Something amazing happens to a port after about twenty years. And in my case, that’s a good thing since I have several bottles from the excellent 2003 vintage stashed away to celebrate our oldest son’s twenty-first birthday in 2024.
But the absence of aging the wine myself and waiting twenty years, I was able to have an extraordinary tasting experience last week of vintage ports from the producer Croft. Their 1945 is something of a legend — no ’47 Cheval Blanc but you get the idea. So when I heard it was being poured at a press event in Manhattan, I was there in a flash.
In short, it was amazing (find this port). This port, which, if it were human would be gearing up for retirement at age 63, was still going strong with fantastic depth, color and finish. It had beautiful notes of orange zest, aniseed, spice, fig, all in beautiful harmony with great poise.
Although recent records have shown that Croft dates back to 1588 making it the oldest port house, it had fallen on a rough patch for much of the second half of the twentieth century. Among other things, the then-owners installed automated stomping machines and, as I posted last year, when it comes to port, nothing beats the foot. When The Fladgate Partnership purchased Croft in 2001 to bring it under the same ownership as Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, and Delaforce, one of the first changes, um, underfoot was to rip out all the automatic crushers and install stone lagares for the resumption of foot treading. The 1945 was stomped by foot.
We tasted a few intervening vintages during the automation era and the vintage 1960 stood out as an impressive one (find this port). It was slightly richer brick-red hue and had more notes of anise mocha with supple tannins. But with the 1994, we were clearly on the more youthful side with the color still more the intense purple of youth rather than the faded, brick red that comes with age. The palate impressions were of more youthful intensity too and hadn’t entered the ethereal world of the mature. The first vintage under the new ownership, the 2003, had tremendous color intensity, ripe fruit concentration, viscosity and vigor. I would gladly tuck one of these away in the cellar and at $60 retail (find this port) it’s even a good bargain.
So there you have it: a magical transformation happens to port with more than twenty years of age. It may not be something that you might have been thinking about on a hot June day, but it’s something I can look forward to with my son twenty years hence. And you can enjoy it relatively sooner since vintage port with some age on it continues to be one of the better values at wine auctions.