It started off relatively low-key. I received an email from Roy Hersh advising that in honour of FTLOP’s 5th anniversary, some contributors, subscribers and friends would gather near Roy’s home in Washington for a Port tasting. The participants would be bringing bottles, and of course Roy would be providing others to round out the tasting. When I first asked about what Ports we would sample in this tasting, Roy predicted that most would be top wines from the 1960s through 1980s. However, it soon became clear that this group would not be content to contribute anything but old and rare Ports to celebrate this special occasion.

Glenn Elliott, a Port enthusiast from Sammamish, WA did a marvelous job of organizing this event in conjunction with Roy. Invitees came from far and wide to join in this event – among those on hand, three guests travelled from Canada, two from California, one from Nevada, and one from Arizona. The main event was held on July 31, 2010 at a hotel a short distance from Roy’s home. (I call it the “main event” because the following day a number of us who remained in WA got together again for a smaller, very enjoyable, gathering where we shared wines, a few more Ports, and a historic Madeira in celebration of David Spriggs’ 50th birthday. I have included the Port and Madeira notes from the second day at the end of this report.)

At the commencement of the event, there was a lively discussion about whether the tasting should be conducted “blind” or not. The matter was put to a vote, and by a narrow margin the group decided that the tasting would not be blind this time. And so we began.

Here are my tasting notes (in the order served) of the Ports tasted on July 31, 2010:

1900 Niepoort Colheita (bottled 1972) – gorgeous effusive nose, brown sugar, burnt caramel, vanilla bean, definitely browner in color than the 1904 Sandeman that followed, huge in the mouth, massive acid which gives this wine an explosive mouthfeel, long finish, a balanced giant – fantastic wine! What a way to kick off this tasting! Very impressive freshness for a Colheita that had been in bottle 38 years. (As a general observation, Colheitas seem less fresh to me after long periods of time in bottle. Many others have made the same statement.) Remarkable wine. 97 points

1904 Sandeman (believed to be) Vintage Port – this bottle was acquired through a British auction and was described as “believed to be” 1904 Sandeman. After the cork was carefully removed, we could see that the markings on the cork indicated “Vintage 1904”. But we could not find any evidence of the producer. On to the tasting then...this is a bit funky on the nose at the start. I call it swampy. Others refer to the same aroma as “bottle stink”. There is a bit of red left in the color, but overall more brown. In the glass, this wine develops a bit of pine needle smell and some nice sandalwood. In the mouth, it is syrupy with a lighter flavour profile. Oddly, this is a wine with a viscous/heavy texture but very light flavours. After more time in the glass the nose starts to show some cracked pepper and iodine. Still, the palate is quite reserved – in a younger wine, one might believe the wine to be closed. Later still, this Port shows some woodsmoke on the nose, but the palate remains unforthcoming. This was a very interesting wine to taste. The nose was quite fascinating, but the palate never seemed to deliver what the nose promised at any juncture. 87 points

1934 Fonseca Vintage Port – reddish brown color, spicy nose with some cinnamon and also some coffee, on the palate this is a little medicinal showing pleasant cherry cough syrup/cherry liqueur, the cinnamon aspect reappears on the long finish. Really lovely wine! 93 points

1935 Cockburn Vintage Port – bit of sulphur/struck match on the nose at first, and a bit of alcohol, but some nice flavours on this – predominantly cherry pastille, the wine is medium in weight, overall I found this wine to be a bit simple or one-dimensional. 88 points

1937 Quinta do Noval Colheita – my second time tasting this wine and it matched my expectations based on my other tasting 3 years prior (at Roy’s 50th birthday event in 2007 this was voted the top wine of day one despite some very, very stiff competition). Oh boy, this is a burly and intense Port. Lovely, enticing toffee nose, the first thing that strikes you as you sip this wine is the electrifying acid...certainly not too much, but about as much as this wine should have. Wonderful nuttiness on this Port – toasted pecans. I savoured this one. It was spectacular, but still a shade less impressive than the 1900 Niepoort. 96 points

1940 Kopke Colheita – my second time tasting this wine and both times the wine was overshadowed by its peers, on the nose a little volatile, some oxidised apple, a bit disjointed/unbalanced in the mouth, but still not a bad wine, as it sits in the glass it starts to show an almond nuttiness and crème brulee, and it comes around a bit. In this company, the wine seems a touch simple. 86 points

