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RARE VINTAGE PORT TASTING 1927–1963, FEATURING QUINTA DO NOVAL NACIONAL

Cary Feibleman • 6/1/15        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share
(This article was written by Cary Feibleman, Dennis Foley, Edward Lazarus, Christine Graham and Ronald Brown)
port taste 005.don schliffEvent organizer Don Schliff applying Port tongs to bottle neck

Don Schliff, noted Port collector and one of the founders of Wine Warehouse, the famous wholesalers headquartered in Los Angeles, organized an historic Port tasting in February 2015, featuring the best vintage Ports of the great 1963 vintage, accompanied by four vintages of Quinta do Noval Nacional, 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1963, and finally ending with the stars of the event, the famed 1931 Quinta do Noval and the 1927 Dow. The wines for this spectacular and unforgettable tasting came directly from Don Schliff’s underground refrigerated cellar. Most of the wines were acquired from England over the last 40 years and the bottles have lain undisturbed since then. The provenance was perfect!

All 1963 vintage wines were Oporto bottled with the exception of Quinta do Noval and had original corks. The 1931 was English bottled by Fearon, Block, Bridges & Routh and shipped by Whitwham’s. All fill levels were base of neck or better and most bottles were in magnum format. All Ports were opened by Don with Port tongs just before the tasting.

The high alcohol, elevated sugar levels, convex neck and gradual deterioration of corks in vintage Port make their removal challenging when using a traditional cork screw. Long ago aficionados dispensed with cork removal and decided to open the bottle by breaking its neck below the level of the cork. However, unlike the showy French who snap off the tops of large Champagne bottles with sabers, the Portuguese came up with idea of applying circumferential, red hot iron to the bottle neck to heat it to several hundred degrees and then quickly applying a cloth soaked in ice water. The abrupt temperature change produces an encircling fissure in the glass that allows the neck to be easily snapped off.

port flameRed hot Port tong arms

The event was held at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles where 30 Port enthusiasts flew in from all over the world for the tasting.  Rare wine consultant Dennis Foley assisted Don Schliff in the event’s organization and presentation.  Guests of Honor were Christian Seely, Director of Quinta do Noval, famed Port and Sherry expert, Darrell Corti as Guest Commentator and renowned Port and Madeira authority, Roy Hersh.  Throughout the tasting Christian offered helpful insights into the Noval estate and special characteristics of the Nacional vineyard.

Darrell Corti commented on vintage Port throughout the 20th century as well as offered keen observations about individual wines.  He felt that there were distinct stylistic differences that separated the British-owned from the Portuguese-dominated estates, the former being firmer and more concentrated, the latter being more stylistic, racy and ebullient.  A further interesting comment he made was the ’63 vintage was the last vintage made in the old style, men tromping with bare feet to give the grapes their first crush as well as using traditional winemaking practices. The vintages that followed saw the introduction of “modern,” university developed, winemaking practices.

Roy Hersh, founder of the widely read, www.fortheloveofport.com, also offered his insightful comments on the stylistic differences of the individual wines, their respective vintages and on vintage Port in general.

Dress was formal attire in honor of Ardison Phillips, who along with Roy Brady and Andy Quady, set the standard for these Vintage Port Tasting Luncheons.

This extraordinary tasting was accompanied by an outstanding luncheon prepared by the Hotel Bel-Air’s new restaurant Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air.  Famed chef Wolfgang Puck’s renowned cuisine perfectly complemented the Ports.

port labelDow 1927
Table of Contents:
Vintage Port
Background
British Influence
Geography
The Wine
Vintages
Sourcing
The Formal Tasting
Luncheon
Champagnes Served During Luncheon
Port Tasting Notes
Additional Comments

Vintage Port

By Cary Feibleman

A vintage Port tasting invokes an image from the set of Downton Abbey — men in starched collars and tails and ladies in formal wear seated at a long table attended by servants with a roaring fire in the background.  Alas, at times it seems that vintage Port belongs to the era of Empire, for it is seldom the topic of wine discussion and its fate at the table is always to be served last, long after the great whites and reds have been tasted and discussed, the courses of food consumed, satiety has set in, and many have nodded off or slipped away to bed!  It is rarely opened before sunset and more often than not the celestial orb shedding light on its beautiful colors is the moon!

