Seppeltsfield’s Centurions

Many wineries claim a unique point-of-difference, few do so as convincingly as Seppeltsfield, on the very edge of the Barossa Valley.  As the peak of a large and inventive range of wines,  each year since 1978 they have released a single-vintage, 100-year old Grenache-based tawny from their Centennial Cellar. To achieve this each vintage they start out with 2,000 litres of fortified wine in four 500-litre puncheons.  One of these becomes the final wine while the other three are used to top it up over the decades.  By the time of bottling at 100 years, the wine has been downsized several times and there are about 250 litres to sell.  As a result, the final liquid is a black, unctuous, intensely sweet, molasses-filled drop with well-balanced acidity.  Truly remarkable.  The 1916 which we tasted is about to be released.  As a guide, the 1915 was $2,000 for a 375ml bottle.  

The history of the Seppelt family is told in loving detail on the company’s website. Back in private hands again, having remarkably survived a period of corporate ownership with its centennial cellar intact, the historic gravity-fill cellar has been restored to be a fully functioning winery. Most recently, on the historic site, a fantastic cellar door and restaurant has now been added. For a business that can trace its history back to 1851, all the signs are good for the next century and more.  

Some favourites from the huge range: 

Vermentino 2015 – only the third year of release this is another example of the Italian varietal mania currently sweeping South Australia and a very convincing one.  Pale lemon in colour, this really succeeds with its refreshing lemon and green herb fruit and fine acidity. A little bit of weight and texture have been added through some lees ageing.  

Barossa Grenache 2015 – much of the company’s old Grenache goes into the fortified wines but chief Wine Maker Fiona Donald has introduced a non-oaked Grenache table wine of real distinction.  Interesting this $30 wine (roughly £15) is intended to be drunk young and you can see the appeal to a generation of drinkers brought up on clean fruit flavours and intensity rather than complexity. Raspberry cordial on stilts!  

Über Shiraz, 2012 – at the other end of the scale in ambition and ageability, this $150 wine has incredible depth to its rich and fragrant fruit, well balanced by acidity and sensitively aged in 30% new French oak. Despite the richness, it finishes with a fine acidic line and ripe tannic structure.  

21 Year Old Para Tawny – named after the local Para river, this Syrah, Grenache, Mataro blend has achieved a state of serious unctuousness while retaining fruit.  A fine example from the extensive range of wines modelled on Port and Sherry.  

With many thanks to Nigel Thiele who gave us a great tour and to Fiona Donald who generously gave us her time to walk us through the winemaking process for the Shiraz: the key to those soft tannins is ripe but not raisined fruit, careful handling and reining in the extraction, 7 days on the skins with a pump over every 12 hours.

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