Of the leftovers from Thanksgiving, one wine remains. The last wine, the port. On yet another cold rainy Portland night, it seems fitting to finish it off at last. And reflect on wine of such quality and a small personal story.
I remember finding a little cache of 1995 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port several years ago for a remarkably low price (a common story it seems in my cellar). I asked the manager about the price and he said that's what the distributor sent, and maybe it wasn't the right wine (should have been the Late Bottled Vintage, I'm sure), but that's the price, go for it. So I bought six.
Douro Port houses declare "vintage" ports every few years, when the quality is exceptional so that excellent young wines are bottled after two years, sold at a premium and intended to age for decades in the glass. These are the wines collectors prize most. The '77s and '70s, '63s and '45s, among other classic years. Most years produce more basic ruby wines that are bottled early for their grapiness and tawny wines aged longer in cask to develop more nutty qualities. You'll see these commonly for low prices in grocery stores and wine shops, and they provide nice port drinking (and cooking) quality without the depth or price of the more serious wines.
However, there are some particularly good years that may be declared vintages by many houses that for one reason or another aren't declared by others. Typically that happens in years such as 1994 and 1995. '94 was exceptional, and many houses quickly declared the vintage to produce their top wine. However, '95 was also excellent and, had they not declared '94, perhaps '95 would have been the "vintage" year of for a given house. For many, it was declared. For others like Taylor's, you see what I'll call a junior vintage Port, the single quinta (or vineyard) bottling.
We won't fall into the trap and call this wine as good as regular vintage quality. Sometimes wine marketers will make such claims, about single quinta Ports or, for example, Cotes du Rhone from a vineyard "just outside" one fancy appellation or another. This isn't vintage port, plain and simple. But it's darn close and considering the track record of Quinta de Vargellas wines going back to the '50s and earlier, clearly there's longevity and real potential here for development in the cellar.
So how's the wine? Well, young as I would expect, even at 15 years of age. Deep ruby color, with a classic peppery, spirity, mixed berry, fresh tobacco and raisin aroma. The flavor is moderately sweet with excellent richness and fresh acidity, softening tannin and peppery, tobacco flavors to add savory qualities to the plum and berry fruit. The finish is long, slightly warm and simply gorgeous, even after the bottle has been open for nearly a week. There are many dessert wines in the world, but vintage port is one of the most classic and delicious. This wine shows why. Love it.
And a story. I found this wine is early 2002 and brought a bottle to a tasting event where my friend, Roy Hersh of For the Love of Port out of Seattle, brought a bottle of 1935 Sandeman Vintage Port. My young single quinta wine paled in comparison to Roy's special bottle commemorating the coronation of King George VI. But Roy is so gracious. We had a nice conversation about Vargellas, its history producing terrific ageworthy wine. My '95 showed well but young, and time is still a friend here. I'm happy to have more. If you're wondering, that '35 Sandeman was pale ruby and spectacular, everything you could want in old Port. I can still taste it.
The night was particularly memorable. I'd found out that morning that my wife was newly pregnant with our now 8-year-old son Martin, something I couldn't share with anyone because of the fragile uncertainty of things. We were leaving for Australia in the morning to visit family, obviously it had been a big day, and now here were wines by which a guy like me will remember everything. That legend from 1935 and one of several bottles from 1995 that I would open over many years, commemorating that time of life. This Thanksgiving marked the first time since then I'd checked in on the '95 Taylor. I'm happy to have the opportunity to check in again and again.