Port in a Storm?
Author: Simon Field MW
Every year, about the same time, an unceremonious and initially somewhat unexpected ritual takes place. It is known as the stacking of the LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Port in the supermarket aisle; unceremonious given the fabled pedigree of this fortified wine and unexpected given the fact that its global production is relatively small; 10 million cases in total.
And yet the two major players, both with blue-blooded English pro-genitors, choose, for whatever reason, to fight it out year in year out in this somewhat incongruous arena. Their loss is our gain; what they perceive to be their gain can only result in lost reputation in a category irrevocably linked to image and perceived status.
But beyond the duels between the Taylors and the extended Symington family one should not loose sight of the sheer magnificence of the product, its episcopal colouring and rich heady aromas presaging marvellous and infinitely complex flavours. Only in very special years are vintages declared and even then vintage makes up only 5 % of production; here we see the real port producers at work; their integrity has mitigated against a Vintage Declaration over the last three years, this in spite of real and burgeoning global demand.
When a vintage is declared, it is a cause for celebration indeed; older wines age with labyrinthine charm and infinite nuance; at the moment the 77s are dumb, but the 85s are singing; yet this may be reversed again at least once over their long lives.
The 94s and 97s are promising great things, as is the legendary 2000; and as for the older, rarer vintages, theirs is all grace and elegance. A far cry from the supermarket gondolas and their half-price ignominy. Let’s not forget what the real fuss should be about.
Just had 9vintage ports last night for our month of port wine over at Catavino. 7 of which were 2005’s, babies I know, but damn tasty! We plan on sampling them over the next week and see how they change and develop.
Personally I love well aged port, but have to from time to time taste through the infants as I’m sure you do too. Tell us, what do you look for when tasting young Ports?
I was lucky enough to have an 85 Taylor at my Mother-in-law’s dinner party over the weekend. I have to say, It made the experience a whole lot more bareable! Between fascinating excerpts on death and politics, there was a ray of sunshine…
Ryan, lucky man, or maybe not, tasting all those raw young ports! 2005 is not a generally declared vintage, surprisingly, but some of those single quintas certainly pack a punch. We are lucky enough to have purchased some Vesuvio and Roriz 2005, both from the Symington stable. The thing that strikes me these days is how accessible younger vintage ports ( and equivalent) can be, bags and bags of ripe fruit, big big colour, and tannins that are amazingly tame. I met up with the energetic Paul Symington this morning, and he was describing how pleased he was with the robotic lagares that now operate in many of thier wineries. For Paul they concentrate flavour, enhance fruit quality and reduce any elements of astringency…………..so I asked him whether these wines, so attractive in youth, would have the same ageing potential…….I’m sure you can guess what his answer was! In all very fine wines, even in youth, there will be balance, a latent harmony that can be detected through the tannin and the primary fruit. Balances ensures ageing potential above all else………….anyway I’d be fascinating to hear how these ports tasted one week on!
Taylor 85, fantastic; we showed both Taylor and Fonseca 85 on our recent Berry Bros ‘Port Walk’ in the cellars at St James’ St. Both were coming round wonderfully, for me the Fonseca just having the edge. Death, politics, you name it…………I agree everything seems a lot better after a glass ( or 2) of 1985 Vintage port!
I have an 85 Dows Vintage lined up to be drunk on Tuesday. How long before dinner should I decant it so that I get the best from the Port?
Hi Andy, Well as coincidence would have it the BBR Wine Director Alun Griffiths MW has also got some 85 Dow lined up for tomorrow! Indeed it was one of the stars of our recent Port Walk at BBR still showing plenty of weight, grip and structure in addition to an attractive fruit character. The key to serving is of course to have the bottle standing up for several hours, giving the sediment plenty of opportunity to sink to the bottom. Then, with a wine of this age, I’d probably decant two to three hours before serving. Hope it’s showing as well as I remember and rounds off your Christmas Dinner in an appropriately stylish fashion! Bonnes Fêtes!
Well, decanted the 85 three hours before drinking and it was great. The first glass was good enough but the second third and fourth each improved on the previous as the wine mellowed and became fruitier and sweeter.
The wine lasted well into the evening and I was even able to decant the remains back into the cleaned bottle so it could be shared on Boxing Day. After about 24 hours the fruitiness had started to fade and whilst the wine remained very drinkable it was starting to taste a bit flat and, dare I say, watery.
Hmmm… I haven’t had any 1985’s, but recently had a 1977. I found it beautiful, expressive and quite youthful. If it was dumb, then the ’85’s must be insane!
There was a big tasting of 77s at The Portuguese Embassy at the end of 2007. I have to say that some of the wines were surprisingly evolved, but those that were not were, as you say, were fantastic and beautifully rounded! The Smith Woodhouse and Graham come to mind as being exceptional examples with plenty of life ahead of them….the vintage was heralded as something special and these were certainly very special wines!