Roys Top 10 Portuguese Fortified Wines of 2010

Wading back through notebooks from last year and looking at both transcribed tasting notes and those yet to reach the computer screen, made this more challenging than I’d initially anticipated. The most difficult facet was paring down my selections to fit into a ‘Top 10’ list comprised of Port & Madeira. Ultimately, it was great fun and worthy of exploring and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to try so many fine wines. Here are the results in descending order:

10. 1885 Barbeito Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Homage to Mario Barbeito. This was my favorite bottling of the entire tasting. Purchased by Mario Barbeito in the mid-1940's on the North coast of the island and bottled in 1990, just five years after his passing. Medium-dark coffee color with a greenish-amber edge. The 1885 reveals a refined bouquet of smoky caramel, salty sea mist, lemon zest, grapefruit, torched sugar and marzipan delivering a full arsenal of attractive aromas. It's accessorized by an incredibly sexy texture that was so light, I thought I had mixed up my glass with an amazing Terrantez; and as silky smooth as it was, the flavor profile was so hedonistic, I couldn't help but sit back and smile while slowly sipping my pour of this complex beauty until it was drained. Dry and focused flavors of citrusy lime was met with gently roasted espresso, mocha and hazelnuts bolstered by lip smacking and sharp acidity which provided extraordinary balance. The enduring aftertaste was nothing short of profound and it took several swallows to fully capture the sheer intensity of this voluptuous Verdelho. I've had this Barbeito twice before and have never wound up this enchanted. Are there any bottles left? 97+ Points – March 19th 2010

9. 1941 Quinta do Noval Colheita Port – Bottled 2001; it was hand-carried back to its birthplace, a rare bottling I'd never even heard of until my purchase. Cloudy dark maple with golden edge. Beguiling aromas of espresso, VA, orange blossom and quite Madeira like on the nose. The 1941 showed a profile of roasted nuts, crème caramel, dried apricots and seriously sharp acidity which created a complex mélange of layers in the mid-palate. Framed by light to medium body, yet possessing an incredibly silky, almost creamy texture leaving a sheer elegant impression and the aftertaste bolstered by the intense acidity, literally lasted for minutes. Noval’s winemaker Antonio Agrellos stated that it was the finest of all Noval Colheitas he'd tasted. 97+ Points – May 18th 2010

8. 1795 Barbeito Terrantez Vintage Madeira - This was only the fourth time I've tried this ancient Barbeito. My wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary and concluded a 5-hour dinner at the Herbfarm with this nectar (thank you Ron!). This Terrantez came from a small cache in the restaurant's cellar; harkening back to an earlier epoch while George Washington was serving his 2nd term in office. There are not many bottles of this left in the world and prior to Barbeito's buying this wine from the Oscar Acciaioly family, it was originally owned by the Hinton's. Flashing a brilliant combo of amber and light ruby, with an apple green hue to the meniscus. My wife was seemingly bemused as I nosed this glass for a solid ten minutes before taking the first sip. Ethereal as would be expected of an old and extraordinary Terrantez, with sumptuous undertones of torched caramel, dried peach, cooked onion, Asian spice and bouillon cube that continued to morph with each subsequent whiff. Concentrated yet delicate on the palate with an off-dry, light and seamless fluidity that Terrantez does best. A tiered mid-section accentuated by flavors of grapefruit, lime, pralines and succulent caramel, the sweetness kept in check by the citrusy, jaw dropping acidity. The iconic 1795 was a perfect post prandial elixir to complete a most memorable celebratory evening. At 215 years of age, I believe well stored bottles of this refined Terrantez, should continue to drink well for decades. 97 Points – May 8th 2010

7. 2003 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – This 2003 was in another stratosphere and even if it had been poured for me double blind elsewhere, I'd have been equally enthralled. The aromatics are riveting with a spicy, peppery and herbal element along with brambly black fruits and tar. Intense, nearly jammy in the mouth with viscous yet soft chewy black and boysenberry flavors and a crazy sharp acidity which kept the ripe sweet fruit from appearing cloying. Assertive brawny tannins let you know it's going to be beautiful at fifty but will live far longer than that. Is this the next greatest young Nacional after the 1994? Our group seemed pretty jazzed trying this and I thought they'd never appreciate such youngsters after all the old Vintage Ports we'd had the prior day. It's impossible to ignore the finish, which is as surreal as a tsunami hitting home! 98+ Points – May 18th 2010

6. 1970 Fonseca Vintage Port – Magnum - My brother Mitch's 50th birthday weekend - I brought this along in a styro-container in my luggage. Decanted for seven hours. It was from a group of six mags procured in the early 1990s, my very first purchase of Port magnums, still in absolutely pristine condition with mid-neck fill. Deep dark crimson and purple color with garnet edge, this was a near-perfect showing of a forty year old Vintage Port. The Super Bowl was on and we celebrated with a vast variety of magnums from all over the world; this was the only entry from Portugal. The profound and beguiling purity of the nose containing cassis, figs, licorice and mocha had me smiling from ear to ear, knowing this was a truly GREAT bottle. Mouth coating, concentrated and viscous, without a trace of spirit whatsoever, just extraordinary harmony between fruit, acidity and tannins which played out over the next three hours before it was gone. Expansive flavors of luscious plum fruit, chocolate covered raisins and uber-ripe figs with an easy entry, showed the youth of this Port and the large format certainly did its part. If anything this was still too young and had hardly developed enough in the way of secondary nuances, yet it mattered not because it was absolutely delicious and most of the fifteen people in the room agreed it was the best wine overall, in a long lineup of stunning names and vintages. The chocolate and berry laden aftertaste was sublime in its smooth approach and intense staying power. Indubitably this bottle could have easily lasted another four+ decades. 98+ Points – February 7th 2010

