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Fortified wine with the luxury of marmalade and goose down


Whitey wards of the winter chills with a glass of Rare Liqueur Sauvignon Blanc, a treasure from the fortified cellars of Hardys wines.

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Hardys Rare Liqueur Sauvignon Blanc
($100; 500ml; 18% alcohol; cork)

Down in the deep black alluvium of McLaren Flat there’s a gnarly old block of Sauvignon blanc. It was old even before anyone round these parts really knew what it was for; long before anybody thought of making a dry white wine from it. It was old before all the blokes came home from World War II. At that time a great proportion of the Australian male population suffered post traumatic stress while the women and children they’d returned to suffered the weirdness of life with victims of that horrid illness: Dads, husbands, brothers and uncles who came home all different.

The major national medicine for this was fortified wine: port and sherry.

They made these strong sweet wines out of everything they could get their hands on. They even made what was basically a tawny-style port from this block. Let that age for many years in oak – probably because the flavour was a tad too freaky for most and it didn’t take off – and the lime-and-lemony citrus edge of the Sauvignon takes over, turning something fairly nondescript into what was called port until somebody thought it had become a wine of such venerable age and distinction it deserved a name of its own.

In recent decades we saw various owners and managers of Thomas Hardy perform a textbook traincrash: a horrid, slow, exhausting trashing of what was a great family company. Now, under the hands-on global management of Keith Todd, we see the great old leviathan undergoing a gradual, determined chassis-up rebuild and trim, best manifest in the upgrading and renovation of the remarkable old ironstone buildings of Hardys Tintara in the main street of McLaren Vale.

They’ve also got real out the back: opening that amazing mordern fermentation room up with a visitors’ viewing gallery. Further back in the fortified cellars they’ve done some more work and relaunched a string of beautiful old fortified wines, including this true rarity.

Aged a mimimum 17 years in old oak, this is a gorgeous luxury, and a very good use indeed for McLaren Vale Sauvignon blanc.

Initially, I smell those rindy citrus bits. They remind me of a dark old marmalade of lemon, lime and ginger. Then a layer of dried figs lines up, as if somebody’d simply soaked them in a liqueur of their own. The grape spirit used to fortify the juice must have been a beautiful thing in itself: the overall effect is one that sets up that endlessly entertaining counterpoint of luscious harmony set with little protruding jewels, like that rind and ginger.

Then comes the texture. This is a delight in itself: it’s liqueur, sure, with all the associated stickiness, but it has a fluffiness about it: a sort of goose down/fairy floss softness that adds cushion to the wine’s considerable acidity and alcohol.

As that bright and beautiful aftertaste kicks its carpet slippers off and settles in for the evening it reminds me of a negroni made with vodka in place of gin, with the addition of just a tweak of Kahlua.

But it’s much more than that. Here, the pleasure is even more intense, and made more entertaining by the fact that it’s all grapes in this glass, and it has nothing at all to do with New Zealand.

Next time you head south, take a stroll around the restored and rejuvenated garden and winery buildings there in the main street of the Vale, have a taste of the current Reynella and Tintara premiums, and see if you can escape without buying yourself a bottle of this remarkable rare wonder.

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