Vintage Port's Highest-Rated Wines Come From Fonseca, Graham, Quinta do Noval and Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman Vinnos SA
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95
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It is this inherent style that makes Taylor vintage Ports so popular, according to Alistair Robertson, the chairman of Taylor as well as its sister Port house Fonseca. The tall, slender Briton remains surprisingly reserved about his wines. He doesn't know why Taylor vintage Ports are so famous, he says, but he is sure that his wines have always given people the maximum drinking pleasure regardless of the vintage. "If the decanter is finished at the end of the meal, then it couldn't have been all bad," he says, usually after a few glasses of his Port.
The main reason for Taylor's refined style is that most of the wine used for its vintage Ports comes from a property high in the northern part of the Douro Valley, Quinta de Vargellas. It has been the backbone of Taylor Ports since the nineteenth century and produces some of the most perfumed, finely boned wines in the region. Although Vargellas has a large modern winery, the best grapes are still trodden in stone lagars to extract as much character as possible during the short fermentation period. In fact, it is a long-established tradition at Taylor for inebriated dinner guests to change into their swimsuits and join in the treading after the decanter has made its rounds. Annual production averages about 8,000 to 16,000 cases in a given vintage.
If you take all of the vintages Taylor produced this century, you would be hard pressed to find a poor one in the group. The 1927 is the classic among Port aficionados. It made the reputation of the house decades ago and continues to be an outstanding bottle of port. However, the greatest bottle of Taylor remains the 1948. It epitomizes what a great vintage of Taylor is all about with its plethora of ripe, exotic, fruit aromas and flavors and surprising youthfulness. The superb 1963 Taylor is easier to find and it's just a tiny notch below the '48's quality. It is also about $150 a bottle, compared with the '48's $400. An even better bargain is the Taylor '70, which sells for about $75. Although still slightly young for some Port lovers, it shows fabulous amounts of fruit and silky tannins.
If you are interested in laying something away in your cellar in hopes of having a terrific, mature vintage Port in a decade or two, look for the 1977 or 1992. Both are classics. The '77 is becoming more difficult to find on the market, but the '92 is still not released, although it can be purchased on a prearrival basis for about $35 a bottle. The Port should arrive on the market next year.
The '92 vintage marks Taylor's 300th anniversary and its outstanding quality is a tribute to a long line of superlative vintage Ports by this well-known house. Taylor vintages have been satisfying Port lovers for centuries.
The vintage Ports of W. & J. Graham have long been the choice of the cognoscenti. Taylor and Fonseca may have greater reputations and Quinta do Noval a much heftier price, but fans of Graham continue to buy its vintage Ports year in and year out.
Part of this fidelity to Graham is due to its style. It is neither big and powerful nor racy and agile. Instead it reaches a happy balance between its sweet, ripe, fruit concentration and ironlike tannins, which enables graceful aging. They usually need at least 10 to 15 years of bottle age to shed some youthful, rough edges. For instance, although you could easily enjoy drinking a glass of the decadently sweet and rich 1977 or 1983 Graham, both are still slightly severe. Wait until the millennium to open a bottle of either.
Graham is part of an impressive stable of top names in Port including Dow, Warre, Smith-Woodhouse, Gould Campbell and Quarles Harris as well as the highly fashionable single-estate Port, Quinta do Vesuvio. The ubiquitous Symington family owns all of them. With eight members of the family working for the 1.1 million case-a-year company, the Port trade often jokes that there is seldom a moment when one family member isn't in some part of the world selling a Symington wine.
Until 1970 when the Symingtons bought it, W. & J. Graham remained under the control of the Graham family. The Grahams were established traders in textiles who started a profitable business with Portugal in 1808. The family's destiny as a Port shipper began on a whim. In 1820, the Grahams accepted a few dozen casks of Port in exchange for an outstanding debt from a Portuguese client; they have since continued trading in it.
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