Category Archives: Port & Sherry

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor

barsol perfecto amor 200x300 Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor“A Peruvian tradition revived.” That tradition: An aperitif wine made from fermenting grape juice, fortified with Pisco. The grapes used for both the juice and the Pisco are Quebranta (50%), Italia (25%), and Torontel (25%) — the classic grapes that are used in Peruvian Pisco.

Sherry and Madeira fans will probably eat this right up. The nose (and color, too) is typical of oxidized wines, pungent, but with raisin and citrus overtones. On the body, it’s lighter than you might expect, with ample sweetness from the juice offset by notes of spiced apples, cloves, and light sherry character. It finishes slightly sweet, finishing with a slight raisin character. I expect most poeple who were served this spirit blind would expect, based on the color, body, alcohol level, and flavor components, that they were actually drinking sherry.

After you tell them what it is, they may very well wonder why they weren’t.

34 proof.

B / $18 /

Review: Neige Apple Ice Wine

neige 300x300 Review: Neige Apple Ice WineYou can make wine out of any fruit, including apples. So what about ice wine? From frozen apples? Why not.

Neige (which means “snow”) is made in Canada and imported by Boisset. It’s not really made from frozen winter apples but rather from apples picked in the fall which are then juiced, the juice frozen and concentrated into syrup, and then fermented into wine.

The nose of the wine is a bit on the hoary side — more apple seed than apple fruit. Underneath there’s a hint of fruit, but it needs time in the glass to develop. On the body, a rush of sweet fruit hits you first. The character then turns back toward a woody, cider-like character as the finish arrives, slightly sour but curiously interesting, at least for a wee glass.

13% abv.

B- / $35 (375ml bottle) /

Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine

inniskillin gold vial 113x300 Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice WineYears have passed since we last encountered Inniskillin and its masterful Canadian ice wines. We recently had the good fortune to sample two new vintages from Inniskillin, both sweet yet low-alcohol dessert wines made from frozen grapes from way up north. Thoughts follow.

2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine – Gorgeous, with a rush of honey, applesauce, and vanilla. On the body, it’s beautifully sweet with more apple, apricots, ripe bananas, and tropical notes…  all layered with that rich honey character. Lovely complexity with a long, long finish. Be careful with this one. 9.5% abv. A- / $50 (375ml)

2008 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine – Red ice wines are always a little strange — sweet, ice cold… and red like tawny port. The nose offers all the honey and jammy fruit notes of white ice wines, and at first the body keeps that rolling, with notes of strawberry, vanilla, and fresh cream. The finish is where things change, that sweetness veering toward sour cherry notes, with add complexity, but leave things on a funky, oxidized note. 9.5% abv. B+ / $100 (375ml)

Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers’ Port

charbay Distillers Port 56x300 Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers PortCalifornia-based Charbay doesn’t just make some amazing spirits. It has also released this impressive collection of vintage ports, both made from 2006 vintage grapes and aged 7 years before bottling. Both are 20.9% abv and bottled in 375ml bottles. Thoughts follow.

2006 Charbay Still House Port – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah. That adds up to 105%, but that’s what Charbay told us. Close enough, I guess. The wine is fortified with 4 year old Charbay Syrah Brandy, then aged in used French oak for 7 years. The nose features the expected raisin and dark chocolate notes, but also menthol character to back it up. The body isn’t as rounded and lush as you might expect, but the interesting touches of hazelnut, licorice, and cloves add curiosity. The finish unfortunately is on the heavy, almost sour side. B+ / $50 (375ml)

2006 Charbay Distillers’ Port – A blend of late-harvest Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 6 year old Cabernet Franc brandy and aged for 7 years in old French oak barrels. This wine is a revelation that can stand up next to anything coming out of Portugal. Rich chocolate and coffee notes play with a sedate (and expected) raisin character on the nose, then work their way into the body. Some cinnamon pops up here, with a kind of nutty character coming along on the finish. Easy to enjoy, but layered with complexity. A / $75 (375ml)

Review: NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old

Blandys 10YR Malmsey 88x300 Review: NV Blandys Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old A few months ago we took a deep dive into the world of Madeira, with a survey of four different grape varietals, all made by Blandy’s and all five years old. Today we look at an older version of one — Malmsey — at 10 years old. Malmsey was my favorite Madeira then and I put this 10 year old expression side by side with the younger version to see how it shaped up.

