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Three Centuries of Port and Madeira
April 27, 2002, Vancouver, Canada

© copyright 2002 by Roy Hersh

Vancouver was in the midst of its last hockey playoff game of the season, but there was something going on nearby that was even more compelling for a room full of wine lovers. The 24th annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival featured the wines of Germany and Portugal. There were various tastings planned throughout the week that highlighted the greatness of Riesling, Eiswein, Porto and Madeira. In addition, there were a total of 150 wineries from 15 countries.

Like the hockey fans who came to enjoy the action "inside the glass" on this late April afternoon, a group sharing the passion of Portuguese dessert wine got together for a tasting billed as: Three Centuries of Port and Madeira. In actuality we did not get to taste wines that were 300 years old, but we did get to taste wine that was made in three consecutive centuries. The lineup of wines sitting before us was quite impressive, as was the large contingent of all-stars from the Port and Madeira trade in attendance.

Here in the foreground (white shirt) is Bruce Guimaraens, legendary winemaker of Fonseca and Taylor, who passed on the reins to his son David, keeping the tradition within the family. Ed. Note: Mr. Guimaraens died on Aug. 22, 2002.)

I bet at least a few of those Vancouver Canuck fans would have gladly traded seats with the folks in the tasting room, at least in retrospect. But they were probably content swilling their micro-brews while we were swirling some incredible Portuguese rarities.

Enough of the sports analogies and on to the eighteen Madeiras and Ports that we tasted:

Henriques & Henriques 15 Year Old Verdelho, Madeira - Light amber/tea color, with a pleasing nose of hazelnut and toffee. Medium bodied, showing ample acidity and sweet nutty flavors in this youthful Verdelho version. Somewhat simple with a slight spirity character on the medium length finish. 88 pts.

Broadbent 50 Year Old Terrantez, Madeira - From the hard to find Terrantez grape, a large percentage of this wine is from the 1930s. Dark amber color, offering coffee, caramel and mocha notes with a slight touch of alcohol showing on the nose. Excellent depth and concentration of flavors. Good overall balance and a lingering finish. A fine young example of the greatness that was Terrantez, a grape that has all but disappeared on the Island of Madeira. 91 pts.

Cossart Gordon Bual (Solera) 1845, Madeira - Actually bottled about ten years ago and made in the time honored Solera method, (better known as a Sherry aging method). Light maple syrup color with a greenish tinge to the rim. 21% alcohol but it doesn't show, as this is one smooth operator. Rich toffee and silky caramel flavors abound here in this velvety textured Bual. Medium bodied, with assertive acidity and comprising complex layers on the sublime finish. 94 pts.

Niepoort 1988 Colheita Porto - Rolf van der Niepoort once said, "Vintage Port is the king of Port and Colheita is the President." This wine was bottled in 2001, as the I.V.P. (Instituto do Vinho do Porto, AKA ... the Port Wine Institute) regulation for Colheita mandates a minimum of seven years aging in wood. Light pinkish-red hue, and everything about this wine is soft and gentle. From the color to the body weight to the velvety mouthfeel of the finish (with a drop of heat present). Niepoort and Kopke Colheitas have always been personal favorites. Niepoort's '88 is a light hearted expression of this style. Maybe its the Vice President, in this particular vintage? 90 pts.

Ramos Pinto 30 Year Old Tawny Porto - A semblance of light brown sugar, with toasted almond and shaved redwood scents. Medium bodied with distinctive caramelized sugar, toffee and hazelnut characters that please the palate. Nutty nuance that just falls a tad short of the finish mark. A well made 30 year old nonetheless. 90 pts.

1938 Kopke Colheita Porto - Although this wine was bottled in 2002 from 550 liter casks, the juice was vinified exactly 300 years after the establishment of C. N. Kopke, which was the very first Port Shipper on record. Caramel in color with a yellowish-green rim, this is what great Colheitas are all about. Dark brown sugar, marmalade and a swirling Sherry essence that I often note in Kopke Colheitas, kept my nose in the glass. A rich and voluptuous mouthfeel. This Kopke is in possession of an exquisite, seamlessly seductive, if not decadent finish. 96 pts.

1863 Ferreira Vintage Porto - The Douro's grape growing season had exceptional weather in '63, with a very hot summer and ripe, overtly concentrated fruit which is why 1863 was considered an excellent vintage. To put this into historical perspective, speaking of Presidents, this vintage coincided with Lincoln's emancipation of slavery and came exactly 100 years before Kennedy was assassinated in the stellar 1963 vintage for Porto. For those who doubt that vintage Porto is the King, you should have tried this wine (coincidentally, earlier in the day I tried an 1863 Niepoort Colheita which was also amazingly alive). The cork is replaced every 40 years in the Ferreira cellars from where these bottles came. Light honey in hue, with roasted chestnuts, caramel and vanilla on the wealth of peripherals. Remarkably complex flavors of coffee, mocha and tobacco laced with a smoky nuance. Structurally sound and the acidity was livelier than I'd have expected. The finish on this wine went into overtime and scored big with the fans. It must have been a beautiful baby! 93 pts.

1947 Ferreira Vintage Porto - Anyone who has ever tasted the Sandeman or Quinta do Noval 1947 vintage Ports knows that this was a very special if not underrated vintage. It had the misfortune of coming between the highly reputed "peace vintage" of 1945 and the legendary 1948 vintage. Nonetheless, Ferreira also made a fine postwar Porto in '47 but not up to the level of the two aforementioned Shippers. Light tawny color with spicy aromas and a hint of balsam, but the palate delivers very sweet, smoky plum, herbs and mint characteristics. Well balanced and with good length on the finish. My only disappointment here was the lack of complexity on the mid-palate and finish, otherwise a well made wine. 90 pts.

