At MWH Wine vintage Port isn’t just our business, it’s also our passion. Over the decades we have been fortunate enough to taste thousands of wines from dozens of shippers. We’ve enjoyed everything from cask samples of young glories such as the 1997through to venerable old wines including the 1963s by way of fabled idiosyncrasies like that rarest of gems, Quinta do Noval’s Nacional.
Such a breadth of tasting experience, coupled with more than a little research into these fascinating fine wines, has left us well-placed to answer the one of the most frequently asked questions regarding Port: Which is the best shipper?
Ultimately this is a question of personal taste. That said, of the dozens of shippers and houses there are perhaps only a half a dozen or so whose consistent excellence makes them true contenders for the best shipper crown. In this our 2nd MWH Wine blog discussing which is the best vintage Port producer, we’ll look at another of these would-be kings, Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman.
Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman: A Little History
Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman – or Taylor’s as they are more commonly known – is undoubtedly Port royalty. Founded in 1692 (a date that was celebrated with the release of their extraordinary, 100-point scoring 1992), Taylor’s reputation for quality is well-known. Being fortunate enough to own the vineyards from which their wines are produced gives them the ability to be fastidious about quality from grape-to-glass.
Typically, they ‘declare’ a vintage around three times each decade and their approach to doing so is painstaking. Fruit is harvested from their three estates, the ancient Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta de Terra Feita and the more recently acquired Quinta do Junco. The grapes are crushed in traditional ‘lagars’, large open cement vats – no autovinifier modernity for these wines – and they are then graded by the estate’s tasting panel. The finest are left in old oak vats for two winters before being tasted and judged again. If they are deemed to be of sufficiently high quality, the wines from the three estates are carefully blended together. Each property adds something special to the finished wine. Taylor’s say that Vargellas brings structure – something that’s easy to understand when you taste their fantastic Single Quinta Vintage Port, Quinta de Vargellas which has a firmness and longevity of many a lesser full vintage wine. Terra Feita and Junco add richness and that saturated, almost-endless depth of fruit that shines through their glorious offerings.
Only when blended is the final decision on a declaration made. The wine needs to be truly outstanding to be considered for vintage status. Unlike in other regions where vintage wines are the exception rather than the rule – one obviously thinks of Champagne – only the very best are declared. Over the past few years we have grown somewhat suspicious of Champagne’s ability to produce vintage and even Cuvee de Prestige wines in seemingly all years. The Champenoise argue that they have better vineyard and winery technology which, coupled with a string of great years, is behind this. We suspect that the commercial imperative is probably a more likely reason. The prices for their wines have soared post 2000 and the very top wines have become commodities to be traded as much as wines to be enjoyed. Whatever the truth of the matter, the mystique of vintage Champagne has definitely waned.
Port shippers as a whole are acutely conscious of their vintage wine’s history for being made only in extraordinary years. With the exception of possibly questionable declarations in years like 1975 which (harsh) critics say were released as the market needed wines, declarations only follow great harvests. Taylor’s are pickier than most and if they do declare, then you can rest assured that the wines will be something special and worth buying.
Taylor’s wines are often said to be powerhouses; wines that have a structure and depth that is almost peerless. While this is undoubtedly true – especially in behemoth vintages such as 1945, 1963, 1970 and the only-now coming around 1977 – they are far from a one-trick pony. What makes their wines so special is their ability to marry this colossal structure with depth of flavour and remain elegant, refined, nuanced and complex. If Taylor’s were a claret it would be Latour: Both need plenty of time and both can be dazzling. Like Latour they also produce a second wine which isn’t anything of the sort. In Latour’s case its Les Forts de Latour, a vineyard in its own right which never goes into the grand vin despite it being of classed growth quality, and in Taylor’s case it’s their Quinta de Vargellas.
As we mentioned above, this is one of the three sources of Taylor’s grapes and is widely regarded as being at the heart of their vintage wines. Released in non-declared years, Quinta de Vargellas is an excellent wine that while not having the longevity or quite the level of depth of its more complete triumvirate incarnation, is a brilliant wine that offers real value; something that is becoming increasingly hard to say of Les Forts.
Which Vintages To Go For?
Given their legendary attention to detail and commitment to nothing but the best, picking a good vintage of Taylor’s Port is about as difficult as enjoying drinking one. There are, of course, vintages in which Mother Nature was generous and these have produced wines that, even by their standards, are exceptional. These, in no particular order, include:
Taylor’s: A Real Tour de Force
Taylor’s Vintage Port’s reputation as being one of the very best is well deserved. Its combination of power, longevity, nuance and elegance are hard to beat. While other shippers – one thinks of Graham or Noval – may boast a touch more refinement in some years, it’s hard to argue with Taylor’s incredible wines as being anything other than the finest in the region.
Like Some Vintage Port Help?
If you are looking for a specific wine then please get in touch by calling Mike on 0118 984 4654 or by emailing MWH Wines here. A recognised authority on these wines, he’ll be happy to advise you on which wine is right for you.