View From the Cellar: Critical and Historical Commentary of a Vinous Nature
One Hundred Years of Taylor Fladgate and Other Noteworthy Ports.
By John Gilman © February 2007
Over the latter half of 2006 I had the opportunity to attend a handful of truly extraordinary Port tastings featuring (amongst others) the brilliant wines of Taylor Fladgate. Two of the tastings were led by Adrian Bridge, the CEO of Fladgate Partnership, which in addition to Taylor Fladgate has also owned the house of Fonseca since 1948 and recently acquired Croft and Delaforce as well in the fall of 2001. The first tasting was held here in New York at the end of May and featured an extraordinary array of tawny ports, including a handful of lovely old Colheita bottlings from Delaforce and Taylor’s. Colheitas are, for those unfamiliar with the term, vintage-dated tawny ports that are the product of a single harvest (rather than a blend of years as is most often the case with tawnies) and aged for a minimum of seven years in barrel prior to bottling. While the minimum requirement is seven years of barrel aging before bottling, in reality most Colheitas are held in barrel significantly longer than seven years, until the wine has fully mellowed into a complex and vibrant maturity. Typically a Colheita bottling will not hail from a well-known vintage, as the wine would have found its way into the declared vintage port from that year, rather than held aside for making a Colheita, though as we will see below, there are exceptions.
The second large tasting was in the latter half of October, and was hosted by Bob Millman and Robert Kaplan of Executive Wine Seminars and organized by Mark Golodetz, who had painstakingly sourced the amazing lineup of old vintage Taylor’s over several years and several continents. Adrian Bridge again joined us for the tasting, which featured a range of Taylor vintage ports that stretched back more than a hundred years. It was a spectacular tasting, and really highlighted just how magical old ports can become from shippers as uncompromising in their approach to quality and tradition as Taylor Fladgate. What I found most interesting about tasting such a superlative lineup of venerable bottles was how much I was attracted to the style of the wines over fifty years of age. These ports had begun to really drop their color and become almost golden orange in hue, with the fruit flavors moving more to caramelized citrus and banana from their plum and black cherry origins, and developing a haunting array of spice characteristics and surreal complexity. Interestingly, this was not the first time in 2006 that I had found this same phenomenon, as a small dinner hosted by New York collector Trent Walker that was centered around a bottle of the legendary 1948 Taylor had witnessed a similar occurrence, when the 1924 Taylor added in almost as an afterthought to supplement the 1948 stole much of the 1948’s thunder.
Taylor Fladgate is one of the greatest names in the world of wine. The port house, officially known as Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman has been operating as a family run enterprise for well over three hundred years, and is the gold standard for many port lovers. The firm dates its history back to 1692, when Englishman Job Bearsley came into the partnership that would eventually become Taylor’s. The timing was propitious, as the continuing wars between France and England led soon thereafter to advantageous duty rates for Portuguese wines in England and the creation of port, as a fortified sweet wine that could withstand the rigors of oceanic travel from Portugal to England. The house continued to prosper during the eighteenth century, with subsequent generations of Bearsleys continuing in top positions in the company. In 1816 Joseph Taylor, from whose family name to the firm would eventually come to be known, joined the partnership,. By 1826 Mr. Taylor was fully in charge and the company was Joseph Taylor & Company. Interestingly, in a firm that has seen several generations of Bearsleys, Fladgates and Yeatmans, Joseph Taylor did not pass his stake on to a younger generation, and yet to many port lovers the house to this day is simply known as Taylor. John Fladgate, a twenty-five year-old London wine merchant, who had arrived in Oporto in 1833, and by 1836 was a partner in the firm. Mr. Taylor passed away the next year, and in 1838 Morgan Yeatman (another English wine merchant) went into partnership with John Fladgate and managed distribution from London, though the company remained known as Joseph Taylor & Company. Finally in 1844 and the company name was officially changed to its current incarnation of Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman.
John Fladgate was a huge figure in the port trade during the 1840s and 1850s. While Morgan Yeatman ran the company’s business in London, John Fladgate oversaw the significant expansion of Taylor’s from Oporto. Fladgate had one son, Francis, who became a partner in the firm and worked from Oporto, and four daughters, all of whom married into important port families. One of his daughters, Florence, married Pedro Gonçalves Guimaraens of the port house known today as Fonseca. Another daughter, Catherine married Joseph Forrester, who Sarah Bradford in her lovely piece, The Birth of Port, calls “the most talented man the port trade has produced.” Forrester was a seminal figure in Oporto during his time, tirelessly campaigning for quality in the wines and was the first man to ever map the Douro region. In 1861 Forrester was tragically drowned when his boat capsized in the rapids on one of the most dangerous stretches of the Duoro River, the narrow Valeria gorge, through which the river raged. His two female lunch companions (also from important port families) were able to float to safety thanks to the buoyancy of their skirts. To this day Mr. Forrester continues to be remembered by Taylor’s, as guests to the Quinta de Vargellas who are taken out on the river are served a reverential toast as the boat passes through the now much calmer Valeria gorge (after the damming of the Douro), floating past a memorial plaque carved high up on the rock wall.
In 1849 Morgan Yeatman died, but his son, Morgan Jr. had already become a partner and carried on the distribution end of the business from London. His two sons, Harry and Frank Yeatman would eventually run the firm until the close of the nineteenth century. Frank Yeatman, who oversaw fifty vintages at Taylor’s, was the first generation of his family to move to Oporto from London. Frank’s son, Dick Yeatman took over the reigns of the partnership in 1898, and was another seminal figure in Oporto during his nearly seventy year tenure. Dick Yeatman was the first port shipper to have been formally trained in viticulture, as he had attended the University of Montpellier in France. Working in the recently purchased Quinta de Vargellas, Mr. Yeatman was a pioneer in studying and identifying the traditional grape varieties grown in the vineyards of the Douro. Prior to his studies, the vineyards had always been planted in a “field blend”, as had been the case since Roman times. In 1927, Dick Yeatman was the first to plant vineyards by variety in isolated blocks, so that each could be singled out and studied for its unique characteristics and ultimate contribution to the blended wine. It would not be until the 1970s and 1980s that this practice would take hold across the entire Douro. Mr. Yeatman ran Taylor’s until his passing in 1966, at which time the firm’s current chairman, Alistair Robertson (Mr. Yeatman’s nephew) took over the at the helm. Mr. Robertson’s son-in-law, Adrian Bridge now serves as the partnerships CEO.
The English trading firms that were set up in the early years of the port wine trade were instrumental in pushing in from the Atlantic along the Douro river and planting many of the steep, terraced vineyards in the area that are the source for port today. During this time, the large port houses operated almost exclusively as négociants in the region, buying wine from the local growers, blending and aging the wine, and serving as the commercial source for the trade, with England as their primary market. It should be noted that port as we know it today was a relatively recent invention, having only been arrived at sometime in the 1700s. England’s ongoing wars with the French had forced wine merchants to seek out Portuguese red wines (from an old and trustworthy English ally) to replace the Bordeaux that English wine drinkers had become accustomed to, but the early examples of claret replacements had met with a very, very cool reception in England. Not surprisingly, dry Portuguese reds stiffened with a firm blast or two of brandy per cask to protect them during their ocean shipment were hardly recognized as an appropriate substitution for Château Haut Brion and the like. Eventually, the addition of brandy to the dry wines that were produced in the Douro region was modified to utilizing the brandy to stop the fermentation process of the wine while a significant percentage of residual sugar still remained, thus producing the sweet, fortified wine that we know today as port. With this stroke, England became much more receptive to the new beverage, and from the mid-1700s to the early twentieth century, port was by a wide margin the most widely drunk wine in the country.