Woe be the fate of vintage Port, one of the world’s greatest creations made from the juice of grapes, but treated as a step child in wine circles, and only transiently given attention when an occasional “vintage of the century” comes along that stimulates interest in the marketplace. Wines are bought as futures and then disappear into the darkest corners of cellars, often ignored for decades.

How did we arrive at this?  Much can be attributed to its complicated history and the generally unexplored and unvisited region of production.  Port is a fortified beverage whose alcohol level is raised with the addition of local brandy. Its fermentation is stopped by this process leaving the wine with considerable residual sugar.  It is produced in either red or white varieties and some producers now make a trendy rosé colored aperitif style.  The alcohol level and sweetness usually pair best with savories, Stilton cheese and nuts, its traditional end of meal accompaniment.  Otherwise it is consumed alone.  Some adherents believe chocolate is a perfect match.

 Background

The wine is made from a variety of indigenous grapes as well as varieties brought from other parts of Europe by dukes and princes who married into the royal family or were granted territory or influence.  King Alfonso VI of Portugal married his daughter off to Count Henry of Burgundy who brought grapes from his region and planted them on lands given him by the Portuguese King. Alfonso and his successor fought the Moors and successfully defeated them to constitute what we now know as modern Portugal.  They were assisted by Crusaders on their way to the Holy Lands and trade agreements were subsequently established with foreign nationals, among whom the English would establish a dominating relationship.

History dwells on the British, Spanish and French Empires, but forgotten is the fact that in the 1500s the Portuguese were famous international explorers with Vasco de Gama, Magellan and others discovering and exploring far distant lands in Asia. Cabral made the most important international step for the monarchy by claiming Brazil in 1500.  The riches, exotic treats and treasure found across the oceans in tropical lands captivated the nobility and those that could afford them, but it takes treasure to maintain an empire as well as the commitment of the leadership to impose regional authority and maintain it with a navy and army.  Soon the country found itself near bankruptcy trying to impose rule and maintain foreign relationships and by the end of the 16th century Portugal found itself ruled by the Spanish king and its empire was largely lost.

British Influence

During this time, the British had a keen interest in Portuguese agriculture, particularly the nascent wine industry.  They soon discovered that wine produced from the wild and unsettled Douro River Valley was rich in flavor and produced an exceptional beverage. George Robertson points out that the British developed a superior method to cure fish, a major source of protein in the local diet. The product was so superior to that of the Portuguese that they became major buyers of British cured codfish, a staple of the diet that remains to this day.  The British merchants sold the Portuguese dried cod, bacalão, and the Portuguese sold them wine.  British traders and farmers set up businesses in the fertile river valleys, but a lengthy war forced most of them from the fertile Minho River lands to the port city of Oporto where they established residence and concentrated on growing the Port trade. Intrigues and wars went on for decades and finally Portugal achieved independence from Spain in 1668.

While Portugal was occupied fighting the Spanish, what remained of the thinly protected Empire was lost to the armadas of the British and Dutch forces.  Portuguese outposts in India and China were taken over.  Portuguese King John IV was forced to conclude treaties and agreements with Cromwell and his successors that ultimately left the British with highly favorable trade agreements and placed them in a dominating trade position.  The famous names we now associate with Port — Warre, Croft and Taylor, Fladgate, were already firmly established by the end of the 1600s.  But during this time and into the next century there was reassertion of local control over the Oporto Trade Association by the Portuguese Minister Pombal. This put the British owners in conflict, but ultimately under the control, of the native Portuguese.  The Spanish, seeking new opportunity, invaded the country, but were ultimately defeated by combined Portuguese and English forces in 1763, further cementing the strategic and merchant relationship between the two countries.

Continuing reassertions of Portuguese authority over the ensuing decades challenged British control of the industry, but in 1868 a far more devastating attack occurred on the industry when phylloxera beetles were found and quickly decimated the nation’s grape growing industry.  Plants were pulled up and re-planted, as in France, on imported American root stocks that were resistant to the pest.  Revolutions, wars, plague and earthquakes had major impacts on the trade during the ensuing decades, yet with its ups and downs the Port wine trade survived with the French, surprisingly, nudging out the British in the mid 20th century as the largest consumers of Port exports.

