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Nov 28, 2000 09:35 PM

1994 Port Tasting Notes (very long!)

  • m

Here's the entry from my wine diary, typed up immediately after the tasting for my own personal use. A bit more flamboyant than my usual recordings, I was probably still high from tasting such great wines.

To calibrate to my scoring system, point equivalents are

VERY GOOD: 85-89
GOOD: 80-84

Please don't hesitate to ask if I've used some wine geek jargon that needs explanation.

1994 Port Tasting and Dinner
City Club, San Francisco
August 11, 2000

Wine personality Don Baumhefner hosted a blind tasting of nineteen 1994 Vintage Ports from his cellar for comprehensive look at their early stage of development, plus a California ringer. Bartholomew Broadbent provided additional color commentary and slipped in three 1994 Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) ports for fun.

Overall, the 1994s continue to merit the hype they received on release. Consistency of high quality across this range of producers made it a difficult task to rate the wines and pick favorites at this early stage before they have differentiated along different development paths. Some concern was raised about the color of the wines, which while very dark, were not as black and saturated as would be expected for relatively young Ports. There was also debate over the seemingly soft structure of the wines and potential for aging. The fleshy fruit of the vintage masks the structural underpinnings, e.g., hammer in the velvet glove. The raw insides of my mouth the following morning gives testament to the hidden tannic grip of these Ports. Of note, the LBVs showed very well in this company and are worth seeking out for current drinking.

The wines were tasted single blind in two flights. They are described in order of my preference with my rank, group rank and total scores.

Flight 1:
BROADBENT, $55 (10, 10, 88) - Before the wines' identities were revealed, Bartholomew kicked off the comments on this one by saying, "this is either the best or the worst wine, depending on what you like." Off-putting initial nose with VA, acetone
and aldehyde overlaying red cherry and raspberry with salted plums, aromas
flesh out with aeration to show peppery spice, more acidity in the mouth,
brighter flavor profile with spicy red fruit and medium sweetness, lacking
bass notes, tart and bitter aftertaste with gritty finish. Rated higher
when last tasted 8/99. GOOD

1995 CARMENET CONTRA COSTA ZINFANDEL PORT, $15 (9, 8, 76) - Lighter color
than the flight, prominent alcohol in nose of chocolate, raisins, dried
cherry, prunes, burnt rubber and buttery charred wood, very sweet and soft,
simple jammy blackberry fruit with buttered peanuts, round finish of
moderate length. GOOD

CHURCHILL, $50 (8, 7, 69) - Unusual nose with shitake mushroom, plum candy and dried cherry, tight linear impression and straight ahead, closed black fruit with mocha and bittersweet chocolate, bitter tannins, dusty finish.

WARRE, $65 (7, 9, 79) - From half bottle. Sweet solventy aromas dominate stern closed nose, more open expression on the palate with firm spine, seems more mature than the rest, well-balanced supporting sweetness well, black-fruited with tarry complexity, very long and deep with full finish.

DOW, $80 (6, 3, 56) - Reticent nose with more wood showing through black
plum aromas, surprisingly rounded and flashy in the mouth with abundant
fruit, softer structure with lower acidity, sugary and grapey, plum jam and
chocolate-covered cherries, not as deep or complex, fat finish. EXCELLENT

CROFT, $80 (5, 1, 46) - Lifted nose with prune, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, gravel and green tea, gripping entry, more apparent tannin with classic proportions, tarry black fruit with mineral and green tobacco leaf, very long lasting and powerful, hard finish with medicinal edge.

TUKE HOLDSWORTH, $45 (4, 4, 62) - My first experience with this producer. Huge legs, bigger, deeper and more complex nose with plum pudding, black cherry, raisinettes, toffee nuts and carob, plush on the palate with fine-grained velvety tannins, sweeter and accessible in low acid style, luscious plummy fruit with chocolate and wood spice, round finish.

TAYLOR FLADGATE, $150 (3, 6, 66) - Open-knit spirituous nose with cocoa
powder, prune and vanilla, muscular structure with firm chalky tannins,
chunky and backward in the mouth with jammy black fruits, vanilla wood,
licorice, pipe tobacco, and bittersweet chocolate, full finish. For the

QUARLES HARRIS, $50 (2, 5, 64) - With its candied and easy personality, I
was convinced this would be Grahams. Accessible nose with chambord, dried
cherry, mushroom, blackberry and hint of menthol, voluminous and
mouthcoating with forward jammy fruit and ripe tannins, sweeter and
confected, richly flavored with fruit cake, chocolate, dried cherry, plum,
coffee and berry cobbler, impressive persistence. OUTSTANDING

GRAHAMS, $90 (1, 2, 50) - Fruitier nose with carob, cherry pie, stewed fruits, plum candy, anise and mint, dense and concentrated in the mouth with chewy tannins, moderate sweetness, heftier core with expansive layers of blackberry, plum and licorice, extra dimension, long meaty finish.

A brief dinner interlude of roasted duck breast with demi-glace port reduction, turnip and potato puree, and baby vegetables. Then, back to blind tasting. . .

