Tasting T2.18 Port

Port does not seem to be a very fashionable drink these days. It is much overlooked and probably much misunderstood certainly by Harry and a younger generation. It has the reputation of belonging to a different time not relevant to the modern lifestyle. Should we be drinking more Port? Is it worth investigating further? Well probably.

Port wine also known as vinho do Porto, is a fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. Typically, it is a sweet red wine, although you can get some dry, semi-dry and sweet varieties. Port-styled fortified wines are produced in many other countries, but only wines from Portugal are allowed to be labelled ‘Port’.

What is a fortified wine? It is a wine to which a distilled spirit, usually brandy, has been added. Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Commandaria wine (Cyprus) Vin Doux Naturels, Moscatel de Setubal (Portugal) Vermouth and Gwaha-ju (Korea) are all also fortified wines.

Why is a wine fortified? One traditional reason for fortifying wine was to preserve it. Even though other preservation methods now exist, fortification continues to be used as some distinct flavours are added to the end wine.

In 1678 two wine representatives were sent to Viano do Castelo to learn about the wine trade there. Whilst holidaying in the Douro they visited the Abbot of Lamego with whom they enjoyed a sweetish fortified wine. Recognising that this would go down well in England they purchased all they could from the Abbot and shipped it home.

In 1703 the Methuen treaty between Portugal and England paved the way for merchants to import, at a low duty, Port wine from Portugal. This could then plug the gap in the English market which was being deprived of French wines due to the war between us. Due to the fortification, shippers realised that the wines would survive the trip. Thus many of the most famous names in Port are that of the original shipping companies from England. Taylors, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Gould-Campbell, Graham’s, Sandeman and Warre. There are also famous shippers from Holland, Germany and Portugal.

In 1756 the Douro became the second oldest protected wine region in the world after Chianti (1716).

The styles of Port are many and various.

White Port (made from white grapes) is normally an aperitif or cocktail base.

Tawny Port (red grapes) is aged in wooden barrels for typically at least three years (unless a stated number of years on the bottle e.g. 10, 20 or 30). The barrel ageing gives the Port a golden-brown colour and the long barrel maturation gives ‘nutty’ flavours to the wine.

Red Port comes in further styles;

Ruby, the most common type of port is stored in concrete or stainless steel which prevents oxidation and gives a bright red colour, full body and fruitiness. Premium rubies can be aged in barrel.

Late Bottled Vintage or LBV port means that the wine is aged in barrels for four to six years before being bottled. This late bottling allows the wine to develop and mature earlier than vintage port. If unfiltered it can be very similar to vintage port but when filtered (which then leaves no sediment making them much easier to use) as most is, the filtering process can remove many of the characters of the wine leaving it lighter bodied and less age worthy.

Vintage Port is the king of the port wine world. Wines are aged in barrels or stainless steel for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling. They then generally require between 10 and 40 years of bottle ageing before becoming of ‘proper’ age. Due to the short ageing in barrels/steel, they keep their strong dark ruby colour and full fresh fruit flavour. Vintage port is typically only made in ‘great’ vintage years, each shipper/house declaring on their own which years are a ‘vintage’ year for their house.

Single Quinta Vintage are wines that come from a single estate. They normally are used in the declared vintage blend in vintage years and often go into the other styles in non-vintage years. However some years when it is very good but not declared, a shipper/house can produce a Single Quinta Vintage similar to a vintage port but just from their best Quinta (estate).

Today we will taste an LBV Port, one Single Quinta and two Vintage Ports of varying ages.

The wineries are:


Formed in 1750 when Henry Burmester joined John Nash to establish Burmester, Nash & Co.  The company passed from one generation to another until 1834 when Johann Wilhelm Burmester, a descendant of Henry’s arrived in Porto. He started as a clerk and eventually bought the company outright. In 1880 the company name was changed to JW Burmester & Co.


Founded in 1692 by Job Bearsley (owner of the Ram Inn Smithfield). His son Peter settled in Portugal becoming British Consul in Viana. Peter became the first member of the English wine trade to pass over the Serra do Marao mountain range to visit the Douro himself rather than simply purchasing their wines through intermediaries. In 1744 Peter’s son Bartholomew Bearsley purchased a property in the Douro, the first British wine shipper to do so. The property is still in the company. Joseph Taylor was working in the company making partner in 1814 and becoming owner in 1826. His succession planning brought in Morgan Yeatman and John Fladgate giving the firm its present name of Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman.


William Offley founded the eponymous wine merchant in London in 1737 and soon began importing Port into the UK. The house became famous under its ownership by Joseph James Forrester who was the first person to map the Douro Valley. In recognition of his huge contribution to the Douro he was granted the title Baron of Forrester by the King of Portugal in 1855.

