Calgary Wine Life: 1863 Taylor Fladgate Port

6 06 2014

What happened in 1863?  Henry Ford was born.  The Battle of Gettysburg helped shape the course of the US Civil War.  Canada was 4 years away from becoming its own country.  And the grapes that went into the Port that I got to try this week were harvested.  There are times when I am reminded just how transportive wine is, how it can be a liquid chronicler of history.  This was one of those times.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

It probably goes without saying that it’s exceedingly rare for a producer to release a wine after it has turned 150.  The centuries-old Port houses in Portugal would only have extremely limited quantities of reserves even half that old, which would in most cases be used in minute quantities to add flavour and complexity to the producers’ 40-year old tawny Port release (the 40 years on the label represents the average age of the multi-vintage wines in the bottled blend).  Taylor Fladgate has added to its own reserves over the years with select lots of high-end wood-aged Port from the 19th century, and when the quality of an ancient elixir is exceptional, it will occasionally decide to bottle and release it as a stand-alone offering.  That was the case with this single-harvest Port from one of the best vintages of the 19th century, 1863, which after a century and a half is just being taken out of barrel and readied for sale this fall.  When I say “barrel”, I’m referring to one of only two in existence:  Fladgate has but a lonely pair of barrels of the 1863, which will ultimately make less than 1,500 bottles of the Port for the entire world market.

The only two barrels in existence.

The only two barrels in existence.

Time for some quick Port geekery.  The 1863 is classified as a “Single Harvest Port”, meaning (self-evidently) that all of the grapes that went into the Port were harvested in the same year.  When you see Ports with single-vintage designations on them, the natural inclination is to think that they are Vintage Ports, but unless they say “Vintage” on the label, they are not.  The difference between Vintage Port and these Single Harvest Ports (which are also called Colheita Ports) lies in how the wine is aged:  Vintage Ports are only aged in barrel for a couple of years before being bottled, whereas Colheita Ports remain in barrel throughout their aging process and are only bottled immediately before release.  This maturation difference leads to clear distinctions in how the Ports ultimately taste, as the barrel-aged Single Harvest Ports are constantly exposed to oxygen, which gives them their brownish colour and an array of nutty, caramelized, dried fruit flavours.  Vintage Ports are sealed off from air early on and thus remain deeper, darker, more concentrated and much more fresh and fruity.  Remember Colheitas this way:  they are single vintage tawny Ports.  And this one was incredible.

groupWe gathered at Rouge restaurant in Inglewood for an impeccable meal on the patio.  The early courses were paired with some of my favourite value wines on the planet:  Michel Chapoutier’s stellar Bila-Haut lineup from the Cotes du Roussillon in the south of France.  The 2011 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeo, played possum for a bit with a deceptively neutral, minerally, rubbery nose but emerged delicate and beautiful on the palate, spreading out as soon as it hit the tongue and radiating pear and chalk, crystallized pineapple and candied ginger.  It somehow melded a precise structure with a luxurious, languid mouthfeel and was perfect for the patio. (89-90 points)  The white was followed by its big brother, the 2011 Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, a fruity and powerful red blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  I currently have multiple bottles of this wine in my cellar, but as always, I revelled in the brambly black fruit, floral/violet hints, rhubarb-tinged acidity and layered tannins.  This is a bottle that never fails to impress. (88-89+ points)


Look at the colour. Just wow.

And then with dessert came the star of the show.  We each got about an ounce of the 1863 and fought to savour every drop, me especially, as I knew that this was almost certainly the oldest wine that would ever cross my lips.  Tasting notes are almost superfluous for a wine like this, but in the throes of this religious Port experience I tried to remember where I was long enough to scribble something down.  The 1863 Single Harvest Port was a deep amber-brown in colour, though translucent throughout and lightening considerably near the rim.  It was remarkably, miraculously, utterly alive on the nose and palate, mellowed and concentrated by age and evaporation but nowhere near the end of its life.  Its complexity was unbelievable, with dried strawberry and medicinal aromas giving way to coffee, burnt sugar, cinnamon/nutmeg, maple, sun-baked earth, hot rocks, eucalyptus and a slight brininess.  There were strong herbal, and even vegetal (celery) undertones to the palate which lent gravitas to the toffee, almond, vanilla, sarsaparilla and tangerine flavours that were seamlessly woven together after 150 years of companionship.  The biggest surprise amongst the tasters at the table was how bright and present the wine’s acidity was after that much time in barrel, and the finish just went on forever, a reminder of how long this wine had to wait to be enjoyed.  It was unforgettable.

bookThe Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port is being allocated on a first come, first served basis (through Pacific Wine & Spirits in Alberta) and is being bottled by hand, unfined and unfiltered, by a single person in the Fladgate Port house in Porto.  It will retail for around $4,000 a bottle, although the “bottle” in question will be a specially designed crystal decanter that will come with a hand-signed certificate by Taylor Fladgate’s Managing Director.  If you are reading this and that is somehow within your means, I can attest that the drinking experience is well worth it.  All I can say is thanks – this was like nothing else I’ve had before.

97+ points

$4,000 CDN






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