The answer: Surprisingly well. At 5 years old, Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira is still a bit funky, offering a raisiny fortified wine with touches of bittersweet chocolate and an acidic finish. At 10, the wine has matured wonderfully, bringing more of that chocolate to the forefront and imbuing it with a beautiful expression of raisin, fig, and currants. That tight, almost sour funkiness has vanished, leaving behind a sultry experience that begs for a rich cheese or a dense chocolate cake. Quite lovely.

19% abv.

A / $35 /

Review: Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port and 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Sandeman 40YO Tawny 211x300 Review: Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port and 40 Year Old Tawny PortWe’ve covered the Port-makers at Sandeman fairly regularly through the years. Today we get the honor to look at two of its most treasured bottlings: the latest vintage port release (2011), and the 40 year old tawny expression. Thoughts follow.

2011 Sandeman Vintage Port – Classic currant and some coffee notes on the nose. The body is fresh and less brooding than many of its contemporaries, with ripe blackberry and currant notes that lead to a tight finish. I’d give this at least a decade to mature and mellow before sampling again. Rating today: B / $75

Sandeman Tawny Port 40 Years Old – Tea brown in color. Surprisingly familiar, it drinks like a younger tawny, with steady notes of cola, raisins, black tea, and that familiar “old wine” character. Finishes with raspberry notes on the back of the palate. Lots of depth here. Try it with a rich dessert. 20% abv. B+ / $110

Exploring the World of Madeira with Blandy’s

Blandys5YRSercial 89x300 Exploring the World of Madeira with BlandysLike you, I don’t often think much about Madeira. If I want a dessert wine, I drink Port almost exclusively. When I see Madeira on a menu I invariably ignore it. But maybe I shouldn’t be. And maybe you shouldn’t be either.

Madeira is one of the most venerable wine styles from history which is still being produced. Its origins like in the 1400-1500s, when explorers began visiting the Atlantic island of Madeira as a port of call during trade runs. The fortified wines made here traveled well and lasted basically forever, even once they were opened. (Blandy’s says an open bottle of Madeira will last indefinitely.) Madeira was the It Wine of the 1700s in America, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The wines came in all sorts of styles, driven by the grape used to make them. There are dry(ish) Madeiras, and their are sweet Madeiras. Despite being made on one tiny island, these wines comprise a wide range of styles.

Madeira isn’t Sherry, and it isn’t Port, although it has a lot in common with both of them. The best way I can explain it is that Madeira is somewhere between the two of them — not as sweet as Port, but not as funky and off-putting as Sherry (usually) is.

Madeira is unique in the wine world in that the wine, while aging, is kept hot. Very hot — up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for a long, long time. This has to do with the traditional way in which Madeira was made, vinified and put into barrels, then shipped on long sea voyages to the tropics and back. They got lots of heat on these trips, and that gave Madeira its signature nose and taste.

Most Madeira you’ll find on sale now is nonvintage, like the 4 bottles from Blandy’s tasted below. This is the easy-to-find, very affordable stuff. But vintage Madeira also exists, and if you’re looking for a really old bottle of something as a gift, Madeira is invariably your best bet (both on price and the odds that it will still be drinkable). The stuff really does last forever and it gets better and better. In fact, the best Madeira I’ve ever had was a Bual-varietal expression made in 1922.

