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.
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! Read more…
“I always thought port was gross,” a friend told me after I poured him a port that he actually liked. “But I guess that’s because I always had it at my uncle’s where the bottle had been open since last Christmas.”
Indeed, port is not gross; in fact, it can be delicious. This year I’ve tried some excellent vintage ports, some with several decades of age on them, which makes them fantastic. The only trouble with vintage port is that it requires so much patience, usually two decades’ worth. Many of the top vintage ports currently on the market run close to $100 a bottle.
There’s another way to get the vintage character with a discount and put it in the express lane: Late Bottled Vintage or LBV. To qualify as vintage port, the wine must be bottled within about two years of harvest and do much of its aging in bottle. But the port houses age some of the port from one vintage longer, sometimes up to six years in cask, and then bottle it as LBV. It’s vintage character port that’s ready to drink.
The Taylor-Fladgate LBV 2003 is an excellent example. The vintage was outstanding and the producer it top notch. The port in the glass has a vibrant red-purple hue, lovely sweet and ripe aromas, and an unctuous, viscous, multi-layered palate that has a pleasant spice on the finish. We tried this with some friends who happened to have some Roquefort on hand and it really was one of those classic, perfect pairings. All we needed was a roaring fire!
Here’s perhaps the best part: I asked that friend how much he would pay for the port, with it’s handsome embossed bottle. He said $50. It’s actually under $20 (find this port). What a great gift!
The Quinta do Noval LB won lots of praise at two events where I poured it recently. Another top producer, this port doesn’t state a vintage, opting instead for the LB. It’s under $20 as well (find this port).
A little port does go a long way so it’s probably best to open when you have people over. As to the freshness of LBVs, I find that they can keep for a few days (maybe five), but shouldn’t sit around for too long after opening. Don’t be like my friend’s uncle and keep it too long and then foist it on unsuspecting guests!
SPIT: financial turmoil
Mike Steinberger provides some advance evidence that the financial crisis will not upend America’s fifteen year bull market–for wine consumption. But the make-or-break fourth quarter has just started! Stay tuned, and keep pulling corks. [Slate]
SIPPED: wine investment (alpacas optional)
The WSJ finds a stay-at-home dad who has sunk $120k into 400 bottles of 1996 Champagne, quoting him saying: “It sure beats looking at a Merrill Lynch monthly statement.” Um, I think he means Bank of America. But nice call on the 96 Champagne! Also, the FT also reports on individuals and funds who are socking away blue chip red wine.
British photographer and journalist David Eley has launched a site with some impressive photography and producer profiles from his travels in the Duoro. Mmm, sun-drenched hillsides, good wines.
SIPPED: JetBlue terminal
About 400 wine choices await travelers in the new JFK JetBlue terminal, half of them by the glass–let’s just hope there’s something good. And with the free wifi in that terminal already, JetBlue is on the inside track to become the unofficial airline for wine bloggers. [NY mag]
SIPPED: Tropical wine! (“for tourists”)
What do you get when you combine a stiff 170 percent tariff on imported wines, a strong tourist economy, and tropical conditions? Why, Bali, the Indonesian island and new wine frontier. But Pinot Noir, move over since you’ll have to settle for a glass of Probollingo Biru. [IHT]
SPIT: Italian wine
When Italian wine bloggers get together, they drink Mexican beer apparently! Oh okay, and Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco with smoked pork ribs.
You don’t have to have been long financials for most of 2008 to want a good bargain; great wines under $10 are always in demand, and increasingly hard to find. Here are two for weathering the financial downturn–and beating the summer heat.
Fonte da Serrana, Alentejo, Portugal, 2004. $5.99 (find this wine)
Alentejo is a hot, dry part of Southern Portugal that, when it comes to wine, traditionally has been more known for making closures–corks–rather than what goes in the bottle. But this wine will make them consider planting more vines. The alluring nose of dried herbs precedes the all-berry attack the attack, which, in turn, is followed by a surprising degree of bright acidity and gentle tannins. A GREAT summer quaffer. And our new house burrito wine. Day two it was still going strong and poured at fridge temp, marvelously refreshing on the deck. The blend is mostly Aragonez (a.k.a Tempranillo) and the indigenous Trincadeira.
