Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1968 Single Harvest Port Release

17 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Although I am deathly tired of the evil winter weather that simply will not give up the ghost in this city, I am more than happy to brave one more snowstorm (please, just one more?) in order to carry on the Pop and Pour tradition of covering the annual release of a Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Port.  These bottles capitalize on Taylor Fladgate’s extensive back catalogue of aged Port stocks.  They are tawny Ports, meaning that they are aged in barrels for many years, exposed to oxygen and thereby mellowed into a resplendent golden brown. They are also Colheitas, or tawnies where all of the bottled grapes hail from a single vintage.  Taylor Fladgate eschews the term Colheita on these labels in favour of a more anglicized approach.  Regardless of the naming convention employed, Port connotes a sense of pageantry, giving off a regal vibe that this self-styled progressive enjoys basking in from time to time. I wander through the fine wooden décor of Calgary’s Ranchmen’s Club, past a litany of taxidermied game, following my nose into the tasting room where fragrant pourings have already sat for some time.


Our host Cynthia Opsal, Brand Manager for The Fladgate Partnership for Pacific Wine & Spirits, leads us off with a video that features an interview with Alistair Robertson, principal shareholder in the Fladgate Partnership.  Robertson explains that terroir is fundamental to good Port.  According to Taylor Fladgate winemaker David Guimaraes, 12 different indigenous grape varieties are planted, with four providing the majority of production.  Some grapes such as the vogue Touriga Nacional provide tannic grip, while others such as Tinta Barroca provide more color and sugar content.  Robertson explains that a day of work on the estate involves eight hours of picking grapes, followed by four hours of foot treading in the case of high quality bottlings.  Production of all Port involves adding grape spirit to stop fermentation just before its midpoint, which at Taylor Fladgate occurs around three days into the fermentation process, when about 5-6% alcohol has been produced.  Enough spirit is added to bring the alcohol up to around 20% (which in turn kills off any remaining yeast).  David Guimaraes has stated that a recent trend toward use of more clean and pure spirits means that vintage Ports are approachable sooner, with more fruity expression.  This latter point seems particularly relevant, as this year we get a welcome break from tradition:  instead of the preliminary offering of blended tawny ports that were tasted in prior Release years, we get to sample three 2015 vintage Ports — Single-Quinta vintages, that is.


Initial reports indicated that 2015 was an excellent growing season in the Douro, a probable vintage year.  Producers readied their declarations.  However, after this early optimism some hedging began (as Cynthia put it), and many began to wonder if 2016 was in fact a superior year.  Do the 2015 Ports have enough concentration? The notion that one cannot declare two vintages in consecutive years began to take anxious root, and the exciting possibility that 2015 was buoyed by intense fruit and powerful tannins fell by the wayside.  Perhaps 2015 is “too modern“?  Ultimately 2015 was NOT declared as a vintage by most houses, with Taylor Fladgate and Symington both pulling the plug (with the exception of Symington house-brand Cockburn).  Fortunately it was recognized that this year still has much to offer in terms of quality at a reasonable price, and in many cases 2015 Vintage Port releases were replaced by Single-Quinta Vintage Port releases, the slight difference being that a Single-Quinta Vintage Port involves grapes from one specific property (typically a house’s best single vineyard), as opposed to the classic Vintage Port concept where multiple vineyards contribute grapes to the house’s big release.  Single-Quintas are unfettered by concerns about release in consecutive years, and popular wisdom holds that they are ready for drinking sooner than their more esteemed traditional counterparts.  Let’s delve into these younger bottles, one from Taylor itself and the other two from top flight members of the Fladgate Partnership.

