It was the weekend of Roy Hersh’s 50th birthday. What better occasion would most of us ever see to open and share the rarest Ports I have seen in my (shorter) lifetime? I was thrilled to learn that Roy was putting together – organizing in inimitable Roy Hersh fashion – a weekend of Ports that had earned the moniker “vintage”, as well as some very fine meals in beautiful Seattle, Washington. I use the term “vintage” with caution, as I want to emphasize that these were gloriously old Ports, but the vast majority of them were Colheitas, as opposed to Vintage Ports per se.
A group of Roy’s friends from within and without the Port trade dug deep into their cellars, and harassed their wine merchant contacts, in order to contribute to this once-in-a-lifetime weekend event.
The festivities began on June 30, 2007 at Kaspar’s restaurant in Seattle. On this day, we would sample the younger wines of the weekend – commencing with a mystery wine and then a flight of 1937 Colheitas. Here are my tasting notes:
Wine 1: This has a lovely amber-golden color, nice balance, a gorgeous lingering sweetness, a nutty nose and palate featuring toasted pecans, and a bit of vanilla bean. Nice wine. This wine turned out to be a wine blended by Roy Hersh from the Colheita stocks of Barros. The wine was comprised as follows: 50% 1937, 20% 1957, 20% 1967, and 10% 1984.
Wine 2: This has less nose than others in this flight. It has a browner color, but clear. It starts slightly hot/spirity, some VA. It is nutty and shows some sharp acids. Somewhat Madeira-like. I wrote at the time that the wine was more enjoyable than my tasting note would seem to indicate, but I felt it was the weakest of the flight. This was 1937 Feist, bottled in 1999.
Wine 3: This had a more floral nose – finer and perfumed. Pretty burnt amber color. It had a lovely sweetness and good balance in the mouth. It had a nice medium weight, with good acid keeping this wine nicely round instead of flabby. Really quite good! This was 1937 Burmester, bottled in 1987.
Wine 4: This had a murky, unclear color (at least my sample did). A nice Madeira-like whiff of VA on the nose. Best on the palate, showing lovely mature sweetness, relatively low acid, a bit of cinnamon and some apple skins. The texture/mouthfeel was almost creamy. This was lovely. It was 1937 C. da Silva, bottled in 1999.
Wine 5: This was a bigger wine, and it was one of the lightest colored wines of the flight. A lovely nose of raisins. Strong in the mouth with great length. Nice burnt caramel. A very level/even wine from start to finish. This was 1937 Niepoort, bottled in 1977.
We learned that the second flight would pick up where the last flight had left off – four more of these 1937 Colheitas (for a total of eight in this incredible tasting!). They were served as follows:
Wine 6: This had a powerful Porty nose, with big spirit and hot cinnamon. A brute of a wine still! Huge structure, with big acid. Quite a mouthful (and a little too rough-and-tumble for some tasters). But I liked it quite a bit and thought it was the best of this second grouping of 1937s. It was 1937 Noval, bottled in 1998.
Wine 7: This had an offputting oxidised nose – rusty. It was a dark yellow color. The taste was dominated by a cough-syrup flavour. It had a short, clipped finish. The weakest 1937 of this flight. It was 1937 Ramos Pinto, bottled in 1979.
Wine 8: This had a sawdusty/woody nose. It was more of a golden color. Less aggressive and less oxidised than the previous wine. Some nice candy apple flavours here. It was 1937 Ramos Pinto, bottled in 1984.
(Wines 7 and 8 were intended to, and did, lead to a lively discussion about the importance of not just the vintage, but also the bottling date where Colheitas are concerned.)
Wine 9: This had a burnt caramel nose. It showed less obvious sweetness than many of the other wines today, in favour of a nutty essence. Some lovely flavours of almond emerged. Quite prominent acids help this wine to show young and fresh. It was 1937 Porto Rocha, bottled in 2006.
Wine 10: Rounding out this flight was a non-1937 wine. This had a fairly mild nose. There were some good caramel flavours, but overall I found this wine to be lacking interest – somewhat flat. It was 1938 Kopke, bottled in 2002.
And then…another flight of pre-1940 Colheitas! What a remarkable tasting. My notes do indicate, however, that I found this flight to be the weakest of the day.
Wine 11: This had a really nice pretty nose. There were good freshening acids and a touch of cinnamon. This was 1938 Barros, bottled in 1999.
Wine 12: Not much on the nose here. This one is notably lightweight. The palate feel is smooth, but it lacks character. This was 1938 Morreira, bottled in 2000.
Wine 13: This one was a bit light on the nose. A little whiff of mosquito repellent (which I sometimes get on Northern Rhone wines). This has a light-to-medium body. It has a bit of pepper on the palate and some crème brulee. This was 1940 Kopke, bottled in 2001.
Wine 14: This wine was a bit of a paradox. The nose was a touch more oxidised than the previous wine, leading me to assume it would taste less fresh. But on the palate it had nice acidity, showing fresh and long. It was 1940 Barros, bottled in 1999.