Blandy’s recently sent a sampling of its simplest Madeiras, all five years old, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey. These are all basic, simple Madeiras, but they do showcase how variable this wine can be, from its dryest version to its sweetest. I gravitated to the sweetest (aka “richest”) versions personally, but see the charms in all of the varieties.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 5 Years Old – A pale, light amber/orange color. Fresh, Madeirized-sherry nose, with notes of orange, apricot, and wood oil. The body is mostly dry, offering an initial slug of woody fruit (or fruited wood), with a moderate finish that trails off, leaving behind a somewhat rubbery, oily conclusion tinged with blood oranges. Not at all unpleasant and dry enough to drink with dinner (oysters, maybe?). B

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 5 Years Old – Considerably darker, a ruddy honey/bronze color. Milder nose. More orange and toffee, and hints of chocolate. On the tongue, clear raisin notes offer a slight sweetness that may have some thinking this is a young tawny Port, but there’s less oxidation in this, along with a sharper finish and that classicly rubberized character in play. B+

NV Blandy’s Bual Verdelho Medium Rich 5 Years Old – Darker still, the color of brewed tea, tinged with a touch of red. Inviting, Port-like nose rich with raisins and spice. This follows through on the tongue, revealing Christmasy cinnamon, vanilla, and slight gingerbread notes, with just a hint of classic Madeirized character at the very end. Easily mistaken for a mild tawny Port, in a good way. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 5 Years Old – A shade darker again, almost (but not quite) a cola brown. Quite a different animal. Ample wood and cocoa powder notes on the nose, with hints of cola. The body offers all sorts of good stuff — walnuts and hazelnuts, more cola, chocolate, and a big, raisin-infused finish. A lot like a port, but backwards. Here the sweetness comes along in the end, not up front. Very drinkable and complex, and a natural fit with dessert or the cheese plate. A-

each $24 /

Tasting Report: 2011 Vintage Port (and Beyond)

One of the can’t-miss wine experiences of any year is the roadshow during which the new Vintage Ports are poured. Of course, these don’t happen every year. The last major one was the 2009 vintage, released two years ago.

Overall, 2011 is a standout, the first great Vintage Port year since 2003 — which, on the whole, is showing really well today. In fact, Taylor Fladgate’s standard 2011 bottling was one of the best wines I encountered in the entire event. We’ll probably see 2007 continue to develop, but for now it remains a bit closed off.

Thoughts on all wines tasted follow, in reverse chronological/vintage order.

Tasting Report: The 2011 Vintage Port Declaration

2011 Croft Vintage Port / A- / fruit forward, some incense, very fruity
2011 Fonseca Vintage Port / B+ / bigger, more body, some licorice and dark chocolate
2011 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B+ / slightly fishy nose, fruit overwhelmed by an earthy body, some bottle variation evident
2011 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional / A- / better balance here, strong tannin, big backbone, lots of life
2011 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B+ / some floral notes on the nose, long body, slightly green but fresh berry notes
2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / A / ample tannin, pretty violets, candied ginger, cassis; lots of depth
2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port Vargellas Vinha Velha / B- / really pumped up violets/floral notes, but at the expense of body and balance; tasted twice
2009 Croft Vintage Port / B+ / straightforward, if a bit flabby
2009 Fonseca Vintage Port / B+ / juicy, lots of berries, very sweet
2009 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / B+ / minty, light body, some floral notes
2008 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B+ / unusual mint notes, long and lush
2008 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B / somewhat pruny, blueberry popsicles
2007 Croft Vintage Port / B+ / tea notes, somewhat unbalanced finish
2007 Fonseca Vintage Port / B+ / consistent from year to year; bright jam, currants, fresh fruit
2007 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B / not showing a lot of nuance yet
2007 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B+ / lean, some incense notes licorice on the back end
2007 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / B+ / curious cola notes, more mint and flowers
2004 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / A- / classic light menthol, licorice, chocolate on the finish
2004 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B+ / first vintage; some tannin here, brambles
2004 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port Vargellas Vinha Velha / A- / nice mint notes, quite mild, complex finish offers cola, licorice, cocoa nibs
2003 Croft Vintage Port / A / a favorite of the tasting; intense, hugely floral, powerful and deep; tea and pepper notes deep in the recesses
2003 Fonseca Vintage Port / A- / silky and smoothing out, lush, balanced
2003 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B+ / very fruity, lively, some sweatiness on the nose
2003 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional / B+ / pretty fruit, jasmine, light sandalwood; finish is still with tannin and some astringency
2003 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / B+ / super light body, already fading? Some blackberry, tea leaf, cola

