Top tips & smart buys: Ready to go, festive Port wines
I’ve had a particularly intense last week of tasting fortified wines, with masterclasses at The Yeatman Christmas Experience for Decanter, Portuguese Wine School at Taberna do Mercado (next up, the Douro, 22 January) and a Niepoort tasting for a private client. So what better timing (oh & it’s Christmas) for some top tips focused on ready-to-drink Ports and super smart buys of the season.
I love Gin & Tonic but, with a bit more mouthfeel and weight, Port tonic with a splash of ice and lemon or orange makes the perfect winter aperitif . The classic recipe is a third Port to two thirds tonic. Or enjoy them neat with salted almonds, olives or gravalax.
Niepoort White Rabbit Dry White Port
Made the traditional way with lots of skin contact, sometimes foot treading in lagares, this White Port is then aged for around three and a half years in small old wooden casks. It’s is quite round with gently savoury, nutty appeal, a hint of green olive and sprinkle of salt as if to season these subtle flavour nuances. Nice balance. £14.85 at Bottle Apostle, £17.50 at Highbury Vintners
Morgadio da Calcada Dry White Port
Also made by Niepoort in similar fashion, but this Port comes from a single quinta in Provesende at 600m, which makes for a fresher, slightly drier seeming Port, giving it the edge when enjoyed neat. £20 at The Good Wine Shop
Tawny Ports are on an upwards’ trajectory, both in terms of popularity and limited edition super-mature releases like Taylor’s Single Harvest (pictured above). Without exception they are ready to broach on opening, do not need decanting and, should you be able to resist them, keep for a month or so once open. They are versatile food partners, working well with the cheeseboard (especially with blue cheeses, fruity mature cheddars and nuttier cheeses like Comté), mince pies/Christmas cake & pud and chocolate, nut and caramel desserts. Or indeed, just chocolate on its own (which is great with Ruby Ports too, as long as its dark chocolate).
10-Year-Old Tawnies are a good starting point and you’ll find my recommendations for benchmark examples of this category, among others, in my Port & Douro Guide here. My tasting notes below focus on special Tawny treats to savour over the festive period.
Niepoort Colheita Tawny Port 2005
As this Niepoort Colheita vertical stretching back to 1863 demonstrated, they age exceptionally well. But this babe in arms 2005 slips down gloriously well. It was a standout for members at last week’s private tasting and made my top tips list in 2016 too. Showing a little more spice and vigour compared with last year, it is a vibrant Colheita with a ruddy hue, plum, dried apricots and fig with a liquorice nuances. Finishes creamy, with crushed, toasted hazelnuts – a.k.a. praline. Yum. £31.99 at The Lighthouse Wine Store, £39.95 at Oxford Wine Company
Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny Port
An expressive nose and palate with layers of sweet candied orange peel, spicier orange peel, sandalwood, marzipan and esteva to its succulent plum/fig pudding fruit. £35.69 at The Drinks Shop
Taylor’s 40 Year Old Tawny Port
I liked the delicacy and freshness of Taylor’s nutty, lingering 20 Year Old very much but, if I was pushing the boat out, this rich, intense 40 Year Old ticked lots of boxes. A velvety, luscious palate has delicious citrus zing (orange peel and candied citrus) to its mellow, nutty palate of buttery macadamia and praline, with a touch of salt caramel. Lovely depth, harmony and complexity. Seamless, long, mellifluous finish. £115 at Waitrose
Feuerheerd’s Colheita 1977
The Feuerheerd’s brand has recently been revived by Fernando and Alvaro van Zellar (more background details here). From a great, generally declared year, this 1977 Colheita’s intensity and phenomenal length is unsurprising. But it’s the elegance, purity and precision which really elevate this single vintage Tawny Port to the top of the class. It has remarkable delicacy and freshness to its toasted almond and barley sugar palate, building a deeper, nuttier resonance going through. 118 g/l residual sugar, TA 5.5 g/l, 19.8%. Ehrmanns RRP £87.99 (75cl)
Taylor’s Single Harvest Tawny Port 1968
Taylor’s fifth consecutive Single Harvest Tawny Port, bottled with 50th anniversary celebrations in mind, rises to the occasion. My sister, who is prime target for this elegant Tawny, intoned “so smooth,” when I shared a soupçon with her. It has a deep nose, with spicy wood and fruit notes (vanilla, orange peel, liquorice) and a touch of cafe creme cigar. Lovely balance and mellow, woody timbre in the mouth, with subtly smoky roasted hazelnut/praline, dried/honeyed apricot and higher toned amaretti biscuit lift. Great poise and persistence. Terrific. RSP £175 per bottle at Hedonism, Harvey Nichols & Selfridges.
For some, Ruby Ports are the quintessential Port. Vintage Ports are at the very top of the quality ladder but, when the quality of Ruby Ports has never been better (read more about this here), there are plenty of lower rungs on the ladder that will deliver full-bodied, heady fruit. I’ve picked out some recent ready to go favourites below, but check out my Port & Douro Guide for more hot tips.
If you’re looking for a Vintage Port as a gift to cellar (i.e. Ports which are not for broaching now), check out my reports on the outstanding 2011 Vintage Ports and excellent 2015 Vintage Ports. A peek at Taylor’s & Fonseca 2007s earlier this year indicated that this elegant, floral vintage is maturing beautifully, with delicious purity of primary fruit still, the Fonseca more exotic and voluptuous, the Taylor’s drier, with terrific mineral length. And, if Vintage Port isn’t within your budget then, tasted last week, Sandemans unfiltered LBV 2011 showed terrific structure – a real charge of powdery, fine tannins to its polished blackcurrant and berry fruit. I’d cellar it for another five years plus, so it’s a real snip at £10.99 down from £16.49 at Waitrose.