As was the case with many of the wine-producing regions of Europe, the 1870s witnessed the devastation of the Douro region by Phylloxera. In the wake of Phylloxera, Taylor’s was the first major port house to realize the advantage of owning their own vines, and in 1893 and 1896 purchased the prime vineyard that would become the cornerstone of the house ever after. This is the 164 hectare vineyard of the Quinta de Vargellas, which was to become the centerpiece of Taylor’s and the core element of the long-lived and powerful vintage ports for which the firm is so famous today. At that time the vineyard was divided into three sections (but only two owners), with the middle and lower section purchased in the earlier year, and the final upper section bought from the Ferreira family in 1896 to consolidate this vineyard in the hands of one owner for the first time in its history. Vargellas had earned a reputation earlier in the century as the finest vineyard in the region, having been bottled and sold on its own at auction in London by one of the previous vineyard’s owners in the 1820s. The Quinta de Vargellas is a steep, north-facing bowl of a vineyard located well up the Douro river valley (nearly to the Spanish border), which had been devastated by Phylloxera prior to the firm buying the vineyard and replanting it. Today well more than half the vines here are in excess of seventy-five years of age, and the powerful spine found in vintages of Taylor Fladgate ports can be attributed to the stylistic contribution from the Vargellas. Typically, at least a third of any blend destined to be a declared vintage at Taylor’s today hails from this superb vineyard.
In addition to being the core of vintage Taylor-Fladgate ports, the Quinta de Vargellas is also bottled on its own in certain vintages where the overall quality of the crop is not up to the declaration of a vintage port, but where the grapes in the Vargellas are simply too good to be blended into the non-vintage bottlings that are the core of any port house’s business. The first vintage of Quinta de Vargellas bottled on its own and offered for sale to the public was the 1958 (first sold at age ten in 1968). However, the very first bottling of Vargellas by Taylor’s was in 1905, though it was never made commercially available, and simply held onto “for consumption in house.” Over the ensuing years the firm has infrequently produced a Quinta de Vargellas bottling in other vintages, prior to the first commercial release of the 1958. For example, Roy Hersh, in his fine online newsletter, For the Love of Port (www.fortheloveofport.com ), reports in a recent article on the Vargellas that there was also a 1912 bottled, as well as a 1955, and that both vintages continue to drink very well indeed. The 1955 was a rare example of a Quinta de Vargellas bottling being made in the same year that Taylor’s also declared a vintage port. For a complete look at Mr. Hersh’s fine and thorough article on the Quinta de Vargellas, as well as plenty of tasting notes on rare and unreleased vintages of the vineyard, here is the direct link: http://fortheloveofport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=67.
In addition to the fine single vineyard bottling of Quinta de Vargellas that appears from time to time, there is also now an old vine bottling made in very limited quantity from a parcel of one hundred year-old vines and labeled as Quinta de Vargellas “Vinha Velha”. Interestingly, these old centenarian vines lie in the same lower section of the Vargellas from which the first ports to bear the vineyard’s name were made and sold in the 1820s. The first vintage (at least for commercial release) for the Vinha Velha was the 1995, and it has been followed up by a 1997, 2000 and a 2004. It is an extraordinary port by any stretch of the imagination, with the very old vines providing a sappy and opulent quality to the fruit component that recalls the best vintages of Quinta de Noval’s Nacional bottling, but coupled with the iron spine of wines that hail from the Vargellas. Obviously it is too early to say with any certainty, as even the 1995 is still quite a young wine by port standards, but the Vinha Velha looks destined to become one of the superstar ports of the region. The only vintage where I have tasted the old vine bottling side by side with a vintage Taylor is 2000, and the old vines added an extra, dramatic element of depth and exotica that gave it profound potential.
Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman have added other top vineyards as opportunity has allowed over the years. The beautifully situated Quinta de Terra Feita, which had long been a source of purchased grapes for the firm, was bought in 1974. Terra Feita is located in one of the best sections in the entire Douro region, lying on the western slopes of the Pinhão River valley. Along with Vargellas, it has been one of the key elements in every vintage Taylor’s released in the last century. Single quinta bottlings of Terra Feita had never been released previously, but it turns out that Taylor Fladgate has occasionally made them during the latter half of the twentieth century, and has now begun to make some of these older vintages available. The house plans to produce and make available a single quinta bottling from Terra Feita with more regularity from now on. Another top-rated vineyard, Quinta de Junco was added in 1998. The following year saw the acquisition of Vargellas’ neighbor, the Quinta de São Xisto, which had to be replanted, but will one day be another workhorse vineyard for the firm. In addition to these vineyard purchases, the firm has also added other port houses and their vineyards over the post-war years. The most important was the port house of Fonseca, which had been owned by the Guimaraens family since the early nineteenth century. Fonseca in the wake of the lean market years during and immediately following the second world war was brought under the Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman umbrella in 1948, though still run as a separate enterprise as befits one of the historically most important port lodges. Fonseca has always been made by a member of the Guimaraens family, with the fourth generation now represented by David Guimaraens, who in addition to overseeing winemaking at Fonseca, is also in charge of winemaking at Taylor-Fladgate as well.
In the fall of 2001 the firm further added to its portfolio with the purchase of Croft and Delaforce. This purchase not only included fine stocks of older ports (particularly a fine array of old Colheitas), but also a pair of excellent vineyards as well: Delaforce’s Quinta de Côrte which is primarily planted with fifty year-old vines and Croft’s beautiful Quinta do Roêda. The Quinta do Roêda had once been part of the Taylor group of holdings, as John Fladgate had purchased this vineyard back in 1844. The vineyard was included as part of the dowry during the subsequent marriage of John Fladgate’s daughter Janet to Charles Wright of Croft several years later, so in a way the 2001 purchase of Croft and Delaforce represents a bit of a homecoming for the Quinta do Roêda. This is a beautifully situated vineyard that happens to include a parcel of twenty-five to thirty year-old vines that are planted on ungrafted rootstocks similar to (albeit younger than) those used in Quinta do Noval’s Nacional bottling.
It seems quite likely that the addition of these two fine port houses to those of Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca will further add luster to the wines of Oporto. I would expect that the vintage releases of Croft to add a bit of depth and potential for longevity under the auspices of the firm, while still retaining the perfumed and elegant house style. I would strongly suspect that at least for the next several years, the Quinta do Roêda will continue to be the root vineyard for Croft’s vintage bottlings. However, as the number of newly planted vineyards of the group begins to mature, we may see a return of the Quinta do Roêda back to Taylor Fladgate in some manifestation. Delaforce looks poised to specialize in aged Colheitas under its new ownership, as a fine range of stocks of old tawnies was included in the sale in 2001. Based on the May tasting I attended, the category of Colheita bottlings could represent a very exciting branch of the port market in the coming years, if prices are kept in line to offer reasonable value vis à vis similarly aged vintage ports. As the tasting clearly demonstrated, aged tawnies from a single vintage year offer up a lovely contrast from both blended old tawny ports (long a Taylor Fladgate specialty) and older vintage ports, as they often deliver a synthesis of the two styles. In my experience one often finds more transparency and individuality in a Colheita bottling with significant age to it (say thirty years or more) than found in the older blended tawnies, and in many ways they are stylistically akin to vintage ports with significantly more bottle age to them.
I have broken down the notes that follow into sections of tawnies and Colheitas first, and vintage Taylor Fladgate bottlings secondly. Amongst the tawnies and Colheitas I have included bottlings that were shown at the May tasting that hail from Fonseca, Croft and Delaforce as well as Taylor Fladgate. In the vintage section I have included recently tasted examples of Quinta de Vargellas and the “Vinha Velha” bottling as well.
After the vintage section of Taylor’s bottlings, I have included notes on a handful of other recently tasted vintage ports as well. Even though prices have risen (along with everything else in the world of wine in the last decade), port still represents one of the relatively great values to be found in the market today.
