Firstly, a 1987 Penfolds ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ Late Pick Rhine Riesling in 375 ml bottle. Made from Marlborough fruit, picked at 31° Brix, given 24 hours skin contact and fermented to 11.9% alc. ‘Thus far and no further” is the translation, and the wine was regarded as pretty avant garde at the time for a big producer , the label owned by Montana. I’m sure there was a portion of botrytis involved and it was a decadent and luscious wine. This night, dark mahogany with burnished orange-red colour. A powerful nose redolent of toffee and caramel, with a savoury, musky and musty note. Brown rot? Taint? Hard to tell with so much tertiary character. On palate, very sweet, again toffee and caramel, with raisins, dried fruits, good sugar and acidity. Plenty of richness, and only just beginning to show a little texture, dryness and slight coarseness on the finish. Still a bold and out-there wine, not beautiful and it hasn’t aged gracefully as a star would have, but not disgracefully either.
Then a 375 ml bottle of 1986 Delegat’s ‘Proprietors Reserve Auslese 1986, which followed on from some award winning numbers under the same label, made from Muller-Thurgau. This was made from Rhine Riesling grown in Tekaraka, Gisborne, picked at 26° Brix, and a rarer, more expensive number, quite a specialist wine at the time. It too was in the richer, quality-focussed style. Tonight, this was darkish mahogany colour too, and upon nosing, a scaled-down expression of the Penfolds NPU, a little cleaner, but exuding aromas of raisins, dried fruits, toffee and caramel. Clearly sweet on palate, the flavours echoing the bouquet, but softer in texture, but carrying some phenolics. Just beginning to dry out. It was difficult to decide which was better, and there were votes for each. My pick was the Penfolds – just. The overriding thoughts were they were in remarkable condition. We’d expect world classical dessert wines to last 25+ years, but New Zealand wines don’t seem to manage it normally. We were a happy group.