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The joy of vintage port

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Even though we can enjoy tawny, ruby, crusted, rosé, white and a few other styles, it is vintage port that sets the standard.

Only about 2 per cent of all port produced is designated vintage and the port houses only produce it in exceptional years, usually about three out of every ten.

Of the few that I will suggest today, the youngest will be from 2003 as it takes a rather unconscionable time to gather itself together in the bottle. A lovely idea is to give a bottle to a baby to celebrate its birth and when it is enjoyed on their 21st birthday, you can just hope that you are there to have a glass.

If you are thinking of vintage port as a perfect ending to Christmas dinner, then please consider buying it and standing it up for at least a week or so before opening. It will have cast quite a heavy sediment, and this needs a few days to settle in the bottom of the bottle.

During the decanting process I know that some folks suggest straining through cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter but for me, I liken this to “ripping the soul out of fine wine”.

Take a candle, or better still a bright flashlight, and hold it near the neck of the bottle. Then gently tilt and pour it into a decanter keeping a sharp eye out for the first sediment to appear.

Port firms are some of the oldest in the world with Croft opening its doors in 1588, Taylor's in 1692 and Graham's in 1820. You may well ask why these names have a distinct British sound to them, so let me explain. During various altercations with the French, such as the Hundred Years' War (actually longer), the Brits turned to Portugal for their tipple.

During the arduous ocean journey, it was found that many of the wines did not survive and the story goes that two brothers fortified a shipment with grape brandy. It arrived in England in fine condition. The rest is history as those wily folks headed to Portugal and founded their own wineries.

The winemaker at Croft has this to say about their Croft 2003: “This vintage port reveals an opaque, black-coloured core with notes of dark ruby on the rim. Its gorgeously creamy, profound nose displays sweet dark cherries, black plums, pepper, raisin jam and blueberries. Thick, satin-textured and immensely rich, this opulent yet elegant wine is engagingly warm, concentrated and harmonious. Copious quantities of plums, black cherries, jammy blackberries and spices are found throughout its personality as well as in its prolonged, spirit-tinged finish. Projected maturity: 2020-2045.”

Wine Spectator magazine feels a little differently about the age of maturity, suggesting any time after 2015. They go on t0comment: “Gorgeous aromas of blueberries and dried flowers follow through to a sweet, full-bodied palate. Velvety and round with lovely fruit. Long finish. 96/100.” Our price is $99.85.

We have good supplies of Graham's 1994 which was a fabulous year that garnered a 96/100 on vintage charts and, coincidentally, that is the score that Robert Parker gave this wine.

His comments were: “In a port tasting, tasting Graham's is almost like tasting a big, rich, succulent merlot after a group of blockbuster, tannic cabernets. Sweeter and more obvious than many ports, the opaque purple-coloured 1994 is fruity, powerful and rich, with an addictive hedonistic quality. It will be ready to drink in eight to ten years and keep for up to 30. As always, this is a showy, flamboyant port that has the advantage of being slightly sweeter than other 1994s. A great Graham's.”

Parker thought it could be enjoyed after 2002, Wine Spectator said 2010 and Jancis Robinson suggests 2020. Personally, I believe that it will be perfect at 24 years of age. $132.15.

Taylor's winemaker feels this way about his vintage creations: “Taylor's finest and rarest wine, the very pinnacle of port. Only in a year when everything is perfect does Taylor's ‘declare' a vintage. With the company's reputation at stake, ‘declaring' is not taken lightly since it invites a knowledgeable and worldwide audience to judge whether perfection has indeed been achieved. The ultimate collector's wines, Taylor's vintage ports will last for 50 years or more. They are renowned for their massive structure, concentration of flavour and distinctive ‘masculine' style. Bottled after two years in wood, they continue to mature for decades in the cellar, slowly attaining the sublime elegance and power which are the hallmarks of the Taylor's style. They can be enjoyed without food, but cheese is a fine accompaniment as are nuts or dried fruits.”

Parker, who awards the Taylor's 2003 98/100, refers to its “elegance and breeding concealing massive inner strength and stamina”. $104.95.

If you have any of those minuscule port glasses, I along with any port producer would happily put them in a recycle bag for you. Please use, at the very least, a white wine glass or, better still, just a regular red wine glass. There is just too much aroma and bouquet to squander. Maybe in the new year I should write about the difference between aroma and bouquet?

I cannot remember where I read it, but there is a saying: “No one should walk the face of this Earth and leave without first enjoying a great vintage port.”

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail 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

Port can be enjoyed without food but cheese, nuts or dried fruits are fine accompaniments
Graham's 1994 Vintage Port

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Published December 14, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated December 14, 2018 at 8:18 am)

The joy of vintage port

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