Tawny Ports and Colheitas
Tawny ports with a specific age assigned to them (i.e. Ten Year or Twenty Year Tawnies) are very recent phenomenon, as the right to be able to market these wines with their ages on them was only granted in 1973. The May tasting of these wines began with a ten year vertical of constituent components that will ultimately find their way into the various blend of tawny port offered by Taylor Fladgate. I have not included these barrel sample notes, but should note that it is not until the young ports have spent five or six years in barrel that they begin to show any signs of their “tawny character,” as prior to this they really taste as smaller scale vintage ports or late bottled vintage styled ports. Taylor’s will typically begin blending its various barrels of reserved ports destined for their ten year-old tawny program in the sixth year to allow the seamless character to begin to develop which is a hallmark of a Taylor-Fladgate tawny port. Older tawnies (Taylor Fladgate offers 10 year-old, 20 year-old, 30 year-old and 40 year-old Tawny bottlings) are held in cask for decades more, and therefore are earmarked early on by their concentration as consistent with the ability to age gracefully in barrel for such extended periods of time. For the house of Taylor’s, these ports destined for older tawny blends all hail from their own vineyard holdings. Typically these older tawnies will be an approximation of their stated ages, as some older wines are often blended in to maintain house style of each bottling while accounting for variations in vintages throughout the period in question. In fact the monumental 1900 Taylor Fladgate Colheita tasted is reserved specifically to add depth and dimension to the 40-Year Tawny bottling, and has never been made commercially available.
Colheitas are an even more recent phenomenon than Twenty and Thirty Year-Old Tawnies. The port houses of Calem and Niepoort were two of the trailblazers when it comes to Colheitas. As noted above, Colheita Tawny bottlings are single vintage tawnies that have been held in barrel for a minimum of seven years prior to bottling, though in fact it is a very rare Colheita bottling that is bottled anywhere near as soon as at seven years of age. Typically they are held significantly longer in barrel, and intuitively I would guess that Colheitas are not necessarily planned at the outset of their lives, but continue to maintain such a unique and compelling character over the course of their long lives in barrel that it becomes clear that they deserve to be bottled on their own, rather than blended into one of the various older tawny bottlings. As an example, the lovely 1965 Delaforce Colheita noted below was not bottled until 2005, or after fully forty years of barrel aging. With such extended time spent in barrel, they often will show much of the character of extremely old vintage ports, and they can be truly stunning bottles.
Taylor Fladgate Ten Year-Old Tawny Port It was interesting to see how much more of what I consider “typical” tawny character the finished ten year-old bottling showed in comparison to the vertical of constituents that I had tasted immediately preceding this wine. I have to assume that there is a significant percentage of older tawny blended into the finished ten year-old bottling to account for this marked difference (and improvement). In any event, the Ten Year-Old tawny is a lovely example, as it offers up a complex bouquet of raisins, dried cherries, a bit of celery seed and a lovely potpourri of spice and cedary notes. On the palate the wine is medium-full, focused and balanced, with a spice and dried fruit character, and good length and grip on the finish. This is really one of the finest examples of its genre made today. 2006-2016+. 89.
Delaforce Twenty Year-Old Tawny Port The Delaforce Twenty Year-Old Tawny is a pretty wine, but it does not display the brilliant transparency of the best Colheitas from this house, nor quite the same precision and breed as the Taylor tawny bottlings. The nose offers up an intriguing mélange of orange rind, raisin, coffee, plenty of spice and just a touch of spirit that detracts from the aromatic sophistication of the wine. On the palate the wine is fullish and just a tad weedy, with good length and depth, but a slightly muddled palate impression on the backend. The raw materials here are quite good, but it does not sing with the same precision and focus as Taylor’s own versions. But still not a bad drink. 2006-2016. 85.
Fonseca Twenty Year-Old Tawny Port While I have drunk a great deal of Taylor’s various tawny bottlings, this was the first time that I had ever tasted one of Fonseca’s Twenty Year-Old tawnies, and I was quite blown away by this superb wine. The bouquet is deep and ethereal, as it offers up a fine mélange of orange zest, dried red berries, Fonseca’s signature note of fennel, a complex base of soil, exotic spices and a lovely, Sherry-like note of nuttiness. On the palate the wine is fullish, focused and brilliantly delineated, with lovely sweetness on the attack, a fine core of fruit, great complexity, and a very cool and balanced profile on the long, classy and complex finish. This wine delivers a seamless palate impression and stunning grip, and is a glorious bottle of tawny. 2006-2016+. 93.
Taylor Fladgate Twenty Year-Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate’s Twenty Year-Old Tawny had always been my baseline for this age of tawny, and the current release is once again a lovely bottle. The bouquet offers up a more soil-driven and coffee-like mélange than the Fonseca above, as it wafts from the glass in a very refined blend of raisin, spice, a bit of candle wax, fennel seed, and a very complex swath of soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and very refined as well, but cut in a more powerful and broader style than the Fonseca Twenty, with a rock solid core of fruit, fine acids, and excellent length and grip on the long, classy finish. This is a very high class bottle of tawny, but it does not share quite the same ethereal focus of the above. 2006-2016+. 91.
Niepoort Thirty Year-Old Tawny Port I have had several Niepoort bottlings that I have been impressed with, but this Thirty Year-Old Tawny was not particularly special. The rather spirity nose offers up notes of raisin, orange zest, earth and cigar smoke. On the palate the wine is medium-full and a bit hot, with solid length, but not a whole lot of delineation or transparency. This seems a rather ham-fisted effort, but to be fair, this was served by the glass at a New York restaurant, and I did not have any information on how long the bottle had been opened or how it was stored (plenty of aged tawnies sitting out on the back of the bar around town these days). If representative, this is a generous 85, but it may also be ???
Taylor Fladgate Thirty Year-Old Tawny Port I have always enjoyed the Taylor Thirty Year-Old Tawny, but it has never struck me as a significant step up from their outstanding Twenty Year-Old bottling. This current release shows a much more spicy and cedary old tawny character, as it offers up a nose of orange peel, raisins, some weedy notes and plenty of wood spice tones. On the palate the wine is fullish and blended a bit drier than the various Twenty Year-Olds above, and consequently shows its alcohol a bit more on the backend. The wine is medium-full, focused and complex, with more desiccated fruit and zest tones, but good length and grip. I have to wonder if this style would not show more flatteringly on a snappy January day like the one in which I am writing this report, rather than during the unseasonably hot May afternoon during which it was shown. Not bad, but I have to think that my score is a bit conservative. 2006-2016. 87-88+?
Fonseca Forty Year-Old Tawny Port Again, the superb Taylor Fladgate Forty Year-Old Tawny had always been my benchmark for this particular age of tawny port, but I was quite impressed by the Fonseca version of a Forty as well. The bouquet is deep, complex and classy, as it offers up a mélange of cherries, orange zest, nutmeg, gingerbread, celery seed and a discreet base of soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, complex and classy, with lovely focus, fine depth, and good length and grip on the refined finish. This is a very lovely bottle of old tawny, but I have to give a slight nod of preference to the Fonseca Twenty for its more ethereal aspects and its absolute precision of aromatic and flavor delineation. 2006-2016+. 91.
Delaforce Colheita 1986 The 1986 Colheita from Delaforce is a lovely bottle that offers up an almost Madeira-like aromatic blend in its bouquet of orange rind, clove-like spices, complex soil nuances, raisin and other dried fruit tones. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied, focused and tangy, with nice zingy acidity, good length and grip, but only moderate depth in the mid-palate. With a bit more stuffing this would be outstanding, but it is just a tad high-toned and consequently is not quite up to the level of the brilliant 1965. Nevertheless, in terms of transparency down to the soil and complexity in both the nose and mouth, this is a lovely middleweight. 2006-2026+. 88.