 Geography

Port grapes grow in thousands of vineyards along the wild and rustic Douro Valley.  A trip up this river in the 1980’s with its steep sloping hillsides and canyons, total lack of civilizations and only scant villages and small communities along the way, reminded this author of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  The Douro River’s tributaries start in the mountains separating Spain from Portugal and then flow westward toward Pinhão, the major community in the valley before ending in the commercial city of Oporto.  Oporto is to Lisbon what Milan is to Rome, both being major commercial centers .  The Quintas, the actual vineyard estates, are found throughout the valley and some rival or exceed the reputation of the companies making the wine.  Quintas like Nacional, Malvedos, Bomfim and Vargellas are sought out by collectors whenever they are declared.

 The Wine

Port was traditionally made in a pipe, a volume unit containing 138 gallons.  A well-heeled British father would “lay in,” or purchase to store, a pipe of Port for his son of his birth year, and unless he was an exceptionally prodigious drinker, those 57 cases of Port would last him through much of his life. Over a hundred varieties of grapes are thought to grow in the Douro and varying quantities of many contribute to the complexity of the wines.  Today the five major varietals favored are Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Frances, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional.

There are many styles of Port.  Some are sold to drink in their youth, some are aged in casks for decades, others aged in bottles.  Both white and red varieties are available, but in this tasting we focus on classic vintage date Port.

 Vintages

It is generally up to each Port producer to decide if that house’s Port is considered exceptional enough to declare the vintage. Over time three vintages have generally been declared each decade, but this is not simply a selection based on quality. Financial circumstances of a particular house, the size of the vintage or the stocks it holds in its cellars impact the decision on declaration.

The world economy and wars often influenced declarations in the past. The most famous decision concerned the classic 1927 and 1931 vintages.  1927 was a very great year and universally declared.  Shortly after the vintage was announced, the world went into Depression and then the equally good, if not better 1931 vintage occurred. Only three houses, Quinta do Noval, Burmester and Rebello Valente declared the wine. The estate wine and the Nacional bottling secured Quinta do Noval its place in history.  It continues today to be the most sought after Port in the world and the apex of greatness against which all other Ports are measured.

quinta do novalQuinta Do Noval Nacional 1963

The 1963 vintage was also a classic vintage, producing extremely age-worthy wines, showing  great concentration of ripe, rich, round fruit.  It had a textbook growing season in Northern Portugal:  a cold winter followed by a wet spring, then a warm summer, with harvesting under ideal conditions.  It was truly a benchmark vintage, good across the board.

Sourcing

In view of the recent fraud conviction of a notorious wine collector and the suspicion now being placed worldwide on collectible bottles — specifically rare Burgundy and Bordeaux, here is a curious feature unique to vintage Port collecting–What might be your response if a wine salesman were to hold up a bottle of purported 50-100 year old wine with a label produced by a typewriter?  To further add to your doubts, he might tell you that the wine was not bottled by its producer, but lay in the cellars of an English or Belgian importer for unknown years before the retailer decided to bottle it!  And by the way, “Please pay $300-10,000 for the privilege of drinking it!” Yet that is exactly the situation with vintage Port made through the 1960s.  Only a small percentage of the wine was actually bottled by the producers and large quantities were shipped overseas in barrels tended to by their importers.  Some of these importers did an excellent job, some not quite so good.  Was all the wine from a particular vintage bottled at the same time, or was some kept in barrels for years longer and only bottled when the retail shelves called for them?  Who knows?  It was a very private decision.

The Underground Wineletter has written many articles over the years about the inconsistencies noted in bottles of the same wine sold by different importers.  Among Port aficionados certain import houses are favored over others.

Provenance is key. In the 19th and early 20th century when this practice dominated wine importing, many of the English firms were in coastal towns like Bristol and the humidity and temperature were determined by the depth of the cellar, not air conditioning, so quality control was variable once the wine left Oporto.