Graham’s Special River Quintas Edition Six Grapes Reserve Port
This Reserve Ruby really is a cut above and was rapturously received at my fortified wine masterclass at Portuguese Wine School at Taberna do Mercado. Just 2000 cases were made, brilliantly showcasing a trend which has seen shippers acquire vineyards and, increasingly, cherry pick individual parcels for limited release wines. This offering mostly certainly lives up to its ‘Special’ labelling. The titular River Quintas are Graham’s jewels in the crown, Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua. Specifically a 32-year-old parcel of Touriga Franca from Vinha dos Barcos at Malvedos (2015 vintage), with the balance a 50:50 split of 2014 & 2015 low yielding, concentrated fruit from 50 year-old field blend parcels at Quinta do Tua. When I first tasted it in April, my notes say Bergamot on steroids. It remains exuberant, with vivid, contrapuntal sweet and pippy cherry, berry and currant red, black and blue fruits of the forest on nose and palate. Terrific concentration with freshness and length. Ripe but present, fine, spicy, peppery tannins, bitter chocolate and floral/bergamot notes add character and interest. Exuberant yet polished with lingering spice and perfume. Bottled relatively early for a Reserve Ruby, give it 2-3 years before you broach it if you prefer your Rubies mellower. Graham’s River Quintas Six Grapes Reserve would be perfect with a dark chocolate fondant pudding and berry coulis. 19.5% £19.99 at Handford Wines
Niepoort Unfiltered LBV Port 2012
This has the same charm and elegance as 2012 Douro reds. Lovely line and length – great fluidity to its red and black fruits – make for a highly drinkable Late Bottled Vintage Port. So much so that it is hard to believe that this premium unfiltered example has serious form when it comes to ageing, though the lacy tannins on the finish serve as a gentle reminder. Check out my notes on a vertical dating back to 1975 here. Still, I challenge you to resist this beauty. £19.80 at Bottle Apostle, £24 at Highbury Vintners
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Single Quinta Vintage Port 2004
Although 2004 is a belter of a year for Douro reds, I was struck by the approachability of this Malvedos which I tasted in March. Really smooth, with sweet crushed raspberry, strawberry and black cherry fruit, milk chocolate and a subtle rasp of black pepper. A light grip of tannin to the finish maintains flavour and focus. Drinking beautifully now. £13.99 (half bottle) at Vintage Wine & Port Company, check the vintage but down from £27.50 and £27.99 to £20 and £23 respectively at Tesco and Sainsbury’s (75cl), down from £32 to £27 at Oddbins, £29 (75cl) at Halifax Wine Company
Warres Quinta da Cavandinha Single Quinta Vintage Port 2002
Spanning 180-440m, with a south-easterly aspect, Quinta da Cavadinha is known for its elegant Ports. In 2002, which experienced a mild summer and heavy September showers, one might be forgiven for thinking it is a year to avoid. However, it translates into a Single Quinta Vintage Port which is drinking beautifully now with tertiary hints of mushroom – a Burgundian note – to its yielding, fleshy plum and berry fruit. Subtle esteva notes – a menthol/resinous undercurrent – ratchet up the strong sense of place and year. Nice freshness/persistence. A terrific buy for the Christmas table at a third off at Waitrose until Boxing Day. Snap it up at £21.99 down from £32.99 at Waitrose
Taylor’s Quinta de Terra Feita Single Vintage Port 2001
Although it is the oldest, this tastes the youngest of all three Single Quinta Vintage Ports. It’s partly a reflection of Taylor’s firm, well-structured style. Lovely line and length with still firm, tight, well-focused, juicy black currant and berry fruit with a lick of esteva and bitter chocolate. Powder fine iron filing, mineral tannins offer support and interest. Impressive with plenty in the tank yet. £29.99 at Majestic (£24.99 as part of a mixed six)
Niepoort Vintage Port 2000
I tasted two 2000 Vintage Ports on consecutive nights, first Ramos Pinto, then the Niepoort. I loved the Niepoort’s suppleness and persistence, with a distinct accent on sweet, fleshy red berry and plum fruit versus the darker, spicier, more raisined fruit of the Ramos Pinto, which is also very broachable. The velvetiness of the Niepoort’s red fruits, together with milk chocolate and sweet spice nuances, took me into Burgundy territory. Plenty of fuel in the tank, but this svelte and swoonful 2000 is already on the charm offensive and most definitely ready to broach. £60 at Fareham Wine Cellar , £83 at Bottle Apostle
Ramos Pinto Vintage Port 1997
This post script tasting note follows on from my annual Christmas lunch with pals. I brought along this vintage, which was in luscious form, with plush, really supple and velvety black berry and cherry fruits and damson jam. Liquorice notes are just starting to develop as it shifts into mellow fellow tertiary mode. Generous but superbly balanced, this is dangerously drinkable now, with lovely purity to its fruit. £68.33 at Fareham Wine Cellar.
Ramos Pinto Vintage Port 1994
Graham’s Vintage Port Tappit Hen 1977
Feeling hedonic? Cash to flash? This rare, stout 2.25 litre bottling of Graham’s ’77 blew me away when I tasted it in March this year. So very Graham’s with power and charge to its sweet, smooth, liquorice and milk chocolate accented strawberry and baked red cherry fruit. With lovely weight, balance and length, it is voluptuous and enveloping. A firm but unobtrusive under-pinning of mineral tannins and said fleshy, muscular fruit suggest it has a long life ahead. £901/bottle at Hedonism, where else!