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.

Read the rest of this entry »




Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 8

8 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

We begin week 2 of this Advent blogging saga with a bang, at least if you love Port. I will admit to being rather intimidated by this fortified wine style when I first started learning about wine. I had a vague recollection of trying Port for dessert years ago, long before any explicit attempts to develop an educated palate, and thought it tasted like NyQuil. I’m guessing this was a relatively inexpensive ruby example, one blended to match a particular house style and designed for early drinking. Since those dark times, and with the benefit of a few technical tastings under my belt (a few of those are detailed on this very blog), I’ve become an aficionado of good quality vintage Ports and tawnies. They remain a rare treat, but one much appreciated. I unwrap this bottle, see the phrase “10 Year Old Tawny Port”, and my mind is immediately jubilant with associations of toffee, nuts, and other sundry warm and festive sugarplum tastiness.

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All Ports are made by fermenting grapes (usually red) for a relatively brief period, typically to the point of around 5-6% ABV, at which point a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente is used to arrest the fermentation, boosting the alcohol content but also leaving residual sugar in the wine. At this juncture the “what type of Port am I making” decision tree becomes more complicated, and here our focus must be on tawny Port. These wines are aged in old wooden barrels called pipes, during which time exposure to oxygen and evaporation occur. This oxidation mellows the wine into a golden brown hue over time, and also imparts nutty flavours that distinguish tawnies from ruby and vintage ports. Although vintage tawny Ports do exist (they are called colheitas and are sublime), entry level tawnies are blends of different vintages, with most of the component wines being aged at least 3 years and then combined to yield a desired house style. Above this quality tier are bottles like the present one that carry an indication of age. Note that the age indication is in fact a “target age” based on desired characteristics in the wine: these aged tawnies still represent a blend of several vintages, and the Port house is looking to provide a wine that tastes characteristically like it has been aging for 10 years in barrel, for instance. Sure, some of the wine in the blend is legitimately quite old, but not necessarily all. It might help to think about the designated age as an “average” age, although technically even that is not correct. The basic notion is that a 10 year old tawny should be fruitier and less complex than a 40 year old tawny.

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You might now understand why I found this topic daunting when first learning about it. Despair not, for if these technical details threatened to put you to sleep, a half bottle of 19.5% ABV fortified wine should be just the thing to perk you up. Perhaps more compelling is the story of Porto Quevedo, a relatively small family winery based in the Douro. Historically families such as the Quevedos grew grapes and made wine that was sold  to merchants based in Vila Nova de Gaia, with such wines likely used as blending components by the larger houses. However, in 1986 legislation changed to allow growers and individual wineries to export their wines directly to the retailer. Oscar, a lawyer and notary by trade, first bought vineyards in 1977. After several years of helping his father João to make Port, in 1990 he built his own winery and was finally able to nurture his true passion, with son Oscar Jr. handling the business side of things and soccer-hating daughter Claudia (I hear ya) formerly handling the winemaking (she still helps with blending). The winery has a wonderful website and even a blog that is imbued with a real down-to-earth, non-pretentious human touch, right down to inviting critical commentary on the wines. Challenge accepted.

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Stopper Rating: 1/10 (oh, COME ON!!!)

The Porto Quevedo 10 Year Old Tawny Port is comprised of Touriga Franca (25%), Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo; 25%), Touriga Nacional (5%), Tinto Cão (5%), Tinta Barroca (20%), and other grapes (20%; over 100 grapes are sanctioned for Port production, including many rarities). Interestingly, the fermentation is described as “slow”, perhaps relative to other Ports. This is notably brickish in colour for a 10 year old tawny. The nose initially flashes some bright and fruity character, recalling maraschino cherries, raspberry jam, dried apricot, burnt orange peel, and pumpkin pie filling, with some nuttiness (pecans, chestnuts, sesame snap) and caramel that meld into a nice facsimile of Turtles candy. The palate largely echoes this array of aromas but is not purely sweet, with a gritty underlay of graphite, red rubber utility ball, and the ashy white ghosts of charcoal briquettes. With further air over the course of about an hour (hey, it’s a Sunday night, I’m sipping over here!), the palate softens to a more silky fine texture, and further oxidized characters emerge: sultanas/raisin or molasses pie, figs, ginger snaps, and a general deepening of the smooth toffee vibe. I like how this stitches together over time, with the wine showing better if you are patient.

