Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas port – a vertical, 1958 – 2005

What kind of a vintage port pairs with a recession? Well, in the case of Taylor’s, it’s the Quinta de Vargellas: this single vineyard wine’s most recent edition, the 2005, is about $45 compared with the current vintage port, the 2003, which is still north of $100. (Of course, for there’s also the Late Bottled Vintage, for $20, but I’ve already mentioned that.) It’s funny that in port country a single vineyard sells for less than a regular old vintage.

taylor vargellas At a vertical tasting this week of Quinta de Vargellas dating back to 1958, I asked Adrian Bridge, managing director of the Taylor-Fladgate Partnership, how the economic downturn would affect the company.

“We’ve survived 300 years through wars and pestilence,” he said. “We can make it through this downturn. Fortunately we are not as dependent on restaurant sales as other categories, such as Champagne. If the next release doesn’t sell this year, we can always hold on to it for a couple more years since we have a lot of experience aging wines.”

I asked him whether there were too many offerings of high-end ports, fighting for a dwindling number of consumers. But he sad that specialty ports are actually a growing category, expanding 30% in recent years.

Vargellas is a steep single vineyard that came Taylor’s acquired in 1896. Today it has 255,000 vines, a common way of measuring a vineyard in the Douro, and some of those are over 100 years old. The grapes are foot-trodden, and wines typically are more approachable earlier than classic vintage port, according to Adrian, at about 12 years and typically only last about 35 years.

If you’re interested in assorted tasting notes and reactions, read on!

1958: Very mature is a polite way of describing it. Quite a bit of heat (alcohol) and dried fruits.

1967 (find this wine): Aromas of violets and an undercurrent of spice undergirds more subtle notes of delicate licorice. Really, a beautiful wine that is in a beautiful, mature spot.

1970: Kind of an outlier, fuller, bolder, thanks to the fact that this came exclusively from low vines (that were subsequently lost in the damming of the Douro River).

1976: Pale in color belies a vigorous note of candied red hots that I find to overwhelming and lingering. But I’m not into red hots.

1978: more mellow and toned down, mercifully, in the red hots department. Subtle notes of licorice and violet.

1988: A pruney nose followed by a slight menthol note. The color is getting darker.

1991 (find this wine): Color now massively more rich, in fact, for all the remaining wines. It is rich, lush and vaguely chocolatey, in fact, more like that Vosges chocolate with chili (more apt here than red hots). This

1995 vinhas velhas: From select old vines, this is a big jump aromatically with more meaty, bacon fat type of aromas. It’s big and intense with a massive, lingering finish with more of that spice creeping back in. Clearly, it has a lot of aging potential but it is actually drinking quite nicely now too.

1997 vinhas velhas: A bigger style, with funny combo of both minerality and more ripe fruit. Perhaps it’s in a dumb period now; it’s my least favorite of the old vines.

2000 vinhas velhas (find this wine): Fantastic! Really amazing concentration and depth, it is lush but balanced between primary fruit, some licorice, and that spice, though beautifully integrated. It’s definitely a fifty year wine–is this going to be like the 67 of this old vine trio?

2005 (find this wine): a solid Vargellas that it very young; big, rich and chocolatey.

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