After a poll of participants, the somewhat controversial 1937 Noval (Wine 6) was voted wine of the day.
On July 1, 2007 we continued this event, this time at Daniel’s Broiler in Seattle. Finally we would taste some old Ports! And old they were. It did not escape me that this tasting was occurring on Canada Day. Canada was formed in 1867 – almost the entire first flight of Ports we consumed on this day was older than the Canadian nation.
Here are my tasting notes (I recommenced the numbering from Wine 1 on this Day Two):
Wine 1: This is fresh, with very tangy high acids. Some walnut on the nose. Orange peel on the palate. Touch of butter toffee. This is a lively wine with a long finish. It was the exceedingly rare 1935 Barros White Colheita.
Wine 2: A musty, dusty nose. It features some pipe tobacco. Has good solid acid. This was my least favourite wine of the flight. Bartholomew Broadbent thought this might be a Vintage Port, rather than a Colheita. It was 1815 Royal Oporto.
Wine 3: This has a very unique nose. There are essences of spearmint, sandalwood, and most of all fresh rosemary on this nose. These scents follow strongly onto the palate as well. The wine is a bit disjointed with slightly spiky acidity. A real experience to taste this! Bartholomew Broadbent again thought this was a Vintage Port, rather than a Colheita, as he spoke to a representative of the Port house, who advised that there was no Colheita from this vintage. It was 1815 Ferreira.
It was an honour and a truly unique experience to taste these two 1815 wines. Participants from the Port trade confirmed that precious few bottles of 1815 are known to remain in existence, even in Portugal!
Wine 4: This had a captivating nose showing coffee liquor. It had great acidity, and lovely flavours of chocolate caramels and baking spices. Really very good and remarkably (a bit too?) young-tasting. This was 1853 Reserve King Pedro V, Whitwams bottling (this was reportedly a Niepoort find).
Wine 5: Some lovely tea on the nose. Some nice dried fruits on the palate, but relatively low acid and a shorter finish. The group was unsure whether this was a Vintage Port or a Colheita. It was 1863 Vesuvio (single vineyard).
The second flight of the day took us from the late 19th century into the 20th century.
Wine 6: Great wine showing crème brulee/burnt toffee. This wine had excellent acids. My only complaint was that it was a touch spirity, but certainly a very, very good wine. This was 1890 AJS (A.J. da Silva).
Wine 7: This also showed very well. Though the nose showed a bit oxidised, the palate was considerably better. This had toffee, baking spices, nuts and some dried fruit. Very special. This was 1900 Ferreira Duc de Briganze Reserve, bottled in 1972.
Wine 8: This was a nice wine with nothing out of place, but just seemed a little simple on the heels of the previous two wines. It was 1900 Borges, bottled in 1947 and recorked in 1982.
Wine 9: This one was not so great. It was oxidised on the nose, and showed a funky palate with browned (air exposed) apple flavour. It was 1910 Andresen, bottled in 1973.
Wine 10: This was a powerful wine! A whiff of VA on the nose. Then great flavours of raisins and other dried fruits. Some creamy caramel, stiffened nicely by wonderfully judged acids. It was 1912 Niepoort Colheita, bottled 1976 or 1977.
For the third flight of the day, and the final flight of the tasting, we enjoyed a selection of wines and vintages, culminating in a showdown between the 1957 Colheitas of Barros and Kopke.
Wine 11: This was a nice wine that showed a bit too much spirit, but was otherwise solid. It was 1920 Calem, bottled in 1943.
Wine 12: This had a nose that was a bit unpleasant, smelling of chemical – particularly paint/lacquer. On the palate it was also fairly hot. It was 1927 Constantine.
Wine 13: It had an oxidised/reduced nose. A bit skunky. The palate fell flat. It was 1931 Niepoort Garrafeira, put into demijohn in 1938 and rebottled in 1979.
Wine 14: This had a clean nose and a nice taste, showing fresh-baked cinnamon roll and caramel candy. I liked it. It was 1957 Barros, bottled 2001.
Wine 15: This showed some multivitamin tablets on the nose. In comparison to the previous wine, I found this one to be a bit simpler, flatter, and more syrupy. Doesn’t seem to have as much structure to it. This was 1957 Kopke, bottled in 2002.
I hope I’ve been able to provide a participant’s viewpoint to supplement Roy Hersh’s comprehensive report of this fantastic event. It is difficult in a tasting such as this to avoid seeming unappreciative of certain rare bottles that just don’t show well relative to the others at the tasting. As several participants noted, we (and many other Port enthusiasts worldwide) would ordinarily covet the opportunity to try any one of these wines. However, given the format and the nature of this tasting, I felt that the most valuable information to convey through my notes was which wines showed best at this tasting comparatively.
Article © by Blair Curtis – March 2008
Roy's Note: A very close friend of mine, Blair Curtis, came down from Vancouver, BC with his girlfriend Bronwyn to take part in my birthday festivities. He has graciously penned the following article to be included here as a counterpoint to my own memory and tasting notes. It was a pleasure to have these friends present to enjoy these pair of tastings.