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. Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 18

18 12 2015

It is exactly one week until Christmas.  Seven more days, team.  Seven more whiskies, after this one.  Hang in there.  My mild-to-medium annoyance at opening the Day 18 window and pulling out yet another Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice bottling (the third of the calendar, after Day 4 and Day 10) turned to instant excitement once I saw the name of the featured distillery on the bottle:  Caol Ila, one of my favourites, and one of the best Islay distilleries at managing that delicate but critical balance of peat influence within a whisky’s flavour profile.  Having talked about Connoisseurs Choice twice now, I will avoid repeating (three-peating) myself and talk about Caol Ila instead.  Its name is pronounced “cull-eela”, meaning that I actually was almost saying it right before looking it up, a name that means “Sound of Islay” (referring to the body of water of the same name, not an actual sound, although that would be cooler).  Owned by global spirit behemoth Diageo, Caol Ila is, surprisingly to me, by far Islay’s biggest distillery, churning out more than double the production of the other distilleries on the island.  Much of this whisky is designated for use in blends — like the 2014 calendar’s super-awesome Big Peat, which champions its Caol Ila content on its label — but a smaller percentage of it is bottled in the distillery’s name, either under its own label or by independent bottlers like this.


This particular bottle of Caol Ila is from a single vintage, 2003, and was bottled this year, making it a 12 Year malt.  It is classic Islay on the nose, a combination of rawhide, old catcher’s mitt, seaweed, liniment and salty sea air, but in a way that smells far nicer than that sounds, using those aromas in the most comfortable way possible.  The depth of flavour and sheer intensity of both the peat-induced and the other notes is just remarkable.  The peatiness has layers, descending from briny/herbal at first to campfire and ash down to something more dank, like tar and pitch.  This ominous progression somehow doesn’t interfere with the development of equally potent notes of peanut brittle, celery sticks, ginger, oiled leather, poached pear, shoe polish…I could go on.  There’s a lot happening in this whisky, especially at only a dozen years of age.  For me it’s one of the best of the calendar so far without question.  I actually wrote at the end of my tasting notes:  “If this is under $100 it’s a screaming deal.”  Well, guess what?  It’s $99.99.  Scream away.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 1

1 12 2015

Alright team, let’s do this.  December 1st has arrived, and that means a daily invasion of whisky on this blog until Christmas.  For those of you who frequent Pop & Pour for wine reviews and insights, (1) thank you!, and (2) I am so, so sorry…it’s about to get a little spirit-y up in here for most of the rest of 2015.  Yes, it’s KWM Whisky Advent Calendar time, my second year in a row partaking in the magnificent scotch-soaked creation of Kensington Wine Market and its resident whisky guru (and now owner!) Andrew Ferguson.  Every night you count one more day closer to Christmas, open a little cardboard door, pull out a new and exciting mini-bottle of distilled glory (all different from last year’s calendar, I might add), and turn to drink – the true essence of the holidays.

Bring on December.

Bring on December.

This year’s calendar starts on a note of intrigue:  a scotch I have never heard of before.  Balblair Distillery, based in the Highlands, was established in 1790 but has successfully escaped my notice for 225 years.  Their signature move appears to be releasing vintage-dated scotches, so instead of seeing a more general age designation on the bottle (10 Year, 12 Year, etc., which number indicates the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle’s multi-vintage blend) you get wine-style labels with single calendar years on them, presumably meaning that all of the whisky in the bottle was distilled in that same year.  Tonight’s lead-off bottle is the Balblair 2003 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, a 12 year old malt that Balblair’s distiller released concurrently with the 1990 and 1993 – no whisky goes out to market until he says it’s ready.


I would call this highly pleasant (I just finished my glass and I immediately want more) without being highly memorable (I just finished my glass and if I hadn’t written tasting notes I wouldn’t be able to tell you what this tasted like).  It’s an interesting greenish lemon-straw colour, not overly deep, and initially smelled predominantly of spice — and not just cinnamon and baking spice, but cayenne and other savoury spices — before calming down and opening up to more approachable salted caramel, vanilla bean and candy corn peeking through the grainy, mealy, grassy surface.  This same contrast of restraint and generosity continued on the palate, which starts out green celery and spearmint before blooming to melon, orange peel and honey and finishing soft and sweet.  At $88, I could see this being somebody’s house scotch.  Not sure I’ll remember much about it come Day 7 or 8 though.  Onward!

Wine Review: 2003 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Laurence Gewurztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru (375 mL)

1 05 2011

Grand Cru, baby. That's how we roll.

I don’t usually buy wines and then drink them immediately, but I couldn’t bring myself to wait on this one.  I was in Aspen Wine & Spirits yesterday to see what was on special when I noticed these half-bottles of back-vintage Alsatian Grand Cru Gewurztraminer selling for $28.  Like many other older wines available at AW&S, these used to be inventory of another wine store that went under a little while ago; as these library wines near their peak drinking window and the urgency to sell them increases, their prices drop accordingly.  I was told that the $28 selling price for the Weinbach was close to the store’s cost and that these half-bottles usually run around the $50 mark at normal retail prices.  I bought one about 0.02 seconds later. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2003 Villa La Selva Selvamaggio IGT

19 04 2011

Is that old woman or couch on the label?

In order to show Italy that I wasn’t mad at it for my corked Dolcetto last night, I stuck with the red, white and green again tonight, though I moved south to Tuscany, in the centre-west of the country (the upper shin of the boot).  The 2003 Selvamaggio, which I got from the good folks at Highlander Wine & Spirits (thanks Tim & Elliot!), is a Super Tuscan wine, a designation which I described in some detail in this post.   It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a non-Italian varietal and thus automatically disqualifies the wine from obtaining the highest official status in the region, though that is by no means an indictment on the Selvamaggio’s underlying quality.  Since the word “Selva” appears in both the producer’s name and the wine’s name, I feel compelled to tell you that “Selva” means “woods” in Italian and refers to the forest growing around the vineyard area.  Now you know.

I shouldn’t ignore the obvious:  this might be the ugliest wine label of all time.  It either looks like an old woman’s sun dress or part of somebody’s sofa (my wife called it “snowbird wine”); either way, some marketing lessons are urgently required in Tuscany. Read the rest of this entry »

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