Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port Release

11 04 2017

I almost always try to write up a tasting as soon as possible after I’ve experienced it, while memories are still fresh and the wines that were presented are still alive on my senses.  This is unfortunately not one of those times.  I must have triggered some kind of ancient Douro warlock’s curse upon cheerfully exiting La Chaumiere restaurant two weeks ago today, after tasting 100 combined years of Taylor Fladgate tawny Port and a trio of aged single-harvest releases that were collectively over a century and a half old, because within an hour of the tasting I was feeling queasy and unwell.  It only got grimmer and sicker after that, and I’ve only just emerged from that bleary world of nausea and cough drops and decongestants and come back to some semblance of myself.  But even if it was the Port gods who struck me down, it was totally worth it.

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Taylor Fladgate, thanks to savvy rationing and recent acquisitions of significant quantities of extensively aged Port stocks from another historic house, has one of the largest inventories of old cask-aged Port in the world.  In 2014, it decided to make use of this bounty by launching a remarkable program:  releasing a 50 year-old Single Harvest Port on an annual basis commemorating the half-century that came before.  The 1964 Single Harvest Port was the first of the line, but has since been followed by the 1965 in 2015, the 1966 in 2016, and, this year, the impending “new” release of the 1967 Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port.  Each of these bottles retails for around $250 and is the best possible 50th birthday or anniversary present that could exist on this world.  As a special nod to Canada, the 1967 bottling is also a Canadian Centennial edition (at least in this country), with a maple-leaf-adorned box liner marking our country’s 100th birthday on the year of its 150th.

FullSizeRender-578A quick tangent to explain this Port’s name and aging designation.  All Port starts just like other red wines do, with crushed grapes fermented on their skins.  With Port, however, the fermentation is halted halfway through, before much of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, by spiking the juice with high-proof (75+% abv) grape brandy, which kills the yeast, retains a large part of the grapes’ natural sweetness and boosts the alcohol level of the finished product to around 20%.  The Port is then put in large oak barrels for maturation, and what happens next is what determines its final identity.  In top vintages, some of this wine only spends a couple years in wood before being put in bottle for further non-oxidative aging.  This is Vintage Port, arguably Portugal’s crown jewel.  In lesser years, or with other lots, the wine stays a few extra years in barrel before hitting the bottle 4-6 years past vintage; this is Late-Bottled Vintage Port, generally a less ageable, earlier-drinking style, and one that was actually invented by Taylor Fladgate in the 1960s, a rare innovation in a very traditional winemaking landscape.

FullSizeRender-579Other Ports age exclusively in barrel for many more years, fully exposed to air, until they’re browned and mellowed before being bottled ready to drink.  If such a bottle is made from Port created out of grapes harvested in a single year, it’s called a Colheita, which is effectively a single-vintage tawny Port.  If it’s made from Ports from multiple years’ worth of harvests, it’s simply tawny Port, bottled with no vintage designation but only a listing of the average age of the wine therein:  10, 20, 30 or 40 Years.  These special Very Old Single Harvest Ports from Taylor Fladgate are ultra-rare Colheitas, tamed and weathered over half a century to complex, layered, seemingly effortless bliss.

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Cynthia Opsal, Brand Manager for The Fladgate Partnership for Pacific Wine & Spirits, started things off by explaining Taylor Fladgate’s house style:  ripe, rich, raisiny, and always aiming to showcase and be true to its age.  Taylor is celebrating its 325th (!!) birthday this year, so something about its approach obviously appeals.  Opsal led us through Taylor Fladgate’s suite of tawny Ports before launching into the three most recent 50th anniversary Single Harvest Port releases, culminating with the soon-to-be-released Canada-focused 1967.  As it turns out, they saved the best for last.

