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 »





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 »





Sub-$16 Red Throwdown: Old vs. New World

11 01 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Have you EVER seen a red wine bottle shaped like the one on the left?

The $15 bottle of wine is a vanishing category nowadays, and what you can actually get for that price may often make you wish you couldn’t.  A combination of the struggling Canadian dollar, increased liquor taxes and the inexorable power of inflation is slowly pushing up that minimum purchase threshold where you can expect to find decent quality…if you look hard enough amongst the oceans of double entendre-named or critter-adorned labels at that price point.  However, there are still a select few value crusaders scattered here and there in this cost category, from under-appreciated regions where production costs remain low and climatic abundance makes ripening easy.  I happened to have two such examples lying around, one from the Old World and one from the New, so what better way to make use of them than to have them battle to the death for my weeknight enjoyment?  Since the estimated retail price on each creeps barely over $15.00, we’ll play it safe and call to order the first ever Pop & Pour Sub-$16 Wine Challenge.

In this corner, from the Old World, comes a representative from arguably the most overlooked source of good, solid, inexpensive table wine:  Portugal. 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: Wines of Portugal Tasting @ Market

7 11 2013

It appears to be Underappreciated Wine Region Month here at Pop & Pour.  Last week I was exposed to the new wave of bottlings coming out of the southern Italian island of Sicily; this week it was Portugal, another unheralded European wine area, that was aiming to bring its remarkable wines to the attention of international export markets.  I got the opportunity to sit in on a guided tasting put on by the Wines of Portugal and led by energetic and well-versed sommelier extraordinaire DJ Kearney, who brought us up to speed on everything from the number of indigenous grape varieties found in Portugal (250+) to the proper pronunciation of key Portuguese wine terms (hint:  if it ends in an E, don’t pronounce the E, no matter how much you want to).  The tasting was held at Market Restaurant on 17th Avenue, which I had never been to before but which proceeded to serve us an absolutely stellar three-course lunch that will be reason enough to bring me back very soon.

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It was sort of fitting that I got to experience Portugal’s wine story after sitting in on Sicily’s, because the two regions have much in common.  Both are home to large numbers of local grape varietals that are barely found anywhere else, and both have made the conscious choice to embrace these lesser-known grapes and focus their quality production around them.  As a result of a lack of name recognition and a dearth of critical attention on these under-the-radar wines, both can offer tremendous value for money for those consumers brave enough to take the plunge (I think Portugal might win the worldwide gold medal for these kinds of bargains).  And both tend to focus more on wines that are blends of multiple different grapes as opposed to single varietal offerings, with Portuguese wine in particular almost always a group vinous effort as opposed to a solo act.  Kearney channeled her inner Wino Karl Marx when talking blending, urging us through these wines to shed the shackles of varietal typicity and embrace the communal symphony of these intrepid groups of local grapes (featuring reds Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz [aka Tempranillo] and Baga, and whites Alvarinho [aka Albarino], Arinto, Encruzado and many more) all working together to make something greater than themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Peccatore Douro Reserva

6 10 2011

Can you see the difference? Price is the difference. Though the ultra-cheap faux foil on the neck was still a bit disappointing.

I’ll try to be (more) brief tonight than I have been recently — quite a few posts over the last couple weeks have eclipsed the 1000 word mark.  To cut to the chase, tonight’s wine costs $13 and doesn’t suck.  Thanks to my (sizeable) tuition bill for the WSET Advanced class starting at the end of the month, I’ve cut back my wine budget substantially over the past few months and as a result have been on the lookout for inexpensive wines that still deliver.  There may not be a better place in the world for these bargains than Portugal, which is cultivating a reputation for solid, easily drinkable dry reds at value prices.  You may have some initial reticence to delve into the Portuguese wine market, largely because it’s based around a large number of indigenous grapes that no one outside of Lisbon has ever heard of, but if you embrace your fear of the unknown, accept that your $15 Portuguese red won’t be made out of Cabernet and just drink it for what it is, you WILL be very pleasantly surprised. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 CARM Douro Reserva

8 07 2011

Know what the problem with most wine labels is? Not enough turquoise.

Most people are probably acquainted with Port, the fortified sweet wine from northern Portugal that has never met a blue cheese platter or a dark chocolate dessert it didn’t like.  Port is made by partly fortifying a blend of indigenous grapes from Portugal’s Douro region, but interrupting the fermentation before all of the grapes’ sugar is converted into alcohol by adding concentrated grape spirits to the mix.  These spirits vault the booze level over 20%, which kills off the yeast driving the fermentation and leaves some residual sugar in the finished product:  a half-fermented, spiked, naturally sweet wine.  What would happen if this fortification process wasn’t interrupted and the yeast wasn’t killed off before it turned all the grape sugar into alcohol?  Dry Douro table wines like this would happen.  Not all of grapes in this region are pre-destined for Port production anymore; an increasing proportion of them are cultivated in the steep terraced vineyards along the banks of the Douro River strictly for non-dessert wines.  These wines are fascinating to try, because although it is only production and aging methods that separate them from their sweeter, more famous counterparts (which are made from the same grapes grown in the same areas), they show a completely different side of Portugal in the glass. Read the rest of this entry »








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