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Vintage Port Newbie

I would like to buy and put down a vintage port or two, but I don't have a cellar, wine fridge, etc. I keep most of my bottles in a cool, dark closet in the house. While I drink a fair amount of wine, I generally don't hold onto bottles very long or have much of a collection. I've held a few special bottles for 4 or 5 years with no ill effects, but I drink most of what I buy within a few weeks of purchase.

Will that work for vintage port which I will probably be keeping 20, 30 years ? Just curious. It's not going to break me to buy a couple of bottles, so it's worth a try - just thought I'd see what others have experienced. Of course, I may get better storage in the future when I have more room ....

Another thought - I see a fair number of half bottles of vintage port. Buying two or four half bottles would give me some diversity for pretty similar price as one or two whole bottles. Is there any difference in the aging characteristics of a whole bottle vs. a half bottle ? I'm not even sure what I think the difference would be, just thought I would ask if there's a reason to go for the whole rather than the half.

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  1. Vintage Porto is, potentially, one of the longest-lived wines produced anywhere in the world. That said, I personally would be hesitant to hold onto a Vintage Porto for 20-30 years without better storage conditions than you describe. **However** Vintage Porto -- while not indestructible, like Madeira -- is a lot like a Timex: it can take a licking and keep on ticking. I would look to keep your future bottle(s) of Vintage Porto for 10-15 years, perhaps 20 -- although that may be pushing it, depending upon the specific Porto, the specific vintage, and the exact storage conditions.

    With any wine, a half-bottle (375ml) will age more quickly than will a full bottle (750ml) of the same wine -- given identical storage conditions, etc., etc. This is as true for (e.g.) a Cabernet Sauvignon as it is for a bottle of Vintage Porto.

    Cheers,
    Jason

    2 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        I agree with all of this. I'd also note that it's not that hard to find older vintage ports for sale at fair prices, so if you want the occasional aged bottle, unless you have a very specific reason to want to buy now and age it yourself, you might do just as well to buy older bottles as needed.

      2. Here's a rogue opinion: don't buy any. The time value of your money has to be taken into consideration, as does the constant evolution of your taste buds...which may despise vintage Port in 20 years time. Given these risks, $100 today for a second-tier VP from the 80s is an amazing value.

        That said, there seems to be plenty of people with a 750ml of quality VP showing up at my dinner parties all the time. The chief reason why is first and foremost is because its a 750, which needs a small group to enjoy. Don't let anyone tell you that VP lasts a month after opening. It usually lasts a week max.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

          Tradition dictates that a bottle of Vintage Porto be consumed over the weekend, but I find that it rarely lasts past the evening it is opened . . .

          As for not buying any, well -- for a variety of reasons too lengthy to go into here -- let's just say I disagree.

          1. re: zin1953

            Well, I might stretch that "weekend," but in general terms, have to agree. As most are decanted in the Hunt house, I am not likely to keep any VP around THAT long. Often, we'll have the "whole sick crew" back on Sunday, just to clean things up.

            Hunt

        2. Bulldog,

          The 0.375's are great for that diversity. Until one has focused in on particular houses, or vintages, you will have more fun, and less spoilage. Diversity is good, IMHO.

          Now, I collect VP's (until I became too old to anticipate being around, when they are "ready"), and have an area in my cellar just for them. However, that is different, and probably not the norm. I'd look around for well-stored, older VP's in 0.375's and enjoy those.

          As has been mentioned upthread, a 0.75 bottle is a tad much for a couple, unless they have a couple of friends.

          Good luck,

          Hunt

          11 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Bill - I've seen some 375s from 1994 in local stores and understand that was thought to be a good year. I'll probably buy something to hold but would also like something more "near term" (though not necessarily this weekend or anything) as well. Any thoughts on whether the 1994s are getting close, or do I need to look older than that ?

            1. re: bulldogx2

              Well, the '85s were touted as being the "vintage of the century," and while good, has not lived up to the press. Over the years, we've gone though most of our '85s and they were good, but even the later ones in 0.75 were not up to par with the 70's and the '77s from the same houses. Though touted, I would guess that you could pick up some of these very good Ports at a fair price. That could not have been said in the early '90s, as the jury was still out and the wine press was singing the praises of the '85s.

              I feel that all of my '90s are still young, and have really only tasted other folk's' Ports from those years.

