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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port Release

11 04 2017

I almost always try to write up a tasting as soon as possible after I’ve experienced it, while memories are still fresh and the wines that were presented are still alive on my senses.  This is unfortunately not one of those times.  I must have triggered some kind of ancient Douro warlock’s curse upon cheerfully exiting La Chaumiere restaurant two weeks ago today, after tasting 100 combined years of Taylor Fladgate tawny Port and a trio of aged single-harvest releases that were collectively over a century and a half old, because within an hour of the tasting I was feeling queasy and unwell.  It only got grimmer and sicker after that, and I’ve only just emerged from that bleary world of nausea and cough drops and decongestants and come back to some semblance of myself.  But even if it was the Port gods who struck me down, it was totally worth it.

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Taylor Fladgate, thanks to savvy rationing and recent acquisitions of significant quantities of extensively aged Port stocks from another historic house, has one of the largest inventories of old cask-aged Port in the world.  In 2014, it decided to make use of this bounty by launching a remarkable program:  releasing a 50 year-old Single Harvest Port on an annual basis commemorating the half-century that came before.  The 1964 Single Harvest Port was the first of the line, but has since been followed by the 1965 in 2015, the 1966 in 2016, and, this year, the impending “new” release of the 1967 Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port.  Each of these bottles retails for around $250 and is the best possible 50th birthday or anniversary present that could exist on this world.  As a special nod to Canada, the 1967 bottling is also a Canadian Centennial edition (at least in this country), with a maple-leaf-adorned box liner marking our country’s 100th birthday on the year of its 150th.

FullSizeRender-578A quick tangent to explain this Port’s name and aging designation.  All Port starts just like other red wines do, with crushed grapes fermented on their skins.  With Port, however, the fermentation is halted halfway through, before much of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, by spiking the juice with high-proof (75+% abv) grape brandy, which kills the yeast, retains a large part of the grapes’ natural sweetness and boosts the alcohol level of the finished product to around 20%.  The Port is then put in large oak barrels for maturation, and what happens next is what determines its final identity.  In top vintages, some of this wine only spends a couple years in wood before being put in bottle for further non-oxidative aging.  This is Vintage Port, arguably Portugal’s crown jewel.  In lesser years, or with other lots, the wine stays a few extra years in barrel before hitting the bottle 4-6 years past vintage; this is Late-Bottled Vintage Port, generally a less ageable, earlier-drinking style, and one that was actually invented by Taylor Fladgate in the 1960s, a rare innovation in a very traditional winemaking landscape. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port Release

17 02 2016

There are tastings and there are TASTINGS; this one deserves capitalization.  To celebrate the impending release of Taylor Fladgate’s 1966 Single Harvest Port to the Alberta market (coming next month to a store near you!), this 50 year-old wine was opened up at a special release event this afternoon along with its older siblings the 1964 and 1965.  153 combined years of Port later, I had a good day.

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By way of quick refresher, Port is a fortified wine made from (usually) a blend of grapes grown in the Douro region in northern Portugal.  The grapes are crushed and at first fermented just like dry table wine, but halfway through the fermentation, when there is still considerable sugar left in the grape juice that has yet to be converted to alcohol, the juice is spiked with 70% abv grape brandy, which kills the yeast, stops the fermentation and (obviously) increases the alcohol level of the now-finished wine, resulting in a sweet, fruity, 20-ish% abv Port.  All Port is made in this way, but how each Port ends up looking, smelling and tasting after you open the bottle depends largely on how it is matured.

Ruby Ports, blends from multiple vintages made for early consumption, get a couple of years of barrel age and are bottled young and fruity.  Vintage Ports, single-year wines released only in top years, get a similar barrel treatment but are so dense and concentrated that they are intended to age for years or decades in bottle before they are opened.  Tawny Ports, also multi-year blends, are aged oxidatively in barrels until they are ready for release, with air exposure leading to their brownish colour, mellow texture and nutty, caramel-y flavours. The Port Wine Institute only allows Tawny Ports to be bottled with an age designation of 10, 20, 30 or 40 Years, with the number denoting the average age of the wines in the blend.

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When a Tawny Port is made from grapes of a single year’s harvest, it is known as a Colheita, a single vintage Tawny.  “Colheita” (pronounced “Kohl-YAY-tah”) is the Portuguese word for “harvest”, and to obtain this designation, any one-year Tawny must be aged at least 7 years in barrel before bottling.  Taylor Fladgate, thanks to a fortuitous acquisition of another Port house with significant back-vintage reserves, started a program three years ago for the annual release of a special Very Old Single Harvest (Colheita) Port on its 50th anniversary.  In 2014 they released the 1964 Colheita, followed by the 1965 in 2015 and now this year’s 1966.  If you know anybody celebrating a 50th birthday or anniversary in 2016, I know what you can get them. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: 1863 Taylor Fladgate Port

6 06 2014

What happened in 1863?  Henry Ford was born.  The Battle of Gettysburg helped shape the course of the US Civil War.  Canada was 4 years away from becoming its own country.  And the grapes that went into the Port that I got to try this week were harvested.  There are times when I am reminded just how transportive wine is, how it can be a liquid chronicler of history.  This was one of those times.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

It probably goes without saying that it’s exceedingly rare for a producer to release a wine after it has turned 150.  The centuries-old Port houses in Portugal would only have extremely limited quantities of reserves even half that old, which would in most cases be used in minute quantities to add flavour and complexity to the producers’ 40-year old tawny Port release (the 40 years on the label represents the average age of the multi-vintage wines in the bottled blend).  Taylor Fladgate has added to its own reserves over the years with select lots of high-end wood-aged Port from the 19th century, and when the quality of an ancient elixir is exceptional, it will occasionally decide to bottle and release it as a stand-alone offering.  That was the case with this single-harvest Port from one of the best vintages of the 19th century, 1863, which after a century and a half is just being taken out of barrel and readied for sale this fall.  When I say “barrel”, I’m referring to one of only two in existence:  Fladgate has but a lonely pair of barrels of the 1863, which will ultimately make less than 1,500 bottles of the Port for the entire world market.

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