This evenings Ports are being tasted by myself, Kim, Harry, Jen and the welcome assistance of my parents Alan and Barbara.

We have four wines today. The Burmester being an LBV was not decanted, but the other three were.

Vintage ports do need to be decanted as they throw a heavy sediment and they also benefit from some time to open up a bit. Some good advice I read as I was preparing for this tasting was not to get too precious about this. Just get the cork out or if it won’t come out push it in, then decant whilst passing through a fine muslin or even a fine steel mesh wine funnel (personally do not use a coffee filter) to remove the cork bits. Try to avoid the sediment even being poured but again don’t get too precious. Once decanted just leave the port to recover from all that exertion for a while, preferably a few hours, or days, or even weeks as we subsequently found out.

First up is..

Burmester LBV 2016

Traditional Douro grape varieties, in particular Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz and Sousao.

Nose: Deep red colour on first viewing. Aromas of cherry, herbs and leather. Alcohol not too powerful on the nose but very much present.

Palate: Jammy cherries and black fruits, blueberries and plums come to mind. A light – medium bodied wine with moderate acidity. Moderate tannin and a medium length finish. After a couple of days this became a lot smoother and very nice indeed.

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 1995

Quinta de Vargellas is pre-eminent among the wine estates of the Douro. Located in the wild and hilly eastern reaches of the Douro valley, it has been prized as a source of the finest Port wines since the 1820s. Today it ranks among the great vineyards of the world.

Nose: Medium – deep red colour on first viewing. Sweet dark fruits on the nose, aromas of cooked prunes and mint coming through.

Palate: Extremely smooth, lots of heat coming from the alcohol but to be expected. Fruit profile from the nose is very present on the palate, along with woody notes. Medium bodied with light to moderate acidity. Low tannin with a medium length finish. After a few days this was really impressive! The fruity notes had become more pronounced and the port was extremely smooth.

Taylor’s Vintage 1985

Made only in the very finest years and blended from the best produce of the firm’s own estates of Quinta de Vargellas, Quinta de Terra Feita and more recently, Quinta do Junco. Vargellas bringing structure, elegance and complexity to the wine. Terra Feita and Junco bring body, depth and powerful, concentrated fruit.

Nose: Medium red brick colour on first viewing. Almonds, cinnamon and stewed fruits coming through. This is just starting to come alive.

Palate: Again almonds, cinnamon with a touch of cloves. Stewed fruits again coming to the fore. However does slightly die off. Unsure on whether it is just attempting to open. Light – medium bodied wine with moderate acidity. Low tannin and a long finish. After several days this finally showed its colours. A magnificent port, truly worthy of the name. Fruits were forward in their approach and the finish kept it lingering for ages. Truly worth it.

Offley Boa Vista 1977

The Boa Vista vineyard, meaning Beautiful View, is one of the most famous in the Douro Valley. Bottled after two years in barrel it is at a perfect drinking age of 45 years.

Nose: Brown colour on first viewing. Marzipan, nuts and dark fruits coming through.

Palate: This is very decadent. Extremely smooth and luscious a beautiful port. Tastes of cherry bakewell in all honesty. Beautiful tertiary notes of marzipan and almonds with cherry and black fruits. Light – medium bodied with moderate acidity. There is well integrated tannin but low on the scale with a very long finish. This became outstanding after a few days, truly excellent.


Port is a very different animal. As my father wrote above (and has continued to write below this time!!) it is very different to wine but also very different to other spirits. This was a good look into how young ports can become old ports. For example imagine what the 1995 will be like when I’m 45? Well if the 1977 is anything to go by then consider me excited!

David’s Addendum

A really important point to note is that we chose to do this tasting in the week before Christmas. We did this so we might also get an opportunity to taste some of the ports over the next few days and even weeks. Without a doubt they all improved with a little time.

The Offley Boa Vista 1977 being the oldest was perfectly ready once decanted and rested. It was beautiful and unsurprisingly this was finished first, roughly 5 days after being opened.

The Taylor’s Vintage 1985 was surprisingly still a good bit closed during the tasting, after a good week or so, was much, much, more accessible and really showed some fantastic flavour and class.

The Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 1995 was even longer to come round and was really enjoyable some 9 days later having just sat on the side looking at me for all that time.

I am very happy that we have a good few cases of the 1995 particularly as it was purchased for Harry’s birth, yes, he’s a spring chicken!

The scores:

Burmeister LBV 2016 – 86 points

Quinta de Vargellas 1995 – 90 points

Taylors Vintage 1985 – 90 points

Offley Boa Vista 1977 – 92 points

No surprises really… a really good tasting and something very different for us. We will be back next week with Cotes de Beaune Rouge! That was cracking… thank you for reading guys & girls and a Happy New Year to you all!!

David & Harry

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