Flight 2:
DUFF GORDON, $30 (13, 13, 97) - Woodier nose of sandalwood, anise, prune
and cocoa, drier and more astringent than the rest, leanish black fruit and
anise in the mouth, bitter edge in tannic finish. VERY GOOD

BURMEISTER EXTRA SELECTED, $32 (12, 12, 84) - More advanced aromas with
roasted nuts, coffee, prune, carob, earth, and blackberry in woody nose,
rounder impression, not as complex, very tannic with moderate finish. VERY

FERREIRA LBV, $18 (11, 11, 81) - Dense and voluminous nose with prune,
dried cherry, caramel, oak and a bit of nutty oxidation, open-knit and
accessible on the palate, less fresh than the group with drier and woodier
impression, tannic finish. VERY GOOD

OFFLEY BOA VISTA, $35 (10, 10, 78) - Saddle leather, black cherry, plum
jam, wood and a hint of menthol, silky texture with elegant balance,
well-integrated in the mouth with blackberry, cocoa, black berry and mint,
lighter and leaner profile, very long finish. VERY GOOD

QUINTA DO CRASTO LBV, $18 (9, 8, 71) - Plump nose with red and black
fruits, plum pudding, raisin and sandalwood, big and jammy on the palate,
resolved tannins, soft round mouthfeel, impressive depth of flavor with
blackberry, chocolate and coffee, mouthcoating finish. EXCELLENT

QUINTA DO VESUVIO, $80 (8, 9, 72) - Lifted nose with red cherry, plum,
spicy wood, licorice and cocoa powder, sweeter impression with warmish
alcohol, lighter bodied with licorice and red fruits in the mouth with some
bass notes, more pronounced acidity extends very long finish. EXCELLENT

OFFLEY BOA VISTA LBV, $18 (7, 7, 68) - More developed nose with toffee,
dried figs, prune, mint and black fruit, approachable structure for current
drinking, brighter acidity, multi-faceted and more red-fruited with gentle
spice, big finish. EXCELLENT

MARTINEZ, $45 (6, 5, 60) - Lighter and more buoyant nose with black
raspberry, sugar plums, wood spice, leather and walnut skin, lighter body
with broadly expressive fruit, a bit lacking in depth and focus,
well-balanced, dusty finish of moderate length. EXCELLENT

FONSECA, $150 (5, 2, 49) - The first time I submitted my score sheet, Uncle Don gave it back to me and suggested I retaste this sample. I did raise my vote, but did not find this wine in a state of perfection. Flattened aromatics with whiffs of sulfides, acetone, green tobacco leaf, coffee, malt and rustic black fruit, tannic entry, chalky structure, massive proportions but disjointed, a streak of green with blackberry, plumskin, walnut and bittersweet chocolate, awkward phase, very persistent.

QUINTA DA EIRA VELHA, $75 (4, 3, 56) - My first experience with this single quinta. Dense and chunky nose with fruit cake, plum jam, earth and cocoa, good acidic cut and medium sweet, medium-bodied, impeccably balanced, more restrained on the palate with prune, linzer torte, and bittersweet chocolate, very long and firm finish with sweet aftertaste of ripe fruit.

QUINTA DO CRASTO, $50 (3, 6, 67) - Red berries, potpourri, and black plum
in fruitier nose, poised with good balancing acidity, elegant carriage,
layers of black cherry, red plum and blackberry with earth, very long and
sophisticated through mouth-watering finish. OUTSTANDING

QUINTA DO NOVAL, $60 (2, 4, 58) - Spirituous and fresher nose of dried
cherry, fruit gums and tart/sweet note of raspberry, sweeter profile in the
mouth with lower acidity, warm and lusciously fruited in the mouth with
maraschino cherry, stewed plum and bittersweet chocolate, long lingering
finish with bitter walnut skin aftertaste. OUTSTANDING

FERREIRA, $50 (1, 1, 44) - Deep and dense nose with berry cobbler, earth, sandalwood and chocolate, fleshy and concentrated impression, ripe velvety tannins, robust yet very harmonious, well-focused and concentrated with direct flavors of jammy black fruit and mocha, long mouthcoating finish.

Mentally drained and completely fatigued, by this point, the creamy Stilton hit the mark before we said our good-byes.

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  1. Melanie, I should point out that your scoring reflects the intrinsic quality/potential of the wine, not its drinkability right now. Drinking any vintage port from 94 would be, as wine geeks say, infanticide.

    you liked the LBV's, huh? Well, I must admit, I haven't had any from 94. Am willing to keep an open mind, even though I've never ever taken a second sip of any LBV

    34 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      Yes, good point. I grade for potential, and not necessarily for current quaffing. But I'll note that this was an open tasting, the general public was invited and not limited to the trade, so the ranking representing the group's total score is probably not for potential but is a reflection of which wines are showing well today. This is such a flashy vintage, I would hardly fault anyone for cracking open a 1994 this winter.

      The wines were decanted and poured a good 2 hours before we sat down to taste. By the end of the evening they'd probably been in the glass for about 6 hours and continued to improve with aeration. This is an indication of the long life ahead.

