Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port Release

17 02 2016

There are tastings and there are TASTINGS; this one deserves capitalization.  To celebrate the impending release of Taylor Fladgate’s 1966 Single Harvest Port to the Alberta market (coming next month to a store near you!), this 50 year-old wine was opened up at a special release event this afternoon along with its older siblings the 1964 and 1965.  153 combined years of Port later, I had a good day.

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By way of quick refresher, Port is a fortified wine made from (usually) a blend of grapes grown in the Douro region in northern Portugal.  The grapes are crushed and at first fermented just like dry table wine, but halfway through the fermentation, when there is still considerable sugar left in the grape juice that has yet to be converted to alcohol, the juice is spiked with 70% abv grape brandy, which kills the yeast, stops the fermentation and (obviously) increases the alcohol level of the now-finished wine, resulting in a sweet, fruity, 20-ish% abv Port.  All Port is made in this way, but how each Port ends up looking, smelling and tasting after you open the bottle depends largely on how it is matured.

Ruby Ports, blends from multiple vintages made for early consumption, get a couple of years of barrel age and are bottled young and fruity.  Vintage Ports, single-year wines released only in top years, get a similar barrel treatment but are so dense and concentrated that they are intended to age for years or decades in bottle before they are opened.  Tawny Ports, also multi-year blends, are aged oxidatively in barrels until they are ready for release, with air exposure leading to their brownish colour, mellow texture and nutty, caramel-y flavours. The Port Wine Institute only allows Tawny Ports to be bottled with an age designation of 10, 20, 30 or 40 Years, with the number denoting the average age of the wines in the blend.

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When a Tawny Port is made from grapes of a single year’s harvest, it is known as a Colheita, a single vintage Tawny.  “Colheita” (pronounced “Kohl-YAY-tah”) is the Portuguese word for “harvest”, and to obtain this designation, any one-year Tawny must be aged at least 7 years in barrel before bottling.  Taylor Fladgate, thanks to a fortuitous acquisition of another Port house with significant back-vintage reserves, started a program three years ago for the annual release of a special Very Old Single Harvest (Colheita) Port on its 50th anniversary.  In 2014 they released the 1964 Colheita, followed by the 1965 in 2015 and now this year’s 1966.  If you know anybody celebrating a 50th birthday or anniversary in 2016, I know what you can get them.

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We had the opportunity to taste through Taylor Fladgate’s library of Tawny Ports, followed by a back-to-back-to-back tasting of the 1964, 1965 and 1966 Single Harvest Tawnys.  Here are my hastily scribbled notes on each:

Taylor Fladgate Tawny Ports

  • 10 Year ($35):  Clearly different colour than the rest of the lineup, the only one with some ruby red left to it.  Raisin, date and burnt sugar, but also freshness – cranberry, orange zest and watermelon – with a hint of black pepper spice.  Taylor Fladgate’s Tawny house style tends to emphasize fruitiness, and this one delivers it.  89 points
  • 20 Year ($60):  Notably more tawny-coloured, albeit with a slight salmon pinkishness left to it.  Surprising amounts of citrus (dried apricot, nectarine, Mandarin orange), along with creme brûlée, Earl Grey tea and a sort of rocky complexity.  A step up for sure, and a great value.  91+ points
  • 30 Year ($135):  More than double the cost of the 20, but for the first time I thought the extra investment was worth it.  An incredible combination of maturity and intensity, with a smoother, thicker, denser mouthfeel and a coffee-like Oloroso sherry note livened up by bright golden raisin, baked cherry, toasted pecan and incense flavours.  The highlight of the non-Colheitas for sure.  93+ points
  • 40 Year ($179):  The darkest colour Tawny, deep and heavily bronzed like steeped tea, but much more relaxed and mellow than its juniors.  Limited prune-like fruit gives way to a full slate of oxidative flavours, from s’mores, caramel and pumpkin pie dessert notes to ginger and cinnamon stick spice to trail mix nuttiness.  Complexity abounds, but didn’t quite stick with me like the 30 did.  92 points

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Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port

While the blended Tawny Ports above were built to exhibit Fladgate’s house style, the single vintage Colheitas (made from later-acquired stock) were made to tell the tale of their harvest year.  1964 started cold, ended wet and was uneven, and the resulting Port is much more papery and delicate, with less concentration and less emphatic sensations of sweetness.  When you taste seven Ports in a row, it feels like a relief when one of them isn’t as full throttle.  This Colheita was almost a paler greenish brown colour, with gorgeous if quieter flavours of tangerine, nougat, almond rocca, bergamot and brown sugar, starting softly on the palate but then blooming, unfurling and expanding the longer it stayed on the tongue.  The finish seemed understated at first but then just kept rolling.  Compared to the two more potent Colheitas to follow, it would be easy to overlook this one, but I kept coming back to it and appreciated it more with each sip.

94 points

$250 CDN

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Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Port

If you ever wanted definitive proof of the impact of vintage variation, look no further.  1965 was mostly hot and dry, and the added warmth and ripeness turned this Colheita into a Portuguese sledgehammer (to the extent possible after a half century of barrel aging).  A deeper, more orange-y brown than the ’64, it was rich almost to the point of being mealy, yet incredibly retained some primary fruit to go along with the clove, all spice, lemon meringue and butter tart flavours more commonly associated with Ports of this style and age.  The sweetness was much more apparent here, without the offsetting freshness or brightness to pull it back.  While the other two Colheitas would go with dessert, this was the dessert.  Still great, but a little heavy.

92 points

$250 CDN

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Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port

And now the moment we were all waiting for.  We were the first ones to formally taste this “new” release Colheita in Alberta, and though it came from the hottest of the three years, the 1966 matched its enhanced ripeness with remarkable structure and complexity, giving it concentration and density, but also life and verve.  It was DARK in the glass, almost cola-coloured, slightly restrained nose but then sweetly explosive on the palate:  treacly, nutty, spicy, a buoyant mixture of dates, figs, gingerbread and molasses, dense and thick but with noteworthy acidity and even some evident tannin to keep it on the rails.  Even if you hold it in your mouth for a long time, it continually feels coiled to pounce, and the flavours are eternal.  A clear top choice in the tasting for me, and an amazing imminent addition to the province’s wine marketplace.  If 1966 means anything to you, go find it!

96+ points

$250 CDN

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5 responses

9 04 2016
Warren Noble

Does anyone know where to get a bottle (or 2) of the Taylor Fladgate single harvest 1966 port? I have been looking for months. I was born in 1966 and would like to pick up a couple of bottles, one to celebrate my 50th and one to set aside for about 10 years.

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9 04 2016
petervetsch

Warren – I’ll check around and get back to you. Cheers!

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9 04 2016
petervetsch

Warren – I’ve heard from the agent and the ’66 is likely to hit stores this week or next. If I hear of a particular place in Calgary that carries it I’ll let you know, but you haven’t missed it – it was just a touch delayed in arriving.

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22 04 2016
Warren Noble

Thanks, I have even been in contact with Taylor Fladgate directly and they haven’t been able to tell me who will have it available.

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22 04 2016
petervetsch

I have someone with the agent who’s supposed to let me know when it’s on the shelf. I saw the ’65 at Aspen the other day, so hopefully soon!

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