Vintage port: 1948 Taylor, 1945 Fonseca, 1927 Niepoort

vintage port

How far would you drive to taste some vintage port? That’s most often a rhetorical question but I actually confronted it head on last week as a rare vertical tasting including some legendary wines came on the agenda in Montreal. Since I tucked away some 2003 Fonseca from one son’s birth year, I thought this would at the very least offer a something of a preview of how it will taste when we drink it together in 2024 and beyond. So I hopped in the car.

Organized by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto and led by Dirk van der Niepoort, the tasting offered an opportunity to track the aging arc of port, one of the most age-worthy wines. Vintage ports represent one of the classic wines made from a field blend of grapes, all from one vintage. The wines only age about two or three years in barrel before bottling and spending the rest of their formidable lives in the cellars of collectors. (By contrast, the more popular tawny ports blend vintages and thanks to doing most of their aging in wood, are ready to drink upon release.)

One impression that this tasting left me is that while young port is dark, fruity and tannic, more mature port grows more supple–but not always. We started off with the Dow’s 1994, which tasted and looked very young and seems to have excellent stuffing for the long haul. Then we leaped over the 21-year-old mark with a Taylor 1985 and a Cockburn 1983, both of which had flipped just to the other side of the young-mature divide. The Taylor still had big tannins; the Cockburn was more supple. (Incidentally, all three of these wines can be found for under $100 or so, making them relative bargains for any birth-year celebrations you may enounter; find these wines).

Out of the next group, the most interesting comparison was two excellent 1970s, Graham’s and Niepoort. The Grahams was surprisingly exuberant and mouth-filling for this stage in the evolution; a showy, 40-year old cougar ready to devour something younger. The Niepoort was a slightly more youthful color, and had more focus but really expanded on the finish, a lovely, delicious wine today that no doubt still has many decades left in it.

On a historical note, I was intrigued to learn that bottling mostly returned to Portugal only in 1970. Prior to that it had been in…wait for it… England! The wines were exported in cask and bottled and cellared there. Some of the older wines in this tasting had come from private cellars and some didn’t have proper labels (see the Croft 1966 above).

The real highlight of the tasting for me was the last three ports, all superb, A+ wines. The 1948 Taylor had an alluring herbal aroma with a luscious mouthfeel and a layered, long finish–almost worth the drive itself. Dirk Niepoort said that a wine of this age can actually go through the supple stage of bottle aging and reemerge with newfound vigor. The alcohol was detectable in the ’48, but well-integrated, unlike the 1955 Taylor which, for me, had a distinctly hot finish.

The 1945 Fonseca is a top wine from one of the top vintages of the 20th century, a hot year with low yield. In the glass, the gorgeous wine has bittersweet chocolate on the aroma as well as surprising fruit; a dollop of chocolate permeated the array of flavors while the tannic structure was richer and rounder than the Taylor ’48. This bottle was excellent and the wine is drinking well today but will probably continue that way for some time.

Finally, we tried the 1927 Niepoort sourced directly from Niepoort’s cellars. In the glass, it was even more youthful looking than the ’45 Fonseca. Sure enough, on the palate the wine exhibited a luxurious texture, tannins that had faded and folded into pure silk. The layered quality of the previous two wines was less, but the texture and poise were superb.

So, as Michelin would put it, the tasting was very much “worth a drive.” And I’m tempted to get more 2003 to tuck away for birth-year celebrations well into the future.

vintage port decanted

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13 Responses to “Vintage port: 1948 Taylor, 1945 Fonseca, 1927 Niepoort”


  1. The 1948 Taylors is one of the great vintage ports of all time. This was not a year in which many port houses actually declared the vintage surprisingly. I have had it on a few occasions and actually managed to buy some in an auction in the USA in the early 90’s for less than US$50 a bottle. No one seemed to know anything about port in those days. One question – all of the times I had the 48 it has had a remarkable deep ruby colour, almost as if it was no more than a decade old. What was the colour like on the one you had?


  2. Tyler, there are several flaws with this report:

    1) You didn’t invite me on the trip.
    2) You didn’t pick me up and drive me to Montreal for the tasting.
    3) You didn’t find a suitable vintage port from the early `70s to buy me for my recent birthday.

    I suspect these oversights will be corrected in the future?

    ;-)


  3. Nice to see the Niepoort impressed. It is at the top of the list of Port houses for consistent wonderfulness.


  4. How long were these wines decanted? Just need some tips as I am hell-bent on securing some old vintage port and some madeira as well.


  5. Hi Chris, Yes, the 48 Taylor was amazing. Even more amazing that you got some for $50 once!! Sorry not to have a photo for you since color is the one aspect that is most easily transmittable in a wine tasting. But of the last three wines, the 45 Fonseca looked the oldest. I wouldn’t say it was deep ruby as you describe but it could easily have passed for a port a few decades younger based on appearance alone.

    1winedue- which vintage are you looking for? We had 1977 Warre and 2x 1970 as mentioned above…

    Thomas – yes. And their Colheitas are quite good too.

    Joe – I’m not sure how long they were decanted before the event started. But Dirk said he tasted through them all beforehand to make sure they were all good bottles. So maybe an hour?


  6. Hello dear wine fellows,

    I read your blog and saw that you know something about good portuguese wine :)).
    As we work in a winery we would like to expand our wines, specifically to the chinese market.
    Can any of you give me some tips on that? i would really appreciate that. I just iniciated the blog yesterday, so it just has a brief presentation of the wine.

    Thank you very much


  7. There is nothing like a fabulous Port!!! Thank you for your blog.


  8. [...] If you’re a Port wine fanatic like we are, you should be following “For the Love of Port“. Our friend Roy Hersh has recommended Catavino in his influential newsletter, and we thank him kindly for it. If you’re just discovering us for the first time, welcome! But secondarily, I’d love to direct your Port wine loving eyes over to Dr.Vino’s site where he recently experienced some older vintages. From a 1994 Dow all the way back to a 1927 Niepoort, the article is a nice look at older Port’s that in some cases are even available for purchase! [...]


  9. @Joe Sorry for the late reply! To answer your question about how long the wines were decanted for, it was even less than an hour. Only a few minutes for the 1927, even. Ports this old do not react well to oxygen and must be tasted shortly after decanting.


  10. [...] If you’re a Port wine fanatic like we are, you should be following “For the Love of Port“. Our friend Roy Hersh has recommended Catavino in his influential newsletter, and we thank him kindly for it. If you’re just discovering us for the first time, welcome! But secondarily, I’d love to direct your Port wine loving eyes over to Dr.Vino‘s site where he recently experienced some older vintages. From a 1994 Dow all the way back to a 1927 Niepoort, the article is a nice look at older Port’s that in some cases are even available for purchase! [...]


  11. I recently inherited a dozen bottles of Dows Finest rare Tawny. I cannot find an age.How does one determine how old it is?


  12. I’m opening a bottle of Fonseca’s Vintage Port 1977 with my son tonight. He’s 21. The bottle was a gift and the giv-er bought the 1977 in 1989. I, as the giv-ee, am looking forward to it.


  13. [...] morning there’s nothing I crave more after walking the hounds than a good glass or two of Vintage Port with some blue cheese and a handful of [...]


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