      1. re: Jim Leff

        So, I guess my question is this - If port is undrinkable until it's many, many years old and STARTS OUT at 30-100$ per bottle, is there any point to the average person trying to develop a taste for it? Or is this a case of only wine conneseurs having a sophisticated enough pallate to appreciate the subtle differences between top-end ports?

        1. re: fladd

          [sorry...this message is a bit overlong and scattershot, but I hope it offers some useful points]

          Yes, the situation could easily make potential port lovers give up...and that has lots of port collectors clucking their tongues. Port prices for undrinkable (or at least let's say "very-very-not-ready-yet") young ports are out of sight. But, as I said, prices for 77's and 83's (which, in addition to being older, are lesser vintages and thus have matured faster) are actually LOWER and the port is far, far better for drinking right now (I think Melanie would agree). Buy 'em and drink 'em and be happy!

          The whole thing is not totally insane, though. Here's how it happened. The rating-obsessed public fails to take into account the fact that wine honchos rate on potential, not current drinkability. Sixty gazillion expensive bottles of stellar-potential wine is drunk long before its time every damned day because collectors mindlessly go for the highest-rated wines rather than the ones which drink best now.

          Some of that wine is drunk by people like Melanie, who are so expert that they derive pleasure and knowledge from intentionally drinking a wine young (and we're glad they do...they're the ones who pass around the "drink up!" notices when a vintage matures!). But most of it isn't. And with ports it's even more extreme. They take longer to age, so this problem is even more pronounced.

          The 94 ports show monstrously stellar potential, and deservedly received awesome ratings. These high-ratings and the surging demand they created among unknowing consumers helped drive up the price of this vintage to a stratospheric height. I just hope there are 2 or 3 bottles left in the world in 30, 40, 50 years when the vintage matures.

          So save your money, and buy a good-but-lesser vintage which is peaking. 77 Dow or Graham is an excellent drink. 83 Graham is not quite peaking (give it 15-20 years), but it's starting to come into "the zone".

          Also, you have to do a mental price adjustment with port. It's more expensive. I don't buy wines over $50 more than once/twice per year, but if I see a good price on splits of Grahams 83, I'll by a few "put-away" bottles even if it costs me hundreds. It's a special occasion thing, and so the price runs along a different scale. Also, it sips slower (you're not gonna finish a bottle in an evening yourself, as you might with table wine!), so it's not as pricey as it seems. It's good to buy multi-bottles so you can open a bottle a year and trace its development (which is why I go into credit card debt on occasional sprees).

          One last point...if wines are short stories, ports are multimedia action movies. The DIFFERENCES between top end ports aren't subtle at all....though the flavors do have endless shadings of subtleties. You can get a sense of this by reading my tasting notes about some of the best Grahams vintages of the century. use link below (more writings can be seen in our "Articles & Special Reports" page, which you can get to via our home page)


          1. re: Jim Leff
            Melanie Wong

            Did you really mean to say that 1977 is a lesser vintage?

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Lesser than '94, sure! Isn't that a given?

              1. re: Jim Leff
                Melanie Wong

                If you're an American, yes. That's why the prices for 94s are so high - a vintage that Americans could love, and they jumped into the market. Not so in the UK.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I didn't know that. Everyone I've spoken to considers '94 a vintage of the century, and I thought the samples I tried confirmed it. Interesting about England, though. As for prices, I already went on and on about that silliness.

                  But the fact that 77's are...well, if not mature, at least starting to come into their own, indicates the (relative) inferiority of the vintage...really classic vintages take more like 30-40-50 years, no? As is predicted for the 94's...

                  1. re: Jim Leff
                    Melanie Wong

                    "really classic vintages take more like 30-40-50 years, no? As is predicted for the 94's..."

                    No, the 1994s are a different animal, representing a break with the past.

                    Gotta run to a party celebrating the anniversary of Repeal (of Prohibition). . .

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      "No, the 1994s are a different animal, representing a break with the past"

                      how so? a result of some sort of technical change in the winemaking, or a fluke of the vintage?

                      I've got to admit, I've been out of the circuit on '94 talk for a couple of years, so I may have missed a shift in the conventional wisdom. Which bums me out, because I was hoping to closely track this vintage over the course of my whole life.

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        Think of it as the same kind of change as 1982 in Bordeaux, demarcating the start of “modern” style wines. When those were first released, all except Robert Parker thought the 82s would be a short-lived vintage as they were so ripe and approachable young. Today, they’re still going strong at 18 years of age.

                        So you may be enjoying 94 vintage Ports well into your dotage, only time will tell. Even if they do mature earlier, there’s a reasonably long plateau before they fall off. Plus, you’re focused on the top 5 shippers and I’ve gotta believe their wines will hold up.

                        The wonder of 1994 vintage Port is the consistency across producers. Only superb weather can produce that. Equally important, the growers and shippers were prepared to take full advantage of this “vintage of the century” opportunity through introduction of new viticulture and winemaking methods introduced over the prior decade. New technology in combination with the blessings of good weather created 94s that are very ripe fruit bombs, accessible in their youth, beautifully balanced, well-integrated with great harmony, and deceivingly fleshy.