Review: 2007 Dow’s Port Late Bottled Vintage

dows 2007 late bottled vintage port 132x300 Review: 2007 Dows Port Late Bottled VintageThere is considerable confusion over what Late Bottled Vintage Port is. Vintage-dated, it sounds like it should be very expensive, yet it’s cheaper than many blends. Late Bottled Vintage (or LBV) Port  is Port that was originally intended as Vintage Port, but which didn’t make it into a bottle, for whatever reason (typically the barrels are just not good enough for Vintage Port).

LBV Port, in a nutshell, sits around in barrels for many extra months or even years, before it’s eventually bottled and sold. LBV Port can also be made from years that weren’t declared as Vintage years, though that wasn’t the case for 2007. Stylistically, LBV can land just about anywhere on the map.

While it spends far longer exposed to wood than Vintage Port, Dow’s 2007 LBV is a lighter style of the wine — considerably less burly than most Vintage Ports. The nose offers raisins as expected, but there are also some fun tea notes here, along with some wood barrel influence. The body heads tentatively into dried cherry territory, but the texture is on the thin side, with not much more heft to it than your typical glass of Zinfandel. The preserved fruit flavors just need a bit more backbone to prop them up.

B / $22 /

Tasting Report: Aromatic and Dessert Wines from Quady WInery

With the holidays nigh upon us, celebrations will be in full force. Don’t forget the sticky stuff for dessert. Quady, which has been making its wines in Madera, California since 1975, offers a huge slate of dessert, fortified, and aromatic wines. We tasted a panel of six of its most popular offerings. Thoughts follow. (All prices are for 750ml bottles, except Deviation.)

Quady Vya Vermouth Aperitif Sweet – Made from Orange Muscat, Colombard, and Valdepenas grapes, and spiced with cinnamon, gentian, galangal, and nutmeg. Tawny, moderately brown color. Deeply herbal, like mulled wine for Christmas. Pleasant, with notes of brewed tea to counter the Christmas spices. 16% abv. B+ / $20 Continue reading

Review: Graham’s Tawny Port 10 Years Old

Grahams tawny port 10 years old 132x300 Review: Grahams Tawny Port 10 Years OldThis 10 year old tawny port is pretty, offering more than just madeirized raisin character, but also touches of orange, grapefruit, and a bit of black tea character. Bing cherries come along on the very long finish. It’s still young and offers a bit of woody astringency on the finish too, but overall this is an effective and easy-drinking young tawny.

A- / $34 /

Review: Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port

Cockburn’s is a Port house — like many this year, it seems — attempting to make a resurgence in the mind of the common drinker, and even I have to admit the “Pronounce Responsibly” ad campaign is a clever one. (The ck is silent. It’s pronounced like “Coburn’s.”)

Cockburn’s Special Reserve is the bottling you’re most likely to find, a blend of a little bit o’ everything much like Graham’s Six Grapes and Sandeman Founders Reserve, aged four to five years and offered to you for less than 20 bucks.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve is an intensely fruity Port, more strawberry and fresh plum than the typical raisin notes of the classic Port style. The nose reminds me of a stout Zinfandel, and the body hints at that jammy, racy grape, too.

Ultimately I find Cockburn’s Special Reserve a bit sweet for my taste, with a concentrated finish that turns a touch sour as it lingers.

B / $18 /

cockburns special reserve port Review: Cockburns Special Reserve Port

Review: Warre’s Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Port

Tawny Port is the fastest growing Port category in the U.S., because it’s an easy shortcut: Leave Port in wood barrels for a decade or so and it oxidizes in ways that ruby and vintage Port simply can’t. The result is a madeirized wine that adds woody and sour oxidized character to the traditional raisin notes in the wine.