88+ points





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 »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 23

23 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I was hoping there would be a fortified wine somewhere in this calendar. Eureka, and it is a Port. I do not hate Sherry, but I LOVE Port. Making Port involves adding grape spirit to stop fermentation of (usually) red wine just before its midpoint, usually two or three days into the process when about 5-6% alcohol has been produced. Enough spirit is added to bring the alcohol level up to around 20%, halting the fermentation and leaving residual sugar in the wine. I am also excited to see some of Dirk van Der Niepoort’s work represented. These labels remind me of vintage soda bottles. More importantly, Dirk is an eccentric, dynamic, and highly animated wine producer who is known for innovation, and for saying (as well as doing) certain things that might enrage the more traditionally-minded, even as he never forgets his family’s five generation history of making wines in the Douro Valley. Before launching into what will be my last Advent entry for this particular calendar, some background information about Tawny Port is in order.

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High quality tawny Ports (or “aged tawnies”) typically rest in partially unfilled wooden barrels for at least six years, the wine exposed to oxygen so as to become browned and mellow before bottling. This is how such wines acquire certain classic aroma and flavour descriptors, including nuts or toffee. In this case oxidation is not a wine-making fault but rather a deliberate tool used to produce a particular style. However, so-called tawny Ports run a gamut from these sometimes venerable wines made from grapes all harvested in a single vintage (dubbed “Colheitas”) or average-aged across multiple vintages (10/20/30/40 Year Tawnies) all the way down to light-coloured waifs that have seen scarcely more aging time than their ruby counterparts, made with less ripe (and hence less darkly coloured) grapes from the cooler Baixo Corgo subregion of the Douro Valley or subjected to other winemaking techniques to keep the colour pale. The present wine would seem to fall roughly in the middle of this continuum: this has seen some genuine barrel aging, but less than that typically seen for an “aged tawny”. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1968 Single Harvest Port Release

17 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Although I am deathly tired of the evil winter weather that simply will not give up the ghost in this city, I am more than happy to brave one more snowstorm (please, just one more?) in order to carry on the Pop and Pour tradition of covering the annual release of a Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Port.  These bottles capitalize on Taylor Fladgate’s extensive back catalogue of aged Port stocks.  They are tawny Ports, meaning that they are aged in barrels for many years, exposed to oxygen and thereby mellowed into a resplendent golden brown. They are also Colheitas, or tawnies where all of the bottled grapes hail from a single vintage.  Taylor Fladgate eschews the term Colheita on these labels in favour of a more anglicized approach.  Regardless of the naming convention employed, Port connotes a sense of pageantry, giving off a regal vibe that this self-styled progressive enjoys basking in from time to time. I wander through the fine wooden décor of Calgary’s Ranchmen’s Club, past a litany of taxidermied game, following my nose into the tasting room where fragrant pourings have already sat for some time.

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Our host Cynthia Opsal, Brand Manager for The Fladgate Partnership for Pacific Wine & Spirits, leads us off with a video that features an interview with Alistair Robertson, principal shareholder in the Fladgate Partnership.  Robertson explains that terroir is fundamental to good Port.  According to Taylor Fladgate winemaker David Guimaraes, 12 different indigenous grape varieties are planted, with four providing the majority of production.  Some grapes such as the vogue Touriga Nacional provide tannic grip, while others such as Tinta Barroca provide more color and sugar content.  Robertson explains that a day of work on the estate involves eight hours of picking grapes, followed by four hours of foot treading in the case of high quality bottlings.  Production of all Port involves adding grape spirit to stop fermentation just before its midpoint, which at Taylor Fladgate occurs around three days into the fermentation process, when about 5-6% alcohol has been produced.  Enough spirit is added to bring the alcohol up to around 20% (which in turn kills off any remaining yeast).  David Guimaraes has stated that a recent trend toward use of more clean and pure spirits means that vintage Ports are approachable sooner, with more fruity expression.  This latter point seems particularly relevant, as this year we get a welcome break from tradition:  instead of the preliminary offering of blended tawny ports that were tasted in prior Release years, we get to sample three 2015 vintage Ports — Single-Quinta vintages, that is.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Limited Edition Port

