TN: Thoughts on a bunch of ports (inc. Nacional 2003)

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Nick Alabaster, Apr 15, 2018.

  1. I love my ports. Especially Fonseca. But recently I've tried a few together to check on progress. I guess the main driver was after 40 odd bottles of the Symington '94 Tesco bottles, I was down to my last one. They've always been my 'hands-off' choice to allow the others to slumber. This has definitely help based on the below, although I have missed a trick with one of them..unfortunately.

    Anyway, last bottle of Symington '94 Tesco VP was great guns still. Some bottles have tipped towards a touch pruney and syrupy, others a little stale on opening; but they were the very few. Typically like this one, black fruits to the fore, a somewhat Warres like sweetness (although allegedly this likely to be from Smith Woodhouse) and an overall round blackfruity/plumy/liquorice mixed - supple, relatively simply but enjoyable mid palate and finish but it's the purity of the fruit driven nature of 94 that has made this great value drinking. (Average price per bottle around 10 quid).

    Talking of Warre's '94, I have a glass with me now. In fact in 94 Warre's is slightly less Warre's like than usual. A bigger port, not as sweet as some years, if anything turning towards a very attractive chocolate character, but the dense fruit of the 94 vintage is glorious in this wine. Not jammy any more of course, but not in amy way mature either. A spicier complexity with the deep plum fruit. Great balance, no warmth at all and fininish is clean if not quite stellar. This is not a top top 94, but it's a great Warre's.

    My first Fonseca of this batch was the 91 Fonseca Guimaraens; as you probably know everyone declared 91 but for Fonseca and Taylor. Both of course made better 92s so why not indeed. I think 3 cases for me in the end, average prices less than 20 quid. And while I have noted (own notes) since 13 this was mature but no rush, I wish I had got a move on, especially in halves. These are still good, but the fruit is going faster than the structure. Still, a decent mature port with a lighter brighter (towards red) spicy raisony fruit, with a complex balanced finish that lingers with spice. Still a pleasure, but drink up. I noted some bottles had a hint of cork on the nose, that generally recovers in a decanter. Maybe it's just that fruit dropping away allows a few less pleasant notes to come through. Fonseca were right not to declare this. Although good, it's a second rate Fonseca.

    And to that other 91 the Taylors '91 Quinta de Vargellas It's never been my preference, and even though this is the one with the legs, neither is Taylors a style I care for, and here it is again. The acidity high, a slight but noticeable acetic edge to the high-toned fruit. Fruit is firm, palate a little unforgiving, but it still has fruit inside the structure. Length is ok, but even after 48 hours it didn't become particularly pleasurable. I'm afraid for me, this is somewhat true to the Taylors v Fonseca style. For me a bit too hard for its own good, or at least for my tastes. Talking of on the firmer side of things I think it worthwhile comparing to the Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003 tasted at Tom's Wine Festival last year on London. Here I found a lifted but concentrated nose-very dense and black fruity. I found this to match a lovely sweetness and elegance to a concentration that will clearly drive this port forwards for decades. Must have a huge tannin structure but with the fruit, this is just supporting. The grip is in that youthfully tannic and acid balance so it's not dry as such. No real sense of heat noted. The mid-palate aroma and persistence are excellent. It's a fine balance between strength and greatness, but nothing at all felt out of place with the Nacional. If you have a single bottle surely you'd wait as long as you think you've got time left on this planet...

    Two bottles you do need to keep a careful eye on are Dows and Grahams 97s. Again bargain basement buys at less than 20 pb in case lots, but I'm not sure on reflection I'd be happy paying much more. You just know from these that 97 is simply no 94, or 2000 for that matter on the other side. The Dow does show maturity yet there's a firmness that suggest a few more years in the tank. But the fruit is not there for greatness. Every year you will be giving up with little there is left. Of course Grahams has that more supple, sweeter style, but again its simplicity and lack of extract/length means this is not going places either. Still, enjoyable ports they are. (When are ports not so?!? :)

    And now for something completely different. Quinta do Vesuvio 1995. Immediately this says I want to be different and thank you for being so. Many times people (derogatorily) say certain CnPs are porty. Well what about a port that makes you think of a Cnp! A lovely open spicy red fruit driven nose that just demands sniff after sniff. It really makes you want to snort it! And the same slightly sweet red fruit driven palate follows and it's balanced, showing a hint of maturity but really it is only just getting into its 'sweet' spot. It's no Rayas, but you know when a wine is so different from the rest yet you can't ignore its brilliance? In the port World this is it. But I wouldn't want this over my Fonseca, it has to be said. Anyway, I chose this vintage over the 94 more than a decade ago. I certainly want to try the 94 again, but not one iota of regret having bought this today.

