A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life

A BOTTLE OF PERFECT WINE

John Tilson • 4/21/13        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

SCION PORT

People often ask “what is the best wine you have ever had?” Honestly, I really don’t know. Over the course of some 40 years of drinking wine I have had the great experience of drinking literally tens of thousands of wines. Many of these were great, and I would say that there were perhaps a few dozen that were perfect. But what is perfect for me may not be perfect for everyone else. You see, for wine, it is best to paraphrase an old saying – perfection is in the taste of the wine drinker.  And, since people do not have the same sense of taste, it follows that not everyone will agree on the best wines.

In the last generation or so, there has appeared on the wine scene a flock of largely American “wine critics” using the 100 point scale for defining perfection. This has resulted in an “epidemic” of  “perfect” wines that appear almost as profusely as daffodils in spring. Most often the “perfect” wines are very young and, in some instances, are declared “perfect” before they are bottled or shortly after they are bottled. To me, this is akin to declaring the future of a new born child. For great wine, like people, needs time to age and develop over time. So leave me out of the “perfect” wine of the day sweepstakes. For my money, it is nothing more than marketing hype.

Some 20 years ago the Underground published an article that featured the greatest wines ever tasted by our distinguished and experienced contributing editors. Each person put together their own list. But there was no attempt to try to rank the wines. It was simply a list of all time favorite wines. There were no young wines on any of the lists, so everyone was in agreement that the best wines need age to be truly great. And, while there were many wines that appeared on most of the lists, all of the lists were different. For, as I mentioned earlier, perfection is not the same for everyone and, over time, even perfect wine will begin to decline. After all, nothing lives forever. Add to this the matter of bottle variation, and you have the basis for the truest statement that can be made about wine: “There are no perfect wines, only perfect bottles.”

Now having said that, please allow me to offer a recent tasting experience with a bottle of wine that I think was perfect.

 The History of a Perfect Wine

This is the history of a truly remarkable and perfect wine as taken from Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman’s booklet “The Story of Scion The Discovery of a Very Old And Rare Port From The Age Before Phylloxera”. This booklet is contained in the presentation case which held each bottle of Scion that was sold. 

 scion port box 2

“This is the story of Scion. (Note: Scion is defined as the descendent or heir of a noble family or the shoot of a plant, especially one used for grafting). A Port so old, rare and remarkable in its ability to withstand the passage of time, that its discovery represents a landmark in the history of wine. One of the last survivors of its age to reach us in perfect condition, Scion is a monument to a lost era, the period before Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Europe changing them forever. A wine like Scion will never be made again.

Scion was born a century and a half ago in the heart of the original Port vineyard area, the world’s first wine region to be legally demarcated. Defined by law in 1756, its boundaries were marked by 335 stone pillars, the marcos Pombalinos. The first Classification of the Port vineyards followed shortly afterwards. Scion was produced almost a century later just as a similar process was under way in Bordeaux, the famous classification of 1855.

For over fifteen decades Scion was the valued possession of an eminent Douro Valley family, a treasured heirloom handed down from one generation to the next. Except for one pipe (Note: A pipe is the name for a port barrel or cask. It equals 550 litres of wine or 61 cases of 12 x 750ml bottles) said to have been acquired by Sir Winston Churchill, it was kept as a private reserve for the enjoyment of the family and its guests. In the mid-19th century the family, whose ranks included notable diplomats and explorers, owned eleven Port vineyards in the original demarcation. History does not relate on which estate Scion was made, but the wine is known to have aged in oak casks at Prezegueda on the slopes of the Corgo Valley.

Taylor’s, the distinguished Port firm, first became aware of the wine in 2008. Such family reserves of ancient Port have always been rare and closely guarded. Ports of the age of Scion are virtually unknown. The discovery was therefore of great interest.

In 2009, the last direct family descendent died, leaving no children. Her heirs, not all family members, decided to dispose of the wine. A tasting at Taylor‘s offices in Oporto revealed a remarkable fact. Far from showing fatigue or damage after a century and a half of storage in the hot climate of the Douro, the wine was in perfect condition. Indeed, not only was it perfect, it was sublime. Fifteen decades of ageing in oak casks had concentrated the wine to an essence of magical complexity, with a crispness and vibrancy extraordinary in a wine of its age. The directors of Taylor‘s realised that what lay before them was a wine of historic significance. A pre-Phylloxera Port in flawless condition, the pure expression of a lost era.

On 13th January, 2010, the wine was acquired by Taylor‘s and moved in two casks to the firm’s lodges in Oporto….”

 scion port barrel

“…In wine, as in other fields of human endeavour, it is an advantage to recognise success in others as well as to achieve it oneself. Scion was neither produced nor aged by Taylor‘s. Those who harvested the grapes and made the wine are long forgotten. Although it did not make the wine, Taylor‘s is proud to have recognised its remarkable qualities and historical significance and to have been entrusted with its care.

The discovery of Scion is unique in the three centuries of Taylor‘s history. Such a wine may never be found again.”