              One thing to look for is a vintage that was only partially declared, as those are usually very good, and flew under the radar of say the '94's. Look to a house, whose style you appreciate, and try those. Also, do not dismiss the LBV (Late Bottle Vintage) Ports, as they are usually very good from favorite houses, though are a bit different with more wood time, and not aging in glass at the same level. Note: different houses do LBV's slightly differently so this is anything but a blanket statement.

              Good luck and enjoy,

              Hunt

              PS - I normally buy 0.75's for the cellar and the house, and the 0/375's for our trips, when it's just my wife and me.

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                FWIW, I've always preferred the 1983s to the '85s . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  Now, I have never had the '83. I have an addition to the "holy grail," just based on your comment - the '55 and the '83. Gotta' have something to shoot for I guess.

                  Thought that I had a handle on the '55 some years back in Mayfair, but it was maderized and not really a VP any more - disappointment, and I could not put a check in my database.

                  Hunt

                  BTW - my wife has greatly enjoyed almost all of the Taylor '85s, from "day one."

              2. re: bulldogx2

                I would second Bill's suggestion of looking at LBVs . . . take a look below, especially at items "1b1a" and "1b1b," and the differences between them:

                >>>>>

                There are many ways to categorize Porto . . .

                One version of an outline (hard to do when you can't use tabs) of Porto would look something like this. Keep in mind, by the way, that there are many different ways to do this outline; also, this applies only to real (i.e.: Portuguese) Porto.

                1. Ruby Porto (defined as red Porto wines bottled with less than seven years of wood aging).

                1a. No indication of age.
                1a1. True Ruby Porto, bottled very young.
                1a2. Vintage Character Porto (a fuller, "beefier" style of Ruby Porto).
                1a3. Crusted Porto (a non-vintage blend of between four-and-six years of age).

                1b. Ruby Ports with a Vintage date.
                1b1. Late Bottled Vintage Porto (by law, bottled between 4-6 years of vintage -- note, numbers here are rounded off).
                1b1a. Traditional, unfined, unfiltered (this will improve with further bottle aging).
                1b1b. "Regular" (fined and/or filtered; generally doesn't improve with bottle age).
                1b2. Vintage Porto.
                1b2a. True Vintage Porto (a producer's "main," showcase product -- by law, bottled two years after vintage [again, rounded] and capable of great improvement with added bottle age).
                1b2b. Single-quinta Vintage Porto (either from a small, estate, or from a large producer, but made from a single estate; again, bottled two years after vintage [again, rounded] and capable of great improvement with added bottle age).

                2. Tawny Porto -- red Porto wines bottled with 7+ years of wood aging.

                2a. No indication of age.
                2a1. Young Tawny (often a mix of Ruby and Tawny).
                2a2. True Tawny Porto.
                2a3. Tawny Reserva, a usually branded bottling of Tawny Porto that is "older" than the "true" Tawny Porto.

                2b. With a general indication of age.
                2b1. 10-Year Tawny Porto.
                2b2. 20-Year Tawny Porto.
                2b3. 30-Year Tawny Porto.
                2b4. 40-Year Tawny Porto.

                2c. With a specific indication of age.
                2c1. Colheita Porto.
                2c2. Garrafeira Porto.

                3. White Porto.

                3a. Bottled young.
                3a1. Dry.
                3a2. Sweet.

                3b. Bottled after 7+ years of wood aging.
                3b1. Dry.
                3b2. Sweet.

                <<<<<

                "Traditional" LBVs will improve with age, and they are substantially less expensive that "true" Vintage Porto.

                1. re: zin1953

                  Another good and useful list, especially for one experiencing Port for the first time. I have not dissected it 100%, but could find nothing that I would change.

                  Thanks,

                  Hunt

                2. re: bulldogx2

                  I like the 375ml bottles for drinking in a 'small group' - preferably 2, but will stretch to 4. There seem to be fewer occasions to open the full bottles.
                  But I'm not convinced the 375ml age significantly faster. I was drinking 66's and 85's until they ran out and never found an 'over-the-hill' bottle and my remaining 91,92 and 94 (375ml) are still holding well. In fact they're not 'ready' (by my standards).
                  And while LBV's are certainly palatable I don't think they compare in any realistic way with a good Vintage Port. In particular I tend to find them overly alcoholic on the nose and finish - although there are exceptions (of the widely available houses, the Graham seems consistent). But I'd advise laying down Vintage Ports from top houses from top years. And buying 'lesser' houses from medium years. So if you find, say, a Gould Campbell or Ramos Pinto from the 80's that will guide you as to whether you're likely to relish 'Vintage Port'. But for buying and laying down now - go for the well-regarded names.

