Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1969 Single Harvest Port Release

8 03 2019

By Peter Vetsch

“All wine would be Port if it could.”

And with that, Cynthia Opsal, Brand Manager for The Fladgate Partnership at Pacific Wine & Spirits, kicked off this year’s rendition of one of my favourite annual tastings in the Calgary wine calendar, perhaps the only one to have now been blogged four separate times on this site.  On a quiet Thursday afternoon in Calgary, a small group of us became the first people in Canada to taste Taylor Fladgate’s most recent 50 year-old Port release, the 1969 Very Old Single Harvest Port.  It was worth the half-century wait.

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I’ll back up.  Taylor Fladgate was founded in 1692, is now 327 years old, and is still being run by the same family that started it all, whose holdings have since expanded to include three other legendary Port houses.  In 1998, The Fladgate Partnership acquired Fonseca, whose winemaker David Guimaraens now crafts the Ports of all of the houses, and in 2001 it acquired Croft, the oldest active Port producer in the world (now 431 years old and counting).  The last acquisition was Wiese & Krohn, a relative baby compared to the others, having only been founded 154 years ago in 1865, but possessed of considerable cellar stocks of Tawny Port dating back decades.  This fact was particularly relevant for Fladgate’s desire to go beyond the standard 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Tawny Port designations and create a novel 50 Year Port.  It is likely not coincidental that the Krohn purchase came in 2013 and the initial 50 Year release followed a year later.

IMG_9833Of course, wine laws being what they are and no story being remotely as interesting without some twists and turns, it wasn’t as easy as just slapping a “50 Year Tawny” label on a blended Tawny whose average wine age hit the half-century number.  This designation did not and does not exist — there is no permitted vintage-blended aged Tawny Port designation above 40 Year.  Presumably Portuguese wine lobbying is not a productive pursuit.  So what to do?  There is a separate recognized class of Tawny called a Colheita (“kohl-YAY-ta”) Port:  a Tawny Port whose constituent wines were all harvested in the same single vintage, effectively a Vintage Port that is oxidatively aged like a Tawny instead of being bottled early.  Other than a requirement that Colheitas have to spend at least 7 years in barrel, there was no other limit on how old a Colheita could be and when it had to be bottled, so as long as The Fladgate Partnership had access to enough back-vintage Tawny to bottle a batch for each successive vintage (which they now did), their 50 Year dream could be realized.

The first Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port was the 1964, released in 2014.  We are now on year five of the program and the inaugural release of the 1969, a wine which almost didn’t come to be due to the significant challenges associated with the vintage (any rough edges of which seem to have been smoothed away by fortification and 50 years to relax in barrel).  We began the afternoon tasting Single Quinta Vintage Ports from the crown-jewel vineyards of each of the Partnership’s main three houses, and ended off with a running four-year vertical of the most recent Very Old Single Harvest releases, which I almost immediately realized were the four prior releases that PnP has covered, putting me face to face with my own history as well as that of the estates in the glass.

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Single Quinta Ports

Single Quinta Vintage Port is a riff on the better-known Vintage Port designation, where all of the grapes going into a Port are harvested in the same year and the resulting wine is bottled shortly after fortification and blending.  The Single Quinta versions must also come from the grapes of a single vineyard (“Quinta” means “vineyard”), normally the top vineyard in the producer’s landholdings.  While Vintage Ports can only be made by a producer in certain declared top vintages, Single Quinta Ports can be made every year if the producer desires, even if the house does not declare a vintage that year.  Because of this, and because of the inherent quality of the source vineyards, Single Quinta offerings can be a remarkable source of value, offering a reasonable facsimile of Vintage Port at a reduced price.

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  • Croft Quinta da Roeda 2005 (~$60):  After The Fladgate Partnership purchased Croft, they set about rehabilitating its prime holding Quinta da Roeda, improving vineyard practices and restoring the estate’s granite lagares to again allow for the traditional foot-trodden grape crushing to kick off fermentation.  This 2015 Single Quinta was an early example of the revival of the vineyard’s legacy.  It is still deep, rich and impenetrable in colour even after 14 years in bottle and still shockingly youthful in aroma, featuring explosive blackberry compote, Saskatoon berry, black jellybean and pavement aromas, with just the faintest hint of molasses barely denting the sweetly primary first impression.  Thick and generous on the tongue, its tannins have been seriously smoothed out, although you get the impression they were never overly severe to begin with.  Orange Pekoe, chimney bricks and sunbaked earth add layers to the gloriously approachable fruit that soaks through the wine’s every molecule.  Not massively complex, but abjectly delicious.  91 points
  • Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas 2015 (~$77):  Fast forward 10 years and switch houses and you get to the most recent Single Quinta release from Taylor Fladgate, the 2015 Quinta de Vargellas (2016 was a declared vintage, and Vintage Port is made from a blend of the house’s vineyards, so Single Quintas tend to be produced in non-Vintage years).  Taylor Fladgate has three different vineyards at its disposal, but Vargellas is clearly its pride and joy, and has been in the family since 1893.  While the Croft Single Quinta is rich and buoyant, the Vargellas is a bit guarded and closed down on the nose, not a huge surprise for an ageworthy wine that was just laid down to rest.  The hunt for the character and class of the wine lasts only until the instant it enters your mouth, however, at which point the effect is electric:  vividly humming acidity pairs with prominent tannin to craft an amalgam both vibrant and monumental, controlling the expected sweetness with ease and making the whole wine feel driven and compelling.  Fresh grape and blueberry are accented by powerful violet and lilac florals, anise, chocolate mousse and skateboard griptape in a remarkably complex, agile demonstration of how good Single Quinta Ports can be right out of the gate.  93+ points
  • Fonseca Quinta do Panascal 2008 (~$69):  I find myself pining for a crash course on Portuguese grammar after the third time spell-checking to make sure that this wine is in fact “Quinta DO Panascal”, after each of “Quinta DA” and “Quinta DE” took a turn above.  Quinta d*.  If Fladgate and Vargellas are known for being more lithe and restrained, Fonseca and its show horse Quinta do Panascal are known for bringing the flavour:  big voluptuous black fruit is the name of the game and the core of this house’s reputation.  It does not disappoint on this front.  We’re back to a more open and plush approach, but with notably more tannic backbone than the Croft, even though this Fonseca is 11 years old itself.  Wine Gums, carrot cake, Strawberry Pop Tarts and even watermelon pay a visit, but this is largely a blackcurrant and blackberry abyss, sweetly friendly and pure.  I very much appreciate the structural outline that adds lines and dimension to the hedonism.  The difference arising from house and site in these Single Quintas is remarkable.  92 points