                        Yields were down by nearly half in 1994 due to poor flowering giving more concentrated wines. Weather was clear at harvest and nights were cool, delaying and extending fermentation, which would favor a fruitier style of wine.

                        In the early 80’s, loans from the World Bank enabled many growers to replant. While nearly 90 grape varieties are authorized for planting in the region, only the “cinco” (top 5) qualified for loan money. These are the better varieties, including Touriga Nacional that is the most highly prized for wine but a bane for the grower. Changes in vineyard layout using vertical rows or patamare rows produced healthier vines and more even ripening of fruit. Vines from the new plantings hit the 8 to 10 year-old mark in 1994 contributing better quality fruit that made a big difference in the wines. New style plantings now comprise about 30% of Port’s vineyards; more intense and interesting wines are ahead as these vines come on line for vintage Port and continue to mature.

                        The vineyards are less isolated due to investment in new roads. Personnel can move among vineyards when needed and fruit can be transported in less time to supervised winemaking facilities. The shift to using small plastic boxes instead of traditional large baskets keeps the fruit intact and clean during transport. These changes enhance the ability to harvest at the optimum moment and prevent degradation of grape quality before processing.

                        With improvements in world markets, profits were plowed into new vinification equipment. Destemmers and heat exchanger cooling systems to control fermentation temperature were in wider use. While Fonseca and Taylor still crush by foot in traditional lagares (stone or cement vats), autovinifiers were more common in 1994. Better hygiene and greater use of stainless steel vats instead of old oak vats produced more vivid, fruit-driven wines. Cleaner aguardiente, the grape spirits used for fortification, could be procured after the government monopoly was abolished in 1990.

                        Many of these changes were made possible by the growth in port sales in the US. Ten years ago Americans discovered vintage Port (as an accessory to the cigar craze) and took over long-standing top market honors from the Brits. While vintage Port comprises only about 2% of the total port wine produced, 20% of the port imported to the US is vintage Port. This Americanization of the vintage port market has driven up prices as demand overtakes supply. It’s also a factor in the new phenomenon where the best of young ports sell for more than mature vintages, and prices for the middle-aged wines seem depressed. With the approachable nature of the 94s, many are being consumed and appreciated in their youth. Americans pay top dollar for wines that are ready to drink today, explaining the high prices for 94s and up tick in prices for 63s. The tendency is to sell middle-aged vintages, such as 1977, putting downward pressure on prices.

                        1. re: Jim Leff

                          Found an interview with Adrian Bridge of Taylor (link below) with his opinion of the 94 vintage, shift between UK and US markets, American tastes, single quintas, vintage declarations, regulatory changes and outlook for the region.


          2. re: Jim Leff
            Melanie Wong

            LBVs can't be compared to vintage ports. They're their own thing, and usually kinda soft, dried out and excessively woody. Volatile acidity can also be a problem. But the 1994 samples in this tasting had oodles of fruit as is typical of the vintage, and the extra aging in wood made them easier to enjoy now. you'll see that my score card was tracking the group's where these were concerned. Interestingly, the OFFLEY BOA VISTA LBV outperfomed it's Vintage Porto.

            When you can find LBVs at discounters at below $15, I'd much prefer one from a good year to Australia "port" at the same or higher price. They offer more complexity and better acid balance.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              "Interestingly, the OFFLEY BOA VISTA LBV outperfomed it's Vintage Porto"

              Tang outperforms their vintage porto!

              1. re: Jim Leff
                Melanie Wong

                Well, they almost made something worth drinking in 1994 --- speaks to the high quality of the year. So, you understand my point posted in the other thread that it's better to buy an LBV from a good house in a good year, than a vintage port from an underperformer even in a good year.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  "Well, they almost made something worth drinking in 1994 --- speaks to the high quality of the year"

                  yep, agreed.

                  " So, you understand my point posted in the other thread that it's better to buy an LBV from a good house in a good year, than a vintage port from an underperformer even in a good year."

                  yep, of course, but when it comes to food and drink, I hate to make compromises. I'd rather drink nothing, and save up so I can drink at least pretty good vintage port a few times per year. Refusing to ingest anything undelicious is a hallmark of chowhoundom.

                  But hey, if someone gets real pleasure from lesser port or port-like products, that's cool by me. And those people surely appreciate having someone like you to help them sort through options.

                  1. re: Jim Leff
                    Melanie Wong

                    I'm in your camp - quality not quantity. But if someone's going to ruin his/her palate by sucking on a cigar at the same time, I'll hand 'em the LBV (a good one, of course).

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      ooh, Melanie....controversial point!

                      There are some serious port collectors out there who'd say that cigars and port are like food and wine. Sure, the former affects the flavor, but it's synergistic rather than parasitic (g).

                      Just caught your Bartholemew reference in the other threadlet. Important question: has he backed off enthusiasm for '94, or did he never have any to begin with?

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        One of the reasons I attended this dinner is that I was assured there would be no cigars lit in the room!

                        I can't speak for BB, let me see if I can get his attention.