Delaforce Colheita 1965 As noted above, the 1965 Colheita from Delaforce was not bottled until the end of 2005, and its forty year sojourn in barrel has produced a truly outstanding bottle of tawny. The bouquet is a superb and complex mélange of oranges, dried cherries, a bit of woodsmoke, coffee tones, some herbal complications, lovely spice notes and a fine base of soil. As is so often the case with top Colheitas, there is an element of transparency down to the terroir here that is most beguiling. On the palate the wine is medium-full, racy and tangy, with excellent focus and grip on the long, complex finish. This is a most impressive Colheita. 2006-2026. 92.
Delaforce Colheita 1944 Interestingly, the raw materials in 1944 were probably a bit higher in quality than in 1965, but as the major port houses released a vintage 1945, most of this good quality vintage found its way into blended bottlings. My notes on this ’44 Colheita do not indicate when it was bottled, but I would be willing to bet that it was bottled sometime before its fortieth birthday, as it does not share quite the same beautiful transparency of the 1965 Colheita. The bouquet is a complex blend of new leather, raisins, ginger cookies, some soil and an herbal streak redolent of celery seed. On the palate the wine is fullish, pretty and complex, but not as precisely focused as the 1965, with good length and grip, but an ever so slight four-square personality. Still quite good. 2006-2026. 88.
Taylor Fladgate Colheita 1900 (barrel sample!) Taylor’s retains a number of old Colheitas that they use for adding depth and complexity to their Forty Year-Old Tawny bottlings, and it was from one of these old Colheitas that this sample was drawn off from the barrel for tasting. This wine is utterly remarkable in any context, but when one considers that it had spent one hundred and five years in barrel prior to having a bit siphoned off and bottled for this tasting, the wine begins to cast rather a long and humbling shadow. The color on this wine is notably deeper at the core than either the 1965 or 1944 Delaforce Colheitas, and simply soars from the glass in a brilliant mélange of cherries, orange zest, cigar ash, raisins, fresh mint, fennel seed, leather, caramel and a myriad of soil tones. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and impeccably balanced, with stunning complexity and focus, a huge core of fruit, bright acids and stunning length and grip on the nearly endless finish. If Taylor Fladgate ever decides to release any of this timeless monument, it will be worth the price of admission. It has decades and decades of life still ahead of it. 2006-2050+. 98.
Single Quinta Bottlings
2004 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 2004 Quinta de Vargellas bottling certainly shows no signs of suffering from a bit of Vinha Velha being made as well in this vintage. The bouquet is deep, complex and youthfully pure, as it offers up notes of cassis, black cherries, espresso, tobacco leaf, tarry tones and a sound base of earth. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, pure and powerfully built, with a great core of fruit, bright acids, and beautiful focus and grip on the very long and tannic finish. This will be an excellent vintage of Vargellas. 2020-2060. 93.
2004 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas “Vinha Velha” The Vinha Velha (old vine) bottling, was first made by Taylor in the 1995 vintage, and has subsequently been made in small quantities in the 1997, 2000 and 2004 vintages. The bottling comes from a parcel of vines in the Quinta de Vargellas vineyard that was planted between 1896 and 1908, making this bottling a true “vieilles vignes” cuvée. The 2004 Vinha Velha will be a stunning bottle, as it offers up a classically deep and primary bouquet of black cherries, plums, black pepper, licorice, tar, soil tones, an herbaceous streak redolent of fennel bulb and a violet top note. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, pure and structured, with a great core of fruit, firm, well-covered tannins, and flat out stunning length and grip on the powerful and focused finish. A stunning young port in the making. 2025-2100. 95+.
2004 Croft “Quinta do Roêda” This is the first vintage of Quinta do Roêda to be bottled after Croft was purchased by Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman, and it shows lovely potential. The bouquet is deep, complex and peppery, as it offers up notes of black cherries, some cabernet franc tones of bell pepper, a nice streak of youthful herbaceousness, ground black pepper and a sound base of soil. On the palate the wine is fullish and just a touch spirity today, but with good mid-palate depth, firm tannins and fine focus on the long, chewy and balanced finish. If the bit of heat on the backend is simply a passing phase of misspent youth, then this will score at the upper end of the predicted range. 2016-2040+. 88-90+?
2004 Fonseca “Quinta do Panascal” Fonseca purchased this vineyard in 1978, after having bought fruit from it for several decades previously. The vineyard was partially replanted soon after its purchase by Fonseca, and the first single Quinta bottling of Panascal was the 1984. The 2004 Panascal is a lovely middleweight that should offer lovely drinking when it is released (typically the house holds the wine back until its tenth birthday before releasing it to the market). The high-toned bouquet offers up a lovely blend of “cooler” fruit tones redolent of black cherries, plums, woodsmoke, a bit of youthful tariness and a pretty top note of violet. On the palate the wine is medium-full, juicy and focused, with only moderate depth and grip, but good length and nascent complexity on the finish. I do not have any previous experience with this bottling at such a young age, so I do not know if this will put on a bit of weight with bottle age. If it does, then my score will prove to be conservative. 2014-2030+? 88-90?
2004 Fonseca “Guimaraens” The Guimaraens bottling from Fonseca has a much longer history than the Quinta de Panascal, as the first couple of vintages of this wine were produced during the second world war. This is made from a blend of top parcels in three of the best vineyards that Fonseca owns, and has been made with quite some frequency in vintages that are not declared by Fonseca. The 2004 Guimaraens looks to be quite a step up in terms of depth and intensity from the Quinta do Panascal, as the nose offers up a much deeper mélange of black cherries, plums, dark chocolate, tar, a hint of the licorice to come, smoke and a vaguely floral topnote. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and rock solid at the core, with great focus and excellent structure, and a very long, tannic and primary finish. The acidity here is stellar and almost bracing, and this will prove to be an extremely long-lived and very serious bottle of port. Impressive potential. 2020-2050. 92+.
2001 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 2001 Vargellas is still very young, but shows excellent potential. The bouquet is deep, powerful and primary, as it offers up a mélange of black cherries, blackberries, tobacco, tar, a touch of mint, a fine base of soil and with air, Taylor’s top note of violets. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and bruising, with a rock solid core of fruit, ripe, well-integrated tannins, and still a bit of spirit showing on the backend. This will clearly be a top vintage of Vargellas, but it will demand at least a good decade more of cellaring before it is ready for genteel company. 2017-2050. 92+.
2000 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas “Vinha Velha” The 2000 Vinha Velha is an extraordinary young bottle of port, and stylistically strikes me as a hypothetical cross between Quinta de Noval’s Nacional and a traditional vintage of Taylor Fladgate. The bouquet is deep and quite flamboyant, as it offers up a beautiful blend of sappy black cherries, plums, fresh-ground pepper, tobacco ash, a lovely base of soil, licorice and a pungent top note of violets. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, plush and sappy on the attack, with a bottomless core of fruit synthesized with the rock solid backbone of Taylor, and a monumental and utterly profound, ripely tannic finish. There were only 240 cases of this magnificent wine made, so it will be hard to come by, but for those that find a few bottles, they are sitting on an utterly magnificent young bottle of port. 2020-2075+. 96+.
1998 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 1998 Vargellas is a good, solid bottle, but in the context of the rather remarkable string of fantastic wines made from this vineyard in the last thirty years, the ’98 is a bit of a weak link. The bouquet is deep and complex, but does not deliver the customary vibrancy of this bottling, as it offers up notes of slightly dulled black cherry compote, pepper, damp earth, some pruney tones, tar and a faint, but quite exotic topnote of blue cheese. On the palate the wine is fullish and complex, but again missing a little spark of acidity, with good mid-palate depth and good length on the modestly tannic and complex finish. On its own the 1988 Vargellas would still make a good drink, but in a lineup with eight or nine other vintages of Vargellas and the fireworks going off everywhere, the 1998 is a bit underwhelming. 2007-2020+? 87.
