In a ten week period, from late November of last year to the early part of February 2008, I was most humbled to take place in two remarkably deep verticals of Croft Vintage Port. The former was as a guest of The Fladgate Partnership, held at The Factory House, evaluating twenty vintages of Croft Port of extraordinary provenance from 1900 through 2003. The latter tasting was held in Boston, MA by FTLOP Port aficionado Sean Corrigan and friends, with an extraordinarily deep lineup back to 1896. Between these two events, I had the opportunity to enjoy over two dozen distinct vintages of distinguished Croft Port.

It should be noted that the house of Croft was only acquired by The Fladgate Partnership a few years ago; more specifically September 2001, (along with Delaforce) from the Guiness UDV beverage conglomerate which had taken their eyes off the prize. Adrian Bridge, the sharp as a tack, Managing Director of The Fladgate Partnership, replete with a background in investment banking engineered the coup. The crown jewel in this acquisition was the esteemed property known as Quinta da Roêda. It had been purchased by Croft from an individual named John Fladgate, (back in 1875) whose surname should be immediately recognizable.

Many of us writing about The Fladgate Partnership’s re-purchase of Roêda at the time, speculated it was the ultimate raison d’être for closing the deal. Roêda, which sits prominently near Pinhão on the Douro’s right bank had been established in 1811 by Manuel Antonio Pinot de Soveral. It was written that … “If the Douro may be called the golden ring of Portugal, then the Quinta da Roêda is the diamond set in that ring.”

I must add that having experienced so much Croft Port over the past year, including a visit to the Croft lodge during the 2007 Port Harvest Tour and to the comforts of Quinta da Roêda back in May of this year for a more modest vertical tasting during the Fortification Tour; I’ve gained a solid sensorial appreciation of the Croft house style, which I was lacking previously. As impressive are many of the venerable old beauties that I was lucky enough to try, the young Croft Vintage Ports from 1991, 1994, 2000 and especially 2003, are every bit as ponderous. Any of these four youngsters will reward patience, but I urge those of you with broad holdings of any of these specific Ports … do not hold back, especially if you have yet to try them. These are phenomenal young specimens and deliver at a truly high level, enlightening the palate and mind, convincing in their fruition, that committing infanticide with these adolescent VPs -- is a good thing to experience.

CROFT AT-A-GLANCE

Website:  Croft Port
Address: Rua Barão de Forrester 412, Vila Nova de Gaia
Phone: +351 223-742-800
Owners: The Fladgate Partnership
Winemaker: David Guimaraens

At the end of 2007, I started polling our Forum readers about their favorite Vintage Ports from specific Port shippers and producers. Here is our recent online conversation about Croft Vintage Ports: What is your favorite vintage of Croft's VP?

CROFT TASTING NOTES

In a long line of very fine VPs, here are my impressions of a few older bottling from 11/07:

1900 Croft Vintage Port – Light amber color with a golden edge. From a large harvest with excellent quality. Featuring a prominent honeyed note, caramel, citrus and pekoe tea this new millennium Vintage Port offers a gentle mouthfeel and a solid dose of acidity. Very light-bodied and reminiscent of an Armagnac’s character along with tangerine and toffee flavors, the 1900 Croft is quite smooth and continued to gain weight in the mouth. A gentle and warming aftertaste of medium length. More like a Colheita, this was still a rather tasty and intriguing VP. Drink now. The last of nearly 50,000 vines were planted to replace those destroyed by Phylloxera at Quinta do Roeda in 1900. 92 points

1927 Croft Vintage Port – Arguably one of the two or three greatest vintages of the century, with prodigious yields and extraordinary quality; a very rare combination. Maple syrup color with a light tawny edge. Exhibiting a fabulous bouquet of marzipan, brown sugar, golden raisins and gentle spirit. There is a warm nuttiness that is sweet and velvety smooth, along with charming and lively acidity. It envelops the mouth with a hazelnut candy, crème brûlée and burnt sugar flavor profile. A fine and persistent finish ensues with a light hint of alcohol. A historic and delicious treat! 95 points