                    2. re: Jim Leff

                      Between the frenzied blood-letting on the subject of wine earlier this year and this thread, I've decided to give up on fine wines and port - too much to learn, too much to spend and too long to wait!

                      1. re: fladd
                        Josh Mittleman

                        That's like giving up golf because you'll never be able to beat Tiger Woods. It's true, but so what? Learn a little and enjoy what you know. The fact that other people know more needn't detract from your enjoyment.

                        If you want to enjoy wine without spending a lot of time learning about it, I recommend you find yourself a reliable wine merchant. Go into stores in your area and ask questions like "I'd like a wine that'll go well with the grilled salmon we're having for dinner tonight; I don't want to spend more than $15." If your winemonger recommends a bottle in your price range that you enjoy, try him again. If he pleases you three times in a row, stick with him and never worry about choosing a wine again.

                        1. re: Josh Mittleman

                          Excellent suggestion! I'll bet that any wine merchant worth his/her salt will be thrilled to be asked for a recommendation. Hand-selling wine is becoming a lost art, so much of the market is driven by critics' scores.

                        2. re: fladd

                          Buying and enjoying fine wines doesn't have to be so complicated. Josh's idea is one way to get started. I've noticed inquiries on some of the regional boards asking for good wine shops. Trying some of those would give you a head start on establishing a relationship.

                          Last week at a dinner party a girlfriend who has little interest in fine wine mentioned that she'd read an article in a food magazine about vintage port. So I had to ask what had she'd learned.

                          She said, "1945, 1963 and 1977 are the best vintages."

                          I asked, "Nothing younger?"

                          She said, "1985 and 1994 have potential, but it's too early to tell."

                          I asked, "Recommended shippers?"

                          She replied, "Fonseca, Taylor and Grahams are the best. Dow and Warres are the next tier in quality."

                          And, that's really all you have to know to purchase and enjoy Vintage Port with confidence. Sure, I had to add my 2 cents, commenting that Quinta do Noval "Nacional" is top flight but you'll never see a bottle, or that 1983s are undervalued and can be enjoyed now. But it really is that simple. The top port shippers are well-established and consistent. The best vintages are universally recognized.

                          The controversy comes in on when the wines are ready to drink. Jim believes young port is undrinkable. David Guimaraens, who is the new winemaker for Fonseca and Taylor and blended the 100-point 1994 vintage ports for both houses said, "There is no such thing as an early drinkable young vintage Port. The quality of a vintage Port is dependent on the initial balance and concentration of the wines followed by aging in bottle. There is no alternative to these two factors." But there are plenty of people (especially Americans) who are enjoying vintage Port before they hit the 30 year-old mark. Not just for discovery purposes or because the wines got big scores, but drinking them with gusto because they actually like big jammy, alcoholic and tannic wines. Powerful wines like Shiraz and 16% alcohol Zinfandels are the fashion in the US today. Young vintage Port, especially the fruit bomb 94s, can deliver on those parameters and more.

                          My friend told me she'd gotten a sampler of different styles of Port (white, tawny, ruby, etc.) from a good wine merchant to experiment with. Guimaraens suggests trying a tawny, ruby and LBV as a way to learn about Port.

                          But I'm of the school that appreciation of fine wine comes from sampling the best that you can afford or even above what you can comfortably afford. These aren't wines we drink every day. But no one becomes passionate about wine from chugging average stuff. You've got to taste something of good quality in order to "get it" and then you'll hit transcendency. Believe me, you will be able to taste the difference.

                          To discover your own tastes, I'd suggest buying a bottle of something like the 1983 Grahams Vintage Port and sip a glass a day over a 5-day period. The exposure of the wine remaining in the bottle to oxygen is a method of brute force aging. You may discover that you like the wine the best on the first day. In that case, you won't have to wait that long for your vintage Ports to age for your personal taste. Or you may find it most enjoyable at Day 3, indicating that you should hold onto your wines for 5 to 10 years longer.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Melanie--totally psyched to see so much port talk on the boards!

                            It's a bit dangerous to praise Quinta de Noval too much, because their non-nacional ports can be dreadful, and as you said, there is zero chance of anyone ever stumbling on one of their great ones. In fact, have they ever made even a great nacional since 1931 other than the 1963?

                            I, too, am anything but a wine snob, but I agree with you about foregoing lower end port (ditch the rubies, whites, and most of the LBV's...I'll trust you about some of the decent recent LBV's you've liked and I've not tasted). An inexpensive wine can do the job or even be surprisingly delicious, but cheap port is syrupy glop, and can (and has!) turn people off the drink forever. It's like music: you can at least dance to bad rock, but bad jazz is just the worst.


                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              The 1994 Quinto do Noval "Nacional" is considered a perfect 100-point vintage Port. If you have $1500, you might be able to buy a bottle. Personally, I'd rather have 10 bottles of Taylor waiting for me in the cellar. But then, I've not tried a "Nacional" of any vintage. I believe the shipper has new owners.