 The Formal Tasting

When Don Schliff conceived of this event, he called on the chef with perhaps the most experience of any in America in matching great cuisine to equally great wines.  That chef is Wolfgang Puck.  For many living outside Los Angeles, Wolfgang Puck is a smiling face on grocery store canned soup, a guest chef critic judging cooking contests on the Food Network or sometimes seen selling kitchen appliances on shopping channels.  In the cooking world Wolfgang is the Golden Boy. The first celebrity chef who seemingly has done everything right and has been anointed by financial magazines as the “$25,000,000 man,” his presumed annual income from his cooking empire.

my pictures.wolfgang puckWolfgang Puck

To dismiss Puck for his commercial success would be to ignore that he is one of America’s best chefs, and the one whose impact on modern restaurants exceeds all others.  In addition to being a classically trained French chef awarded two Michelin stars for restaurant Spago, Wolfgang has designed meals for most of the great wine tastings held during the last thirty years by legendary collector and educator Bipin Desai, who was also in attendance at this event.

Bipin Desai’s passion has been to organize large formal tastings of the world’s greatest wines. These include First Growth Bordeaux, Chateau d’ Yquem, White Burgundies, Romaneé Conti, Spanish and Italian wines, to name just a few.  No chef has ever had the opportunity to not only taste the wines, but to design cuisine to match as many different collections of wine as Wolfgang and he has become a master at this.

Conceiving and executing a multi-course meal for a Port tasting is almost as difficult as doing one for Sauternes.  Both share the quality of extreme sweetness, but one is made from botrytised raisined white grapes, while the other is a sweet red wine whose alcohol level is supplemented with brandy to the 18-20% range.  So Port, in a addition to sweetness, has the heat of alcohol for the cook to contend with.

The classical accompaniment for Port is Stilton cheese and freshly cracked walnuts.  Some cultures like spiced savories with the wine.  Our editor, John Tilson, likes popcorn.  The common feature of all three groupings is salt and umami.

port cary archieCentral Coast Collector Archie McLaren
and Participant Cary Feibleman

 Luncheon

By Christine Graham

Our meal began with a variety of appetizers, a highlight was Shigoku Oyster Gratin, Yuzu-Kosho and chives, pictured in the photo below. This was the ultimate refinement of Oysters Rockefeller.  Other appetizers included: Lemon-Herb Blinis with Royal Osetra Caviar, Black Truffle Quail Egg “Toad in the Hole”, and Jerusalem Artichoke, Italian Pistachio Cone.

port dishShigoku Oyster Gratin, Yuzu-Kosho and Chives
port.foodCrispy Bosc Pear Torte

The remaining menu consisted of:

 Duck Foie Gras Torchon
Black Pepper Gelee, Red Wine Poached Quince, Brioche

Pan Roasted Mediterranean Turbot
Black Trumpet Mushroom Crust, Onion Soubise
Ginger-Port Reduction, Chinese Five Spice

French Black Truffle Risotto
Braised Veal Sweetbreads, Parmigiano Reggiano

Slow Roasted Venison Filet Mignon
Italian Chestnut Puree, Braised Red Cabbage
Sweet Potato “Shepherd’s Pie”

Crispy Bosc Pear Torte

Foie gras is a great accompaniment to Sauternes or Port and this classically composed torchon was the traditional cold tourine which is fabulously rich and marries well with the sweetness and background acidity of the port.

Pan roasted turbot was an unlikely dish to serve with Port, but the onion soubise with its sweetness, the Port sauce and the forest quality of the black trumpet mushrooms produced a most memorable pairing of wine and food of the evening.

The flight of great 63s was served with truffled risotto.  Between the Parmigiano and the truffles it was a lovely match.

The venison course was rich and heavy, altogether a good match for the very sturdy flight of Nacional Ports.

Finally, the two most anticipated wines, the ’27 and ’31, were served with a simple pear torte, which had no added sugar and was really a savory not a dessert.

The tasting notes for the Champagnes served during luncheon are an amalgamation of all the authors of this article.