    Now, if you wanted red and black fruits into the mix, you could try a Dows 94. Terrific nose of black-raspberries and a hint of mocha development (although this was under coravin for a while). A typically drier style; tannins are not firm as such, but they are not mature and finish somewhat shorter than most. Coravin has been generally kinder to port for me than others (a Cornas from 2012 with just 2 previous micro-extracts was vinegar when opened last week), but I don't remember this being quite so drying before, and is certainly not typical of 94. Everything else about this port seems good.

    Last but not least, on to my favourite opened recently (bar the Nacional which was neither recent, or mine, but doesn't change what I'd chose today) Fonseca 85. Near perfection today, and absolutely nothing above compares on the nose, or palate, or finish. This bottle recalls my first experience of Fonseca 66 around 20 years ago. It made me realise just how great port could be (yet I always adored it). There is a maturity/complexity on the nose that hints of Bordeaux's greatest. Slightly cigar boxy, slightly earthy, smoky, spicy and a black fruit first course that flows onto the palate. How can this contain 20% alcohol, where is it? Just a gentle warmth is all you notice, everything in balance. As it opens in the glass the perfume becomes more apparent. But exposure to air in the bottle and a new pour steps back into a more youthful chocolaty fruit a hint of liquorice, perhaps chicory. Its balance produces an elegance that dances on the tongue and drifts off every so slowly. Not obviously sweet, but certainly not dry and you wouldn't experience any tannic presence; yet you know a wine of this youthful appearance has everything it needs for a long life. I know the 94 will turn out greater, but today what a knock-out. Drink over next 10 years for peak, but will surely deliver another 20-30 with ease.

    We've had a crap spring here in the UK as you must know, but thinking it as an extended port season (of course, I drink the stuff year round anyway ;-), I've been able to turn it into an advantage :)
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
  2. What an excellent idea!

    Thanks for the thoughts, Nick, which have brightened a meteorologically dreary afternoon. I'd endorse your praises of the Fonseca 85 - we had a bottle at Christmas, and it wowed everyone at the dinner table. No chances of that one not being finished in one sitting!
  3. A good friend serve Taylor’s ‘85 at the end of lunch, today. Marvellous wine.
  4. Lovely notes. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments of Taylor's vs Fonseca. Also with your assessment of Fonseca 85, which i reckon is one of the 3 or 4 loveliest ports I've ever drunk.
  5. Sterling effort Nick, thanks for sharing.
  6. Thanks for the notes. I still have a couple of bottles of that 91 taylors. Haven't had one for several years as I almost never find occasion to drink port and therefore admit to knowing very little about it other than that I enjoyed the previous bottles!
  7. My most recent TN . I have enjoyed this wine on several occasions. Outstanding VFM.
    • 1991 Taylor (Fladgate) Porto Vintage Quinta de Vargellas - Portugal, Douro, Porto (04/04/2010)
      This remains very impressive. It benefits from a long decant, as initially bit sulky. Fragrant, real depth, drinking well now, this should be at its peak for 10+ years. (94 pts.)
    Posted from CellarTracker
    I reckon it's about time to open another.
  8. I'm down to my last one. I would say I enjoyed them more in youth, but they never the suppleness orcomplexity of the Fonseca. Last bottle had the acetic edge suggesting its getting harder and more angular (and no, this wasn't previously coravined!)
  9. Notes from 2004: 88+? Firm, closed, a bit alcoholic - not sure where it's going, but better after being opened 5 days. Will last a long time.

    90? A leaking bottle - and some vinegary notes on opening make this a less ideal bottle - the alcohol shows, but good fruit brings together a powerful package.

    Before then, consistently 90 point score; eg A good showing, still young but big port.

    Never really got there, or to where it seemed it might...

Share This Page