9 01 2018

Happy New Year!  Pop & Pour returns after a lengthy and dearly needed post-Wine-and-Whisky-Advent break with a bottle that would have graced this page last year but for the 49 other calendar-based things that had to do so in December instead.  Rest assured that the delay is no commentary on what’s in the bottle.  2017 would have been a preferable year to write up Taylor Fladgate’s 325th Anniversary special-release Tawny Port, if for no other reason than that it was the actual year of the 325th anniversary in question, thanks to Taylor’s founding way back in 1692.  Thankfully, the juice is just as delicious in 2018, and there are still a number of stores in town that have stock remaining (though this Limited Edition is sold out at the import agent level, so act fast if you want some!).

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Happy (belated) anniversary, Taylor Fladgate!  We’re back!!

Unlike most fancy commemorative releases from leading lights in the world of wine, Taylor Fladgate has done something daring and remarkable and borderline audacious with this celebratory flask:  it has made it accessible to the drinking audience at large.  Rather than building this one-off Tawny from ultra-rarified sources and then pricing it into the stratosphere (which it could easily have done, and quite successfully), it instead opted to take the top component lots of wines otherwise destined for its 10 through 40 Year Tawny lineup, blend them to about a 15 Year average, then age them together for 18 months so that it could release this (utterly spectacular looking) bottle at a shade below $50 retail.  Taylor intended this to be celebratory and drinkable at large, a monument for the masses, a conversation piece rather than a museum piece.  If this does not instantly become the next birthday gift you want to buy for the wine lover in your life, I worry for you. 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 »





FLX: Finger Lakes Extravaganza – Part VI

29 05 2016

Well, we made it.  When I started this trip recap I wasn’t thinking it would be a 15,000-word Greek epic, but that’s what happens when an area has so many stories to tell that so many people may not have heard.  To retrace your steps:

Finger Lakes Intro & Conclusions
Part I – Long Island, Hudson River, Dr. Frank
Part II – Keuka Spring, Chateau Lafayette Reneau
Part III – Red Newt, Knapp Winery
Part IV – Hermann J. Wiemer, Lamoreaux Landing
Part V – Boundary Breaks, Anthony Road

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Our last winery visit was probably also our most anticlimactic, but only because it felt for many reasons like Fox Run Vineyards had been with us all along.  In many ways Fox Run was the catalyst for our whole trip, the Finger Lakes producer with the deepest and most established Alberta presence, to the point where its unoaked Doyle Vineyard Chardonnay was recently selected as the official on-venue house white of the 2016 Calgary Stampede.  A key piece of the winery had literally accompanied us on nearly every stop of our grand FLX winery bus tour:  Sales Manager Dan Mitchell had given us the scoop and filled in the blanks about the region and the wineries who hosted us, never once seeking to undermine any one of them in favour of his own employer, delivering honest yet community-minded feedback that gave us a better sense of what the Finger Lakes were all about than any tasting room.  Winemaker Peter Bell was almost a mythical figure, his impact and his protégées spread across the entire region, his reputation eagerly preceding him even though he is certainly not the kind of person who would revel in it. 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 »