Hugues Beaulieu, Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc, 2006. $7.37 (find this wine)
Picpoul de Pinet is a blast of summer freshness that comes from a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean. With a citrus zip of tart acidity, a light saline quality, this wine, from a cooperative producer, is refreshing to pair with 95 degrees–as an aperitif or with seafood. It’s easy to understand why Picpoul is known as the Muscadet of the south both for flavor profile as well as wallet-friendliness. I got this bottle from a sale that is now, sadly, over (bringing the price up to $8.99) but I will definitely get more for the dog days of summer.
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.
Port has long been poured in clubs. But night clubs? Yes, port may soon leave the wintry fireplace and appear in two unlikely locations: on the deck mid-summer and in night clubs.
The folks at the venerable port house Croft have now started to think pink. At a press event on an 80 degree, sunny day in Manhattan, Croft unveiled the first ever rose port and poured the pink drink both chilled and on the rocks. It is available for about $20 (find the Croft pink).
Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership that now owns Croft, explained the making of the port. He went to the Port authority (not, in his country, an entity that runs bus stations) and petitioned for the ability to make a rose. They told him that port is either red or white and if he wanted to do a rose, a new administrative category would have to be made, a process that might take ten years. With brio and speed usually reserved for the New World vintners, Bridge slipped it through the administrative cracks as a “ruby,” the youngest port aged in large vats.
The resulting port is pink in color thanks to brief skin contact during fermentation. But then it is made like a traditional ruby port and the fermentation is stopped with the addition of a distilled spirit resulting in a finished port with 19.5 percent alcohol and 94 grams of residual sugar–and pink. To me it was betwixt and between, neither wine nor port with notes of strawberry and rhubarb akin to a rose but the punch and sweetness of a port. I think it would benefit from bubbles, as in adding soda water.
That might not stop fashionistas from ordering it up. Bridge said that he made a “bold” 500,000 liters of Croft Pink last year but after “huge excitement” in Hong Kong last week, he said they “might run out.” Now, he’s now turning his sights on the US, starting with New York City first and later Texas and Florida. Since the Cosmopolitan has jumped the shark, I’m surprised that they weren’t swilling this pink drink in the new Sex and the City. Croft Pink–it’s not your grandfather’s port.
When I attended a tasting last fall in New York and tried a serious wine from the Douro, I inquired as to the the grape variety.
“Field blend,” came the reply.
I laughed. What’s this “field blend” stuff? Can’t these Portuguese keep track of which grape vines they have in their vineyards? Well, after my trip to the region last week, I learned there’s a method to the apparent madness: many of the oldest vineyards were intentionally planted with a row of this and a row of that to be harvested at the same time and go into port. Table wine producers have tended to keep that same old vineyard blending to make lovable mongrel blends instead of purebreds, single varieties of the New World. Hey, if it works in Chateauneuf, why not elsewhere?
In planting new vineyards, some vineyard owners aim to repeat the traditional “field blend” approach of co-mingling varieties in the vineyard while others take a single vineyard, single variety approach. Thus many of the single vineyard wines from the region tend to be from newer vineyards.
The grape variety touriga comes in various forms in the region but none seems more prevalent than Touriga Nacional–it’s “national” for crying out loud! Read more…
Zooming down the Douro River at 35 knots provided relief from the noon-time heat. Vintner Joao Ferreira Alvares Ribeiro powered the boat across the placid water, sparing us the the twists and turns of the roads that curve through the valley. Whoever planted the first vines here must have been a sadist and a masochist as well as a hedonist: elaborate terraces for vines that represent generations of work now score the vertiginous hillsides on either side of the river.
The mighty Douro wends 600 miles from its start in the middle of Castilla-Leon in Spain (where it is known as the Duero), across northern Portugal and down to the city of Porto where the river opens into the Atlantic. In a different era, the river was narrow, fast moving affair with rapids. Now, since five dams have been built on the Portuguese side, it is languid and wide, making for our great boat ride. Indeed, our ride was symbolic of the fast pace of changes in the region. Read more…