I don't remember much wine around as a child, with the major exception of Port. At Christmas or special suppers, I have vivid memories of the sweet, dark, red wine that I might have a sip of after pleading with my Dad.
In the years since, I've always kept Port in the house, and not just for the holidays. This inherited fondness might also have been the repeated references to laying down wine in JRR Tolkien.
My first true 'investment' bottles bought to start a wine collection were Vintage Port, and I continue to add several more a year with the goal of starting to open them in a decade or so. Tawny Port, which spends much more time mellowing in cask, is a particular favourite, with almost universal appeal: smooth, with caramel and spice flavours. If you're a dinner guest at my home, you're being offered Port at the end of the meal!
So, it was with particular excitement that I was invited to taste a selection of Taylor Fladgate single harvest tawnies from the vintages 1964 through 1967. Think of what was happening in the world 50 years ago, and consider that all this time these wines have been alive, just waiting to be enjoyed.
The tasting room, holding a table decked with variously hued amber wines, was filled with Port perfume, reminiscent of a spice cake baking in the oven.
The following are my tasting notes, but first I'd like to mention, all were delicious and I'd be happy to purchase any of them even at their premium price point - they are well worth the money and would make excellent gifts. How many 50 year old wines can you buy that offer this kind of value... not many.
Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port - $256
Remarkably intense bouquet. Cognac-like nose. Fig, vanilla, plum, sweet spice, bright, lifted, wow. Crème caramel, cedar. Striking show up front.
Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Port - $260
Orange tawny hue. Corsican wildflower honey, soft, feminine, seductive. Tobacco, marzipan. Opens up nicely.
Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port - $260
Deep amber brown. Cigar box, caramel, orange peel, pomander, roast coffee and hazelnut. Masculine, cologne-like complexity. Surprising whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle. A full rounded nose, complete.
Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port - $260
Deepest tawny colour. Sweet on the nose, with spicebox, cigar, clove; a robust presence on the palate. Vibrant orange and zest notes, sultanas, allspice, incense. Quiet power and confidence.
Port Serving Tips
~ Ideally your Port is lightly chilled. 15 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.
~ Can you save some for later once you open the bottle? As a rule, older vintage Port is good for a few days after being opened, but best to drink it in one sitting. More sturdy recent vintages from the 2000's+ will last a week or so before fading. Tawnies are already oxidised so they hold up better, a pleasing 6 months or so after opening. Late Bottled Vintage or Ruby styles are good for 8-12 weeks before they lose their freshness.
~ Let your fancy Ports have a little room to breathe before enjoying. Give your wine an hour or so to open up before tasting. I don't make a fuss about doing this with White, Ruby, LBV, or 10/20 year olds.
~ The more the merrier. Port isn't exactly low alcohol, so explore half bottle formats for small dinner parties, or serve them to a large or appreciative group. Tawnies are an exception, as they're quite long lived once opened. I keep several formats of tawny Port on hand (10 year, 20 year, etc), to serve at the end of meals. If I were to serve one of these Single Harvest Tawnies, I'd plan a special dessert to pair with it: a selection of cheeses (Manchego, Stilton, Brie de Meaux), plus something sweet like caramel spice cake with crème Anglaise.
The History of Port by TF
Taylor's has a great selection of videos about Port on their Youtube channel.
Tidbits In The World of Port & TF
We had the pleasure of hearing from Jorge Ramos, Sales & Marketing Manager for the Fladgate Partnership (which owns TF, Croft, & Fonseca) at the tasting. Here are some tidbits for those interested in learning more about Port and TF:
Did you know that the Late-Bottled Vintage category was invented for the Canadian market? Apparently it was especially produced for the restaurant trade, who wanted the flavour profile of Vintage Port but with no need for further aging, ie: ready to sell and drink right away. The first vintage offered was 1965, for sale in 1970.
Taylor Fladgate's house style aims for a 'balanced' and consistent flavour profile. These Single Harvest Tawnies, however, are issued especially to emphasize varietal character.
- Taylor's is the only British Port house never to be bought or sold! In 2001, it re-purchased Croft (which had been theirs previously until 1865 when it had been sold off). It's said to have one of the largest reserves of very old cask aged Ports of any house.
Technically, a '50 year old' Tawny Port is not allowed, so these Single Harvest Tawnies were issued vintage dated. That's why you'll see 10-20-30-40 but not 50 on shelves. PS: technically, the name for a vintage dated tawny is a Colheita.
- The best Ports TF makes are still foot trodden in granite lagares (stone troughs), not mechanically/piston trodden. This very old fashioned but gentle technique is said to produce the finest results.
Ports are made from a blend of 40 or so native Portuguese grapes, including: Touriga Nacional (adds concentrated dark fruit flavour and tannins), Tinta Amarela (finess and balance), and Tinto Cão (acidity, ageability), among others. Older plantings have a mix of varieties in the field, but new vineyards are uniformly planted by varietal.
New plantings in the Douro are using laser guided trenching to create a 7 degree angled slope to preserve water. Viticultural issues in the area are erosion and weed control, so cover crops like clover are being used.
- Tawnies aging in cask lose about 3% of their volume each year as they rest in 600 litre neutral oak barrels.
Port spirit can come from anywhere, it's not required to be from Portugal. There's been a big improvement in the quality of brandy used in recent decades.
- When a large order comes in to TF, their master blenders produce a batch on demand. So, if a liquor board or large store sends in a request for 20 Year, it's made to order!
Canadian customers can keep their eyes out for a special Confederation edition of the label of the 1967, celebrating our 150th birthday. There's also an 1863 Very Old Tawny on the market, for the spectacular price of $3,650CAD!
All images/video courtesy of Taylor Fladgate. Thank you to Pacific Wine & Spirits for the opportunity to taste these Single Harvest Ports.