year-old Para Tawny Port. Subsequent vintages of century-old port have been released every year since 1978.

During the port's century-long repose in the warm Barossa cellars, the angels get their fair share of the spoils. Some of the barrel's contents are lost to evaporation each year (in the Cognac region of France, for example, the evaporation rate can be 3 percent). On that basis, there would be less than 400 liters of the Seppeltsfield tawny left within the first eight years. Eventually, “the amount left can go down to an octave which is just under 100 liters,” says Chad Elson, Seppeltsfield's sales and marketing manager.

However, the company releases only around 10 liters of each vintage, thus its rarity value is one factor in its high price. When the current vintage, the 1912 Para Centenary tawny, was released on February 20 this year to coincide with the winery’s 161st anniversary, it cost $975 for a 375-ml bottle, equivalent to $1950 for a standard 750-ml bottle. It is also available in a 100-ml container, which works out to be even more expensive.

The lengthy aging period is also behind its price tag. “I suppose keeping stock in barrel for 100 years is an expensive exercise. There’s not many places in the world that release a 100-year old wine each year,” says Elson.

In recent times, Seppeltsfield has started drawing wine from casks destined for the Centenary edition “to make those wines available in other milestone years,” Elson adds. “For example, this year we released a 90-year-old from the 1922 vintage, [and] a 1932, ‘42, ‘52, ‘62 and ‘72 for birthdays and anniversaries.”

One of the original stone buildings at the Seppeltsfield winery, built in 1851
© Seppeltsfield | One of the original stone buildings at the Seppeltsfield winery, built in 1851

* View the full list of the world's 50 most expensive wines, according to the Wine-Searcher database.

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