Calgary (Virtual) Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1970 Single Harvest Port Release

29 10 2020

By Peter Vetsch

How’s this for an on-brand 2020 story? There is no event on the annual blog tasting calendar that I look forward to more than the release of Taylor Fladgate’s latest 50 year-old single-harvest Port. Not coincidentally, there is also no event that has been covered more on this blog — this will be the fifth consecutive year that I’ve been fortunate enough to post about the yearly half-century-old release. However, this year, quite understandably, an in-person tasting was not in the cards, so for the safety of all involved, it was held virtually over Zoom. I couldn’t make the Zoom tasting due to work commitments, but fortunately it was recorded for posterity…until it wasn’t. The recording got technologically tripped up and dissipated into the ether along with the rest of our hopes and dreams for this year, so I missed the event entirely. Thankfully for me, these wines speak for themselves; and to the credit of all those who made it happen, despite it all, the story of these amazing wines will continue to be told, even in the most forgettable of years.

Taylor Fladgate has been around for over three centuries and has access to an astonishing array of library Ports from its own cellars, which have been expanded by way of a number of acquisitions of lesser-known Port houses, particularly Wiese & Krohn in 2013, a producer with its own vast holdings of back-vintage stock. While often older barrel-aged Ports are used as blending components for 30 Year or 40 Year Tawny Ports with an Indication of Age (the number on the bottle represents the average age of the blended Ports inside, allowing both older and younger tawnies to come together in any given release), Fladgate longed to do something more memorable with these liquid historical snapshots, and it turned to the flexible Colheita designation as the vehicle to make it happen. “Colheita” simply means “harvest”, and officially the term applies to any Port from a single harvest vintage that has been oxidatively aged in wood for at least 7 years. There is no maximum aging period for the designation, so in order to go beyond 40 Year Tawny, Taylor Fladgate began releasing limited edition Very Old Single Harvest Colheita Ports on their 50th anniversary from vintage starting back in 2014. These thrillingly memorable wines demonstrate the near-eternal longevity and ageability of good Tawny Ports; protected by both potent sugar and alcohol levels, they have been exposed to the rigours of an oxidative environment for decades before bottling, rendering them near-impervious to further degradation. This is the seventh release of these half-century-old masterpieces, and each one has been a thrilling glance at an increasingly distant history.

However, you can’t just jump right into half-century-old single-harvest fortified dessert wine in a tasting, even a solo/virtual one, and expect to your palate to be ready for the complexity and nuance that will ensue. Every Taylor Fladgate annual release session has brought with it a different opening band for the Very Old Single Harvest main event: sometimes Single Quinta offerings from classic vineyards across the Fladgate Partnership, sometimes an examination of the full Fladgate Tawny lineup. This year showcased the surprising variability and flexibility of Port with a trio of significantly different bottlings:

  • Taylor Fladgate Reserve Tawny Port Historic Edition (~$50): You have probably seen these arresting squat gourd-shaped bottles on a shelf somewhere, suspended in sleek open wood square packaging. The bottle shape showcases how Port was packaged back in the 1730s, although the liquid inside is considerably younger than the more aged end of the Fladgate Tawny lineup, clocking in at 12-15 years old on average. This is by far the most ruby-tinged liquid in this particular tasting, its brighter red hue reflected in striking aromas of cinnamon hearts and strawberry marshmallow, laced with Sharpies and new leather shoes. Not overly sweet, this youthful historic Tawny’s Cherry Nibs and balsamic flavours are accented by a pervasive spiciness, gingerbread and allspice and clove and even pepper. There is notable spritely acid for a fortified wine, to the point that it seems almost jumpy or peaky compared to the aged wonders that follow. 87-88 points
(Image courtesy taylor.pt)
  • Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Aged Tawny Port (~$160): Whenever I have had the chance to taste through a Tawny lineup, I often come away feeling that the 30 Year Port is the sweet spot (no pun intended). This one does nothing to disabuse that notion. It emerges a pleasant, mellowed, deep copper colour, a visual cue that continues through languid sticky toffee pudding and salted caramel impressions, enlivened and boosted by currents of orange rind, lemongrass (!) and Bananas Foster. Then you taste, and it hits so many places at once on the tongue that you can’t keep up, striking both bass notes (licorice, tanning hide) and treble (Mandarin orange, even mango), flashing from molasses to celery sticks and back again. The finish lasts minutes, unified and harmonious, quietly nuanced. This seriously might be the best expression of Fladgate’s 10-40 Year Tawny portfolio that I have ever had. 93-94+ points
(12-15 y/o Historic Edition (L); 30 Year Tawny (R). Colour tells all.)
  • 2017 Fonseca Vintage Port (~$150): And now for something completely different: the only wine of this set that is emphatically too young to fully show off what it can do. Vintage Port is a Colheita without the barrel aging, a single-harvest Port from a top year that does the bulk of its maturation in bottle. 2017 was part of a run of solid Port vintages after the classic 2011 and was generally declared for the release of Vintage Port by most houses. Unlike everything else in this tasting, the 2017 Fonseca Vintage is an absolute abyss of glass-coating, opaque deep purple, swallowing up everything its path. The colour and density continue in an olfactory wall of grape Kool-Aid, purple Rockets and Flintstone vitamins, blackcurrant paste, black jellybeans and hot roof shingles, dark and concentrated and powerful. Subtly grainy tannins provide quiet guidance to a focused, deep, massive molten core of black fruit that cascades in waves despite having a ton more room to grow. A gorgeous blockbuster of a wine, and an emphatic triumph. 95-96 points

