NV Newman’s Celebrated Port

Tasting notes for individual Ports, with an index sorted by vintage and alphabetically.
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Tasting notes for individual Ports, with an index sorted by vintage and alphabetically.
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Will W.
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 44
Joined: 14:33 Thu 11 Aug 2016

NV Newman’s Celebrated Port

Post by Will W. » 00:53 Wed 05 Feb 2020

The Newman family, which ultimately lent its name to the port wine described here, is known to have been active in Totnes and Dartmouth as early as 1395, where it was engaged in the trade of English salt fish and cloth for Bordeaux wine. A later generation of Newmans had, by 1589, become involved in the Newfoundland cod fishery, with the first “plantations” (i.e., fishing settlements) being established by the family in 1672 on the south coast of the island at Pushthrough. The Newmans’ interests in Newfoundland grew significantly through the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, with fishing and salting operations being established at Little St. Lawrence, Burin, Little Bay, Hermitage, Harbour Breton and Maggotty Cove, amongst other settlements. During this period, the Newmans continued to maintain their base in Devon, with an office in London and the family likewise positioning itself in Spain as well as Portugal. At Oporto, the Newmans were participating in the port trade not later than 1755, when the family name first appeared alongside that of Olive and Holdsworth in the registry of Factory House. The Newmans (and presumably their business partners) busied themselves with the export of salt cod to Portugal and Spain from the family’s plantations in Newfoundland and, one assumes, the export of Portuguese salt to the Newfoundland fishery – this commodity being a highly-prized preservative within the cod industry. As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, the Newmans’ commercial partners in the port trade came to include the Hunt, Roope and Holdsworth families, all of whom likewise originated in Devon.

Today, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador has a population of roughly 520,000 persons living on a total land mass which is slightly less than two-thirds the size of France. A culture of poverty, relative to the rest of Canada, which Newfoundland joined only in 1949, has served until recently to dissuade immigrants to Canada from settling there, leading to a very unusual degree (by modern Canadian standards) of ethnic homogeneity. Language and cultural practices which have disappeared from the southwestern coast of England as well as southeast Ireland, whence most of the forebears of Newfoundlanders hail, remain very strong in Newfoundland. A predilection towards oral history, passed down through generations, along with a tremendous pride in their indisputable physical and mental resilience, are amongst the defining characteristics of the people. That, and an extraordinary number of Newfoundlanders – particularly those of Irish stock – still believe is mischievous fairies.

In the absence of relevant historical records, for none have been found to date by students of the port trade, it is impossible to know when port wine was first sent in barrels to Newfoundland. Legend – which is invariably as good as the truth for Newfoundlanders (see above) - holds that in 1679, a ship loaded with port en route from Portugal to England found its way to St. John’s, the capital of the colony, having been blown off course by a storm after evading pirates. This account additionally maintains that the ship in question wintered in Newfoundland, and, upon reaching its intended destination, it was found that the port had taken on favourable characteristics after a period of aging in that part of the New World. What is far and away more likely is that during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the Newmans were expanding significantly their operations in Newfoundland whilst concomitantly establishing themselves in the business of exporting port wine – the family owned no fewer than twelve sea-going vessels by 1805 - barrels of port were loaded onto ships destined for Newfoundland, the population of which was then sufficiently small and poor to demand little from the Old World beyond salt, fishing gear, cloth and potable alcohol. However, the popular assumption in Newfoundland that the Newman family was responsible for the first imports of port to the island – to St. John’s and perhaps to communities along the southern shore - is no more than a supposition, notwithstanding its plausibility. Most certainly, by the second half of the nineteenth century the Newmans were known for the importation of rum to Newfoundland and had come to focus upon the more general provisioning of the populations of outlying settlements, the price of Newfoundland salt cod having collapsed after reaching a peak during the Napoleonic Wars. As there is no evidence of other merchant families in Newfoundland involving themselves in the port wine trade in Portugal, it may well be that the Newmans were the leaders in this respect and enjoyed additionally a de facto monopoly on the trade of this wine within the colony. What is certain is that the Newman family had a dedicated barrel-storage facility constructed in St. John’s in the early-nineteenth century. This building survives as a provincial historic site known as the Newman Wine Vaults, although the precise date of its erection is unknown even to the specialists responsible for its preservation. The Newman family stored port wine in barrels at this facility until 1966, with the practice continuing elsewhere in St. John’s until 1996 or, by some accounts, 1997. Your correspondent recalls visiting one such facility as a boy in the 1970s.

It may well be that the shipment of port wine to Newfoundland for domestic consumption lasted two centuries or more. Whatever the temporal parameters of this exercise, assuredly at no point would the wine have been aged to any great degree. Stated simply, it is impossible to imagine that there was a market in Newfoundland for mature vintage ports and quality colheitas during and around the nineteenth century, not least as no such demand exists in Newfoundland today. It might be added that there is no evidence that port was aged in Newfoundland, with the barrels in turn being shipped to England for bottling and consumption; such a practice would have added considerably to the market price of the product and no bottles suggestive of this approach to aging have ever been seen, at least as far as your correspondent is aware.

It is unknown whence in the Douro the wine sent to Newfoundland originated. The Newmans were shippers, not growers prior to the late-nineteenth century, which suggests that the precise origins of the wine destined for Newfoundland would have varied from year to year. It is a reasonable bet that when the Newman family owned (from 1938) or otherwise would appear to have had an interest in Quinta da Eira Velha (from 1893), the grapes which found their way to Newfoundland in barrels were sourced from that quinta. When The Fladgate Partnership (TFP) purchased Quinta da Eira Velha from the Newman family in 2007, TFP acquired at the same time the rights to the Newman’s Celebrated Port label. However, your correspondent has made no effort to determine if the slop which is today put into the glass vessels bearing the Newman’s Celebrated Port label by Quinta and Vineyard Bottlers – Vinhos S.A., the bottling arm of TFP, is made from grapes sourced from the erstwhile Newman property.

Newman’s Celebrated Port is, as far as can be determined, only sold in Newfoundland; it is a basic ruby and the bottle which was opened for the purposes of this report was tasted on the island on 23-24 October 2019. In the glass, the wine gave every impression of having been produced the day prior: the opaque, deep purple appearance was redolent of grapes which had just found their way into a lagare. For all intents and purposes, the wine had no nose, although a great deal of swirling in ever-larger glasses eventually gave rise to the barest hint of red fruit as well as a metallic note. On the mouth, the red fruit was discernible at the fore-palate, with nothing much left midway through other than overpowering tannins. The wine's tolerable level of residual sugar was offset effectively by a measure of acidity appropriate to the sweetness; the finish was of medium-length and unremarkable, although inoffensive.

In the hope of getting something more out of the wine, resort was made to desperate measures. First, a cup of the juice was heated gently on the stovetop. In the event, this exercise made no difference to the nose or the palate. Twenty-four hours later, the port was tasted again; this experiment revealed that, if nothing else, the wine was consistent in its extraordinary mediocrity. On the same morrow, Her Ladyship did manage to wash down a couple of glasses of the Newman’s with her seal flipper pie, following an appetizer of cod tongues. Observing this procedure, your correspondent concluded that Her Ladyship was looking for a means – evidently any means – to take her mind from a pair of Newfoundland delicacies which did not, psychologically-speaking, appeal to her urban, left-liberal sensibilities. Following the Last Supper, the balance of the bottle was sent to the septic tank of the cottage (via the sink rather than the bladder). Surely, given the uncertain-albeit-unique history which informs Newman’s Celebrated Port, TFP ought to aspire to a better fate for the named wine of which it is now the guardian.

-Not Rated
Last edited by Will W. on 00:54 Sat 28 Mar 2020, edited 3 times in total.

winesecretary
Warre’s Traditional LBV
Posts: 311
Joined: 15:35 Mon 13 May 2019

Re: NV Newman’s Celebrated Port

Post by winesecretary » 13:58 Sun 16 Feb 2020

Now this, this is the tasting note of the year. The soaring arc of narrative, covering centuries and continents; and then the bathetic nature of the ending... thank you; a pleasure to read, and informative with it.

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