Everyone should get to taste a great port
A few rules. I start with a quote from the first wine book I ever owned, The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine: “Every mortal should taste at least one great port on this earth before they come to die — no matter what it costs.”
The book was published in 1975. I stand behind those words but, first, please let me lay down a few rules:
1, You are not allowed to use those tiny “port glasses”, in fact throw them away please! A fine chardonnay glass will allow the wine to properly reveal itself.
2, Tawny and late-bottled vintage ports should not have any sediment but, for the rare 2 per cent that becomes vintage, I will share this advice: buy, or remove from your cellar, at least a week before serving and let it sit upright to let the considerable sediment settle in the bottom of the bottle.
3, Do not strain a vintage port through some sort of cloth or filter to remove the sediment as, in my opinion, this rips the very soul out of a great wine.
4, Be careful when removing the cork as they begin to soften after about ten years.
My usual method of extraction is a two-pronged ah-so device: hold a candle or flashlight on the opposite side of the neck from where you are observing, and very gently pour into a decanter until you spot the first bits of sediment — then stop.
All is not lost if rules are broken.
For instance on Saturday night past, when 20 of the Robinson clan dined at a special occasion in our home, a niece arrived with a 2005 port that she claimed we gave her on a matrimonial occasion with the instruction to “let it age”.
Rules number two and four were indeed broken, but the bottle was passed around and thoroughly enjoyed.
We stock everyday tawny, ruby and even a white, along with LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) and ten, 20, 30 and 40-year-old tawnies. For today, I will only mention vintage offerings, as they are so appropriate for gifts and fine holiday gatherings.
Usually a vintage year is declared three or four times a decade and only when conditions are ideal; 2003 was about as good as it can get, and it has now aged.
We have three. Croft 2003 rates this from Wine Spectator: “Gorgeous aromas of blueberries and dried flowers follow through to a sweet, full-bodied palate. Velvety and round, with lovely fruit. Long finish. Best after 2015. 96/100.” $101.45.
Another 96 pointer gets these comments from Wine&Spirits Magazine: “The 2003 vintage surrounds Taylor’s classically hardcore iron grip with fruit that’s generous, succulent and rich.
The aromas of violets and spice seem to rise out of a blast of black rock, the muscular tannin inseparable from the fresh fruit.
Though the ripeness and richness of the vintage tends to blur many of the distinctions among the best ports, the relatively dry style of Taylor stands out, the extreme power of its structure bringing to mind a wrought- iron fence stretching off into the distance.
Winemaker David Guimaraens describes 2003 as a concentrating year and points to 1966 as a parallel to the vintage.
Likely the longest lived of the ‘03s, this should be drinking best from 2033 through 2055, then mature into a firm old age for decades after.” $106.55.
Graham’s 2003 also gets 96/100 from Wine&Spirits and Wine Enthusiast Magazine, but I will let Robert Parker, who gives it 95/100, share his thoughts: “Violets, roses, spices and candied dark fruits emanate from the glass of the murky black/purple coloured 2003 Graham Vintage Port.
After four days of air, this wine’s aromatics sweetened further, displaying jammy blackberry and blueberry scents. Bold, full-bodied and expansive, the Graham benefited the most from extensive contact with air of all the 2003s tasted for this report.
This opulently jammy wine assaults the palate with powerful, yet soft layers of oily, candied red fruits as well as notes of tar and hints of mocha.
A highly concentrated effort, it is creamy-textured, suave and reveals an admirably long finish filled with additional layers of dark fruits intermingled with spices. Projected maturity: 2030-2055.” $115.70.
Although I suggest that any of the above are ready to drink, if you insist on proper age then go for a port that Parker rated 100/100 and said: “A clear dark-brown colour that looks like a mature Tokaji, with thick tears in the glass. It has a very intense, almost honeyed bouquet with allspice, singed leather, pressed rose petals, molasses, mint and a touch of dried fig.
“The oxidation is minimal, which is quite remarkable for its age, a sense of ebullience and joie de vivre bursting forth. The palate is full-bodied with intense honeyed fruits, touches of fig, date and liquorice vying for attention, biting acidity that cuts through the intense fruit.
“This is unbelievably fresh and vibrant with an almost sauternes-like quality on the honey-glazed, hazelnut-tinged finish. It has unbelievable length. Simply stunning.”
The story goes that Taylor’s found two barrels sitting quietly in a cellar and there seems to have been a third that rumours say Sir Winston Churchill purchased for himself.
I refer to Taylor’s Scion 1855 port. Packaged in a beautiful wooden box and held in a handblown crystal decanter, this is yours for $3,795.
For the same price we have Taylor’s 1863 Single Harvest Port. James Suckling comments: “Stunning old port aged more than a century-and-a-half in old oak barrels. Bottled this year. An extraordinary experience tasting this.”
1863 was one of the greatest vintages ever; before phylloxera destroyed the European tasting. Vinous says: “Readers who can find it should not hesitate, as it is utterly thrilling. What a treat it is to taste and drink the 1863, a wine that dates back to what is widely considered port’s last great pre-phylloxera vintage.”
• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm
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