 Scion Tasting Note

I was privileged to taste Scion by virtue of the generosity of Daniel Senn, a friend who lives in Switzerland and arranged for our tastings and meals on our recent visit to Switzerland. (Articles on that visit that include notes on some other remarkable wines will follow shortly. And already published are an article on Completer wine – click here and a article on the great Domaine Donatsch – click here ).   I had never heard of Scion until my old friend and Underground contributing editor, Wolfgang Grunewald, mentioned it to me during our visit.  Scion was first offered for sale in early 2011 at a price around $3200. And it can still be found in the market place today for prices above and below this price.

scion port box

1855 Taylor Fladgate Scion Tawny Port.
Light amber orange in color with a golden hue and a golden edge, this wine has an incredible perfume that almost defies description.  Caramel, molasses, and chocolate are intertwined with hints of exotic spice, cedar, and compote of fig. The concentration of flavors is amazing. Exotic spice, caramel, molasses, and chocolate are married seamlessly with a slight fig and citrus tinge. And, the wine coats the palate with great intensity and flavor, yet is light and finesseful. Everything is in perfect harmony with the sweetness perfectly balanced by a bright crispness. And, the finish is extremely long with a kaleidoscope of flavors. This is a completely unique and remarkable wine that even at this very old age shows absolutely no sign of fading. It will probably last for decades into the future and its life cycle no doubt will eventually cover two centuries!  What an ethereal wine!  Once tasted, it will never be forgotten – Perfection.    5-yellow-stars

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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8 comments for “A BOTTLE OF PERFECT WINE”

  1. Having had the good fortune to taste the 1931 Nacional twice, I can vouch for the incredible flavor and olfactory palate enjoyed in great vintages of old Port. Scion must certainly be in that category.

    I was very interested in the color of the wine as it appears in the picture. I once attended a vertical tasting at Graham where wines used for blending into tawny ports and other special blends were set-up in front of us to taste. The oldest was over 100-120 years old. The owners pointed out that as port aged it lost color, up to a point, but at about age 80 the color started to be released from the barrel wood back into the wine. One could easily see a gradual lightening of the wine and then a subtle darkening return in the oldest wines. It is quite an interesting phenomenon.

    Posted by cary | April 22, 2013, 6:21 am
  2. I had the pleasure of tasting this port a little over a year ago at a wine dinner put on by a auction house based out of Chicago. One of the attendees generously brought a bottle to the small gathering. Nobody at the table was familiar with this and it exceeded everyone’s expectations. It would be impossible for me to put into words my experience with this port. At the time I felt truely blessed to be tasting this and describing it to others later I would only say ” It was the best and most incredible thing I have ever tasted”. The complexity was boundless I encourage anyone who enjoys port to make a effort to purchase or taste this it changed how I thought about port and wine in general.

    Posted by Mr. Steve | April 22, 2013, 11:52 am
  3. Thank you. The idea, the thought that this is possible, is very comforting and provides a “back wind” to go on and do the best one can…

    Posted by Ze'ev Dunie | April 22, 2013, 2:51 pm
  4. Thanks Cary,
    As for vintage ports,The 1931 Nacional was remarkable back in the day when we were drinking it. I have not had it in many, many years, but I do remember that there was some bottle variation which is to be expected. But, the best bottles were perfect.The 1931 Quinta was also great. In more recent years, Vintage Ports from 45, 48, and 55 continue to be great as they have been for the last 30 or so years. The 1963s are also still great and the 1970s are delicious now as are the 83s and the 85s. In these days of over extracted sweet “table wines” it is interesting that vintage port and port in general seems to have fallen out of favor. I have heard that some people are drinking the big fruit bomb red wines with cigars!
    Yes the color of old wines in general is very interesting. But, aside from wines that are brown, I have found that color means very little in an old wine. Some of the most remarkable old wines I have ever had were very light in color. That’s another reason why the people who were making and selling fake wines should have been easy to ferret out. They made their fake wines with a lot of color and the buyers would be impressed. Neither the makers of fake wines nor the buyers had a clue!
    As for Scion it is totally unique and totally remarkable. I hope you have an opportunity to taste it one day!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | April 23, 2013, 10:45 am
  5. Hello Mr. Steve,
    Thanks for your comments. They correspond with those of everyone I know who has tasted Scion. It is truly one of the most remarkable wines anyone could ever imagine. And while it is a Tawny Port and very, very old, great old Vintage Ports from 1945, 1948, and 1955 are also great wines today and have been for over 30 years. Ports, in general, are some of the greatest wines in the world and are best enjoyed at an old age.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | April 23, 2013, 10:50 am
  6. Thanks Ze’ev Dunie for your comments. Aspiring for the best is a noble pursuit. And, when you find it, it is very satisfying. I hope you have the opportunity to taste Scion one day.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | April 23, 2013, 10:52 am
  7. Thanks for sharing informative post of wines…

    Posted by Kevin Dinol | February 26, 2014, 9:35 pm
  8. Thanks Kevin. Please pass the Underground on to your friends!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | February 27, 2014, 11:45 am

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