Vintage Port is one of the wine world’s greatest delights; virtually indestructible, capable of decades of life and a joy to drink.  But what do you need to look for when choosing a Port?  In this latest guide from MWH Wines – the Vintage Port specialists – we’ll guide you as to what to look for and which shippers to look out for.

Vintage Port: A Little History

Taylors 1955 Vintage PortIt has only been a requirement to bottle Vintage Port in Portugal since the 1970 vintage. Before that many British wine merchants and breweries imported Port into the UK in barrels known as ‘pipes’, out of which you could bottle around 60 cases (720 bottles). Accordingly, labels of pre-1970 Port vary immensely.  Some merchants didn't bother to put any label on at all and just had a branded capsule.  This is fine and there’s no need to be put off by this.

Port: Portuguese or British Bottlings?

Vintage Port is often described as indestructible and this is because the brandy used to make it - to fortify the wine - acts as a kind of preservative.  The average amount of brandy in a port bottle is about 20%, and in my own (extensive!) experience a decently made Port can last for at least 75 years. 

A Port that has been matured in a decent British cellar is often better than Ports that have been stored in Oporto.  My opinion on this was borne out by a trip I made to Oporto in 1986. 

I was very kindly served a 1963 Taylor by my host.  To me it tasted similar to a 20-year-old Tawny (a Port that’s been aged in barrel rather than bottle) and it made me realise that Ports really benefit from being aged in the cooler UK climate rather than in the heat of Portugal.  Furthermore, storage conditions in Portugal were not as good in those days as they are now.  So, my advice is always choose a British bottling over an Oporto bottling for anything over 45-years-old.

Levels And Ullages

Do not be put off by bad ullages.  I often buy parcels of old Port and drink the one with the lowest ullage, and I have been constantly amazed that even a low-shoulder bottle can taste sublime. 

It’s also worth noting that a perfect fill in a 50-year-old Port is not common - I would always expect a slight ullage.  If the fill is perfect it may have been tampered with so don't expect perfection in appearance.  After all, how would you look after 50 years’ in a dark, damp cellar? 

Decanting Port

I must say there is some very bad advice out there about how to decant.  First you need a corkscrew with a very long screw because Port corks tend to be longer than your average wine cork.  Very few corkscrews these days have a long enough screw to be able to take the cork out in one go, but don't worry about this.  If the cork breaks in half so only the top half comes out straight away you can either pull out the rest with an adapted coat hanger or push the remaining cork into the bottle. 

Use a coffee filter to decant the Port through.   Shock horror, you may feel, but coffee filters are neutral so they won’t taint the wine at all. You can use a muslin but this isn't really necessary, it is just old fashioned and romantic.  Finally pour all the liquid into a decanter and let the coffee filter catch all the sediment.  I have seen a video of someone decanting a bottle of Port where they have left one and a half inches of wine in the bottle because they didn't use a filter – that’s over a glass!

If you have bought a bottle of port for £500 then that equates to chucking about £50 worth of wine down the drain.  Do not be put off by wine snobs, you are entitled to drink everything you have paid for. 

Old Port: Which Shippers To Look For? 

If you are interested in buying pre-1970s Vintage Port, then here are some of the merchant bottlings that are worth looking out for:    

Army and Navy                                                

Arnold Perret (Gloucester)                                         


Bell Rannie (Perth)                                                         

Bentley and Shaw Ltd., Huddersfield                     

Berry Brothers                                                 

Blaneys of Newcastle                                                    

Block Fearon Block (London)                                      

Block Grey and Block (London)                                 

British Transport Hotels                                

C A Rookes (Stratford-upon-Avon)                                         

C Buswell and Co Ltd                                                     

Charles Kinloch                                                

Chas. Mckinlay and Co Ltd., Leith                                             

Christopher and Company                                          

Churton (Liverpool)                                                       

Cobbold (Ipswich)                                                          

Corney and Barrow                                                        

Courtney Wines                                                              

Coverdale and Co., Crutched Friars, London, EC3              

Divie Robertson                                                               


Eldridge Pope                                                             

Fearon Block Ridges Routh                                         

George Sandeman                                                         

Gilbey Vintners                                                

Grantham (Sherborne)                                                

Grants of St James's                                                      

H & E Selby                                                        

Hankey Bannister and Company                                              

J Harvey and Son                      

J W Cameron and Co Ltd, Hartlepool                                       

Hay and Son, Sheffield                                                 

Hawkers (Plymouth)                                                     

Hedges and Butler                                                          

Henekeys Ltd                                                   

Hertford Wine Company                                             

Hill Thompson (Leith)                                                    

Hunter A & E (Bury St Edmunds)                                              

Hunter and Oliver, Bury St Edmunds                      

John Lupton & Son, Bradford, Leeds and Manchester    

Justerini and Brooks                                                     

Lovibond and Sons Ltd

Lupton (Bradford)                                                          

Mayor Sworder                                               

Morgan Furze                                                   

Muirhead (Scotland)                                                     

Newcastle Breweries                                                    

Paten and Company, Peterborough                       

Peatling and Cawdron                                                   

Peter Bedford                                                  

Rigby and Evans (Liverpool)                                        

Edward Robinson - also spelt Edouard                   

Robinson and Payne                                                      

David Sandeman (Glasgow)                                       

John Sarson and Co (Leicester)                                 

Schofields (Manchester)                                             

Simon the Cellarer                                                          

Skinner Rook and Chambers, Nottingham                           

Stallard (Worcester)                                                      

J G Thomson & Co Ltd, Leith - also J Thomson                    

Wiley and Co Sheffield                                                 

William Smith (Bishop's Stortford)                                           

Williams, Standring, Sandeman & Heatley Ltd                                                          

The Wine Society                                                            


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