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Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port (~$250)

The 1966 Single Harvest was the first Very Old release I covered.  I absolutely adored it then.  When Ray and I tasted it again in subsequent years it never quite had the same impact, and Cynthia confirmed at the tasting that even fortified wines that barrel-age for decades still stretch and shift once being put in the bottle.  Well, it’s back again.  For a 53 year-old Tawny, this is so remarkably alive that I kept coming back to the glass in disbelief.  The aromas are sharp and vivid — orange and orange zest, even lime, laced with salt, a tropical margarita drizzled over the more expected butter tart, treacle and pancakes and syrup notes.  The acid hums along as though it is perfectly normal for a wine that my parents would have been too young to drink when it was made to be imbued with a sense of freshness.  Some kind of tangy Jell-O or icing sugar lifted top note prevents any sense of heaviness from penetrating the wine, belying its 183g of residual sugar and arsenal of tertiary development.  What an incredible show it put on.

95+ points

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Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port (~$250)

This release has been the showstopper every prior year we have been fortunate enough to taste it, assuredly the only wine in PnP history to clock in with back-to-back 97-point scores, one from each of this blog’s principal authors.  Ray’s review last year showed that my initial assessment of the ’67’s magic was no fluke, and on this day it was probably the crowd favourite as well, with many audible oohs and aahs emanating from the gallery while we were tasting it.  For me, maybe because I was so taken by the vibrancy of the 1966, it felt a little more safe and measured, a little more mellowed out, still rich and delectable but for my palate, on this day, slightly less compelling.  The residual sugar, despite being 20 g/L lower than the 1966, still stands out far more prominently, powering pumpkin pie, tiramisu, flat white and candied walnut notes, but tangier celery salt and balsamic vinegar and herbal bay leaf and tree bark lurk beneath to provide ballast.  Still a majestic beast (as evidenced by the fact that it has been fully allocated in Alberta), but five Ports in I was favouring agility over strength.

94- points

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Taylor Fladgate 1968 Single Harvest Port (~$275)

The progression from lean to broad, from vivacious to staid, continues apace with the 1968 Single Harvest, which is more bombastic and massive than its older brother, a behemoth’s ode to sticky toffee pudding and chocolate-covered almonds.  There is more fruit focus embedded into the heft of this Port, sultanas and dried cranberries and grape syrup, but the main story is the weighty texture and portly (no pun intended) mouthfeel, which would provide ample comfort and pleasure after a long day but which also yearns for a hint of freshness among its weight.  Pure hedonism, in the flesh.

93 points

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Taylor Fladgate 1969 Single Harvest Port (~$275)

And now the star of the show, which has just freshly been put into bottle and isn’t going to be released to market until May.  As noted above, there are no specific legal restrictions about Colheita Port and bottling, no minimum in-bottle maturation periods before release.  Some houses bottle and hold their Colheitas for a while before they hit the shelves; Taylor Fladgate opts for the opposite approach, bottling and then immediately releasing so that a fresh (as fresh as Tawny gets, at least) impression of the wine is available upon release and any further bottle development can be an individual cellaring choice.  The 1969 vintage was…not good, anywhere.  Significant rain both in winter and immediately before harvest impacted quality, rot ran rampant, and a cool summer delayed ripening, all of which led to smaller yields at lower sugar levels.  This overall struggle made it unclear whether or not Taylor’s four-year streak of 50 Year Single Harvest releases would continue in 2019, but thankfully the Partnership’s collective back-vintage stocks were ultimately up to the task.

The 1969 Single Harvest is clear and pure, featuring the most arresting deep green-tinged amber colour of the group.  To me it was the Goldilocks of the Very Old group, combining agility and heft and sweetness in deft proportion, coming across less amplified than the ’67 and ’68 and less pitchy than the ’66.  It may not be as destined for longevity as some of the others, but its date, creme caramel, cinnamon stick and ginger snap flavours roll over the tongue with seductive ease and the glass just keeps coming back to your lips until it is surprisingly empty.  This is one of those Ports you could sip in good company for hours as it unassumingly elevates your experience and uplifts your (possibly fuzzy) memories of the evening, even if you might never pinpoint it as the reason.  It certainly was a highlight of my day.

94+ points

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One response

13 06 2019
Zyn

It is one of the oldest bottles that you can get right now, but the thing is that it is not easy to find. There are a few selected bottles available that are with some of the best collectors.

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