 Champagnes In Large Format Served During Luncheon

By Dennis Foley

1988 Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill Jeroboam
The 1988 Champagne vintage produced firmly acidic wines with great aging potential and this wine was no exception.  Medium-deep gold color.  Excellent evolved nose with toasty notes.  Very rich and full in the mouth with very firm acidity.  A delicious Champagne but to me it is more of a dinner wine than an aperitif wine.  Outstanding

1999 Louis Roederer Cristal Jeroboam
The 1999 Champagne vintage produced medium-bodied wines that are filled with fresh fruit flavors.  The 99 Cristal is no exception.  It is bigger, more firmly acidic and fresh as a daisy, loaded with lemony fruit flavors.  Deep and satisfying on the palate.  A great wine.  Extraordinary

1999 Lanson Gold Label Magnum
Lanson, in my opinion, has steadily improved over the past 40 years and must now be judged by the same strict standards that are applied to Pol Roger and Roederer.  Having said that, my favorite Champagne was the Lanson Gold Label.  It was a glorious example of aged Champagne with superb integration of fruit and flavor of age.  Perfect for present drinking, lighter and easier to drink, it will last for another 10 years at this peak in large format bottles.  My rating here reflects immediate pleasure drinking the wine rather than its ultimate ranking in the pantheon of Champagnes.  Extraordinary

port taste 038.bottles (1)Port Bottles

Port Tasting Notes

Collective opinions of the Authors

Cockburn
Founded in 1815 in Oporto by Robert Cockburn, in 1854 two brothers joined the firm, which was renamed to Cockburn & Smithes.  In 1863 the Cobb family joined the company, with all three families playing key roles in the firm’s development.  There were various changes in ownership, Harveys in 1962, followed by Allied-Lyons, later Allied-Domecq.  In 2005 Pernod Ricard assumed control, selling the Port House to Beam Inc.  In 2006 the Symington family took over all vineyards and lodges and the brand name in 2010.
1963 Cockburn Vintage Port (tasted in magnum)
An attractive, medium red color, the wine has a subdued bouquet of coffee, licorice, spice and chocolate.  Medium-bodied, balanced and dry, it has a mature taste, subdued herbs, and some persisting tannins.  It is at a peak, still lively, with a nice, sweet finish and is delicious now, but best to drink over the near term.  Extraordinary

Croft
One of the oldest names in Port, it was established in 1678 in the heart of the Douro Valley.  Acquired by Gilbey’s in 1911, it was subsequently bought by IDV in 1952 and since 2001, has been owned and operated by the Fladgate Partnership (Yeatman’s, Fladgate, Fonseca).
1963 Croft Vintage Port (tasted in magnum)
One of the big boys, a wine of excellent weight and depth, it has a firm tannic structure.  Complete in the mouth.  It has a nose of cherry, ginger, toffee and chocolate.  Full-bodied, yet delicate, it has notes of blackberry and raspberry in the finish.  An outstanding, delicious wine, drinking beautifully with perhaps 10-15 years left.  Extraordinary

Dow
Dow was founded in 1798 by Port merchant Bruno da Silva, then joined  by Cosens of London, followed by James Dow in 1877.  By 1893 it was one of the largest Port wine shipping houses in Oporto.  The firm is now managed by the Symington family which first took a share in 1912.
1927 Dow Vintage Port (tasted in magnum)
The wine has lovely fruit, advanced in the glass by color, medium body with full fruity and lengthy finish.   It is big, rich and velvety, an outstanding wine, fully mature, best to drink over the next few years.  Extraordinary
1963 Dow Vintage Port (tasted in magnum)
Mature in color, slightly tawny on the rim and perhaps a trifle oxidized in the moderate cherry-like nose, is medium-bodied with full fruit, black cherry notes in the mouth.  Still a very nice drink, at a peak, showing a more mature wine taste and finish than fortified wine quality. Drink over the next five years.  Very Good

Douro Port Wine Shippers and Growers Association
This firm is no longer in existence but formerly belonged to Barros Almeida, a cooperative.  The wine was sold at Trader Joe’s 30 years ago for $6.00 a bottle.
1963 Douro Port Wine Shippers and Growers Association Vintage Port
An attractive, medium-bodied wine, nicely put together, with lots of good fruit left, elegant, with a nice finish.  It is remarkable that a wine made by a co-op could be in such good condition after all these years, so lively and fresh with delicate fruit and lovely light sweetness.  Fully mature, but should still drink well over the near term.  Very Good

