The Amazing 2011 Ports, get them while they’re hot!
By Rick VanSickle
The meal is all but done on a chilly fall night. You and your guests retire to the living room where a fire is roaring and comfortable chairs are spread around the room.
You reach for a bottle of Vintage Port and pour your guests a glass. They sip and they savour as the flames from the fire light up the room while the heat from the Port warms up their souls.
Vintage Port is all about comfort; a big hedonistic blast of sweet fruit, myriad spices and boozy goodness that is decadent, fiery and full-bodied. You take it in and the chill of the night melts away with each and every taste.
I am a huge fan of Vintage Port made in the very best years. I don’t mind paying dearly for a great bottle of Port and will stock up on the very best bottles to tuck away for a decade or more in the cellar.
Port comes from Portugal’s Douro Valley, where over 40 different grape varieties are grown. Vintage Port is made by blending many of those red grapes with brandy spirit and then aging it in oak barrels. It is always high in alcohol but also has the weight to withstand the heat.
The greatest Vintage Port I ever tasted was the Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1963, one of the best years ever for Port.
Now, it just so happens that my wife was born in the year 1963. This offered up a grand opportunity, one that I seized upon while attending a charity wine auction in Ottawa in 1993.
I was the successful bidder for a rare Berry Brother’s bottled Port that came from the famous Taylor Fladgate Estate, arguably the best producer of this fortified wine in the world. I happily forked over $225 for the bottle and counted myself lucky to pay so little for this gem of a wine that easily fetches over $2,000 now at auction.
That bottle of Port slept soundly in the cellar for 10 years while I waited for my wife’s 40th birthday.
I had a dinner planned at one of Calgary’s finest restaurants, the Ranche. After a meal of Dungeness crab and oyster mushroom chowder, followed by Alberta lamb, the moment that was 40 years in the making was about to unfold. I ordered three things that weren’t on the menu: Stilton cheese, fresh raspberries and lightly roasted walnuts. This would be all we needed to complement the Port.
Our waiter arrived with a tray of our requests and the fully decanted 1963 Taylor Fladgate Port. The wine left a trail of aromas leading to our table — raspberry jam, mint julep and a big alcohol nose. It was in perfect shape with a vibrant ruby-tawny hue that masked a 40-year stint in a bottle.
We took our first sips and our eyes lit up. Port does not get any better than this and descriptors do not do it justice.
Port has that overwhelming power to completely consume you. But it is the best years that are most exciting.
The last great vintage for Port was 2004. I remember lining up outside the Dalhousie Vintages stores in Ottawa in 1997 in the middle of February to get my measly allotment of two half bottles of Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca Port 2004.
Back in the bad old days of Vintages, consumers would have to wait outside the store until it opened, no matter if it was 30 below in the middle of winter, to get their hands on tiny allotments of top-rated wines. We would get the most curious looks from people driving by, the kind of look that said ‘You must have a problem if you have to line up to buy booze.’
I suppose they were right. But if we didn’t line up we’d never acquire the top Ports, namely Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca, from the 1994 vintage that was rated 100 points by Wine Spectator.
And now, the 2011s are about to arrive and the frenzy is building again, fuelled by ratings from the major sources including Jancis Robinson, James Suckling, the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator.
Here’s a sampling of gushing quotes:
“2011 vintage Port is exceptional! I just got back from visiting Oporto last week where I tasted almost 50 samples, and I have to say that the 2011 is the best since the legendary 1994 — and perhaps even better. It reminds me of the 1966, or 1927.”
— James Suckling, www.jamessuckling.com
“I have never been as excited by the launch of a clutch of vintage ports. The quality of the best examples, of which there are many, is outstanding.”
— Jancis Robinson MW, Financial Times
“The young wines have the feel of greatness it could turn out to be another 1963 perhaps a 1945 or 1908.”
— Derek Smedley MW
“Overall, the 2011s justify the hype that has fomented around their release. Collectively they form a delightful, occasionally profound set of young Ports with glistening futures ahead. While the fineness of the tannins and freshness may lure some to relish their precocious youth, there is no escaping the fact that few beverages surpass Port when they pass thirty years of age … these are truly wonderful Vintage Ports that will reward extended cellaring. Declarations are, more often than not, promises that are kept.”
— Neal Martin, 2011 Vintage Port Review, Wine Advocate
The 2011 vintage is the first universal declaration for Vintage Port since 2007.
These could be some of the most collectible, age-worthy wines in a generation. Comparisons are being drawn between the 2011s and some of the landmark blockbuster vintages of the century: 1994, 1963 and even the legendary 1945 vintage.
I have only tasted the Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011 and Croft Vintage Port 2011 and was blown away by the concentration and depth of flavours. I tasted the Taylor beside a 1994 vintage and found similarities to the flavours and complexity.
These are Ports for the ages and will continue to evolve for two or three decades. This is the kind of Port you buy to put away for your children to enjoy 20 years from now.
Taylor Fladgate managing director Adrian Bridge summed up his views on the 2011 vintage as follows:
“2011 has produced textbook Vintage Ports, classics in every sense. The wines have a wonderful purity and elegance but also plenty of background and structure,” he said.
The quality of the 2011 harvest had been apparent from the outset but, as usual, a decision on whether or not to declare the vintage was only taken once the final blends were ready for evaluation. The wines were then assessed for quality, potential longevity and consistency with the house style.
Taylor winemaker David Guimaraens said of the conditions leading up to the harvest in 2011: “Abundant spring rainfall created reserves to keep the vines well supplied with water throughout the hot dry summer. This resulted in balanced ripening and wines that have elegance as well as depth and stamina.
“The 2011s stand out for the purity of the fruit and the quality of the tannins, which are silky and well integrated but provide plenty of structure,” he added.
Ordering for the full range of Vintage Ports from 2011 at Vintages began on Nov. 1. Quantities are limited and orders will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
To place your VINTAGES order call helloLCBO at 416-365-5767 or toll-free at 1-800-266-4764 (Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.). www.helloLCBO.com
Most of the 2011 Vintage Ports will start arriving at stores next spring.
I have tasted both the Taylor Fladgate and Croft Vintage Ports from 2011 and you can read my reviews in Rick’s Picks.
Port can be enjoyed on its own but is at its best when served with mature blue cheeses. Taylor Fladgate has this to say about matching Port with cheese:
The association of Vintage Port with a mature blue cheese such as Stilton is one of the great classic food and wine combinations. The soft buttery texture, mellow character and piquancy of the cheese are perfectly matched by the powerfully majestic flavours of the Vintage Port.
Try these cheeses with Vintage Port: Stilton, Cashel Blue, Roquefort, Gorgonzola or Saint Agur Blue.
And one myth to relay: It is a widely-held belief that Port goes great with a nice Cuban cigar at the end of a meal. This, however, is not recommended as the cigar will kill the fine nuances that Port has to offer. Save the cigar for Scotch or a nicely aged rum.