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Jul 14, 2013 06:20 PM

Advice on vintage port for newbie: Quarles Harris 1994

Am new to appreciation of port - was at Trader Joe's the other day and picked up "Quarles Harris 1994 Vintage Porto, bottled 1996" for $40.

Am planning to open it - questions - how long will it keep after I open it? Should I refrigerate it? It will mostly be me and my wife, and we drink fairly infrequently - so we want to enjoy it over several months if possible.

Also looking to get better educated on ports generally if anyone has any website/book suggestions for beginner.

Thanks in advance,

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  1. BY TRADITION (which, you must keep in mind, is not always the same as reality), the bottle of Vintage Porto was decanted Friday afternoon prior to the house guests arriving at the country manor house for the weekend. It was served Friday evening following dinner, and perhaps Saturday as well -- in any event, finished before the guests left on Sunday to return to London.

    Stand the wine up for a few days prior to opening to allow any sediment to settle. Then, you have two options:

    a) Decant carefully into a decanter which has a stopper, using either a candle or a cheesecloth (NEVER a paper coffee filter!), and keep in a cool, dark place -- away from light -- until finished; or.

    b) Decant carefully into a carafe using either a candle or a cheesecloth, and while the wine is in the carafe, throughly and completely rinse all the sediment out of the original wine bottle and let dry. Then, re-pour the contents of the carafe carefully into the now-clean (and dry) wine bottle. Re-seal the bottle with a cork or other stopper. Store in a cool, dark place until finished.

    Using either one of these methods will prevent sediment from muddling up the wine, and keep it clear and brilliant to the eye. The wine WILL change over time, and I would attempt to consume it within the week, two at the most.

    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      Thanks much ... we are having guests this weekend, so we will see if we can finish it off over one weekend. :-)

    2. While Quarles Harris is not one of the upper-tier Port producers, they do a good job. 1994 was an excellent vintage, declared by many Port Houses, so should be very good.

      I agree with Jason's suggestions, and for a 1994, do not hesitate to allow a bit more time. That Port should hold up in a stoppered decanter, for maybe a week.

      Most of all, enjoy!


      3 Replies
      1. re: Bill Hunt

        Thanks much. I have a crystal stoppered decanter, recently acquired, but would a resealer (one of those that rubber stoppers with an air suction pump) be better for air tightness and thus longevity?

        Any suggestion for upper tier ports in the $50-$100 range, or websites that people here particularly like?


        1. re: matal

          Regardless of how you "seal" the bottle of 1994 Quarels Harris, the wine is nearly 20 years old and, while Vintage Porto can age quietly in the bottle for decades, once opened it needs to be consumed . . . As I said above, I'd try to drink it over a week, two at the very most (and you will notice a decline over that time).

          Porto is a very complicated subject, and one that is largely misunderstood . . . from one viewpoint in particular: despite its "reputation," great (high-quality) Porto does not last long once it has been opened.

          Now, wines like Gallo Port from California or Taylor's New York State Port -- not to be confused with the fabled producer from Portugal, known as "Taylor's" the world over *except* in the US, where it's known as Taylor, Fladgate -- DO have a long shelf-life, but these wines bear little resemblance to true Porto. The true Ports that will last once opened are the simple nv Ruby and Tawny styles, as well as the Vintage Character style -- or rather, perhaps it's best described as "having the best chance of lasting once opened." But the older the Porto, the more quickly it needs to be consumed once opened, and that's true of an old Tawny Porto, a Colheita, or a Vintage Porto.

          / / / / /

          OK, let's start with Port, or more properly, Porto -- which is only produced within a demarcated region of the Douro Valley of Portugal.

          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.

          * * * * *

          True Tawny Porto comes in three categories:

          a) with no age statement at all, and relatively inexpensive (some are actually blends of Ruby and White; but a true Tawny Porto must spend at least seven years in wood prior to bottling);

          b) those with a rough indication of age (10-Year, 20-Year, 30-Year, and 40-Year);

          c) Tawny Porto from a single harvest, i.e.: Colheita Porto.

          To MY taste, I tend to enjoy 10's and 20's (older than that and, to my taste, they are often too woody and lose too much fruit), but Colheitas are sublime. But they can be quite expensive. I would first explore other 10- and 20-Year Tawnies and discover the other flavors and characters found in the offerings from other producers. I'd look for producers like Barros, Neipoort, and Noval (to name but three). Taylor is quite good, but I confess I prefer these three.

          For inexpensive Tawnies, I actually prefer the Tawnies from Australia -- wines such as Hardy's "Whiskers' Blake" or Yalumba's "Clocktower" -- to the "true" low-end Tawny Porto . . . except for cooking. Then I use true Porto.

          Colheitas are from a single year's harvest, but are NOT Vintage Porto -- even though no wine from another year was blended into it. These age for at least 7 years in wood, and will carry *both* the calendar year of harvest and the calendar year of bottling on the bottle. Thus you could have (for example) a 1981 Colheita bottled in 1988 -- but you could also have a 1981 Colheita bottled in 1994 or in 2007 . . . .

          / / / / /

          Porto can, as you can see from the above, be either white or red. Certainly the red accounts for most of the wine produced, but in fact over 40 different grape varieties -- both red and white -- go into making Porto.

          Hope this helps somewhat . . .

          1. re: zin1953

            Thank you much - very valuable education.

            Opened the vintage port last weekend, put it in a stoppered decanter and tried again this weekend - the taste did change a bit - a bit milder, less "fresh", still very drinkable.

            Got a Warre's Otima 10, a 10-year old tawny that was highly recommended by my store - looking forward to trying that next.

            Thanks again,