Monday, 13 August 2012

Vintage Port Tasting

Wednesday, 08 August 2012

A tasting of Vintage Ports held at Leckhampton, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and hosted by Mr Stuart Barton. All the ports, unless otherwise indicated, were sourced from the cellars of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

1977 Warre's

Bright nose, dominated by rose water and cherry liquer; theres lots of volatility here, quite spiritous, as if the alcohol is trying to escape, and quite sharp too, feisty one. Good ripe fruit on the palate, big and fleshy still, nominal streak of acidity; again feels a bit too aggressive for me, the fruit and the alcohol are not integrated enough, feels like they are pulling in different directions. Peppery spice at the end, feels quite thin and hollow on the mid palate, doesnt really coat the palate. I've had better '77 Warre's in the past.

1975 Graham's
| somewhat faulty

Light tawny orange in colour, having had '75 Grahams in the past, this is definitely not the colour it ought to be. On the nose,  theres a sherried, nutty and oxidative nose to this; put in a blind tasting, I probably would have guessed Oloroso, not vintage port. There is some sweet fruit, but its overwhelmed by the sherried nose; again, some piercing volatility on the nose too. On the palate, the fruit was more vibrant than the nose would suggest; some sweet red fruit, but also marmalade citrus, with a slight bitterness at the end; big spicy kick on the finish too; the fruit dies rather quickly on the palate though. Faulty perhaps, but still interesting.

1970 Cockburn
A-(+) | from a private cellar

Dark fruit here, cherry flavoured cough syrup, sweet fruit with some menthol whiffs, some turkish delight and floral characters too; quite brooding. On the palate, plenty of fruit; cherry syrup, with a hint of burnt treacle and some earthiness; sweet spice at the end; the fruit is still primary, very vivid and bright. Feels big, the components could integrate further and mellow out; this has life ahead of it; drink now - 2020+

1970 Warre's

More settled nose of turkish delight, rose water and violets; almost feminine and fragrant, the sweet fruit also shows without being brash or in your face. Fruit is very rounded on the palate; sweet and ripe but not bold, the mouthfeel has settled, so silky and lush as it lingers on the mid palate, decent length too. All the components are so very integrated and together; a study in balance, very sophisticated. At its peak now.

1970 Quinta do Noval

Dark fruit and sweet dark berries there, some fragrance, with molasses, burnt sugar and chocolate showing too. The initial fruit hit is bright and sweet; certainly plenty of it at the start (perhaps too much) such that it gives the impression of dying on the mid palate, doesnt quite carry the fruit all the way through, still quite feisty though. Peppery spice kick on the finish is notable, as is the fact that the finish felt rather closed and muted compared to the initial fruit hit. Drink now.

1970 Delaforce

Quite volatile, theres lots of 'organic chemistry' notes of solvents and the like, some mint too, like winegums. Fruit on the palate is feisty; ripe, sweet and spicy but all pulling in different directions, feels a bit all over the place actually in way that makes me wonder whether its quite literally fallen apart. Otherwise, its still bright and lively, decent spicy kick on the finish too. Drink now.

1963 Quinta do Noval

Quite volatile on the nose, some ethanol / spiritous nose; cherry liquer and dusted chocolate there, slight fragrance of menthol; some weird sappy, almost antiseptic touches too. Fruit is sweet, stewed / cooked fruit here; settled mouthfeel, isnt as feisty as the '70 Noval; feels fresh yet very mature and together. Gentle spice on the finish completes a fully integrated, well balanced port with a good lingering finish.

1963 Fonseca

Beautiful nose of turkish delight, framboise, rose petal and floral touches, with dried plums too; very vivid and fragrant. Plenty of fruit, red cherry and plums again, sweet and ripe, it feels very lush on the palate. Astonishingly for its age, its the first port tonight showing notable lively fruity acidity; still so bright despite the age. All the components are integrated and in balance, I only wished it had a slightly longer finish, this faded away rather too quickly. Probably at or just past its peak, drink now.
I must confess coming into this tasting expecting a life-changing experience with the 63 Fonseca, such is its reputation and the esteem its held at. Though it didnt quite manage this, I'm still very glad to have tried of this iconic vintage port.

1927 Vintage Port, Hankey Bannister

Kindly donated by Colonel Charles Delamain, in memory of his uncle Sir Kenneth Pickthorn, 1st Baronet, sometime Fellow, Dean, Tutor and President of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and MP for Cambridge University. This bottle had lain in the cellars of Corpus Christi College its entire life, presumably procured by Sir Kenneth during his time in Cambridge. It is the last bottle of its kind in the College's cellars.

Surprisingly still holding its colour, the rim has faded away but theres still a light purple core to this port, certainly not pale; probably would have guessed it as 60s or lighter 70s port. The nose is quite spicy / peppery, with plenty of floral elements of violets and bluebells; it doesnt last very long though, this was tasted straight after opening, and the exposure to air in the glass diminished the nose substantially with time. On the palate, the sweet fruit was still there with a slight acidic kick too; surprisingly quite lively at the start, but again it fades very quickly on the mid palate. With about half an hour in the glass, this had almost faded away completely. Certainly a novelty, though still of great interest and needless to say, an immense pleasure to be able to taste it.

I have tried contacting Hankey Bannister to ask for more details about this port - shipper / blend of shippers, how many pipes were made etc - but to no avail. If you know anything about this port, do drop me a line and I'll include it in the post.


There were twelve attendees at this tasting and each were asked to name their top three favourites excluding the 1927 and mine were, in descending order: 1963 Fonseca, 1970 Warre and 1963 Quinta do Noval. Tabulating the scores from everyone else, and awarding three points for first preference, two points for second and one point for third, the results are as follows:

1963 Quinta do Noval - 21pts (3x1st, 4x2nd, 4x3rd)
1963 Fonseca - 17pts (4x1st, 2x2nd, 1x3rd)
1970 Warre's - 17pts (1x1st, 6x2nd, 2x3rd)
1970 Quinta do Noval - 15pts (4x1st, 0x2nd, 3x3rd)

If you use an Olympics style table, then it would read:

1963 Fonseca - 4x1st, 2x2nd, 1x3rd
1970 Quinta do Noval - 4x1st, 0x2nd, 3x3rd
1963 Quinta do Noval - 3x1st, 4x2nd, 4x3rd 
1970 Warre's - 1x1st, 6x2nd, 2x3rd 

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