1997 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas “Vinha Velha” The 1997 Vinha Velha is a very young and powerful bottle of port, with bottomless depth, impeccable balance, and a brilliant freshness that contrasts notably with the 1998 Vargellas that preceded it in this lineup. The bouquet is a primary blend of sappy black cherries, plum candy, tar, tobacco, woodsmoke and a huge base of soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied , deep and very intensely flavored, with a rock solid core of fruit, firm, well-integrated tannins, and brilliant focus and grip on the very, very long and palate-staining finish. This is a very broad-shouldered port that is remarkably light on its feet. A tour de force. 2017-2060+. 95+.
1996 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas I had fears that the “regular” bottling of Vargellas would have difficulties showing well after the brilliant old vine 1997, but this stunning vintage of Vargellas had no difficulties keeping the pace. The bouquet is deep, pure and stunning, as it offers up a classic mélange of cassis, black cherries, tar, cigar smoke, violets, lovely soil nuances and an emerging note of fresh spearmint. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and racy, with a rock solid core, stunning acidity adding clarity and brilliant grip, and the classic Taylor spine running up and down the very long, complex and pure finish. A great vintage of the Quinta de Vargellas. 2015-2040+. 94.
1995 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 1995 Quinta de Vargellas is an excellent wine, which while it does not deliver quite the same raciness and vibrancy of the extraordinary 1996, is still an outstanding vintage for this lovely bottling. The wine delivers a polished bouquet of black cherries, plums, chocolate, a touch of pepper and a fine base of soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and complex, with fine mid-palate depth, moderate tannins, and good length and grip on the finish. There is still a touch of spirit on the backend of the ’95 Vargellas, and this too is still quite a young bottle of port. 2011-2030+. 91.
1995 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas “Vinha Velha” As magnificent as the ’97 Vinha Velha will be, the brilliant 1995 looks destined to always remain just a half step ahead of its younger sibling. The bouquet on this wine is stunning as it erupts from the glass in a blaze of cassis, black cherries, Château Latour-like notes of cigar box, earth and walnuts, as well as pepper, tar and a touch of mint. On the palate the wine is brilliantly transparent to the soil, with its full-bodied and monumental format flawlessly focused, and with the depth, breed and complexity that only the world’s greatest wines deliver effortlessly. The tannins here are ripe, well-integrated and suave, and the tangy acids add a note of clarity and tang that is utterly disarming. A brilliant wine. 2015-2070. 96+.
1988 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 1988 Vargellas is a very lovely bottle that is just now beginning to show signs of tertiary development, and stylistically, it is not dissimilar from the 1995. The bouquet offers up a blend of black cherries, a touch of caramel, bonfires, tobacco leaf, tar, damp earth, the first blossoming notes of the orange zest to come and a touch of camphor in the upper register. This wine started out slightly flat when first poured (it had been decanted for at least two hours prior to serving), and yet the fruit snapped to attention within thirty seconds of entering in the glass. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, long and complex, with a fine core of fruit, and excellent length and grip on the finish. This is one of the relatively lower acid vintages of Vargellas, and there is not quite the same sizzle across the palate that can be found in the higher acid vintages of this wine. But that said, the ’88 is a very fine bottle that is just now entering into its plateau of maturity and should delight for at least another twenty years. 2012-2032+. 90.
1987 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 1987 Vargellas makes a very interesting comparison with the 1988, as this wine is not quite as deep, ripe or long as the 1988, but possesses better acidity, and hence shows a bit more lift and bounce on the palate. The nose is a touch less evolved than the 1988, as it offers up a vibrant mélange of cassis, black cherries, hints of caramelized banana, tar and a slightly vegetal streak through it that adds to the complexity. On the palate the wine is fullish, deep and racy, with good mid-palate depth, moderate tannins, zesty acidity, and very good (but not quite up to the 1988) length on the complex finish. Choosing between this and the more traditionally styled 1988 Vargellas is simply a matter of taste. I have to give a very slight nod to the slightly smaller-scaled but snappier 1987. 2012-2032+. 91.
1978 Quinta de Noval “Nacional” This is one of the first vintages of Nacional that I ever had the pleasure to taste, and it is a lovely bottle that perfectly captures the opulent character of Nacional. The bouquet is deep, complex and flashy, as it offers up notes of candied cherries and plums, orange zest, tobacco, just a touch of raisin, clove-like spices, minerals, and cedary wood. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and rock solid at the core, with melting tannins, tangy acids, fine focus and a very, very long, complex and powerful finish. The fact that I do not drink enough Nacional is abundantly clear when a glass of this lovely elixir is placed in my hands. A great bottle. 2005-2040. 95.
1978 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas The 1978 Vargellas is a brilliant vintage for this wine. The bouquet is deep, complex and vibrant, as it soars from the glass in a mélange of cherry, caramelized banana, mint, smoke, fresh spearmint, nutmeg, tar, a lovely base of soil, and a violet top note. On the palate the wine is medium-full, deep and vibrant, with great intensity of flavor, superb focus, and great length and grip on the complex and very tangy finish. A brilliant wine that does not quite deliver the depth or breadth of a declared Taylor vintage, but in all other aspects is a worthy match. A stunning wine in full bloom, the 1978 Vargellas has years of life still ahead of it. 2007-2040. 94.
1967 Quinta do Noval “Nacional” The 1967 Nacional is still quite young and while drinkable now, is still clearly on its way up. The bouquet is deep and fruit-driven, as it offers up an almost opulent potpourri of black cherries, plums, licorice, fresh-ground pepper, tar and a pungent top note of violets. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and rock solid to the core, with great focus, and almost primary palate impression (if a forty year-old bottle can be described as still primary!), with well-integrated tannins, bright acids, and great length and grip on the long, palate-staining finish. This is a great bottle that I would still try and wait on for several more years, so as more detail and secondary elements can begin to emerge. A fine, fine bottle, the ’67 Nacional is today in that velvety fruit bomb stage that is very hard to refuse. 2007-2050+. 95.
1967 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas Tasting the brilliant ’67 Nacional and ’67 Vargellas it is pretty clear that this vintage probably would have been a declared vintage if it did not come hard on the heels of the 1963s and 1966s. The ’67 Vargellas is a brilliant wine that offers up a classic aromatic potpourri of black cherries, caramelized banana, tobacco, mint, cigar box, a touch of browned butter, violets and a great base of soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, pure and racy, with stunning complexity, and great length and grip on the glorious finish. A great wine and one of the best vintages of Vargellas that I have ever had the pleasure to taste. 2007-2040. 95.
1962 Quinta do Noval “Nacional” This wine was liked better by a good margin by everyone else around the table, and I am not certain if my having recovered from the flu several days before this tasting made the wine seem a bit more spirity than it actually was. In any event I had no issues with the wine aromatically, as the fine nose offered up notes of candied red cherries, a bit of orange rind, tobacco, caramel, minerals and roses. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, balanced and resolved, with melting tannins and fine length on the finish, which as I alluded to previously, was just a bit marked by its alcohol to my senses. A very good wine, but without the profound depth of fruit and the flawless balance that I have found in other vintages of Nacional. 2004-2030. 91+?
