Calgary Wine Life: The Fladgate Partnership 2016 Vintage Port Release Tasting @ La Chaumiere

9 05 2018

By Dan Steeves & Raymond Lamontagne

Vintage Port, undoubtedly one of the crown jewels of the wine world, is celebrated as one of the Earth’s most complex and robust wines, one that has a superior ability to age and mature in bottle, often only fully revealing itself after several decades. Having never tasted a vintage Port with less than 10 years of age on it, we were very interested in the opportunity to preview the brand new 2016 Vintage Ports from The Fladgate Partnership (literally, they were just bottled a couple weeks ago for sampling purposes, well before what will be their commercial release).

The Fladgate Partnership includes three iconic Port houses: Croft, Taylor Fladgate, and Fonseca. Each house enjoys centuries of history producing Port, and between them they hold the most revered vineyards in the Douro, giving the Partnership the ability to make some of the best and most sought after Ports on the market. Croft, founded in 1588 and thus the oldest Port house in the world, possesses the Quinta da Roêda estate, which has been termed the “jewel of the Douro Valley”. Taylor Fladgate has three main estates: Quinta de Vargellas (well known as a pinnacle wine estate), and two Pinhão Valley estates (Quinta de Terra Feita and Quinta do Junco). Fonseca, the relative newcomer in the Fladgate trifecta at the fresh age of 203 (founded in 1815), also has three significant estates: Quinta do Panascal in the Távora Valley, and Quinta  de Cruzeiro and Quinta de Santa António, both located in the Pinhão Valley. It is these special estate vineyards, with their prime soil, ideal climate conditions, and significant plantings of decades-old vines, which contribute most to the style and personality of each House’s classic vintage Port. As we shall see, there are compelling genuine differences in house style.

Vintage Port is made only in the very best of years when the fruit is exceptional and the wines are determined to be monumental in character, showing early evidence of the ability to age that all great Ports should have. It is a house by house decision, made in the second spring following the harvest once the wines have undergone initial aging and blending. If the producer believes the wine has the characteristics of a great Vintage Port (and the regulating body agrees), they make a formal vintage declaration and begin preparations for bottling. For Fladgate, this declaration occurs on April 23rd and it historically happens roughly three times each decade. The last vintage declared for Fladgate was 2011, which followed 2009, 2007, 2003, and 2000. Taylor Fladgate has declared 32 Vintages from 1900-2016, whilst Croft has declared only 24 vintages in the same period.

Jorge Ramos, the export manager for The Fladgate Partnership, led us through a tasting of three vintages (2003, 2007, and the new 2016) from each of the Fladgate Partnership houses. The opportunity to taste various Vintage Ports from all three producers, side by side, really brought into stark relief the differences in their identities. From the luscious fruit flavours of Croft to the soft yet strong complexity of Taylor Fladgate and the muscular power of Fonseca, these were all stunningly delicious with their own personalities. We’ve summarized our tasting notes below by vintage year, in the manner they were tasted. First up, the 2003 vintage, which had a near perfect start to the growing season and periods of intense summer heat in August which allowed for perfect ripening of the fruit.

Croft 2003 Vintage Port

Showing the most garnet hue of the 2003 lineup, the Croft 2003 was bursting with dried fruit character. Most notable was the thick dark dates and I (Dan) was overcome by memories of my grandmother taking fresh date squares out of the oven. Dried currants and figs, turkish delight (or even a Big Turk chocolate bar), light baking spices such as nutmeg and allspice, and freshly ground coffee also came out in spades. The tannins were soft and mellow and the finish was markedly persistent. I (Ray) was struck on the nose by chocolate-covered maraschino cherries, and got a palate full of sopping ripe blackberry jam, mushy rotting tangerines and oranges, Worcestershire sauce, and black raisins. This still has some life ahead but was clearly the most advanced of the wines tasted, such that we both recommend enjoying over the next 5 years or so.

92+ Points

Taylor Fladgate 2003 Vintage Port

Here there is an initial strong floral note of violets, lilacs, and irises, classic beautiful Vargellas on the nose, a note that is overtaken by bittersweet baking chocolate (you know, the kind that you tried eating as a child after discovering it in the pantry and thinking you’d won the jackpot) with earthy/woody elements of potting soil, graphite, and pencil shavings. On the palate, this comes across completely different (!), showcasing dried fruit characters of sultanas, red currants, and Fig Newtons. I’m thinking Black Forest cake, which I (Ray) typically dislike. Here, however, the effect is delicious. A delicate floral-fruity character like rosehips somehow keeps its head above the tertiary waters, and there is a dusting of cigarette ash. A pleasing hazelnut note arrives late. The wine has more tannins than the Croft, while still remaining well-balanced, and has an even more impressive finish: basically eternal. A stunning wine indeed, with many more years ahead!