Fonseca
In the 1700s the Brazilian Fonseca family was operating in Oporto but the present firm was not formally founded until 1822 when the Guimaraens family acquired control through purchase of the Fonseca holdings.  In 1862 it was named the House of Guimaraens.  In 1948, ownership of Fonseca Guimaraens was consolidated with Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman.  The firm is noted for its consistency of style through the years.
1963 Fonseca Vintage Port
Dark black-red color, it has a wonderfully complex nose of caramel, flowers and licorice.  The wine is full-bodied, complex, with a lovely balance, tight and still tannic, ending in a slightly medicinal, long finish.  Still youthful, it is a fabulous, outstanding wine, able to age indefinitely, possibly two decades or more.  Extraordinary
Dennis Foley:  I remember in 1967 when I was in college and working part time at Esquin Imports in San Francisco to earn money to buy wine, when one day the shipment of Avery’s bottled 1963 Ports arrived.  All the famous houses were represented, plus Avery’s Own Selection Vintage Port.  Even though I was a beginning wine taster, it was easy to discern that these were extraordinary wines, full of deep fruit and beautifully balanced.  When the vote was taken, it was nearly unanimous that the Fonseca was the wine of the vintage.  Jumping ahead nearly 50 years to the ’63 Port tasting described here, the Fonseca was again to me the number one vote getter.  Parenthetically, the employee price for all the 1963 Ports at Esquin Imports in 1967 was $28 per case! It is lush and full throughout the tasting cycle.  I can’t say enough about the integration of fruit, body, alcohol and flavor of age in this superb.  It will go on and on but will it get any better?  However, in a good cellar, it should last another 20 years at this peak in any case.

Graham’s
Founded in 1820 by a textile firm of W & J Graham, with its roots in Glasgow, Scotland, eventually its reputation grew as shippers of fine Port.  In 1862, the Symington family joined the firm and gained complete control in 1970.  Their property Quinta dos Malvedos is one of the most famous vineyards in the Douro.
1963 Graham’s Vintage Port
A big wine, mature in color, the nose offers cherry, chocolate and coffee, with cherry notes  continuing in the mouth.  It is very full and fruity, with great depth, complex, balanced and shows an excellent, long lasting aftertaste.  An outstanding wine, still vital, youthful and complete, it is close to peaking but could improve for another 10-15 years.  Extraordinary

Quinta do Noval
While founded in 1813 by A. J. da Silva, the first notes of the vineyard Quinta do Noval appeared in 1715. In 1862 the firm was sold to Rebello Valente, back to da Silva in 1894, then to the Van Zeller family in 1963. The name was changed from da Silva to the name of the famous vineyard Quinta do Noval in 1973. AXA Millesimes acquired the firm in 1993, with Christian Seely managing it since then. Nacional is the legendary, 2.5 ha vineyard around the house, that was fully replanted in 1925. Nacional is so special compared to the rest of Noval, (which is block planted by variety) because Nacional vines have never been grafted to American root-stock and remain on their own roots in that small field-blend parcel. Regarding bottling, the 1931 and the 1963 regular were bottled in England while the rest of the Quinta do Noval wines were bottled in Portugal.
1931 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port
A big wine, intense in the mouth, complex, much fresher than the ’27, redder in color, a delightful taste and finish, full, rich and velvety. Still youthful, should drink well for another few years. Outstanding
The consensus of most experienced tasters was that this wine had been “freshened” at some time during its provenance and thus was not prototypical of what this wine can be. Nevertheless, an outstanding wine.