                              I see you didn't include tawnies or their more rarified form (colheitas) in the list you'd ditch. Intentional? I love good tawny port, although I don't keep 'em cold in the fridge.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                I have way too little experience with Tawnies to talk about 'em much. All I know is that they are nearly a totally different drink from vintage port.

                                I actually tried barrels of the '94 Nacional...duh...what was I thinking. Yep, great.

                                But other than that, isn't this a two-year pony? '31 and '63? I've had some horrid 70's from QDN...

                                I tried a test tube full of '63 once, sent FEDEX from a tasting in Chicago. Great. Wonder if our friend E. has opened his '31 yet...


                                1. re: Jim Leff
                                  Melanie Wong

                                  I've heard that the 45 Nacional is falling apart, have never tasted any QdN Nacional.

                                  The estate was run for nearly 3 decades by Luis Vasconcellos who retired in 1963. After that family disputes, a disastrous fire in the early 80s and financial troubles forced the company to sell out in 1993. Then voila - the wonderful 1994 vintage rolls in. the 97 Nacional is reputedly great too, although the vintage will probably always be in the shadow of 94.

                                  Re: tawny ports, I didn't really care for them that much either (too woody) until I met up with some very fine examples. I've included my notes from a tasting two years ago, as I've noticed these wines are still available at retail.

                                  The Portuguese themselves prefer tawnies as their best wines, whereas the vintage ports are for export to the UK. Tawnies are much harder to make than Vintage, they're tended in the cellar for years and years and require careful blending of old and new (with the exception of colheitas which are from a single vintage).

                                  When ordering a glass of port as an after dinner drink, I will opt for the premium tawny rather than vintage. Tawnies hold up better in the bottle after opened for a few days at a restaurant bar, whereas Vintage ports go downhill quickly and usually won't be worth the tariff.

                                  Tawny Ports
                                  Portuguese Wine Commission
                                  September 29, 1998

                                  The Wiese and Krohn Porto table was presided over by winemaster José Carneiros. He made the point to characterize this house as Portuguese-owned, rather than British, with differing traditions and practices. Krohn's best wines are the Colheitas (single vintage Tawny), preferred by the domestic market, rather than Vintage Porto made for export. Krohn does make a small amount of vintage port too, but not as frequently as the British houses, and doesn't depend on these for its reputation. The opportunity to taste and comment on each wine with Mr. Carneiros, tapping into his 30+ vintages with Krohn, was one of the peak wine education experiences of 1998 for me.

                                  20 Years Old tawny, $45 - Sugary nose, very sweet in the mouth with toffee candy and dried figs, plump finish. VERY GOOD


                                  1989, $24 - Some rawness still in the nose with toffee peanuts and dates, round in the mouth with dried figs, dates and butterscotch, moderate hot finish. VERY GOOD

                                  1985, $25 - Rounder and deeper nose with more fruit character and maple syrup, abundant primary fruit character in the mouth of kirschwasser, currant and butterscotch, velvety finish. EXCELLENT

                                  1977, $48 - Dark nougat, honey and maple nose, sweetness in recess, very round and fat presence with nice weight and body, less fruity and more tertiary character of toffee, toasted almond and coffee, clean candied finish. EXCELLENT

                                  1965, $85 - Unusually dark amber in color, terrific focus, more youthful and intense than the 77 with the primary fruit character of the 85, very harmonious with dried figs, peanut brittle, marzipan, dried cherry flavors, great clarity and persistence. OUTSTANDING

                                  1963, $93 - Wafting nose of toffee and butterscotch, lacks harmony of the other vintages with hot alcohol showing through, soft finish. VERY GOOD

                                  1958, $95 - Creme brulee nose, glycerined almost elastic mouthfeel, warm and spiritous in the mouth with caramel and toasted almonds, long sleek finish. EXCELLENT

                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                  While I was in Spain this summer, I bought an unlabelled bottle of port from a roadside market stand -- along with bottles of Muscatel and Mistella (aka Sifone), both of which I hugely enjoyed though I probably drank them too young, a bottle of something called Viejo which I didn't really like, though again maybe it should have aged -- I took it from the name that it was already aged -- and a bottle of Licor de Hierbas which I have not yet drunk but which I believe to be a sort of cabbage-y tasting sweet wine. None of these bottles had any label besides a little white sticker with the name. Anyways I'm wondering what I should do with the port -- sock it away for 30 years? Is there any way of figuring out whether it is tawny, vintage, or some other type of port?


                                  1. re: Jeremy Osner

                                    Jeremy, by coincidence, I'm in a similar situation having received on Sunday a gift bottle of Port from my friend's club in London. It was produced by Martinez, a well-known shipper of good quality, and the label says simply "Port" and the name of the men's club.

                                    Ports are basically of two types: wood-aged and bottle-aged. Wood-aged Ports include rubies, tawnies (and the single vintage colheitas), vintage character, and LBVs. These are matured in wood until ready to drink, then filtered and bottled for sale. They do not improve further in the bottle. Bottle-aged Ports include vintage, crusted and traditional LBVs. These are aged in cask for a short time (less than 2 years for vintage Ports), then bottled without filtration for release and further aging in bottle. The presentation (packaging) of our bottles can provide a number of clues to what's inside.