94 Points

Fonseca 2003 Vintage Port

Similar to the Taylor, this wine has an earthy nose of wet gravel, cedar mixed with fern-strewn forest floor, and freshly cracked black pepper, in addition to black cherries and dark chocolate. On the palate, this greets with bold fig flavours, showing off a rough and tough attitude with scrappy tannins and some noticeable alcohol. Huge spice flavours  rise up on the mid-palate, star anise as well as black and Szechaun peppercorns. This is less balanced than the other two in the flight but obviously needs yet more time (in bottle or longer decanting) to achieve optimal integration. It would be nice to check on this one in another 10 years.

92 Points

The 2007 growing season was preceded by a very wet winter which replenished water reserves after many years of hot and dry conditions. A cooler summer allowed the fruit to ripen slowly and retain its acidity while a spell of scorching temperatures in the weeks before harvest guaranteed the grapes reached full maturity. The vintage is known for producing soft and elegant wines, which is what we found as well.

Croft 2007 Vintage Port

Strong floral notes of violets and roses come at you first, followed by a medicinal aroma like a freshly sanitized hospital room or a freshly opened rubber band-aid. Raisins and perfumed, plush cherries are present on the nose and palate, and there are distinct black/white pepper and celery salt notes on the palate as well. The wine is soft, smooth, and shows some nice complexity, but the finish is  slightly shorter than the others.

92 Points

Taylor Fladgate 2007 Vintage Port

Similar to the Croft, there is a blast of floral notes from the 2007 Taylor Fladgate, like walking into a flower shop and smelling all the freshly cut flowers, baby’s breath, and other greenery. There is the distinct smell of a Sharpie marker, along with campfire ash, black liquorice, and fennel seeds. On the palate it is much the same, with some nice dried fruit flavours as well as a dash of candied flower petals and even a hint of grapefruit. This is incredibly soft, elegant, and balanced with just the right amount of acidity to keep it lively. You don’t want to stop tasting this wine, and the persistent finish helps the cause. Hold onto this bottle, as it assuredly has a long and rewarding future ahead!

94+ Points

Fonseca 2007 Vintage Port

The wine is fresh and has more red fruit than dark on the nose, all red currants and juicy cherry Nibs. Aromas of freshly cut grass and a child’s blueberry-scented Mr. Sketch marker also emerge along with a sweet anise spice. On the palate, this is plush with dried blueberries being most dominant. Consistent with prior observations of house style, this shows hotter than Croft and Taylor Fladgate, but it still manages to be well balanced with integrated tannins and has a long and enjoyable fruity finish.

93+ Points

The 2016 vintage declaration just happened on April 23rd, not even 3 weeks ago, so this is probably one of the earliest possible opportunities to taste a Vintage Port post-declaration. Being incredibly young, the wines are fresh and youthful with vibrant fruit character and firm tannins, and it is difficult to see exactly where they will end up. Jorge told us that 2016 was “a year of pure fruit, not a year of maturity but one of elegance”, which is sure to age gracefully over time.

Croft 2016 Vintage Port (~$125, available fall 2018)

The deep inky purple colour of this wine was certainly no indication of the insanely tropical fruit aromas lurking therein. A sheer attack on the nose, including passion fruit, apricot, peach, starfruit, bananas, watermelon, orange Tang breakfast crystals or Five Alive citrus beverage and Runts candies was definitely unexpected, but the pure ripe fruit flavours were a refreshing change after so many fig bars and dried cherries from the preceding bottles. On the palate, the tannins are already quite fine and there is a curious soft almond nutty flavour, with both of us agreeing that milk-chocolate-covered almond is not off-base. Maybe a little walnut as well? An interesting wine to say the least, and it will be fun to taste this again in another 10 years.

91-93 Points

Taylor Fladgate 2016 Vintage Port (~$156, available fall 2018)

There is similar fruit intensity to the Croft, but it is more purely citrus than tropical, full of sweet mandarins as well as navel and Cara cara oranges, all drizzled with Welch’s grape juice. There is a pleasant albeit slow-to-emerge savoury side as well, recalling basil and sage, along with a rich and creamy brown butter sauce note. The tannins and acidity are strong and the alcohol shows through. The wine is just really closed right now, almost frustratingly so. Be patient, as this should really start to shine in 10 to 15+ years.

92-94 Points

Fonseca 2016 Vintage Port (~$156, available fall 2018)

The most muted on the nose of the three 2016 wines, the Fonseca features delicate aromas of raisins, hot sauna rocks, fresh roses, and purple popsicle: this has the most blackberry character of the three newbies. It has a big voluptuous mouthfeel, with opulent nutty flavours of almond and brazil nut. Bold and muscular with some noticeable alcohol and the same strong tannins as the Taylor Fladgate, it will surely develop into a great wine with additional bottle age.

92-94 Points

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