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Taylor Fladgate Tawny Ports

  • 10 Year Tawny:  This was almost hilariously more ruby-coloured than any other wine on the table, and with its youth retained a sense of brightness to go along with its more developed flavours, not to mention notable acid to balance out the retained sugar.  Red raspberry fruit, baked strawberries, shortbread cookies and jam, Twizzlers and Italian soda, all slow-cooked and caramelized to toasty perfection.  88-89 points
  • 20 Year Tawny:  The last tiny trace of ruby in any glass, all but swallowed up by layers of gingerbread, fig, sultana and clove.  There is more roundness, depth and bite than its younger sibling, with surprising hints of pepper adding complexity to the hedonistic symphony of French toast, burnt sugar and mulled wine.  91-92 points
  • 30 Year Tawny:  Now we’re into a fully matured world, all roasted nuts and molasses and maple syrup, like an alcoholic cabane à sucre.  Dried apricot and baked pumpkin fruit lend some lift, and a touch of bitterness on the palate-coating finish is actually quite welcome.  90-91 points
  • 40 Year Tawny:  The oldest of the tawny designations proudly shows its age, easing out of the glass deep and dark, thick and treacly and sensuous, just a silk robe on the tongue.  I keep coming back to dessert, whether Eat More bars or pralines, caramel corn or simply pure milk chocolate; tinged with date and a calm earthiness, this takes its time and enjoys the journey.  92-93 points

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Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Post

The cool thing about this tasting (other than that it involved drinking THREE different 50+ year-old Ports, which is sufficiently cool as to not merit me pointing it out) is that it followed the same format as the 1966 Single Harvest release tasting from last year, allowing us to taste the prior two special releases before the current year’s offering.  This means that a year ago, I got to taste, and write about, the 1964, 1965 and 1966 TF Single Harvest Ports, the latter two of which I was able to revisit in 2017 and then compare notes.  As compared to last year’s tasting (which you can read about here), the 1965 showed completely differently this year.  The product of a warmer vintage (resulting in a 21% rather than the standard 20% abv), it came across to me as heavy and bombastic last year, but whether the result of an extra year in bottle or simple bottle variation, it was beautifully balanced this time around.  There was almost a greenish tinge to the coffee-brown tawny hue, leading into a nose like a cascade of maple syrup onto a pecan pie.  Can a nose be smooth?  There was still some clear life to this wine at 52 years young, thanks to geriatrically spritely acid and a much more measured mouthfeel, and it had a purity this time around that stopped me in my tracks.  Amazing showing – a few more bottles are coming to Alberta in the fall!

94-95 points

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Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port

In contrast, I was all over the powerful blockbuster nature of the 1966 Single Harvest Port last year, whereas this year I found it just a touch hefty.  Much darker and less translucent than the ’65, 2016’s release is a gorgeous deep hazel colour and harkens eerily to Coca Cola Classic on the nose, rounded out by caramel apple and creme brûlée.  It is thicker and flatter on the palate, more forward and aggressive and notably sweeter (there was a clear uptick in residual sugar in this release as compared to the other two), making it seem a little heavy after a few sips.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s still remarkable and ultra-delicious, and I was (quite properly, I think) shouting its praises from the rooftops last year, but it was having a bit of a tired day on this particular occasion.

93-94 points

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Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port

1967 was a bit of a challenging year in the Douro, with spring rains affecting fruit set and a scorching summer not quite enough to get all of the grapes to full ripeness.  That did not seem to slow the stride of this wine one iota:  it was powerful and confident, yet elegant; layered and long-lasting; sharing the glories of its age but seeming utterly timeless at the same time.  It was just singing.  Its deep amber colour formed a nice bridge between the lighter ’65 and the near-impenetrable ’66, and it pulled in orange zest, nectarine, coriander and floral notes to invigorate the slower-moving classic Port flavours of brown sugar, walnut and caramel.  If I was turning 50 this year I might drink this on every single birthday I had left.  It will start hitting Alberta shelves at the end of April and does the maple leaf proud.

96-97 points

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2 responses

13 04 2017
Rob Dobson

Well-written and informative. Great article Peter!

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13 04 2017
petervetsch

Thanks a lot!!

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