Category Archives: Port & Sherry

Review: NV Graham’s Six Grapes Porto Special Old Vines Edition

Grahams Six Grapes Old Vine (high res)If you’ve ever had a glass of Port, you’ve probably had Graham’s Six Grapes, an ubiquitous Ruby Port that is lush, easy-drinking, and cheap — making it a nice choice for everyday after-dinner sipping.

Now Graham’s is giving Six Grapes an upgrade with a new special edition bottling, Special Old Vines Edition. Graham’s explains:

It has been over a hundred years since the famous Six Grapes motif was first used on a bottle of fine Port, our winemakers at W & J Graham, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton, have decided to bottle a small quantity of a special wine made exclusively from the oldest vines on Graham’s five Quintas. The presentation of this special edition Six Grapes Old Vines Port pays homage to the original Six Grapes label that helped make the wine famous so many years ago. This wine will only be available in very limited quantities.

The wine is a winner. The intense raisin and prune notes of standard edition Six Grapes are pushed aside here to make room for more of a chocolate character. It still features classic raisiny Port notes, but in the Special Edition these take on a more gentle, less sour quality. The nose features touches of dried savory herbs, the body is laced with notes of gingerbread and cinnamon. Amazing in its depth, the wine is both fun to really dig into and explore but also incredibly easy to drink.

Only 500 cases have been made, so if this is up your alley, snap Graham’s Six Grapes Special Edition up!

A / $42 / grahams-port.com

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

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2

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

taylor.pt

Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor

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 / barsolpisco.com

Review: Neige Apple Ice Wine

neigeYou 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) / boissetfamilyestates.com

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

inniskillin gold vialYears 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)

on.inniskillin.com

Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers’ Port

charbay 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)

charbay.com

Review: NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old

malmsey 001A 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 / blandys.com

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

Sandeman 40 YO TawnyWe’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

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Exploring the World of Madeira with Blandy’s

sercial 002Like 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 / blandys.com

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