With 320 years of history and 11 generations under its belt, the Fladgate Partnership is a family business like few you’re likely to deal with. As CEO of the company that makes Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate Ports, Adrian Bridge oversees one of the most renowned wine brands in the world.
Bridge recently hosted myself and a few other wine writers to lunch at San Francisco’s Waterbar, where we spoke at length about the intricacies of Port production and the global Port market, while tasting through a handful of the several dozen bottlings Fladgate manages. (Expert tip: Vintage Port is at its best when consumed young… or after 20-plus years in the bottle. “Teenage” Vintage Port is often difficult.)
Some thoughts on those wines follow.
NV Croft Pink Port – Rose Port is a brand new category, developed personally by Bridge in 2005 and now recognized as a legitimate Port style by the group that oversees the wine. Made by allong White Port to sit on the skins for just 12 hours, what’s left is a moderately pink wine with lots of fresh, lush, strawberry flavors and bracing sweetness. Way too easy to sip; Bridge says this is also an excellent cocktail mixer and even works wonders in a slushy machine. A- / $20
NV Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve Port – An old guard reserve port, it’s a bit edgy compared to some of the other similar competitors on the market, offering dark chocolate, currant, and a slug of wood character. B / $20
NV Taylor Fladgate Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Lots of richness here, with that telltale oxidized character common to tawny. Stewed prunes and a big, Madeirized finish. Bridge spoke at length about the difficulties of making Tawny Ports – the company loses 1000 bottles a day due to evaporation – but how it’s often the best choice in restaurants who are afraid to crack open Vintage Port for fear it will go bad. Tawny is the fastest growing category in the U.S., incidentally. B+ / $50
2009 Croft Vintage Port – Finally we turned to my favorite category, Vintage Port, and Bridge let us compare the house’s three brands side by side. Craft’s house style is “focused fruit,” and this is easily the most young-tasting, tart, and simple port in the stable. Easily drinkable, but clearly the sweetest of the bunch. A- / $80
2009 Fonseca Vintage Port – Considered a “fleshier, more voluptuous” style, this Port offers more plum character atop a big, chewy body. Great balance, this is drinking well today and was my favorite wine of the tasting. A / $90
2009 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port – “Elegance and poise” are the words for Taylor, and the earth and mineral notes in this Port created some challenges for drinking this wine port. If any wine is going to age, it’s this one, which is already showing a bit closed and tight. This opened up with some time in the glass, but I’d try it again in 5 years or so. B+ / $100
2009 Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port – Fladgate’s very limited release of single-vineyard Taylor, this is a significant departure, offering zippy tartness, some flowery notes, and lots of chocolate. The balance is already there, making this a worthy tipple… if you can afford it. A- / $250
Intriguingly, the 2009 Vintage scores compare very similarly with those from the last time I tried these wines (last summer) – but with another year of maturity they’re showing more of their strengths, particularly the Vargellas.