1955 Cockburn Vintage Porto - From a very good growing season that was extremely hot, especially during the late summer and rain was badly needed. Luckilly it came just in time and then September turned out perfectly for those who were patient and picked late in the month. 23 Shippers declared this extraordinary vintage. Many 1955s are at their apex today and I wish I had lots more in my cellar. This is the second time I have had the '55 Cockburn in the past half year. I have been fortunate to try a wide assortment from this renowned vintage over the past two years. Light ruby with bricking on the rim, this sumptuous wine delivers rich and concentrated dried plum and chocolate qualities with hazelnut subtleties. Great depth and a rich mouthfeel, yet still showing some subdued tannins on the well-endowed finish that lacked the spirit that my last tasting highlighted. A fine mature wine or a great bottle? Both! Up a few notches to 94 pts.

1965 Graham's Malvedos Vintage Porto - I don't remember ever tasting this Malvedos before. Light ruby color with a pink rim, this rich and powerful mature-Porto-gone-tawny exhibits sweet red berry flavors with a touch of lightly toasted almonds. Still holding on to some acidity but this is past its prime, and on a plateau. Time to drink up if you still own or can find any. 87 pts.

1970 Fonseca Vintage Porto - Admittedly, it is difficult for me to objectively analyze this wine knowing what it is. It is one of my personal favorites and it has never disappointed me. Its as reliable as a best friend that you know won't mind if you call and wake them up early in the morning. That said, this mostly dark ruby colored VP with slight bricking on the rim shows vibrant, youthful fruit. Round and robust jammy plum, tar and sweet chocolate flavors. Great balance, finesse in a feminine style and boisterous tannins on the tsunami of a finish. Will this peak anytime soon? Not in this decade, it just keeps getting better. 98 pts.

1977 Dow Vintage Porto - Another wine that's simply irresistible. Dark cranberry reddish-purple. This is such a big beautiful wine, but will reward patience if consumed in its prime. That might take at least a decade if not 20 years from now, when it gains further complexity. If this wine was a movie, it would definitely be LOLITA. This is a gorgeous, powerfully constructed wine with intensity and bursting with voluptuous, youthful fruit, and a puckering tannic structure. Keep 'em in the cellar ... if you can keep your hands off of them. 95 pts.

1987 Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Porto - Note: Vargellas recently had 25 new hectares planted (1 hectare = 2.5 acres). Dark ruby centered with slight bricking taking place. Intriguing aromas of eucalyptus, violets and herbs with a palate full of youthful, fleshy pomegranate and cassis fruit. Focused structure with well integrated yet supple tannins, and a lingering finish. Although this had lots going for it, and I always enjoy this Vargellas...it paled after the last pair of wines. 92 pts.

1991 Cockburn Vintage Porto - Dark burgundy color with ripe boysenberry and chocolate notes. I did not take great notes on this wine but wrote down, "disappointing" and "least impressive wine of the night." Certainly not in the same class as Cockburn's amazing 1983. Sorry for the brevity. 87 pts.

1994 Delaforce Vintage Porto - Most of the fruit for this wine came from 1994's low-yielding vines at Quinta do Corte which is one of the very fine yet little known gems in the Douro. Purplish-ruby and just less than opaque. Aggressive dried rose petals, raisinous and possessing black olive aromas. Still very young and in need of LOTS of time to enjoy this infant. Chunky fruit that tends toward rich, ripe blackberry with light mocha and a hint of vanilla extract. Big tannins await you and this "tooth stainer" just might be the best Delaforce since 1963. But wait until you try their excellent effort from the 2000 vintage! 91 pts.

1996 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Porto - Only 250 cases were made of this unctuous grape shake. Everyone knows about the legendary Nacional, that of the Noval type not the Touriga variety. This tiny 6.25 acre site is known for some audacious VPs. Anyone who has ever tried any of the trilogy from the '60s, namely the Gigantor 1963, The Hulk of 1966 or the impressive Tyrannosaurus 1967 Nacional (all of which will drink perfectly in two more decades when they turn 50) can only imagine trying to drink a six year old. Makes my tonsils hurt just thinking about it. This is akin to swallowing a mouthful of grapes without chewing. The rest is rhetoric. Great depth, concentration of fruit, tannins that are the epitome of "grip" but all in all, a grapey, pomegranate syrupy-viscous-delicious-slurp. Bequeath these to your great grandchildren. 96 pts.

1999 Quinta do Crasto Vintage Porto - 500 cases of this wine was produced. Why would anyone buy this wine? Because it will drink better sooner than its baby brother from 2000. Besides, it comes from grapes that were 100% foot trodden in lagare. Although it is a dark ruby color and is very youthful, it is also quite approachable and tasty now. It has only been in bottle for a fairly short period of time, yet the balance is most impressive at this early stage. It will certainly age well, but I taste this as an early maturing VP (15 years rather than 30) that can be consumed and enjoyed at almost any age, depending on preference. One of the better recent efforts from this Shipper. 92 pts.

2001 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Porto (cask sample) - this wine has not been declared as a Vintage Porto yet. Medium purple in color with floral notes of violets and rose petals. Mostly still in a primary grapey state, and extremely tannic. Good balance for such a young cask sample. The winemaker Tomas Roquette shows his deft hand at blending. It will be interesting to see if this is declared, especially after tasting the fantastic 2000 vintage Porto from this rising star.

The tasting
Pictures courtesy of Mario Rui Ferreira, Communications & Marketing, Port Wine Institute (IVP)

***Note: Look to Wine Lovers' Page for my upcoming (6/7/02) comprehensive report on the 2000 vintage Ports with tasting notes and ratings of over two dozen Port Shipper's cask samples. Please feel free to email me at portolover@aol.com with any Port related questions, suggestions or musings.

June 4, 2002

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