Warre’s Otima 10 is a ten-year tawny, meaning it still has plenty of freshness in the wine itself to stand up to that lengthy oaking session. As tawnys go, it’s quite fruity, full of plums and raisins, but backed with plenty of that “old tasting” oxidation. Not much complexity to report, but perhaps this is a wine that doesn’t require it. For late-night sipping after a big meal, Otima 10 does the trick nicely and doesn’t make you answer a whole lot of questions.

A- / $28 /

warres otima 10 Review: Warres Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Port

Tasting Fladgate Ports with CEO Adrian Bridge

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.

Review: Sandeman Ruby Porto and Founders Reserve Port

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get good quality Port. These two Ruby Ports from Sandeman show that you can get solid dessert wines for under 20 bucks. Not familiar with Ruby Port? Ruby is (of course) the cheapest and least complex Port, a blend of wines that sit in neutral (not wood) tanks for, well, as long as it takes.

NV Sandeman Ruby Porto – Light in body and heavy on the fruit jam character. With a lush fruit flavor profile and at 19.5% alcohol, today it could almost be mistaken for one of your more ostentatious Zinfandels. The heavy raisin, cocoa, and light tobacco character on the finish are of course a giveaway that you’re drinking Ruby. Perfectly serviceable as a dessert tipple. B / $14

NV Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto -This raises the game with a touch more complexity, with more woody notes, leather, tar, and dark cherries to give a bit of balance to the jammy fruit character. A blend of ports aged for five years before release, Founders Reserve doesn’t represent a significant price hike, but it’s distinctly more worthwhile. 20% alcohol. B+ / $18

Sandeman founders reserve Review: Sandeman Ruby Porto and Founders Reserve Port

Review: 2008 Chateau de Cosse Sauternes

This Sauternes comes from a holding of Chateau Rieussec, which is part of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild empire. This tiny property makes less than 5,000 cases of dessert wine each year, with prices kept low because it is aged only 16 to 18 months in used oak barrels. Grape varietals are 80 to 90% Semillon, 10 to 20% Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc.

Today this wine is showing its youth, with lots of honey sweetness, crisp apple, and a lasting, orange blossom, sugary finish. Lots to like, but it’s short on balance, a compilation reel of fruity dessert highlights instead of a nuanced blend. What’s lacking of course is the austerity that great Sauternes has — floral notes, old wood, and golden richness are largely absent here.

B / $25 (375ml bottle) /

Chateau de Cosse Review: 2008 Chateau de Cosse Sauternes

Updated Port Punch Recipes from Sandeman

Sandeman sent us these delectible-sounding concoctions, all updates of old-school punch recipes involving Port. Yum!

wedding punch cocktail 199x300 Updated Port Punch Recipes from SandemanWedding Punch by Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru

Mixology Version – served warm (serves 8-10)

12 ½ parts Sandeman Founder’s Reserve Porto
8 parts spiced pineapple syrup*
4 parts fresh lemon juice
8 parts brandy or cognac
8 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
16 parts boiling water

Directions: Combine all ingredients (except for boiling water) in a separate container.  When ready to serve, add 2 parts of mixture to 4 parts boiling water.  Serve with freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon stick, and a lemon peel.

*To make spiced pineapple syrup: In a large saucepan, combine cubes from a whole cut pineapple, along with ½ cup sugar in the raw, ½ cup water, 1 tsp. whole cloves, 1 tsp.  whole allspice, 2 vanilla beans (sliced in the middle), 2 cinnamon sticks, and allow to heat over medium, stirring often, for about 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Once pineapple chunks become soft, crush gently inside of saucepan and stir. When finished, remove from heat, strain out solids, chill and serve.

The at-home version substitutes pineapple juice and maple syrup for the spiced pineapple syrup, and skips the bitters, but like Pogash’s original recipe, it’s truly delicious.

Served warm or cold (serves 8-10)

12 ½ parts Sandeman Founder’s Reserve Porto
8 parts pineapple juice
2 parts maple syrup
4 parts brandy or cognac
4 parts fresh lemon juice

Directions to serve warm: Add the above ingredients to a container and stir or shake to blend. Pour 2 parts of mixture into a hot toddy mug and top off with boiling water. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and a lemon peel.