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 17

17 12 2015

Two value hits in a row!  With the last week of whisky on the horizon, the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is heating up.  Tonight’s bottle is a bit of an oddity, as you don’t see a whole lot of 14 Year Single Malts on the market:  if it doesn’t end in 5 or 10 and isn’t divisible by 3, it isn’t usually a whisky age designation.  This is particularly intriguing because the distillery, Tomatin, also has 12 year AND 15 Year malts on the market.  But 14 it is, and it also has another characteristic that doesn’t show up a ton:  Port cask aging.  More of this please, whisky.  Technically speaking, the Tomatin was only finished in Port casks, spending the last 18 months of its maturation in Port pipes after a lengthy initial aging period in bourbon casks, but I am on board regardless.  Three excellent bits of trivia about Tomatin:  1.  It has the best website cover picture of any distillery in Scotland.  Just go to tomatin.com and see.  I’ll wait.  See?  Worth it, right?  2.  Its name means “Hill of the Juniper Bush”, because juniper is one wood that gives off no smoke while burning, making it a top choice for secret distillers back in the 15th century, when whisky production was illegal but Tomatin’s spiritual predecessors in the area did it anyway.  3.  Due to its relatively isolated location in the Highland mountains, 80% of Tomatin’s employees live at houses built at the distillery!  That’s a new one.

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Other than riveting trivia, the thing that caught my attention the most about this Tomatin was its incredible dark bronze colour, very clearly influenced by its year and a half braise in Port barrels.  There was instant orange zest, peach iced tea and nectarine on the nose, filled in with sunbaked earth, hot grill and coconut, like an aromatic summer vacation.  However, the texture on this 14 Year was the true story, rich and round and smooth and mouth-filling, like melted caramel.  As soon as you swallow you just want to hold it in your mouth again (an excellent recipe for drinking a lot of scotch too quickly, by the way).  The orange-y citrus notes persist on the palate, along with an interesting rootiness (like burdock, if you’ve had it, or fresh carrots), nutmeg and cinnamon spice, butter tart, chocolate almonds and a twinge of herbaceousness on the finish.  I would be very happy with this for $87, its KWM sticker price.  Considering I wasn’t a massive fan of last calendar’s Tomatin, this is a highly impressive comeback.





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.

Read the rest of this entry »





Tips & Tricks: Pairing Wine With Chocolate, Part 1

2 10 2011

How you know you’ve made it as an amateur blogger:  when somebody sends you free chocolate.  Me, as of this week?  Made it.

The (few) perks of writing a free blog.

One of this site’s dozens (OK, dozen) of loyal subscribers is Victoria Kaye, an Ontario-based marketing guru, freelance writer and distributor of the Xocai lineup of chocolate products.  Victoria is a blogger in her own right, regularly churning out insightful posts about her unique choco-wares at her site XoXoXocai.  I took particular notice of this site not only because it shares a platform affiliation with PnP (holla WordPress!) but also because it so happens that Victoria and I started up our respective blogs within a week of each other at the start of March 2011…as I’m continually reminded, it’s a small world full of strange coincidences.  Victoria actually first stumbled across Xocai chocolates as a guest at a wine tasting, and since then has been wanting to delve further into the intricacies of pairing wine with chocolate; the chocolate package I received was conditional on my attempting to respond to this very issue.  Well, chocolate received and mission accepted!

Wine and chocolate is a pairing that seems to have been universally sold as a match made in heaven (if Hallmark cards, romantic getaway packages and any Valentine’s Day episode of any TV show in history are effective barometers of these kinds of things).  In reality, however, I have a hard time envisioning there will be even a handful of wine styles that will truly form a mutually-enhancing match with most types of chocolate.  Even before I started looking into this in detail, I thought that chocolate had two key characteristics that would severely restrict the number of wines that would taste good with it:  it’s sweet and it’s distinctive.  Dry wines generally don’t match up well with sweeter foods, and foods with individual and assertive flavours automatically narrow their pairing options because they’re incapable of simply being a blank canvas that can be fleshed out by multiple different wine choices.  There are assuredly some truly symbiotic wine matches for chocolate out there, but my guess is that they’re few and far between.  Of course, that’s not going to stop me from trying to find them.  The goal of this post is to narrow down what to look for in a potential chocolate pairing, after which I’ll go buy a few likely candidates, recruit some willing volunteers, then take a bullet for all of my dear readers by eating a lot of chocolate and drinking a lot of wine to find out what tastes good with what.  The results of my strictly-for-science tasting night will be posted shortly after its completion (i.e. as soon as I come out of the sugar coma). 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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