The coolest part of every Very Old Single Harvest Post release is getting to taste and compare the two prior vintages that came before it (and then check back on your notes from last year about those vintages and see how much everything has changed in the 12 months since!). The 1968 and 1969 Colheitas admirably set the stage for the new star of the show.

Taylor Fladgate 1968 Single Harvest Port (~$285)

I predicted great things for this bottling upon its initial release. Two years later, it’s in a strange, but not dissatisfying, sort of place. A hazy medium tawny colour with a prevalent greenish rim, the 1968 layers confectionary strawberry shortcake and carrot cake aromas and a strong herbal/liniment twist overtop of denser coffee grounds, Fig Newtons and date paste. Despite a broad palate reflective of its olfactory density, it currently comes across as somewhat ephemeral, its flavours hitting in little sparks and then stepping back, each pinpoint creating a symphony at a slight remove. The end result is delicious and contemplative, but slightly distant, disjointed and disconnected right now. I know how it feels.

92-93 points

(Port snax.)

Taylor Fladgate 1969 Single Harvest Port (~$285)

The torch-passing Colheita was here for a good time last year, but I didn’t know whether the fun would last for the long haul. Like the current polling numbers for the non-apocalyptic presidential candidate, trend lines for the future are currently good. (Don’t make me regret this simile on November 4th.) The 1969 is a clearer, deeper, more bronzed colour than its predecessor and feels fresher across the board, if that’s a thing that’s possible with a 51 year-old oxygen-assaulted Port. The nose explodes out of the glass: sea brine, lemon meringue and peach cobbler bouncing above cinnamon and sugar toast, maraschino cherry and butterscotch pudding. Intense and powerful, it is as direct on the palate as the 1968 was holographic, mouth-coating and expansive and sensual, a profile in texture. A far more confident expression, still featuring mouth-watering acid and a commanding presence, only growing from where it was a year ago.

94-95 points

Taylor Fladgate 1970 Single Harvest Port (~$285)

Welcome to the present, 1970 Colheita. I know you’ve waited a long time for this, but you’ve picked kind of a weird time to finally make an appearance. 1970 was a strong year in the world of Port, a generally declared vintage across the Port houses for Vintage Port; among the Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest releases to date, only 1967 can say the same. The vintage started out cool and quite rainy, but was saved and elevated by an ideal second half of the growing season, including considerable heat at harvest to ensure optimal ripeness.

This is a paler, fully transparent Port, the leanest visually of this sextet of releases, with a more clearly apparent greenish rim. One sniff pulls you back to languidity, and away from the energetic realm of the 1969; there is complexity here, but it walks slowly and takes its time to get its point across. The nose goes all directions, from shoe polish to pumpkin pie to potpourri, new wallets to old coins, chocolate orange and banana bread to blackcurrant Wine Gums, spanning the range of the Port profile but perhaps lacking a cohesive direction. It is notably sweet to taste, as the sugar hits first and hardest, all higher-pitched cream soda and cotton candy, the alcohol tangible and warming alongside it. After you swallow, the wine lasts and lingers, recalling its pedigree and taking a few deep, quiet breaths after a slightly manic ride. The components are all there, but like all of us this year, this might just have been caught at a strange time.

91-92 points


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