Taylor’s Port – declaring a vintage

Taylor’s Port wine cellars in the Douro. (Photo: Douro Profundo website)

In 1988 I attended a talk and tasting on port by Bruce Guimaraens who represented Taylor’s and Fonseca. It was a brilliant tasting organised by the Circle of Wine Writers in London. I buttonholed Guimaraens after the tasting and quizzed him on the finer points of port production. Midway through our conversation, he said that a group of wine writers was due to make a week’s visit to Taylor’s in a few days’ time and would I like to join them. It was a great trip. I’ve been a big fan of port in general, and vintage port in particular, ever since.

In the past 116 years Taylor’s has ‘declared’ a vintage 35 times by my count; once every 3.4 years.

Vintage port is made about three times each decade when quality allows, although a cynic might suggest that the market forces of supply and demand also play a part.

In the past 116 years Taylor’s, for example, has ‘declared’ a vintage 35 times by my count; once every 3.4 years. Four vintages were declared in the decade from 1900, 1920, 1940 and 2000 – surely the golden years of vintage port.

Only one vintage was declared in the decade from post-war 1950 and during the swinging sixties, creating something of a vintage port drought.

Nick Heath, worldwide marketing director for Taylor Fladgate and their sister brands, visited me recently. The purpose of Heath’s visit was to give me a chance to taste the recently released 2016 vintage port from Taylor’s and Fonseca. It also gave me an opportunity to find out more about the process for declaring a vintage port.

Vintage port spends just two years in barrel before bottling. It is made from the very best grapes harvested in top vintages. Taylor’s vintage port is a blend of wines from their three top vineyards: Quinta de Vargellas, Quinta de Terra Feita and Quinta do Junco.

The grape harvest usually happens in the second half of September. After the harvest, the tasting panel selects the finest wines from the three properties. They are left to age in oak vats for two winters and re-tasted in mid-March. First, they eliminate the ‘tail-enders’ before making up small-scale blends. The tasters then step back and ask “is it good enough to declare?” The qualities they are looking for are potential longevity, balance and completeness, structure, acidity and depth of flavour.

“We’re also looking for an authentic representation of our house style. It needs to be a very good port, but it also needs to be typical of our house style,” explained Heath.

Taylor’s and Fonseca last declared a vintage port in 2011. I was impressed by both he Taylor’s and Fonseca 2016 vintage ports, which are clearly going to be long-lived wines. Taylor’s was more closed and perhaps more refined but I was totally seduced by the more expressive, accessible and voluptuous wine from Fonseca.

It inspired me to open a bottle of 1985 Taylor’s vintage port. With the help of a block of Stilton cheese, I enjoyed a glass every evening for the following week and re-discovered the delights of mature vintage port.

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