5. 1875 D’Oliveiras Malvazia Vintage Madeira – Just seeing the label got my attention, as it is one of my all-time favorites. Here is where Madeira lovers come to enjoy VA at its finest, in lifted ethereal sensory overload, along with other impressions of caramel, honey, fresh ginger, date n’ nut bread and clove. Sheer intensity and a diabetic’s worst nightmare, this Malvazia literally requires three swallows before you can take the next sip. Dense with torrefacted flavors and crème brûlée and silky butterscotch as the last note … until the cutting acidity joined the party in my mouth. The use of the word “finish” in context here, is an oxymoron. Sublime soft mink-like mouthfeel and one of the most purely hedonistic wine experiences I experienced in 2010. From a historic standpoint, don’t overlook that the 1875 was vinified during the scourge of Phylloxera on the island which arrived in 1872. If I was asked to create a Hall of Fame for Madeira bottlings, this Malvasia would surely be in my Top 5. 98+ points – May 21st 2010

4. 1948 Taylor Vintage Port – A yellow wax capsule and the label stated: J.G. Thomson & Co. Ltd., Leith "The Vaults." This bottle only moved two times and was purchased in 1970 then moved with the owner in 1984. He generously opened this for us after a Portuguese wine centric dinner and it was the tour de force we had hoped for. Medium garnet in color with a pink-bricking meniscus, but one whiff and I knew we were in for a real treat. I've only had the T48 a handful of times and this along with one other bottle consumed about three years ago, were the best of the five. Funny how I can remember each and every time I've had this. Anyway, there was no pre-decanting and a Somm friend of mine did a great job of removing the cork, even though it split on him. The nose was ethereal with spearmint, leather, figs and raisins, delightful and elaborate at the same time. Initially there was some spirit showing too, but within the first half hour, this fully dissipated. Medium weight, voluptuous and lively with some round, chalky tannins hanging on for dear life. The kirsch and generous caramel flavors melded beautifully and the velvet palate impression was remarkable. More in the latter stages of secondary notes than tertiary; I never would have guessed the vintage on this one and would've probably said, 1966. A seductive old Taylor and possibly the best middle-aged Vintage Port I've had so far in 2010. Bottles with provenance like this will drink well for another twenty five years with ease. 98 Points – July 10th 2010

3. 1875 D’Oliveiras Sercial Vintage Madeira – Dark coffee colored and with a golden edge. Although I’ve been fortunate to have had a bunch of different Madeira bottlings from 1875, (including the Barbeito Sercial) I believe this is the first time that I’ve tried this particular bottling by D’Oliveiras. A remarkable wine to say the least and the equal of D’Oliveiras’ awe inspiring 1875 Malvasia. My Madeira-loving brother was sitting next to me and was blown away by this one, even though he typically is not a big fan of the dry style of Sercial; but there was no denying the extraordinary quality of this one. The nose immediately rivets attention with robust fragrances of sea salt, mahogany, smoke, lemon-lime juice, and hazelnut … quite the heady elixir. Sercial is usually light to medium bodied and delicate which is not the case here. As great as it is, there were several people in our group who did not enjoy this wine. First of all, the acidity is so sharp that it is mind-bending and you really have to like this style. More viscous than expected, the flavors were nothing short of profound, juxtaposed amidst the ethereal aromas: Mandarin orange, green tea, fresh ginger and almond paste,
dense for a Sercial with great precision and complexity. The finish literally lasts for minutes and I didn’t want to sip my next wine and sully my impression of this one. An outstanding bottle of Madeira! 98+ points – May 21st 2010

2. 1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port - In the spirit of a remarkable day together, Rute and Antonio decided that even though the 1970 Nacional had convinced our guests that Nacional is truly on a very different level than all other Vintage Ports, they generously brought out the legendary 1963 Nacional. Nobody in attendance would ever forget this moment in time. Sometimes individual bottles fail to live up to their hype, (as did the NN1967) but this particular specimen was glorious. Dark ruby and no signs of bricking, I asked the gang what they would be guessing if seeing this blind: -- 1985 was the average of their replies. A sublime bouquet of mint, Sultana raisins, eucalyptus and figs delivers a knockout punch to the nose. The palate is even better. Full-bodied does not aptly capture what goes on in the mouth, as this is ultra-smooth yet a heavy weight, dense, mouth coating, with lip smacking acidity and a gentle wall of fine grained tannins. The fruit was primary, sweet and delicious with flavors of boysenberry, plum and eucalyptus as well. This bottle tasted even younger than the appearance of the wine and will easily drink well through the middle decades of this century. The aftertaste lingered on and on, assuring all first-timers why this is considered one of the greatest Vintage Ports of all-time. Now that's what I call a memorable finish! 99+ Points – May 5th 2010

1. 1994 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – Another perfect bottle of the 1994, only the 2nd time I’ve ever given a perfect score to any Port and it was not surprisingly, to the identical Vintage Port bottling. The nose alone is mind blowing in its sheer hedonism, with alluring pine resin, chocolate, raspberry and raisin fragrances. The palate exemplifies what a “complete” Port this really is, offering richness and smooth full-bodied ripe flavors of decadent black cherry and figs, layered with dark chocolate covered raisins. The acidity is intense and the tannins are sheer blackstrap yet refined. This will amaze people at the turn of the next century. The finish of this Port is as impressive as any I’ve ever tasted and I prefer the 1994 to the 1963 Nacional (in head-to-head comparison here at Noval) which is saying a mouthful. 100 points – May 5th 2010

By | 2016-11-18T10:24:05+00:00 March 29th, 2011|Categories: Madeira, Port|0 Comments

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