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Sweet whites & fortifieds

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Rutherglen is the Australian region most closely identified with luscious, ultra-complex old fortified wines, but the Swan Valley also has some rippers.

I’ve reviewed more than 80 sweet and fortified wines this month, and the cream on the top are some astonishing Swan Valley fortifieds: Talijancich Julian James Liqueur Shiraz (tasting), an extraordinary old fortified wine, scores 98 points, and John Kosovich Rare Muscat (tasting) is just a whisker behind it, while Lamont’s Liqueur Shiraz (tasting) and John Griffiths’ Faber Vineyard Liqueur Muscat (tasting) are right up there, too. Nothing against Rutherglen, but in a world where fortified wines are seldom given their due, the Swan Valley deserves its share of the glory.

Other great fortifieds are the 2011 Fonseca Vintage Port (tasting), and a line-up of wonderful sherries from the amazing ‘new’ sherry producer, Equipo Navazos (tastings). This company doesn’t own a winery or vines but buys old butts of sherry from other bodegas which don’t fit the style of that particular bodega, and bottles them in small lots, often in half-bottles, labeled La Bota number this and La Bota number that – a Bota being a butt or sherry barrel. They include old manzanillas and finos, amontillados, olorosos, palo cortados and PXs. The wines I have tasted are of varying degrees of sheer magnificence. Sherry might be unfashionable but these wines are being snapped up by a small coterie of aficionados worldwide.

I tasted one of the highest-rated wines of my year among these: La Bota de Amontillado Bota AR NO 49 (99 points – tasting), an exquisite wine which recalls long-simmered consommé, so complex as to defy description. It’s $130 for a half-bottle, but for an ancient, extremely rare wine that is a slice of history and soon to be extinct, that’s peanuts.

The best one to buy to introduce yourself to these great wines is the Equipo Navazos I Think Manzanilla (tasting), a gift at $25 a half, and widely distributed.

There are also some superb ‘sticky’ whites, such as Keith Tulloch’s new 2012 Botrytis Semillon (tasting), Oakridge Yarrawood Botrytis Riesling 2012 (tasting) and Frogmore Creek Iced Riesling 2012 (tasting). And a couple of vin santos – neither of them from Italy, as it happens. One is Sigalas Vinsanto (tasting) from Greece’s island of Santorini; the other is from Mudgee, produced by Di Lusso. This is not labeled Vin Santo but rather, 2009 Appassimento Semillon (tasting), a fascinating wine made from air-dried grapes, with just 7.1% alcohol. 

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