1945 Croft Vintage Port – Warm and ultra-dry growing conditions, with some rain finally coming late in August. Drought conditions persisted across the region and harvest took place with hot days and clear skies. This post-war vintage will always be remembered as one of the great ones. Brown bottles were used by the majority of Port houses due to the glass shortages created by WWII. Coffee-centric coloration and the darkest wine of the flight, with bricking on the rim. This Croft offers complex aromas of toffee and spice. Full-bodied, intense with loads of structure, chewy and showing at least 20 years younger. Bright and powerful flavors of dates, roasted walnut, and maple. The finish is remarkable and intricately woven. A gorgeous Vintage Port that has at least another decade to be enjoyed at this level! 98 points

Here are a couple of Vintage Ports produced in the modern era:

1991 Croft Vintage Port – Lots and lots of rain this winter into spring, with a very late flowering. Yields were solid and from July-September was dry and very hot. Managing Director Robin Reid retired this year. The 1991 shows a dark cranberry color with a dark purplish rim. Fresh floral nose with some cranberry and pomegranate fragrance. A full-bodied Croft which is sweet, ripe and exhibits cherry and chocolate flavors. Round and balanced with plenty of round and mellowed tannins. Always a winner, this 1991 has always been one of my personal favorites from this fine vintage. Long and delicious plum and cassis flavored finish. A harmonious VP and one of my favorite young Croft’s. Drink now through 2030+. 93+ points ~ 11/29/07 1991 Croft Vintage Port – Nearly opaque magenta color. Decanted 9 hours, this delivered scents of fresh cut flowers, plum and a hint of cedar. A young and beautifully put together Port with a very smooth approach and dense, chewy prunes, blackberry and chocolate. One of my perennial favorites from the '91 vintage. All components are so well balanced and the finish is seamless and persistent. The Croft offers tremendous upside potential and will drink beautifully for at least another two decades although it is already very enjoyable today at 15 years old. 94+ points

2003 Croft Vintage Port – This was the first declared Croft VP which was also vinified under The Fladgate Partnership’s ownership, by chief oenologist, David Guimaraens who employed 100% foot treading for the first time at Croft since 1963. He also chose to use 100% Quinta da Roêda fruit. A very wet winter and late flowering at the end of May, with excellent conditions noted. In early August there was intense heat throughout the region (and in fact all of Europe). The 2003 is opaque and inky with a violet hue on the rim. Effusive and gorgeous aromatics, a flamboyant floral fragrance with blueberry and chocolate rounding out the profile. From the very first cask sample and every time I’ve tried this, it is an ooze monster and I believe this will prove to be one of the all time great Croft’s. It is certainly right at the top of the excellent 2003 vintage and David deserves kudos for this effort! Ripe, sweet and massively structured with intensely potent and astringent tannins that will allow this to age and improve for 75 years or more. A classic in the making. Drink tomorrow through 2078, or if you don’t plan to be around then; leave a few bottles for the grandkids. 97+ points

Pink Port -  Although this is written in late July, no discussion of Croft these days can be had without the controversial topic of Croft’s Pink Port coming to light. In fact, it made for one of the more polarizing if not contentious Forum discussions in some time. I particularly enjoyed it (the dialogue) and eventually had the opportunity to sample a bottle of Pink. So far, it has been wildly successful and depletions are stunning. Other Port companies are rushing to catch up and at least six others are now developing their own version of Pink. Although it was most helpful to slowly evaluate a full bottle over time, whilst in the Douro in May on a very warm day and after a long hike around the hills and dales of the Roêda vineyards, TFP’s Jorge Ramos had a bottle of Croft’s Pink Port well-chilled for us to try. Our guests were very eager to sample this. I must say, that on-the-rocks with Tonic and a squeeze of lemon, Pink Port was brilliantly refreshing! Now have a look at our FTLOP Forum member’s opinions on Croft’s Pink Port, first shared with us by Mario Ferreira: Pink Port launched to mixed reaction - [www.harpers.co.uk]