quinta-do-noval-nacional

1963 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port
Dark in color, with a nose showing hints of spice, caramel, burned sugar, chocolate and coffee. It is medium-bodied, with candied cherries in the mouth, balanced, with good depth and weight, soft and rich. Perfect for current drinking but is still amazingly youthful and could drink beautifully for another three decades. Extraordinary
Dennis Foley: In comparing the regular 1963 Quinta do Noval Port to the 1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional Port, it was apparent that they were both great wines and really very similar in their flavor profile. But as I tasted through the other four vintages of the Nacional, I found a firmness and a subtle but recognizable note of strength that I can only describe as coal tar in the aroma and aftertaste of the Nacional wines that lifted them to a category of Port higher than the regular wine.
1958 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
Mature in color, slightly tawny, with a gold note, the lovely cherry-like nose is faintly medicinal, yet elegant. Medium-bodied, the wine is fruity, delicate, pure and complex, with hints of the firm coal tar character and has a nice finish. Still good but showing its age slightly, best to drink over the near term. Very Good
1960 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
The color is mature, a bit tawny on the rim, with a subdued, faintly medicinal bouquet. It has a medium body, is sweet, mature, with nice complexity, intense fruit and a treacle note in the aftertaste that shows its age. Fruit is fading a bit but still delicious and easy to drink now and over the next few years. Very Good
Ed Lazarus: The 1960 Nacional is outstanding.
1962 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
Dark in color, with a lighter rim, the subdued nose has faint notes of caramel, flowers, coffee and chocolate. Full-bodied, it is mature, sweet, balanced and complex, ending in a concentrated, long lingering finish. An exceptional, absolutely delicious wine, at a peak, but should hold well for another decade. Extraordinary
Dennis Foley: I have tasted this wine on numerous occasions over the past 30 years and have always found it to be a superstar example of Nacional Port. The ’62 had the best combination of strength and vitality of any of the five vintages of Nacional that we tasted. This wine is at its peak of drinking perfection with delightful sweetness in the finish. If you have any bottles of ’62 Nacional in your cellar, I recommend that you drink before this sweetness starts to fade.
1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
Very similar to the regular bottling, but with the extra kick of strength that made the wines from the Nacional vineyard so special. Still quite youthful. The color is lovely, dark, with a lighter rim. The bouquet is complex, hinting of coal tar, dark berry, fig, citrus and spice. It is rich, with sweet tannins, balanced, mature, complex and long. A fabulous Port, made for the long haul, it is still a baby, possibly a 100-year wine. Perfection

Rebello Valente
Founded in 1847 by Robertson Brothers, in 1881 it was bought by Rebello Valente and started shipping Port.  The firm was acquired in 1953 by Sandeman and then by Seagram in 1979.
1963 Rebello Valente Vintage Port
Mature in color, it has a floral nose, with notes of licorice, clove and spice.  Medium bodied, it has delicate fruit and sweetness.  The wine is mature, tight and now fading slightly.  Drink up.  Very Good

Sandeman
Established in 1790 in London by George Sandeman, the firm was family-owned until 1980 when it was acquired by Seagram.  Sogrape bought the firm in 2002.
1963 Sandeman Vintage Port
Deep red in color, the nose is complex, with notes of coffee, chocolate, tea, ginger and spice.  Medium-bodied, it is delicate and complete, with a good, lingering aftertaste.  Surprisingly firm, it is balanced and excellent for current consumption but should drink well for another 10-15 years.  Very Good

Smith Woodhouse
Founded in 1784 by Christopher Smith, in 1818 the Woodhouse Brothers joined the firm.  Graham’s acquired it in 1960 and subsequently in 1970, it was taken over by Symington.
1963 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port
Mature in color, the bouquet offers sweet cherry, burned sugar, coffee, toffee, and chocolate.  Delicately sweet with medium to light body and a youthful finish.  Flavors are similar to the nose, with an added faintly medicinal note.  It has good intensity and a rich, spicy, long finish.  The bottle was still holding, but the fruit was fading a bit, best to drink now or over the next couple of years.  Very Good

Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman
Established in 1692, the firm experienced many name changes from Bearsley in England to Taylor in 1816, then Taylor, Fladgate in 1837, followed by Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman in 1844.  This was the first British shipper to buy property in the Douro in 1744 in order to produce the wine themselves.  Their crown property is Quinta de Vargellas.  Taylor Ports are noted for their firm alcohol content.
1963 Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman Vintage Port
Mature in color, it has a nose of black cherry, coffee, tea, ginger, burned sugar and chocolate.  A powerful wine, with great intensity, it is very rich, a bit medicinal, finishing long with lovely plum and cherry notes.  Excellent weight with a nice hot sensation in the mouth.  Full-bodied, it is balanced and complex, seems to be at a peak or close to it but should hold and drink well for another 10 years.  Outstanding

