Recently, I attended another once in a lifetime Vintage Port tasting luncheon that has to rank in the top echelon of my all time wine experiences.
My friend, Don Schliff, now retired CEO of Wine Imports for Wine Warehouse in LA has put on many Vintage Port tastings/ events since 1985 when he and Addison Phillips presented a vertical of Taylor Vintage Port from 1908 to 1980.
Last February, I attended one of those, a black tie Vintage Port tasting luncheon at the Hotel Bel Air Wolfgang Puck Restaurant featuring 12 Ports from the heralded 1945 vintage and as a “throw in”, 4 from the excellent 1935 vintage. Additionally, he had 2 mystery wines which turned out to be Ports from 1870 and 1880.
This was another one of those stellar events at the same venue, this time featuring 20 Vintage Ports from Taylor-Fladgate ranging from 1890 to 2016 served in 5 flights of 4. A champagne reception with passed hors d`oeuvres preceded it and a champagne break occurred between the 3rd and 4th flights.
Don and I arrived about 2 hours prior to the luncheon to prepare the wines, coordinate the pours and table setups. He used 2 homemade Port Tongs apparatus`s containing a small canister of propane and an arm rest for the tongs to sit over the flame. He also supplied most all of the stemware and an ample number of decanters along with 2 silver funnels with screens in place. Once the bottle necks had been removed by Don, for all but the 5 oldest vintages which were uncorked to preserve the entire bottle for museum placement, I decanted the last portion of each bottle placing a small amount of cheese cloth inside the funnels for sediment filtration.
The next step was for local renowned sommelier Rachel Macalisang, who is at the helm of the wine list for the Los Angeles location of The Bazaar by José Andrés, to number and pour all individual glasses using one of many of the classic Riedel Swan Decanters on hand. Watching her gracefully pour and move through the lineup of glasses was poetry in motion.
Twenty three of us were dressed up and hyped up for this gala affair which was held in the perfectly sized intimate Ballroom of the Hotel Bel Air. For me, it was extra special to be in the company of some of the most distinguished people in the world of wine. To name just a few: Adrian Bridge, Managing Director Taylor Fladgate; Roy Hersh, Port aficionado and founder of For The Love of Port; Darrell Corti who has been called the Indiana Jones of the culinary world and the man who “knows more about food and wine than anyone else in America”; Bipin Desai, well-known as a wine-collector and connoisseur and one who has put on many all time classic events; and Christine Graham, who among other achievements writes articles for The Underground Wineletter and is working with founder, John Tilson, on his memoirs. There were numerous other dignitaries including some winery and restaurant owners, serious collectors and wine industry execs.
After each flight, Adrain, Roy and Darrell offered details and comments about each wine. Although tempted to edit my notes to reflect some of the nuances they professed, I did not with a couple of one word descriptive exceptions to better showcase the wine.
The menu and my wine notes:
Lemon herb bilini with Royal Ostera Caviar
Kumamato oyster, green apple & Shiso mignonette
Crispy air pocket with Jamon iberico, black garlic aioli
2005 TAITTINGER COMTE de CHAMPAGNE BLANC de BLANC BRUT MAGNUM- as many bottles before have demonstrated, this is generously giving of many treasures with amazing elegance, bright acidity and fresh, tangy citrus notes.
Five Course Tasting
Duo of chicken liver
Cast iron seared and terrine, housemade brioche & seasoned fruits
1890 TAYLOR FLADGTE VINTAGE PORT- we wondered how many, if any, would be flawed and the first bottle and most rarest of all most certainly was; it had a weird musty, medicinal nose and after tasted by Adrian, was not recommended to be tasted in deference to keeping ones palate in tact. I just had to go for it and regretted it for the 5 minutes it took for me to refresh may palate. It was our only flawed wine and the bottle will rest in the museum of the Port house.
1908 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- I found this to be so delightful with a really nice, inviting nose and delicious and multi faceted taste profile; it was raisiny with mild musty, minty and cinnamon accents; it was in balance and medium bodied and most amazingly, consistently gave of its treasures 2 1/2 hours later at the end of the event. I`d be really happy with this on any table with any group of wine folks.
1912 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- this had a bit more pink ruby color than the 08` suggesting more flavors which I found to be true in the aromatics as well as on the palate; early on, a dollop of vanilla preceded the baked red cherry which became more pronounced toward the back end; it also was balanced and stayed a steady course throughout.
1920 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- maybe the darkest of the 4 but still a light ruby red, I got holiday season fruit cake in the nose with slightly sweetened and bitter dark chocolate laden dark fruit in the taste; as with the 08` and 12`, it had a backbone that sustained viability over the span of the event.