Taylor Fladgate Vintage Ports
2003 Taylor Fladgate Adrian Bridge, noted that everyone in the Taylor family was very bullish on the 2003 vintage, which they felt offered great potential. At our vertical tasting I was not as impressed as many in the audience, as I found the wine a bit overripe at this stage and hence not as refined and precise as is customary with a young vintage of Taylor Fladgate. To my mind the 2000 Taylor is a significantly more promising bottle. The nose on the 2003 is a mélange of fresh apricot, chocolate, black cherry preserves, pepper, tar and a bit of stewiness from overripe fruit. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and impressively endowed, with a huge core and plenty of the Taylor grip on the backend, but not the focus and nascent complexity so often found in young vintages of this wine. The finish is certainly long, and it is conceivable that this wine will freshen as it evolves with time in bottle. But today, this is one of the least interesting, albeit larger-scaled, young vintages of Taylor that I have tasted. 2010-2035+? 88+?
2000 Taylor Fladgate The 2000 Taylor is a classic in the making, and while it does not possess quite the same flamboyance as the 2000 Vinhas Velhas, it will make a superb bottle at maturity. The bouquet displays typical Taylor reticence in its complex blend of cassis, black cherries, plums, tar, bitter chocolate, black pepper, earth and violets. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and structured, with a rock solid core of fruit, firm tannins, excellent acids, and a very long, very primary finish. The grip here is classic Taylor- firm, uncompromising and built to age gracefully for at least fifty years. This is a great vintage of Taylor in the making. 2025-2100. 94+.
1997 Taylor Fladgate The 1997 Taylor is a good bottle that is either in a rather cranky, adolescent phase, or is not quite in the same league as the fine 2000 vintage. The bouquet offers up a mélange of black cherries, cassis, weedy, Napa Cabernet-like notes, chocolate syrup, tar and tobacco. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and broad, but without the customary density and laser-like focus of the great Taylor’s, with good length, ripe tannins and good balance on the finish. Certainly a good drink by any standards, the 1997 Taylor only falls short by the very, very high standards of this house. 2020-2100. 92+?
1994 Taylor Fladgate The 1994 vintage of Taylor is a huge and powerful wine, but it does not possess quite the same vivid freshness of my very favorite vintages in the last several decades. Perhaps this is just a stage that the wine is in today, but amongst the fine troika of vintage Taylor’s from the 1990s, I have to give a slight nod to the remarkably refined and hauntingly brilliant 1992 Taylor over the larger-scaled 1994. The very powerful bouquet on the ’94 offers up a mix of intense cassis, plum, chocolate, licorice, tar, and a huge base of earth. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and quite closed on the attack, with a huge, rock solid core of fruit, firm, well-covered tannins, great soil inflection, and an impressive brightness on the finish that is not evident on the nose today. If this is simply a dumb stage for the wine, then my score will prove to be conservative. 2025-2075+. 94+.
1992 Taylor Fladgate In notable contrast to the brooding and large-scale 1994 Taylor, the 1992 is absolutely singing. The bouquet is deep, pure, perfumed and brilliant, as it offers up an unforgettable mélange of black cherries, plums, cassis, dark chocolate, tarry tones, black pepper, fennel bulb, and black licorice candy. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and magnificently deep, with great structure and a seamless palate impression. The finish is profoundly long, and offers up stunning grip and focus. This is an utterly brilliant young vintage of Taylor that is so beautifully balanced that it is approachable already, but I would not dare to touch a bottle until it has fully had thirty years of cellaring. There is simply so much more to come that it would be infanticide to drink this wine too soon. One of the greatest young ports that I have ever tasted! 2022-2100. 97+.
1985 Taylor Fladgate It had been several years since I had last tasted a bottle of the ’85 Taylor, but based on the very frequent notes I have on this wine from the mid to late 1990s, I have to believe that the rather indifferent showing of this wine at our vertical was simply an imperfect bottle. Consequently I include here my most recent previous note on this wine that dates back to 1999, from a bottle with whose provenance I was familiar: I have had this wine a number of times out of half bottle over the last few years, and it is a lovely drink in the smaller-sized format. However, in 750 ml. it is not even remotely near ready. The nose is deep and still rather reticent in this size, reluctantly offering up a fine mix of cassis, black cherry, tobacco, a bit of tar, violets, smoke and spicy wood. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and very well-delineated, with a rock solid core of fruit currently buttoned up tight behind a wall of ripe tannin. The finish is long, complex and palate staining, with more than a bit of firm tannin perking up at the close. This is a bigger wine than the 1983 Taylor, and should ultimately prove to be a significant step up from that fine wine. Give it a bit of time. 2010-2060. 93+.
1977 Taylor Fladgate The 1977 Taylor is quite closed down at the present time, but in contradistinction to the bottle of 1985 we had at our vertical, its quality is manifest and quite easy to read despite its hunkered down nature. The nose is a reticent blend of black cherries, plums, a touch of raisin, tobacco leaf, tar and an herbal streak through it that adds to the complexity. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and closed, with a rock solid core of fruit, excellent acids, firm tannins, and plenty of power on the long, palate staining finish. This is still a good decade away from blossoming, and I would try to give it at least the benefit of ten more years of cellaring prior to having at it in earnest. The potential here is excellent. 2017-2100. 93+.
1970 Taylor Fladgate While I have had little recent experience with the 1985 or 1977 Taylor, I have drunk quite a bit of the 1970 vintage over the last decade. This is a vintage of Taylor that has always offered up a more open and easy-going personality, and has been drinking beautifully since at least the early 1990s. Despite its unusual (by Taylor standards) precociousness, the wine has continued to evolve and improve over the last fifteen years, seemingly gaining in depth and purity with each passing year. The bottle we had at our vertical tasting was flat out stunning, offering up a brilliant purity that was also readily apparent in the 1992 vintage. The bouquet is a magnificent mélange of sweet black cherries and plums, black licorice, chocolate, tar, complex soil tones and a nice framing of cedary wood. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, focused and refined, with beautiful mid-palate depth, a firm Taylor structural spine, and great acidity and grip on the very long, complex finish. Even at age thirty-six the wine seems slightly spirity on the backend- I am not sure if this is a function of it moving into a more mature profile, or if this will diminish even more as the years go by. But the ’70 Taylor is a superb bottle by any stretch of the imagination, and offers outstanding value by today’s standards. 2006-2070. 94+.
1966 Taylor Fladgate I do not have a recent note on ’66 Taylor’s, but wanted to at least mention it in passing, as I have had magnificent bottles of this wine over the years. It is a real sleeper vintage for this wine, and though it is more than six or seven years ago since I last saw a bottle, I have no doubt that the wine has continued to improve and blossom over that time. It had always been at least as good as the ’70 Taylor’s in the past, and has always rated between 93 and 95 when I have tasted it in the past.
1963 Taylor Fladgate The ’63 Taylor is a legend in the making, but unlike the 1970 that has been drinking well for many years already, the 1963 is still at least a dozen years away from its true apogee. I know that there are many port enthusiasts that have been happy drinking the 1963 Taylor for years already, but to my palate this is so obviously still on its way up that I have little desire to do anything but keep this resting comfortably in the cellar. The bouquet is deep and still very youthful, as it offers up a lovely blend of black cherries, plums, tobacco, herb tones, mint, a touch of tariness, cedar and a snapshot of the intense old Taylor spice garden that will come if given appropriate bottle age. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and powerfully built, with the iron backbone of this house, great acids, moderate tannins, and outstanding length and grip on the complex finish. As appealing as this wine is in its plump and black fruity middle age, I would strongly urge keeping hands off of it until all of the spice and orange zest elements emerge and add another layer to the aromatic fireworks. 2020-2075+. 95+.
