February 27, 2011

The Great Vintage Port Event

We spent the afternoon of Sunday Feb. 27th sipping vintage port purchased at last year’s LCBO Fine Wine & Spirits auction. Friends of the group, Tom and Cathy hosted a pot-luck theme at their lovely home in Newmarket and each of our members brought a port related taste to share.

A brief history of the drink
People often claim that good can never result from war, but without conflict, Port wine likely would not exist. Political unrest in the 17th century between the two neighboring nations of England and France had once again resulted in hostility. During this time, all trades between the two ceased, including the export of wine to Britain. To continue the flow of alcohol, the English turned to Portugal, their ally, for wine but found that when and if the barrels arrived on English soil, the distance and time necessary for transport almost always resulted in spoiled pleasure.  To protect the fragile drink for the journey and perhaps to improve its taste, the Brits introduced the addition of Brandy spirits to the barrels and unknowingly invented what is undoubtedly history’s greatest dessert wine.   

With the trend of sipping fortified wine after dinner seemingly relevant only in Hollywood classics, the popularity of Port over the last 50 years has seen steady decline.  Unfortunately, the rich, viscous drink is perceived as a bit stodgy and has given way instead for the taste of specialty coffee and ultra-sweet chilled wine.  Today, I hope to rekindle your interest by sampling some of the very finest Vintage Port available.  And to add a touch of pizzazz, we’ll open the bottles with authentic port tongs using a technique I like to call ‘Fire & Ice’.   

The wines tasted this afternoon are listed below:

1983 W&J Graham’s
1983 Fonseca
1992 Taylor Fladgate
1983 Taylor Fladgate
1985 W&J Graham’s

Four of the five bottles were opened using the port tongs (watch the video) while the remaining ’92 Taylor Fladgate, a younger offering by comparison was opened with a ‘dishonest butler’ cork extractor. While we found tremendous variation between the five bottles, each one did contribute something new and fascinating to the afternoon and tasting experience. 

1983 Graham’s
Our first bottle.  Wonderfully rich and full bodied showing no sign of its age; thick, soft with great stewed fruit, cassis, and cocoa powder. 

1983 Fonseca
Fascinating... It stinks – but in the most peculiar and interesting way??  Solvent, plastic, someone else said it had a gasoline aroma.  Tawny in colour; showing its age.  On the palate, more red fruit than black: sour cherry and raspberry notes and though the fruit qualities had faded somewhat, the wine was still quite rich but more in a brandy sense – great.  I loved this one. 

1992 Taylor Fladgate
Parker gave this 100 points…  Dark, almost black, it looked like Grange in the glass.  The nose was subdued by comparison to the first two bottles. Rich, though not as full as the ’83 Graham’s.  Great fruit core of raspberry and currants but a bit hot on the finish, I thought.  Might benefit from a few more years in the cellar.

1983 Taylor Fladgate
Quite similar to the Fonseca: showing its age, a lighter tawny colour but still quite nice.  Perhaps the least popular of the five was the impression from the group.

1985 Graham’s
The wine of the day – Perfect (Mr. Parker should have tried this one…) Similar in appearance to the ‘83 Graham’s but with greater concentration; the most balanced of the lot was the consensus.   Raisins, prunes, super-ripe black fruit; no edge whatsoever… I’m running out of words.  There will be a bidding war at next year’s auction if this one shows up again.

A really fun afternoon – Thanks for joining us … Amarone in March, see you then.


  1. Yes it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. All the ports were delicious and so different form each other. It was so nice of Tom and Cathy to host this at their home, they were truly gracious hosts.
    Thank you for letting me join in.

  2. Awesome blog and tasting notes Tyler! Please e-mail me when you have a moment.




Choose Anonymous if you're not sure what to select under 'Comment As'

Some background...

My photo
Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine