Most of you know I have a fondness for Port after a golfing trip to the Iberian Peninsula. My travel buddy, Mr. Mike and I spend over a week in Portugal, chasing down vintage ports. I have repeated the story numerous times over the years.
But what exactly makes a vintage port?
The process of declaring a vintage year and making a vintage Port begins with a judgment. How good are the grapes from that year? Each producer of Port makes this decision independently. If the grapes are excellent, if they possess just the right balance of richness, power, freshness, and finesse, then the producer will “declare” the vintage. Even though the decision to declare is independent, the truly stunning years for vintage Port are usually those declared by 50 percent or more of all producers. Once a producer declares a vintage, a formal procedure ensues. Before the wine can be bottled, the shipper must submit its intention and samples of the wine to the Port Wine Institute for tasting and approval. The great vintage Port years from the second half of the twentieth century through the first decade of the twenty-first have been: 1955, 1958, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2016, and 2017.
Let’s just say that we had a great time, and spent a few Euros on some excellent vintage ports.
So, you think I am crazy flying to Europe, golfing for several weeks, and buying expensive vintage ports?
Wine drinkers seem quite eager to throw some money around right now, especially when they visit Napa. The average tasting fee in Napa County is now $58 for a winery’s “regular” tasting and $90 for a “reserve” tasting, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s Direct-to-Consumer Wine Survey Report, released in May. (In Sonoma County, it’s $30 for the regular and $50 for the reserve on average.) And the spending doesn’t end with the tasting fee: In Napa, the average customer now purchases $319 worth of wine per visit, the report says, up from an average spend of $246 in 2016.
In contrast, I paid 120 Euros for a private wine tour to three wineries. One was the oldest winery in Santorini, one was one of the first and last “Mom and Pop” wineries, and the third was the high tech version of wine making.
Looking for a summer refresher, a bit off the beaten track? Here you go (from Winespeed):
Despite the lovely charm of a good rosé, we know that occasionally you may want to drink something else on a hot summer night. In that case, there is another famous, well-loved French libation—absinthe, a bitter, bold green, licorice-flavored spirit that in French cafés is usually served as an aperitif with a carafe of ice water. When the water is added to the absinthe, the drink immediately turns ominously cloudy. Absinthe’s emerald green color and herbaceously bitter flavor come from green anise, fennel, and the plant wormwood. Alas, in the early 20th century, several reports claimed that a volatile compound in wormwood, thujone, was a hallucinogen that could “destroy the nervous system.”
Although absinthe brands like Pernod were wildly popular among Paris’ bohemian artists and authors at the time, absinthe was banned in France in 1915, and before that in much of the rest of Europe and the United States. For several decades, absinthe drinkers had little choice but to substitute pastis, a similar spirit made from anise, fennel, and licorice—but no wormwood. Then research in the 1980s revealed that wormwood did not contain enough thujone to be toxic or deleterious to health. By the 1990s, bans lifted, wormwood was back as a legal ingredient in absinthe which, for its part, has regained its status as a café staple. Cheers.
This I did not know, but vintage ports are best served within 5 years of release, or AFTER 20 years of bottle aging. Truth be known, Mr. Mike and I bought several when we were golfing in Portugal, back in 2002. And as of today, they have not been opened to the best of my knowledge. I won’t tell you how much we paid.
Most port wines last for about a month after opening. Even then, it is often too much for one person. My suggestion is to have a Port Party!!
And a local note: Ficklin Vineyards in Madera has several excellent ports. Their Ruby Reserve is only $40, and for a splurge, try the 2010 Vintage Port for $75. They even have a 1957 Vintage Port for $620!!!
Always keep an open mind on ports. You might be pleasantly surprised, as I have!