Every year the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club ask me to host a Port dinner to which members bring their own wines and the club contributes a bottle or two from their own cellar. This year a dozen members and guests gathered to taste wines mostly from the great vintages of the 1960s and 1970s with a rather fascinating 1948 thrown in for good measure. My thanks to all those members and guests who so generously contributed wines from their cellars.
Unlike previous years where we have had a mixed bag of wines with highs and lows, all the Vintage Ports showed well. The only odd ball was the Constantino 1948, a wine that I had never tasted before and must now be a real rarity. When it came to the vote at the end of the evening there was no single outright winner with votes spread fairly evenly across six of the eight wines.
Martinez 1970 ***
The last bottle from club stock, a wine made under the auspices of Cockburn Smithies, John Smithies being responsible for the wines at the time. Fairly pale pink tinged hue. Light cherry fruit showing a touch of spirit and slightly lifted on the nose; soft and creamy on the palate, milk chocolate and toffee mid-palate having lost most of its grip. A mild, mellow, fully mature wine that tastes a bit hollow against its peers in this line up. Drink soon. 15.5
Warre 1970 ****/*****
After a real disappointment when this wine was shown at last year’s I thought it was good to give this wine another outing, especially as a tribute to Bill Warre MW who died aged 91 at the end of 2017. Lovely colour mid-deep retaining a youthful pink hue; rich and rather glorious on the nose, open, expressive and perfumed in classic Vintage style; lovely bitter-sweet dark cherry fruit backed by fine tannic grip, tight-knit and focused mid-palate leading to a very pure, expressive elegant finish. Drink now and for another 30 years. 18.5
Graham 1970 *****
Frequently billed as the classic 1970 this wine was not as expressive as the Warre (above): mid-deep colour, showing some maturity; surprisingly closed on the nose initially (the best 1970s have always had a reputation for reticence); deep, dark chocolate character, tight knit with spicy tannic grip, rich in classic Graham style with broad, ripe tannins all the way through to the finish. 19
Fonseca 1966 ****
A legendary wine in my book, this was from a UK bottling (possibly Averys) with one of those impenetrable but effective plastic capsules that replaced wax in the 1960s. Deep at the centre, just showing its age on the rim; fine, fragrant aromas with just a touch of disconcerting mustiness underlying (could this be reductive character due to the capsule?); cherry fruit and bitter-sweet dark chocolate at the core; fine grained tannins rising on to the finish. A great wine but this bottle was not quite up to standard of previous examples. 18
Dow 1966 **** / *****
Looking slightly more mature in colour than the Fonseca; fine, open, floral, cherry fruit on the nose; seemingly quite rich and sweet for Dow on the palate initially, rich but firm with a touch of spirit showing through the fruit, tight knit with characteristic dark chocolate depth and concentration and a wonderfully firm finish. 18.5
Taylor 1963 **** / *****
UK bottled by Quellyn Roberts in Chester. Lovely mid-deep colour (this wine is never especially deep or dark in hue); fine pure, retaining youthful cherry and plum character, full and board in character (it must be good because I am having problems deciphering my hand written notes) with a rich, sweet finish. Very complete and impressive at nearly fifty five years old, with another 40 years left in it at least. 18.5
Graham 1963 *****
UK bottled by Grants of St James. A touch paler in colour than the Taylor, fine, fragrant and floral on the nose, showing underlying power and depth; tight knit bitter sweet fruit with characteristic plummy richness backed by firm yet ripe tannic grip and lovely sweet, opulent length. Near perfect 19
Constantino was an independent family Port shipper that was taken over by Ferreira in 1958. The wines were based on Quinta do Crasto which is now an independent Port and Douro wine producer in its own right. Just two years after this wine was made, Quinta do Crasto produced an outstanding wine in its own right (1950). I fully expected this wine to be pale and rather fragile, although 1948 is known for its rich, opulent sometimes caramelised wines after a very hot, dry summer. The shock came as soon as I began to decant the wine. This wine is still black in colour, much too dark (and seemingly youthful) at nearly 70 years of age for its own good. Could it have been stuffed with baga (elderberry)? On the nose it was slightly burnt and raisiny (reflecting the heat of the vintage) and on the palate it was rich and soupy with little in the way of finesse. Still intensely sweet but somehow hollow. This is the most extraordinary and fascinating wine. Two bottles were submitted to the dinner with slightly different levels (mid-to-high shoulder) and both were much the same. Impressive in one sense but I find it difficult to award a mark to a wine like this that is so out of kilter with my idea of a vintage Port from this generation.
19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)
17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)
15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)
13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)
10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)
8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)
Below 8 Faulty