                  IMO the 80's was a relatively weak decade overall. The 1980 specifically still seems to be in a dumb phase. 1982 and 1983 have started their downward slide (but are still close to their peak - 82 is further advanced) and 1985 is all over the place (some have fallen apart and some are still not ready). Another option would be a 'Single Quinta' from the 80's - these seem to have an excellent cost/enjoyment ratio (if you need more info on what a 'single quinta' is - just yell).

                  Jason's descriptive list above is somewhat historical - there have been several changes (e.g. Vintage Character is now 'illegal' and Crusted are a dying breed - mostly replaced by 'Branded Ports' which emphasize the producer's name). But you need to decide whether your taste is for 'young and fruity' (Ruby) 'nutty and/or oxidized' (Tawny) or 'assertive' (Vintage) - so try the different styles and then make a decision on what to buy (and lay down if Vintage).

                  1. re: estufarian

                    I would beg to differ . . .

                    Crusted Ports WERE a dying breed. Indeed, throughout my 35 years in the wine trade, they were UNAVAILABLE in the U.S. from any producer. But are actually making a comeback, if you count the total number of producers in the marketplace. Churchill's, Graham's and Dow's have introduced these wines to the market (both in the US and elsewhere), as have other houses . . .

                    As far as "Vintage Character" Porto is concerned, the term itself has always been frowned upon, but the style is alive and well -- Croft, Delaforce, Fonseca, Noval, Smith Woodhouse, Taylor, Warre's . . . the list goes on and on -- they ALL produce wines in the style.

                    Indeed, Taylor (aka Taylor Fladgate) uses these words to describe their First Estate Porto:

                    "Novice port drinkers can do no better than to begin here: First Estate is a soft and glorious mouthful. It is an outstanding vintage character blend, made at the very first property purchased by the company, Lugar das Lages, in 1744. Rich, fruity and elegant, it is aged for four years in cask and is ready for drinking immediately. As enjoyable before a meal as after."

                    Other Port Lodges use similar descriptions on their websites.

                    Cheers,
                    Jason

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Probably not worth a long discussion - I'm quite prepared to believe your comments on the US market. You certainly know it far better than I do.
                      The term 'Vintage Character' is now BANNED as a descriptor in Portugal (on the bottle - possible that descriptively it can still be used).
                      In Ontario (my base) there is not a single Crusted port listed any longer ,- used to be several but all have been replaced with 'Branded products'. I agree that the Dow's Crusted was an excellent product, but the shelf space is now taken up by, for example, the First Estate (which you mention) and Otima (from Warre) and their kindred. Not sure of the exact timing on these, but my impression is that these branded products arose at about the same time the Vintage Character was 'about to be banned', so they were essentially the replacement products. It's possible the major houses decided to concentrate on these brands and eliminated the crusted here to guarantee the shelf space.

                      1. re: estufarian

                        The term "Vintage Character" was rarely used *on the label* and, as I mentioned above, was a term always frowned upon. And yes, the term has been banned by decree -- again, *on the label* -- but is still in use everywhere in terms of marketing.

                        What you are describing as "Branded" products are (and in a sense, always have been) ***generally*** Vintage Character-style Ruby Portos. For example, Fonseca Bin 27 has long been a VC/Branded Porto. So, too, Noval LB Porto (as opposed to their LBV Porto).

                        Warre's is an interesting example, because their "branded"/VC Porto has always been -- and still is -- Warrior. They introduced Otima as -- if you'll permit me -- a "branded" Tawny, first as a 10-year, and then as a 20-year (and dropping their previous names of Nimrod and . . . whatever the other one was). Their website claims that

                        "Warre’s launch of Otima 10 & 20 Year Old Tawny caused a revolution in Port that introduced a completely new concept to consumers, helping to rejuvenate Port’s image in the main markets. Otima is now widely acknowledged as the most successful new development in the Port trade for over 25 years."

                        Not being a big fan of their marketing, I can't really offer an opinion on that. (Their marketing strikes me as similar to that used to promote Dry Sack Sherry in the early 1970s showing former NFL quarterback Frank Gifford drinking it on the rocks.) That, and the fact that they could hold the price by cutting the bottle size from 750ml to 500ml . . . .

                        Ah, well . . . progress! ;^)

                        1. re: zin1953

                          Thanks for the additional info (of which I was unaWarre - sorry!).

                          Back to the topic - nothing really compares to a Vintage Port so, personally, I would (and did) lay down from a good vintage (or buy an older one at a 'fair' price).