                                    Since no vintage year is indicated, it's unlikely that this bottle is other than a ruby or tawny type. The other styles would be sold based on vintage.

                                    Because they're intended for extended cellaring, bottle-aged Ports are closed with a very long, driven cork that requires a cork extractor to open. This closure does not extend beyond the 2" capsule covering the top of the bottle, indicating that it is probably a stopper-style cork. I can also feel the ridges on the twist-off stopper along the rim through the capsule. This type of closure is appropriate for a wine that will be enjoyed over a period of time rather than at one sitting. Wood-aged Ports fit in this category as they are already exposed to air in the aging process and do not deteriorate as much on opening.

                                    Bottle-aged Ports are packaged in near opaque, dark and heavy glass. My bottle isn't that heavy and I can see through it when held up to bright light. There is no sediment or crust, indicating that it had been filtered before bottling.

                                    Each of these clues is consistent with my bottle being a ruby or tawny Port. Holding it up to strong light again and adjusting for the effect of the dark green glass, the wine inside has a bright ruby red-purple color. If it were a tawny-style Port, it would be amber and less red in color. Therefore, this is a ruby Port intended for short-term drinking.

                                    Please let us know what clues your bottle offers to its contents.

                                    P.S. Very interesting to hear about your Mistela. I've not tasted one personally and had not heard of the Sifone acronym. Did you see Xose's photos of herb-flavored aguardiente?

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      Hi Melanie,

                                      Thanks for the notes -- it sounds like I have a wood-aged port. The glass is clear, the cork is short. I don't remember the precise color of the port right now but will check.

                                      The Mistella that I had tasted a lot like Muscatel -- I have not drunk a lot of dessert wine so I can't really quantify the flavor of it too much. If I remember correctly, I think I gave a bottle of Mistella to Jim. If he has not drunk it yet, maybe I'll get him to invite me over for a tasting and get back to you with more specific info.

                                      1. re: Jeremy Osner

                                        Haven't opened it, Jeremy. Yeah, let's give it a scientific tasting...

                              2. re: Melanie Wong

                                Here's a little more data from "the friend" who knows literally nothing about wine except what Melanie described above. I was recently excited to find out that I can actually tell the difference between the Taylor Fladgate 1958 (that my sweet husband bought to celebrate my birth year), and a Hooper's 1984 (that his father bought for us since he knew "we like port" ... and didn't listen when I told him the preferred years and shippers...!). The latter was weak, with no fruity flavors or depth of any kind (are these the proper terms?!), and had a whiny acidic after-taste. It was also a rather horrid yellow-red color. Now we've got to go out and get a port that's a little above our price range ...!

                                1. re: Cynthia

                                  Hey, Cyn, welcome! I'm so glad you've dropped in to share your initiation into the world of Port.

                                  I suspect that the Taylor Fladgate may have been the 40 year old tawny (a blend of years of wood-aged Port with an avg. age of 40 years), rather than a vintage Port (matured in bottle). Which just goes to show that the best tawnies are far superior to poor vintage Port. I did hope that the Hooper's might show better but one always hopes for the best. Maybe Jim's dad meant it as a joke?

                                  I'd volunteer to be a "co-investor" in something really nice. I need to increase my tasting range rapidly. But perhaps you don't want anyone intruding on your romantic evening in front of the fireplace. I could take my one glass worth in a to-go cup. :-)

                                  No need to get hung up in "proper" terminology - I understand what you mean without jargon. One of the reasons I love sharing wine with you and the other DoctorBabes is that you have your own ways of expressing your likes and dislikes in wine and aren't concerned about being right or wrong.

                                  Btw, I recently described to a winemaking husband and wife your 14 y.o. son's interest in wine and how much I enjoy hearing his comments on dinner wines. They asked and I related his descriptions. They both thought he might be a super-taster and mature beyond his years in expressing himself verbally as taste/sensory vocabulary takes time to develop. They also sighed, as their own teenagers have no interest in wine.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Oh, Mel, that's SO interesting to read what your friend said about Mark! It's always nice to hear good things about your kids ...

                                    It was wonderful to see you again last night at our caroling party, and nice for you to bring a little bottle of something red for Mark to taste (I am so proud that I detected the cherry flavor ....).

                                    We will definitely keep you posted about the "port mystery." Since Jim's dad supposedly spent $350 on port for us, and we're all agreed it couldn't have been simply for that one bottle of Hooper's, that means on Christmas we will get either (1) one very interesting bottle of port or (2) several rather interesting bottles of port, or (3) a whole lot of un-interesting bottles of port! Whichever way it turns out, we certainly will be wanting your input ....

                                    1. re: Cynthia

                                      Gosh, I managed to sneak out without tasting the remaining dreck of your bottle of Hooper's. (g)

                  2. Wow, great writeup! I definitely have to try to get some of the quintas you mention.

                    This one gets synced to my palmpilot for the next time I go port shopping!

                    By the way, can you recommmend a really good book on port? My knowledge is limited to about a half a dozen producers and a few good vintages and I'd really like to learn more about rubies and quintas and tawnies.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Jason Perlow
                      Melanie Wong

                      Palm-worthy, that's quite a compliment!