Warre
Established in 1670, it is the oldest Port house, and has continued to be a major force since then.  It is the first and oldest British firm in Portugal and a pioneer  in the Port trade.  Originally known as Burgogne & Jackson, in 1729 the first member of the Warre family arrived in Oporto.  In 1905 the Symington family joined the firm which had been family controlled and run by the Warres for over three centuries.
1963 Warre Vintage Port
Mature in color, with a tawny tinge, the nose offers cherry, coffee, tea, toffee and ginger.  It is medium-bodied, structured, a bit tighter, British style, with excellent depth and plum and cherry notes in the finish.  Smooth and complete, balanced, sweet and long, this is a delicious example of Warre’s Port.  Still brilliant, not yet at a peak, should drink beautifully for another decade or so.  Outstanding

port glassesDow 1927, left — Quinta Do Noval 1931, right

 Additional Comments

According to Darrell Corti, Port is an English invention.  1963 was the last year of traditional Port.  Labor left the countryside after that vintage and winemaking styles and practices changes.  Whereas older vintages had many grapes adding to the wine’s complexity, the new corporate owners began to narrow the focus to just a few select varieties.  British and Portuguese owned house have different styles, sweetness and fruit composition in the blend.

According to Christian Seely, the 1963 Ports were generally showing very well at this tasting, the stars of the show for him being Fonseca, Taylor and Dow, which was his number one wine.  He felt the 1963 Quinta do Noval was lovely but that the three just mentioned had more concentration and power.  He thought the 1963 Nacional was astonishingly youthful and powerful, that all the Nacionals were beautiful, with the 1960 being particularly lovely, fine, delicate and aromatic.  Regarding the earlier vintages, the 1927 Dow was great and the 1931 Quinta do Noval was astonishingly youthful, with two decades left.

This Vintage Port tasting was a superb event, truly unforgettable, proof that Vintage Port is one of the greatest wines produced in the world. The organization, food and wine service, and quality of cuisine were all faultless.

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  1. Great and insightful article about an obviously fabulous event. I am happy to know that the assorted several bottles of ’63 vintage I tucked away in my cellar are still showing so well. Makes me cry when I sometimes see the retail price tags still affixed to the bottles with $4.99 – $5.99 on them. Congratulations on a tasting done so well and with proper flair!

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    Posted by Richard Heilman | June 2, 2015, 6:53 am
  2. Congratulations to Don Schliff and the organizers of this tasting. I agree with the conclusion of the attendees that Port wine is one of the greatest of the wines of the world, and I also fear that if not integrated into more wine lovers’ lives, Port producers (as well as Madeira and Sherry producers) are in danger of becoming even more marginalized by younger generations. In a world of immediacy and homogenization, the virtues of these timeless wines need to be shouted from the rooftops–can modern Napa Valley or Priorat or even Bordeaux develop into such greatness over 80 years, if at all?

    Finally, cheers to those in attendance who continue to champion these wines. Even though my relationship with Porto has been tangential, and the company some of my most respected veterans in wine would have been a bit intimidating, I regret not being there to experience and appreciate such momentous wines.

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    Posted by Randy Kemner | June 2, 2015, 10:04 am
  3. I have a huge collection of ports and drink a little vintage port every evening with a little chees–then I use argon to save the bottle for the next days(currently drinking 66 Graham)..How can I be notified of other significant port events–I

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    Posted by John J. Mehalchin | June 2, 2015, 12:59 pm
  4. Thanks for all the great tasting notes. With this and all the insightful information I get from Roy Hersh’s excellent FTLOP site { that you mentioned} I will be able to enjoy my old ports even more.

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    Posted by don baumhefner | June 2, 2015, 10:23 pm
  5. We were having Lunch at Les Crayers today, and the sommelier tried unsuccessfully to use the hot tongs as you discussed in your article. I’ve sent him your article for his interest.

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    Posted by joel levine | June 25, 2015, 11:08 am
  6. Port tongs are really easy to use. I have never had a failure; however, I have seen serious wine stewards and sommeliers fail at the task. The tongs must be red hot and applied to the bottle neck below the cork long enough to make it very hot, 10-15 seconds usually does it, then an ice water chilled rag should be quickly wrapped around the neck. The abrupt temperature change always produces a fissure in the glass and the neck easily snaps off. It’s simple physics.

    However, should the above not work, there is always the saber………an alternative is the two part, never fail, two part screw-pull plus corkscrew sold by The Rare Wine Company.

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    Posted by cary feibleman | June 25, 2015, 12:09 pm

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