1955 Taylor Fladgate Having the 1955 and 1963 Taylor’s side by side, as we did at this tasting, is a perfect way to build up the patience necessary to keep the ’63 in the cellar, as the absolute apogee of the 1955 serves to amply demonstrate just how much more complexity the 1963 will gain with more bottle age. Aromatically, the 1955 Taylor has fully moved from its black fruity signature of youth into the more transparent, exotic and spice-driven profile of a mature Taylor, but yet retains all of the intensity and vigor on the palate of a strapping vintage port in its prime. The nose on the ’55 is flat out brilliant, as it soars from the glass in a spicy and exotic potpourri of blood orange, caramelized banana, brown sugar, tobacco, herb tones, exotic spices and cedar. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and utterly seamless, with haunting focus and balance, laser-like focus, excellent depth, and great length and grip on the fully mature, refined and aristocratic finish. A magnificent Taylor at its zenith. 2006-2050+. 96.
1948 Taylor Fladgate I had not tasted the ’48 Taylor in several years, and then over the course of a few months I had the extreme good fortune to cross paths with it twice. Interestingly, in this profound vintage, only three houses declared a vintage: Taylor, Fonseca and Graham, as almost all of the other houses had already declared a 1947 vintage. The first bottle of ’48 Taylor’s that I tasted this year, generously provided by Trent Walker to go along with his otherworldly bottle of 1924 (see below), was lovely, but still quite closed and amazingly, demanding more bottle age. In contrast, the bottle we had at the vertical tasting in October was at its apogee, wide open and was unmistakably profound. The bouquet on the apogeed bottle offers up a flawless blend of sweet plum and black cherry fruit, mint, woodsmoke, bass notes of black pepper, fennel, a bit of paraffin, fine minerality and a pungent topnote of violet. On the palate the wine is deep, huge and profound, with haunting focus and balance, and underlying youthful and pure fruit tones magically synthesized to floral and herb-spice tones, and great expression of soil. The finish is endless and perfectly balanced, with great intensity and rapier-like grip. This is a brilliant vintage for Taylor that is deserving of all the praise that goes with it, and as utterly magical as it is to drink right now, much like the 1963, I would be tempted to give it even more bottle age and see where it goes from here. It will not improve (as there is nowhere to go from here), but it will certainly evolve into a more spice-driven and transparent port as it continues to weave its magic. 2020-2100. 100.
1945 Taylor Fladgate The 1945 Taylor is a lovely and broad-shouldered vintage of this wine, but it does not possess quite the same aromatic profundity of the very best Taylors of this era. The bouquet is a mélange of black cherries, brown butter, tobacco, tar, licorice and cedar. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and beautifully focused, with lovely mid-palate depth, and a long, balanced and beautifully structured finish. This has everything but the haunting complexity of the 1948 and 1955, and I would be happy to drink it anytime, anywhere. The ’45 Taylor is now fully into its apogee, but will continue to get spicier and transform its cherry tones to more citric elements as it continues to evolve. It has years and years of life still ahead of it. If popping a bottle of the lovely 1945 Taylor, please have the good sense not to serve it alongside the 1955 and the 1948! 2006-2050+. 93.
1935 Taylor Fladgate The 1935 Taylor has reached that good old age when most of the pigment begins to fall away, and the wine has moved to a quite delicate and tawny blend or orange-amber with a yellowish rim. The bouquet is deep, mellowed and has now reached the stage that I dearly love in vintage port, as it offers up an exotic mélange of raisin, cumin, molasses, marinated orange rind, a touch of fennel seed, friend bananas and sweet, candied almonds. On the palate the wine is fullish and completely resolved, with a slightly delicate palate impression coupled to outstanding intensity of flavor and brilliant complexity. The finish is long and refined, with stunning transparency, and beautiful balance and focus. Just a beautiful bottle. 2006-2025. 95.
1927 Taylor Fladgate The 1927 Taylor is notably darker in color than any of these old vintages from the 1935 backwards, as it still retains a bit of a red at the core. The bouquet is deep and lovely, with an almost wistfully youthful nod to a younger port in its mélange of plum pudding, dried cherries, woodsmoke, herb tones, a touch of paraffin, soil tones and cedar. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, long and ever so slightly four-square in comparison to the 1935, but deep, balanced and very long on the finish. The balance is lovely here, and the closing notes of dried cherry and herbs are a lovely, individual signature for the ’27. It is not quite as transparent and spice-driven as the ’35, but this is simply splitting hairs, as this too is an utterly superb bottle of old port. 2006-2040. 94+.
1924 Taylor Fladgate The 1924 Taylor was not part of our vertical tasting, but was sampled alongside the 1948 at the home of New York collector Trent Walker, who opined that we simply do not drink enough old port here in the city these days, and set up a Friday afternoon and evening tasting in April to showcase the 1948 and 1924. Interestingly enough, the youthful side of Trent’s bottle of the 1948 was very much amplified by this fine old bottle of 1924. The bouquet is deep, tertiary and has moved into that lovely old spice garden stage, as it offers up notes of orange zest, toffee, raisin, caramelized banana, a potpourri of spices, lovely soil tones, cedary wood and a slightly vegetal streak that was certainly fennel in its youth, but has now morphed into something harder to pin down. On the palate the wine is medium-full, delicate and again, strikingly transparent, with the core holding on nicely for the present time (though no longer fully embedded into the structural elements of the wine), and lovely length and grip on the beautifully complex and slightly spirity finish. A lovely, lovely bottle that should probably be drunk up over the next couple of decades. 2006-2025. 94.
1908 Taylor Fladgate The 1908 Taylor is a magical bottle of port, with a delicate and spice garden nose that shows mostly dried fruit tones synthesized to an amazingly vibrant and vigorous palate impression. This was the first declared vintage to incorporate production from the Quinta de Vargellas. The color has now lost almost all of its pigment and is a tawny-amber shade that is lighter than the 1900 paired up with it. The stunning bouquet soars from the glass, offering up a mélange of dried roses, raisin, caramel, toffee, orange rind, lovely soil tones, an herbaceousness similar to the 1924 and plenty of cedar. On the palate the wine is medium-full and beautifully focused, with lovely mid-palate depth and intensity of flavor, well-integrated acids and alcohol, and a very long, very fine and amazingly complex finish. At ninety-eight years of age this is an amazingly vigorous bottle that will continue to delight and amaze for at least another twenty-five years. A beautiful bottle. 2006-2030+. 96.
1900 Taylor Fladgate The 1900 Taylor is another fine old bottle, but it is more advanced than the 1908, and will ask to be drunk up a bit sooner. The color is a rather deep tawny-gold, and the wine offers up a very complex and slightly closed nose of caramel, dried orange peel, a bit of browned butter, drying mint leaf, yellow raisin and a myriad of spice tones. This seems a bit more “old-fashioned” aromatically than the 1908, but this may simply be a sign that the wine is beginning to dry out a bit as it starts to see a bit of white light at the end of the tunnel. On the palate the wine is fullish and shows the chassis of what was once obviously a powerfully built wine, with nicely integrated alcohol, bright acids, and excellent length and grip on the long, mature and wizened finish. There is just a touch of drying beginning on the backend of the 1900 Taylor, and while this wine will decline very gently and continue to offer lovely drinking for many years to come, its best years are now behind it and there is not a lot of reason for holding onto this bottle any longer beyond its obvious historical importance. 2006-2020+? 91.
Other Recently Tasted Vintage Ports
1977 Croft It has been a few years since I last tasted the ’77 Croft, but based on the last couple of bottles of this lovely wine that I tasted, this is clearly one of the fine sleepers of the vintage. Much like the beautiful 1963 Croft that I drank with great regularity in the 1980s and 1990s when it could be bought for an extremely reasonable tariff, the 1977 delivers outstanding bang for the buck. The bouquet is a forward and flashy blend of ripe plums, black cherries, chocolate, tobacco, violets and cedary wood. On the palate the wine is deep, fullish and succulent, with lovely mid-palate depth, moderate and well-integrated tannins, and excellent length and grip on the complex finish. I imagine the 1963 was drinking equally well at a similar age, and as delicious as the ’77 Croft is today, it clearly has the requisite structure to continue to evolve and improve with further bottle age. A lovely example of the vintage. 2003-2040. 92.