                      Regarding good reference books, I posed the same question to my friends at Premium Ports, and they suggested I put my wine book money elsewhere and borrow from their library when needed. I'll confess that I haven't taken advantage of the offer yet. So I can't provide a recommendation based on my own reading.

                      When I was doing some research on old Madeiras, I did read Mayson's Portugal's Wines and Wine Makers which was adequate. Better was Alex Liddell's book on Madeira, and of historical interest, the reprint of Vizetelly's book on Port & Madeira from the 1800s.

                      Richard Mayson has a new book on Port, published by Faber which has high standards even if often dry reading (link below). It's a paperback and the price is right - give us some feedback if you read it. I'd be interested in what Liddell, since I liked his treatment of Madeira. This one is out of print, but you might find a copy on the shelf somewhere. There's Suckling's book but suspect you're not as interested in tasting notes as background on the region and wine style.


                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Suckling's book actually has tons of background/regional info...problem is it's almost impossible to find

                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          Melanie Wong

                          At the tasting, Uncle Don had provided the ratings from the various port critics, some interesting reading and differences of opinion there.

                          1. re: Jim Leff

                            . . . also, Suckling's book is limited to Vintage Port, whereas Jason was interested in learning about other styles too.

                      2. I ran into Don at the Family Winemakers shindig. Jeez, he's got to be my age (46) or older. What's he doing collecting '94s? Leaving them for his kids? I figure my doctor might tell me to stop drinking before the 94s mature! I'm not a big Port drinker anymore, but I stopped collecting Port after the '77 vintage. In fact, my old gang and a few guests (Tom Lipkis, Rich Gibbons) had a small '77 Port horizontal a few weeks ago. A friend and I bought most of the wines at release. We had Taylor, Grahams, Dow, Fonseca, Delaforce, Gould Campbell, Smith Woodhouse, Warre and Sandeman. The wines were decanted well before the tasting and then poured back into the bottle. I don't have notes handy, but these all still could use another 10 years plus of cellaring even after getting a good deal of airing. I gather the 94 vintage Ports are 30 year wines as are the 77s. I would love to have tasted those so soon after tasting the 77s!

                        Wine "personality" is an apt description for Don. He's quite a character!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Larry Stein

                          Larry--you thought even the Dow '77 needed copious time? Mine have been tasting terrific...on the other hand, I only got a wine cooler last year, so a couple of warm summers may have sped up their development.

                          1. re: Jim Leff

                            Yes I did. Not that the Dow didn't drink nicely now, but the secondary complexities are just starting to occur. The fierce alcoholic blast from a young port has gone away.

                            Yes, one can drink 77s now, but they're still going to get more complex with more cellar time. I took home about 2 oz. of Fonseca, corked it (no gas or vacuvin), and drank it 2 days later. It had barely budged from it's previous state!

                            1. re: Larry Stein

                              Larry, thanks for your observations! Yes, agreed that the blast has been tamed, but I thought some complexities were speaking from the Dow. On the other hand, I'm a bit of a Grahams/Taylor snob, so perhaps I have artificially lower expectations from Dow, etc.

                              In any case, I'll definitely take your word for it that I should hang on to my Dow 77's even longer than I'd intended to. As with my aged Belgian ales, I drink through this stuff sloooooooow.

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                '77 Dow has won every '77 horizontal tasting I've been in from the very first one when the wines were released to the one we just had. I rated it first in the last tasting.

                                Of course, I wouldn't have kicked any of those wines out of bed... &*)

                                1. re: Larry Stein

                                  In his Vintage Port book (out of print and impossible to find, for those who are wondering), Suckling actually rated the Dow third in 77 behind Fonseca and Taylor. Don't think I've tried the Fonseca 77, you? He rated it a perfect 100 for that vintage.

                                  In any case, didn't mean to unnecessarily diss Dow. In fact, Dow 77 was one of my top picks for a not-ridiculously-expensive port when I first replied to this thread.

                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                    I bought 4 bottles of 77 Fonseca on release. I contributed my first bottle of that buy for the recent tasting. I'm afraid I can't remember where it placed or what my notes were.

                                    I wasn't overly defending Dow over Grahams/Taylor. Only pointing out how in that vintage, it appeared to make the best wine (IMO). I didn't see your comment as a diss at all.

                                    I'll refrain on making a comment on what I think of the tasting abilities of the Wine Expectorator staff. (No need to defend yourself. I figure you were just using Suckling's notes as a reference point.)

                          2. re: Larry Stein
                            Melanie Wong

                            You were swilling 1977 vintage port with Rich and Tom without moi?!?!? Have I been tossed aside for a later model wine mistress?

                            I think Uncle Don is a bit older than you, which makes it even more curious that he's socked in a stash of 1994s. 1994 was my last vintage to lay down. It was an awfully odd feeling to give up tracking a whole wine region.

                            Fwiw, Bartholomew doesn't consider 1994's 30-year wines. So maybe I'll still have some taste buds left when I'm drinking mine.