Port maturity question

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TLW
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Port maturity question

Post by TLW » 00:35 Fri 24 Oct 2014

Although we tend to follow the guideline that vintage port should be at least 21 years of age, I can only think of two vintages that I thought might be "past it", the 1950 (only had Cockburn) and the 1958 (Warre and Sandeman)- and there seems to be a recent assessment among the members here that even the 1958 may still be very pleasant. Although I have some of the 1994 at home to drink now, it seems still too young.

Although there are questions around the overall quality of vintages (1977 for example), I was wondering about members' opinions as to when a great - or even good - port will ultimately reach its drinking plateau, and when it will start its slide down.

The 1960-1970 vintages all seem to be drinking very nicely (I haven't had enough of the 1955 lately to have an informed opinion). The 1980-85 ports seem to be a tier down from the 1960-1970 decade, but are nonetheless drinkable. The 1991-1997 still seem too young, and I fear that anything 2000 or later will not reach its best in my lifetime - although many will go before their time.

There are certainly questions as to shipper, year, provenance, preference, handling, etc., but it would be interesting to hear members' opinions and experiences as to ports that are "past it".

LGTrotter
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Re: Port maturity question

Post by LGTrotter » 23:13 Fri 24 Oct 2014

I think it a matter of taste to some extent. I seem to like the seventies at the moment, but that has as much to do with what I have available to drink as what I might prefer. I have read that every wine over fifty has something to regret, just like any man.

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AHB
Fonseca 1963
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Re: Port maturity question

Post by AHB » 19:20 Sun 02 Nov 2014

It's a really tough question to answer because there are so many variables to Vintage Port. In my experience the four which have most effect on the way I perceive a port compared to the way others do are:
(1) My personal preference - I tend to like ports which have become elegant and mature
(2) The age of the Port
(3) The way it has been stored
(4) The style in which it was made

Maybe the best way to answer your question is to think about just one producer - let's say Graham's and in lesser years the Malvedos port. I've had Graham back to the 1912 vintage and Malvedos back to 1957. I've not drunk a Graham that I've considered to be too old to be enjoyable and delicious, perhaps with the exception of the one bottle of 1912 that I've tried - that was a bit tired. The next oldest was the 1927 and that was really delicious. I mean really, really delicious. If I could afford to, I'd have a cellar full of Graham 1927 (and probably lots of friends visiting every day).

On the other hand I have had Malvedos which I consider to have been tired and I would consider to have been past its best. 1957 and 1958 were very tasty but 1962 was tired and light. But I've only had the 1962 once so it could have been a badly stored bottle that caused it to be this way - who knows. I've come to the conclusion that to be reliably old and tired, port needs to be more than 120 years old. The 1912 vintage is terrific still today but vintage port from the 1890s and 1880s tends to be past it (although there are exceptions from good storage) - but that doesn't stop me from drinking them for the excitement of sharing something that historic. My general rule only applies to major declared vintages and there are some exceptions where hindsight has shown that perhaps the quality of the grapes did not justify a general declaration (with 1950 and 1975 being the years I have in mind when writing this).

If I look at my own experience, the majority of port I drink from my own cellar is from vintages between 1991 (which I find is drinking quite nicely at the moment) through to 1963, although some of the '63s are starting to fade. If I could afford to, I'd drink more 1955, 1945, 1935, 1927, 1912 and 1908 but realism has to kick in at some point. I do like to open the occasional bottle of something younger and have opened a bottle of Vesuvio 1994 every year since 2005 to track how its taste changes over time.
Top Ports in 2019 (so far): Cockburn 1947 and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
2018 Ports of the year: São Leonardo 1927 White Port (Bottled 2018), Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994

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jdaw1
Cockburn 1900
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Re: Port maturity question

Post by jdaw1 » 20:01 Sun 02 Nov 2014

An excellent reply from Alex.
AHB wrote:personal preference - I tend to like ports which have become elegant and mature
As Alex says, he likes elegant and gentle. My taste in Port is for a fuller bigger flavour. So for me, generalising, 1970+ (except ’75) is not too old. 1963 is tiring, 1966 and 1960 and 1955 might be tiring in five years but for now are holding on to their late middle age. But most pre-1955 Vintage Port is significantly past its peak. Of course, because Port has such a high peak it might be lovely juice even though below the former peak, but ’45/’35/’34/’27 and older are unreliable, in that a chunky fraction of bottles (half? more than half?) are too old.

I think I’ve had seven 1912s, of which one — Cockburn, tasted in 2008 — was fantastic, and the other six too old or far too old.

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uncle tom
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Re: Port maturity question

Post by uncle tom » 20:17 Sun 02 Nov 2014

I'm generally of the view that virtually no properly made and properly cellared vintage port goes past its best before it's 40, although some play tricks and give the appearance of going south only to find a second wind.

Although much depends on taste, many, but not all vintage ports reach their peak in the ten years between 40 and 50.

I worry whether younger vintage ports will follow their elders though - has the curse of VA really been confined to the years '77 thru to '97? What is the cause of the earthiness that is now very evident in several '91s and '97s? - is it a passing phase, or a new problem?

I really hope that from 2000 on, the problems of port's 'dark ages' are confined to history, but I'm a little anxious that new technologies may be spawning new problems..
I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I shall be sober and you will still be ugly - W.S. Churchill

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JacobH
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Re: Port maturity question

Post by JacobH » 11:30 Mon 03 Nov 2014

TLW wrote:Although there are questions around the overall quality of vintages (1977 for example), I was wondering about members' opinions as to when a great - or even good - port will ultimately reach its drinking plateau, and when it will start its slide down.

[...]

There are certainly questions as to shipper, year, provenance, preference, handling, etc., but it would be interesting to hear members' opinions and experiences as to ports that are "past it".
On of the advantages to Port is that through its very long lifetime, it rarely becomes undrinkable in the way that many table wines are. When I have had very old Ruby Ports (which are on a hugely accelerated maturity cycle) they have tended to taste, at worst, as a mixture of sugar and water which is perfectly pleasant and attractive. Equally, just-released Vintage Port can be extremely pleasant to drink. Providing a “drinking window” within that scale has to be completely subjective.
uncle tom wrote:I worry whether younger vintage ports will follow their elders though - has the curse of VA really been confined to the years '77 thru to '97? What is the cause of the earthiness that is now very evident in several '91s and '97s? - is it a passing phase, or a new problem?

I really hope that from 2000 on, the problems of port's 'dark ages' are confined to history, but I'm a little anxious that new technologies may be spawning new problems..
I wonder, with the improvements in wine making since the 90s on-wards, whether some of the more recent vintages will be more long-lasting than those of the past? I would certainly hope that all the investment in the Douro would have some positive impact on the long-term quality of the wine.
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