1977 Fonseca I have always found the ’77 Fonseca to be one of the stars of the vintage, and this most recent bottle was beginning to really hit on all cylinders. The bouquet delivers a beautifully complex and concentrated mélange of sweet cassis, plum, blackberry, mint, tobacco, chocolate, minerals, and cedary wood. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and almost voluptuous, with a fine core of fruit, beautiful structure and focus, ripe tannins, and great grip on the long and modestly tannic finish. This wine is a beautiful and relatively forward example of the vintage, and consequently it is offering up superb drinking already. My gut instinct suggests that there is more complexity to come with further bottle age, but it is pretty hard not to want to drink this beauty at this stage of development. A quintessential vintage of Fonseca. 2007-2050. 95.
1970 Graham’s I drank quite a bit of the 1970 Graham’s over the course of the 1990s, but had not crossed paths with a bottle in several years until this most recent example. The wine is superb in 1970, as it displays a bouquet of voluptuous complexity, offering up scents of black cherry, plum, cedar, fresh mint, chocolate, a bit of tobacco leaf, and lovely, estery floral topnotes. On the palate the wine is focused and opulent, with fine framing acidity adding a note of precision to the attack, and with excellent freshness and balance on the softly tannic, long and creamy finish. This is a classic example of Graham’s in its more extroverted and fruit-driven style, and it should continue to drink well for the next forty or more years. 2003-2050. 94.
1966 Delaforce This is a lovely bottle that I believe has just been released by the Taylor Fladgate Partnership after the recent purchase of Croft and Delaforce. The bouquet is deep and really quite stylish, as it offers up a blend of plum, black cherries, fennel seed, tarry tones and a topnote of cherry blossoms. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, complex and à point, with very modest tannins, but good shape and length on the tangy finish. There is just a bit of spirit beginning to show on the backend here that keeps the score down a touch, but this is a very well-made and tasty bottle by any stretch of the imagination. Drinking beautifully today, the ’66 Delaforce will have no difficulties cruising along for decades to come. 2006-2040. 91.
1966 Fonseca I had the good fortune to have a few bottles of ’66 Fonseca in my cellar when my daughter was born back in 1996, and it was a very good companion during those early sleep-deprived nights. To my mind this great wine is emblematic of how stunning the top ’66 ports can be, and for those who have not had the pleasure of tasting the 1966, it is every bit as profound as the stunning ’63 Fonseca. The bouquet on the ’66 is a classic expression of Fonseca, as it simply soars from the glass in a mélange of black cherries, plums, bitter chocolate, tobacco, a touch of tar, earth and intense violets. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and laser-like in its focus, with great mid-palate depth, strong acids, and excellent length and focus on the very intense finish. The 1966 may even have perhaps a bit better structure and acidity than the 1963, though it does not quite possess the same powerfully profound depth of fruit. I have a very hard time picking between this great wine and the 1963. Best to have both in the cellar. 2006-2040. 96.
1966 Quinta do Noval 1966 is one of my favorite port vintages, and as it has slipped through the cracks a bit, it tends to offer up very good value vis à vis the ‘63s and even the 1970s. I have had nothing but unqualified success with the 1966s with which I have crossed paths, and the ‘66 Quinta do Noval is no exception. The bouquet is deep, complex and classy, as it offers up a mélange of plummy fruit, a touch of dried cherry, chocolate, tobacco, a bit of tar, some autumnal notes and a spicy wood. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and has been drinking beautifully for decades, with bright acidity adding a note of succulence to the remaining fruit tones. The finish is long, meltingly tannic and beautifully focused, with sufficient grip to carry the wine nicely for several more decades. As my experience with older vintages of Quinta do Noval is not as extensive as some other houses, I may be underestimating a bit the potential for longevity here. But there is no question that this is a lovely example of this superb vintage. 2004-2030+? 92.
1963 Fonseca The 1963 Fonseca is one of my favorite ports of all time. I had one of my last bottles of this wine standing for this report, and was happy to come across a recent note in one of my tasting books that saved the bottle for the time being. Not that I did not feel like drinking a bottle of the ’63, but with only a handful in house at the moment, discretion is the better part of valor, as this wine is clearly still on the way up. The magical nose is still a bit youthfully closed, requiring some extended decanting to reveal a stunning mélange of sweet cassis, plum, mint, chocolate, tobacco, violets, minerals and cedary, spicy wood. On the palate the wine is fabulously deep and tightly-knit with a powerful laser beam of fruit, tangy acids, firm tannins, and a long, complex, bracingly powerful finish. The ‘63 Fonseca is still quite young (I much prefer the wonderful 1966 Fonseca for current drinking), and really deserves another five to ten years in the cellar. It should easily last another fifty to seventy-five years. 2010-2050+. 96+.
1955 Quinta do Noval I have only tasted the ’55 Noval on a couple of occasions, and I have been quite impressed each time. The bouquet is refined and very pure, as it offers up a mélange of red cherries, dried berries, cigar wrappers, a distinctive Fonseca-like note of fresh mint, floral tones, cedary wood and a lovely base of soil. On the palate the wine is only medium-full, but suave and complex, with lovely intensity of flavor (rather than any real power), and a long, transparent and classy finish that is just beginning to show a bit of its spirit as it nears its fiftieth birthday. There is not quite the transcendental nature to the ’55 Noval as is found in the ’55 Taylor, but this too is a lovely wine that still has plenty of life ahead of it. I wish I had a bit of this in my cellar. 2004-2025+. 92.
This month’s FTLOP Guest Corner was penned by wine journalist and consultant John Gilman. John has twenty-five years of experience in the wine trade, working as a merchant, sommelier, importer, consultant and wine writer.
John began his career working as a junior staff member for a number of fine wine merchants while pursuing his degree from the University of Massachusetts. His early experience eventually led him in 1986 to accept the position of Wine Director for the largest spirits retailer in Massachusetts. After three years at this position, he moved to Manhattan. Over the next eight years he held the position of wine buyer and general manager at a number of top wine and spirits retailers in New York.
In 1998, John was hired as Beverage Director of Gotham Bar and Grill in Manhattan, and began his tenure as a sommelier. Two years at Gotham was followed by a briefer stay with Picholine Restaurant, also of New York. Shortly after his arrival at Picholine, Gilman was offered a position with a Geneva, Switzerland-based fine wine brokerage and importing firm, for which he managed the eastern half of the US market for the next three years. Consequent to this experience, John started his own consulting and rare wine brokering company; which he ran until creating his newsletter, View From the Cellar in January of 2006.
He has traveled extensively throughout the wine-producing regions of the world, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on the wines of Burgundy. In addition to his merchant and sommelier activities, John Gilman has consulted for a number of restaurant clients, and has written extensively on wine and food on the internet since the early 1990s. His bi-monthly newsletter, View From the Cellar, is dedicated to the discussion and analysis of maturing wines and the history of the world’s greatest wine estates. It is available via electronic subscription; inquiries can be sent via email to [email protected] Beyond his activities with View From the Cellar, he has contributed articles on wine to a number of other journals, and is currently at work on a book with Véronique Drouhin. Mr. Gilman resides in the metropolitan New York area with his wife and two children.
After sharing some ancillary information with John, for the writing of the following article, I asked him if he would be willing to allow a few thousand Port lovers the opportunity to read his great article here. My sincere thanks go to Mr. Gilman, for granting permission to include his article in its entirety, in this issue of the FTLOP.