2015 Vintage Ports

  • Croft Quinta da Roeda:  This estate was acquired by the Croft family in 1889, apparently as a dowry.  Croft is the oldest firm still active in Port production (founded in 1588!), and the Roeda property is described as “the jewel of the Douro”.  This all leads one to expect something traditional and perhaps stern in the glass.  Not so!  This was the most boldly fruity and histrionic of the Ports sampled here.  Swirls of blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry crème radiate from the glass, melding into a “tutti frutti” or grape bubble gum impression.  Tropical fruit notes in a Port?!  Truly.  Mango (perhaps dried), passion fruit, pineapple Teriyaki, and even a little banana cream pie add a second exotic dimension to what would otherwise be pure berry confected bliss.  92 points
  • Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas:  Recognized as one of the finest vineyards in the world and located in the remote eastern reaches of the Douro, as a single bottling Vargellas can be sublimely floral.  This promise is delivered here, with violets, lilacs, and lavender leaping from the glass.  This is like a walk through a flower garden, with the disparate elements all coalescing to yield something fun but retro, like Thrills gum.  On the palate this is elegant, lean fruit, with ample graphite (pencil lead, lock spray), cacao butter/milk chocolate, dried blood, and rhubarb, with plush tannins.  Perfumed, mentholated bliss.  93 points
  • Fonseca Guimaraens:  This property has a reputation for supple, approachable Vintage Ports that nevertheless age well due to considerable tannin.  I certainly get the latter here, a sandpaper-like grip that lingers well past the point at which the ripe black cherries, blackberry crème, dried figs, and fried basil leaves have made their exit.  Slight leather moccasin and gravel pit on the nose add some appreciated complexity to what would otherwise be a tasty one-two punch of high-toned black fruit followed by an SOS pad.  91 points


Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Port

Although last year’s tasting notes for the 1965 Single Harvest are not my own, I am excited to compare my impressions with Peter’s and look forward to more opportunities to see how these magnificent wines continue to persevere over the years.  The 1965 greets me with waves of maple sugar and donut on the nose, followed by pecan pie or perhaps butter pecan pudding, sultanas, and whiffs of exotic wood, saffron (!), vanilla bean, and Ceylon cinnamon.  This was the nuttiest of the four Single Harvests on the palate, redolent with hazelnuts and walnuts but not disturbingly rich due to an acidity that remains brisk.  This makes sense, given that the grapes this year were a tad underripe.  It would seem that the pecans were there from the beginning but that the other nut and exotic spice elements are in the midst of development.  This continues to go strong, walking softly but carrying a big stick.

95 points

Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port

This year the grapes were exposed to some blistering heat after a poor start, resulting in high sugars and deep colour.  This one was rather torpid in the glass, sluggish at first but eventually yielding a conglomerate of flat cola syrup, fig and date Newtons, chocolate-covered raisins, and health food shop (earthy ginseng and dusty old brown spices).  This is an enveloping blanket of Vanilla Coke, with any given sip providing a surfeit of sluicing sweetness that seems like it could last for days.  There might even be a slight cheddar note lurking in the morass.  It will be curious to see how this vintage continues to hang on.  Has it hit a wall?

92 points

Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port

Now THIS is going somewhere interesting.  Although musts were slightly green this year as well, the weather remained more consistent than in the two previous vintages.  Give this a sniff and be greeted by cassia bark, ash (!), razor strop leather, peppercorns (black and Cubeb) and musty old tomes, all hovering over richer notes of soppy nectarines, pancake syrup, carob, pumpkin pie, dried papaya, and even a dollop of sweet caramelized BBQ sauce.  What on earth is going here?  The wine remains powerful and layered, with a popping acidity like the ’65 but so much shimmering darkness above and below.  If the 1965 is an experienced monk, this is an upstart acolyte meditating on his own confidence, about the outstrip the master.

97 points


Taylor Fladgate 1968 Single Harvest Port

We arrive at the new addition to the family, palate fatigue nowhere in sight.  This was a consistently hot vintage but with cool nights, with a fiery June desiccating some grapes.  Sugars were again high, and on the nose this is all silky smooth Kraft caramels, raisin pie, and butter tarts.  This is a dead ringer for that old Rum & Butter chocolate bar (alas, long since consigned to the dustbin of candy history).  At least on the nose — sure, these elements are also present on the palate but there is also a raw cashew nuttiness and a pleasing fruitiness to freshen up the bags o’ brown sugar.  How come you taste so good, candied mandarins, fresh pumpkin, and orange peel?  I get burnt marshmallow in the finish.  All wines will of course deteriorate after a certain point, and these unique releases do seem to move at different paces, some hanging on better than others and perhaps acquiring new predominant characters as the layers are peeled back.  It will be fun to see how this new addition to the stable weathers the upcoming years. I predict greatness.

94 points


A wonderful palate of goodies to help bring out and complement rich Port flavours!



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