1944 Niepoort Colheita (bottled 1974) – understated sweet nose, quite nice, light-to-middle weight, a wine showing refinement and nice balance in the mouth. Perhaps this Port is just a bit monolithic? How much of this showing is attributable to the fact that the wine has been in bottle 36 years? 88 points

1947 Kopke Colheita (bottled 2006) – volatility on the nose, high acid, a bit out of joint. Showed some pleasant nuttiness and candy apple flavours. An interesting and good wine despite the disjointedness. 88 points

1950 Niepoort Garrafeira (bottled in glass demi-johns in 1955 and transferred to smaller bottles in 1979) – interesting nose with some light floral aspects, a bit of bottle stink, lightweight flavour profile, not complex, sweet and syrupy with not too much going on. 85 points

1950 Sandeman Vintage Port – more of an aged red table wine color, very unique vinous nose, almost like a Rhone wine – smoky Syrah smell, leafy sous-bois, violets, spirit on entry, also a unique palate, fresh tasting. This was a really interesting wine. 89 points

1952 Dalva Golden White Colheita (bottled 2008) – this was a fun wine to try, but I was not a great fan of this one. There was something a little funny about this. I was trying to identify what it was, and one of the other tasters suggested it had a “soapiness”. This is a fair enough descriptor. Others at the table adored this, so I want to make clear that this is a personal taste issue. You might love it. 84 points

1957 Kopke Colheita – intense high-toned nose, well-integrated, the wine shows young still, orange rind, really good! 90 points

1957 Sandeman Vintage Port – this is a very lovely old Port, fully resolved, smooth and round palate, this is why some of us age these brutes – to allow them to reach this wonderful mature civility. Really nice! 92 points

1967 Dalva Colheita (500 bottles numbered, this one was #123) – this starts off worrying me that it might show as one-dimensional, but it gets more complex as time goes on. The flavours gain in strength and intensity. It has a lot of everything. A wine with great potential. 92 points

Here are my tasting notes (in the order served) of the Ports and Madeira tasted on August 1, 2010:

1935 Taylor Vintage Port (English bottling) – quite a powerful wine still, strong color, very lively in the mouth with great acids and even remaining tannins buoying this wine! In a sense even primary showing powerful fruit – blackberries, raspberries and cherries. There is some fresh mint and anise. A spicy and complex wine with a long, long finish. I loved this! 96 points

1977 Taylor Vintage Port – lovely dark color. However, on entry this wine shows some low-level TCA. Corked. But under that, it was clear there was a lot to this wine. A shame that it was impossible to judge this sample.

1977 Fonseca Vintage Port – even darker in color than the 1977 Taylor. Really exceptional velvety mouthfeel, fantastic integration of components yet the layers unfold and unwind in the mouth, power and grace, intense sweet primary fruit leading to a soft and lingering finish. Beautiful. 95 points

1895 Verdelho Araujo de Barros (Jose Gomes Henriques de Araujo) (bottled 1949) – wild nose, rancio, in the mouth this wine features extreme lemon juice coated razor blades, complex flavours, a touch of green tobacco on the mid-palate, dominated by toasted nuts, popcorn, and on the finish fresh roasted coffee beans. Delicious!

For me, the top wine of the first day was the 1900 Niepoort Colheita, followed by the 1937 Quinta do Noval Colheita. This came a bit as a surprise to me because – as a general rule – I tend to prefer Vintage Ports to Colheitas. On the second day, I thought the 1935 Taylor Vintage Port stole the show. It is my view that this ’35 Taylor was superior to any of the Vintage Ports we sampled on the first day.

FTLOP has truly created and fostered a community, and I am very happy to count myself among the population of this community. Some participants I met for the first time on this weekend, but by the end we seemed like old friends. Overall, this was an unforgettable experience!

Roy’s Note: Blair Curtis is the Western Canadian correspondent for FTLOP and has written many articles on Port, Madeira and Douro wines over the years. In addition to Portuguese wines, Blair is seriously involved in Burgundy and Bordeaux wine circles throughout British Columbia and is well-known for his fine palate. He has attended Port & Madeira events here in the Seattle area for over a half dozen years and his article recounts a memorable Port-centric weekend from a few months ago.