At a grand South Australian vineyard, Winston Aldworth finds a glass of vintage port that matches his own history.
Nineteen-seventy-three was a cracking year for making babies in the South Waikato — but not such a good year for making vintage port in the Barossa.
"It was wet," says Aussie wine expert Jeremy Oliver. "Damp conditions. Not ideal."
He's talking about the climate in South Australia, not South Waikato, where the sun shines perpetually in the skies above Putaruru. And where I was born in 1973. Forty-one years later, my path converged with a barrel of port that had been made in the year of my birth.
We met in a moodily lit storage room at Seppeltsfield vineyard in the Barossa — she'd been waiting there for 41 years; I was on the "Taste Your Birth Year" tour. And she tasted fine to me.
The Barossa is the beating heartland of Australian winemaking, and at Seppeltsfield they've known the value of heritage and legacy for more than a century. This is the only vineyard in the world with an unbroken chain of single-origin vintage port dating back more than 100 years. The first barrel in this vintage lineage was stashed in the "living museum" at 1878.
We'd stopped in at the Barossa on the fabulous Indian Pacific rail journey from Sydney to Perth. So that's how the Putaruru 1973 met the Seppeltsfield 1973.
Full-bodied, fruity at the front of the tongue and with a slight touch of robust manliness ... but enough about the Putaruru 1973 vintage — how did the Seppeltsfield 1973 taste?
Well, I can report that after more than four decades in the barrel, the port from the year of my birth felt silky in the mouth. The fruit flavours were buried beneath deep nutty and caramel tones. In short: It tasted terrific. (Apologies to all proper wine writers.)
I told the wine expert: "She tastes pretty good to me. Am I wrong?"
"Not possible. It's your birth year. If you like it, then that's what matters, yeah?"
Yeah. Exactly. But I think there was something else going on amid those big, white barrels at Seppeltsfield. I'm a sucker for a good moody atmosphere, and standing in front of my barrel of 1973 vintage port — lined up alongside all those other barrels — I had the feeling of standing among history. The lighting is dim, the bare wooden floor is stark — I can think of no better place to stand about drinking port.
Opposite the 1973, sits a smaller barrel marked with an inscription with a grim subtext: "1915".
"This is actually testament to the winemaking skill of the women who were around here at the time," says our host Nigel Thiele. All the local blokes were off getting dutifully machine-gunned from the Dardanelles to the Western Front.
The 1915 vintage, I'll happily concede, was better than the 1973. Indeed, the women did well. All that time in the barrel has helped too. The flavour is deeper and more even through your mouth and it has a fabulous silky texture.
"Mouthfeel," Jeremy, our wine expert, calls it.
Inevitably, the story of the 1915 vintage — a tipple put to bed in the year of Gallipoli — is what makes the drink great.
A 300ml bottle (that's less than you'll get in a can of fizzy drink) of the 1973 will set you back $950. The 1915, $1680. You can get on the Taste Your Birth Year tour for $67, while the Centenary Tour costs $112.
A once-in-a-lifetime treat, perhaps? Or once in a century.
Getting there: Qantas flies from Auckland to Adelaide, via Sydney or Melbourne.
Port tasting: Seppeltsfield vineyard is at 730 Seppeltsfield Road, Seppeltsfield, Barossa Valley, South Australia. Phone: +61 8 8568 6200.
Further information: Pukekohe Travel's train-and-cruise tour taking in the Indian Pacific Rail journey runs from February 20-March 12. The rail journey pulls into South Australia.