This month, Port enthusiast Julian D. A. Wiseman recounts a tasting that he attended in early December which provided us with our first opportunity to meet in person. We knew each other from the FTLOP Forum but had never had the good fortune to meet and drink Port together. Since this event, he and I have been together on several occasions and it has been a true pleasure getting to know the ‘real’ Julian. He is quite different and even more likeable in person, which is typically the case when you meet someone at an offline tasting. I look forward to meeting up with Julian again the next time I visit NYC and sincerely thank him for putting this article together on short notice!
Roy Hersh led a double-vertical of Taylor and Fonseca, ’63 ’70 ’77 ’83 ’85 ’92 ’94, starting 7pm on Thursday 6th December 2007 in The Warwick Hotel, New York, NY 10019, and arranged by the Wine Workshop and Acker Merrall & Condit (whose annual BYOB party is also not to be missed). The original plan had been a completely blind tasting, but this was subsequently changed to semi-blind: ports were sampled in pairs of known vintage, but neither Roy nor the audience being told which was which Taylor and which Fonseca. For a blindness virgin (all my tastings have been sighted), this was a good lead in, and gave an audience of mixed expertise a fine combination of structure and something to estimate. This tasting was also my maiden attempt at the 1990s. (Am I allowed to quote Monty Python here—Welcome, gentle Sir Knight, to the Castle…? OK, thought not.)
After numerous introductory words—this is a light criticism, even though I found some of them very interesting—on the history of these two illustrious houses, we started tasting oldest-to-youngest, also my preferred ordering. Approximately half way through the tasting I was generously volunteered to pen some words, with numbers to be cross-checked with my neighbour Sarah Hwang of Acker. (Disclaimer: any errors remaining are not my fault, as en route home I was attacked by a Killer Rabbit that nibbled at some of my notes.)
Glasses were labelled #1 to #14, with the first pair being 1963, etc.
Both were worse (less fruity, more over-the-hill) than the F63 that I had enjoyed in Manchester at the start of September. Roy, who presumably drinks his body-weight in 1963s every week, thought them par for the course. (And Roy has a sub-consensus opinion of 1963 generally.) The audience preferred #2 by a statistical edge, ten to nine, and #1 was Taylor, #2 Fonseca, correctly chosen by both Roy and the author. (RH +, JDAW +.)
1970: both decanted five hours before the official start time. #4 darker than #3, both more translucent than I had expected. My notes show red fruit in #3, slight heat, and and initial attack of coffee; #4 huge soft fruit, liquorice, chocolate, and maybe a hint of mint. Both were delicious, clearly mature, yet still packed with fruit: the reason I love drinking port. The audience preferred #4 by 13 to 6. But RH and JDAW were wrong: #3 = Fonseca, #4 = Taylor. (RH +x, JDAW +x.)
1977: #6 was TCA damaged, most people detecting this by smell, me by the slight pétillant and the sour musty ending. So #5, the paler of the two though still darker than the older wines, was lightly sour, with more alcohol and less fruit than the 1970s, consistent with Peter Pan theory. I thought that it was Taylor, Roy and the majority (10 versus 6) correctly thought Fonseca. (RH +x+, JDAW +xx.)
1983: both decanted for 5½ hours, and both very translucent again—true of too many non-young bottles from this run, though #8 was darker in hue. Heat and coffee from #7. A small minority, including me, thought #8 ruined by a “nasty sour bottle stink”, which made it for me undrinkable. Seven preferred #7, ten #8 (so the majority disagreeing with me). Ten, including Roy and I, thought #7 Taylor, versus five who incorrectly thought it Fonseca. (RH +x++, JDAW +xx+.)
1992: A scientific sampling of this vintage, and also the 1994, is of course appropriate throughout the life of these fine wines. But the “ex-” in the ex-colonials’ title has completely gone to their head, and this random abuse of infants seems to happen all the time, in bars and restaurants of otherwise acceptable reputation, even in the presence of the police. Are they really attempting a rematch of the WWII Marshall versus Brooke squabble (Attack now, everywhere! No, we’re not ready.). Why the impatience? These fruit-laden tannic astringencies need time. Like building an army, only slower. Should be a capital offence, or at least punishable by being beaten to within a hair’s width of death with the round-handled objects used in his part of the world to play that which real people call rounders.
OK, so having got that off my chest, we can state the obvious: these purplish 1992 things, decanted for eight hours, are far too young. #12 had a little bottle stink, #11 more so and a slight pétillant. In the former, #12, I found red berries and cantaloupe melon (about which Roy made a Conky-worthy joke that I have happily forgotten). Roy, I, and a 9-to-5 majority thought the red-berried #12 was Fonseca: how little we know—it was Taylor. (RH +x+++x, JDAW +xx++x.) Nine preferred #11=Fonseca now, six #12. But at peak twelve versus three think that #12 would be better, that being the Taylor.
1994: the last pair, as time and bread were running out. Also decanted for eight hours each. There was some discussion about the colour (translation: Roy and others thought I was wrong) but I had the #13 a darker hue, but the #14 more opaque. (I measure colour as a two dimensional thing, the hue dimension running blue to purple to red to brick to brown; the other dimension being opacity. Sarah Hwang, fact-checking a draft of these notes, insisted that she really thought that #13 was both darker and more opaque.) #13 tasted of black fruit, and earthy, whereas #14 was red fruit. A majority, twelve including me, thought #13 was Taylor, but a minority of five including Roy thought it Fonseca. The black fruits were indeed Taylor. (RH +x+++xx, JDAW +xx++x+.) Before knowing which was which, almost everybody (14 to 2) thought that Fonseca would taste better at peak, a smaller majority (9 to 4) preferred Fonseca now.
Excuses: four out of seven, +xx++x+, isn’t statistically different from guessing. OK, I had never tasted the 1990s before, but even excluding those I’m three from five. Roy at least had the wisdom to declare in advance that he didn’t like blind guessing games, and wasn’t good at them: “in a blind format, trying to discern one producer from the next producer … is just not my shtick”.
Article © by Julian D. A. Wiseman