Directions to serve cold: Add the above ingredients to a large punch bowl with lots of ice and stir to chill and dilute. Add several lemon wheels to the bowl. Ladle out into punch glasses and top with freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon stick.


Ruby Sling by Adam Schuman, Fatty Crew

Mixology Version (serves 1)

1 ½ parts Sandman Ruby Port
1 part Batavia Arrack
1 ½ parts pineapple juice
¼ part yuzu juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
2 dashes allspice dram
2 dashes Pernod liqueur
1 ½ parts chilled ginger ale

Directions: Add all ingredients except ginger ale over ice in a highball glass, leaving room for about 1 ½ parts of ginger ale. Top off with ginger ale. Garnish with a skewered chunk of pineapple and a brandied cherry.

The at-home version is made in a punch-bowl style and substitutes lime juice for yuzu juice, and replaces the flavors of the Pernod and Batavia Arrack with spices that may already be in your cupboard for a drink that is just as tasty as the original.

Punch Bowl Version (serves 10-15)

25 parts Sandman Ruby Port
17 parts Jamaican white rum
25 parts pineapple juice
4 parts fresh lime juice
25 parts ginger ale
20 pieces allspice
10 pieces star anise
5 cinnamon sticks

Directions: Simmer 6 parts of port with 20 pieces of allspice, 10 pieces of star anise and 5 sticks of cinnamon. Allow the spiced port to cool and then add it to the rest of the punch. Before serving, add ice and ginger ale to the punch. Lastly, grate or sprinkle some nutmeg over the punch for additional spice. 

Review: 2009 Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage

We last visited this wine with its 2007 vintage, but first a word on Banyuls. What is Banyuls? This is France’s version of Port, lightly fortified wines with alcohol added to stop fermentation while sugar is still in the system, leaving the wines sweet. Banyuls is less alcoholic than Port (this bottle is at 16% abv) and lighter in body, probably in part due to the use of Grenache grapes as the primary component.

By the way, Banyuls (pronounced ban-YULES), on the southernmost tip of France, along Spanish border near the Mediterranean, is also the home to a dry wine, typically named for the village of Collioure, which is in that territory. These wines are actually quite enjoyable, too, if you find one.

As for this sweet Banyuls from Les Clos de Paulilles, it has a picture of chocolate shavings on the label for a reason. The cocoa here is almost like a milk chocolate, smooth and with strawberry and some raspberry in the kicker. Very easygoing and not oppressively sweet, I expect some drinkers could easily mistake this for a fruitier Zinfandel.

B+ / $20 (500ml bottle) /

Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage bottle Review: 2009 Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage


Review: Paul-Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes, Tres Vieux Fut #3

You may be looking at that headline and saying, damn that’s a lot of French. What the hell is Pineau des Charentes, and what is a tres vieux fut?

The easy one is the latter part: Tres Vieux Fut is “Very Old Cask,” and this is the third release from Paul-Marie & Fils of this Pineau.

So, what is Pineau? Pineau is a sweet, fortified dessert wine from the Charentes area of France, which encompasses the Cognac region. Grapes that would normally go into Cognac are crushed and left as unfermented juice: To turn it into alcohol, Cognac is added until it hits about 40 proof, then the mixture is left to age in barrels in a cellar.

This Pineau has spent more than 20 years in cask. (It’s actually a blend of two casks of Pineau, one 20 and one 21 years old, but that’s probably more information than you need.) 1,285 bottles were produced, and the vast majority are available here in the U.S. (And good luck to you in finding one.)

The resulting “wine” (which is intended to be drunk chilled) is somewhere between a sherry and a Port in character, but almost rose-wine like in color, a sort of pale orange -pink. It offers dried fruits on the nose, and a dessert character that’s like candied oranges. The finish is very sweet and the most sherry-like part of the experience. Very intriguing, it keeps calling you back to try it again and again.

17.5% alcohol by volume.

A- / $90 /

paul marie et fils pineau no 3 Review: Paul Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes, Tres Vieux Fut #3