Pan roasted Dover sole
Salisfy puree, Port wine ginger sauce, French black truffles
1924 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- it had a darker red color than most to this point; very nice bouquet of sweet dried cherry with a little toast accent which continued on and was joined by a nice dollop of dark chocolate; medium weight and body; very viable.
1927 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- this also had a darker red color; it had amazing aromas begging for indulgence; I found honeyed and coffee laden sweet cherry into and beyond the initial taste with a touch of caramel coming in late; it had lots of body and structure; great wine.
1935 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- this had lots of sweet dried cherry/ berry and plum notes and layers of depth; a hit of smoke arrived past mid palate and the wine carried on for a long finish.
1942 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- wafts of nice dried fruit jump out of the glass and on the palate, concentrated sweet black cherry is most pronounced; toward the end, some minuteness arrives and helps to finish it off righteously.
Cast iron roasted squab
Red walnuts, poached quince, natural jus
1945 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- following its more maple like color came aromatics of dried cranberry, cherry fruit and the taste profile had sweet dried cherry with maple sherry like notes along with some black licorice; at first, I liked this better than the upcoming 48`, but after time, the 48` became my fav and for the event as well.
1948 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- considered by the attending experts, this and the 45` are 2 of the top for the century and I have no problem accepting that based upon this tasting; the color was a dark ruby; the nose had a seemingly balanced assortment of flavors as did the taste which intensified as it progressed in the glass offering chocolate covered plum and black currant; this bottle had been overlooked when Don was pulling all the wines and therefore it had not been stood up for days in advance as was case for all others; when decanted, I poured all of it through the cheese cloth as opposed to just the last portion of sediment laden wine. Regardless, it was my WOTD with the 45` a close 2nd.
1955 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- smokey wild cranberry was most notable in the nose, but on the palate sweet chocolate accents to the red and black cherry/ berry fruit; it was medium bodied and had good length.
1960 FONSECA VINTAGE PORT- that’s right, Fonseca here; Don apologized for the pre-event invite listing of the Taylor Fladgate 60` as his computerized cellar list showed he had 6 bottles, but he could not locate one so this served as the replacement and it performed admirably; mild notes of dried cranberry graced the aromas, but much more expressive sweet dried fruit was experienced in the taste and then it backed off at the end; it seemed to be one of the sweetest of all wines on the day.
We now had a palate cleansing and revitalizing champagne break with:
NV ROGER COULON L`HOMME BRUT 1er Cru in magnum- a blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier; aged for 5 years before disgorgement; the color was a dark yellow not yet gold; the nose had mostly pear and stone fruit followed by apricot and then a hit of lemon zest came in late; it was rich and creamy with nice mouthfeel.
Whole roasted Snake River Farms Chateaubriand
Local mushrooms, pommel aligot, sauce Armagnac
1963 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- dark, youthful color;, the nose seemed somewhat muted but the taste had loads of sweet cherry flavors and some heat to go along some fairly stiff tannins; this needs time to evolve and certainly has structure to support such.
1966 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- honeyed dried cherry/ berry flavors along with some maple and nuttiness dominate the nose with tar snd toast accents coming in add to the taste profile; although less so than the 63`, this also had some noticeable alcohol content.
1970 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- lots of cherry in the nose along with what I call a medicinal character which is not a negative, but more descriptive for what it was perceived as having; clove and pepper accents provided more pleasure on the palate and this rich and full bodied wine gave and gave almost endlessly.
1977 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- the first whiff detects some nutty sherry like aromas and then comes spicy, cinnamon laced blue and black fruit which continue on without the sherry to become more specifically sweet black cherry; although still with much more time needed to evolve, it shows quite well at this stage and promises to be a real treat down the line.
Green apples, frozen custard, spiced caramel
1983 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- by far, this had the lightest color of the 4; the nose suggested youthfulness with fruit forwardness; pepper. spice and herbs provide nice accents to the sweetened blue and black fruit; this was full bodied and had a long finish.
1992 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- it had a dark ruby color and an atypical nose not suggestive of a Port and in a blind tasting, I`d miss it; there’s spicy, sweet and chocolaty black cherry and strawberry notes with some heat coming in past mid palate.
1994 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- somewhat light ruby in color, I got some heat in the nose along with eucalyptus, celery and spice to compliment the distinct blackberry fruit which made up a majority of the taste as well; initially, the finish had some herbs and tannins which seems to soften up after time in the glass but still some astringency remained.
2016 TAYLOR FLADGATE VINTAGE PORT- probably the darkest, inkiness of all being understandably quite young, this had lots of raisin, plum and wild dark fruit in the nose and taste along with some black raspberry and cedar; it was full bodied and quite complex with layers unfolding within each moment of time passing; it would be fun and worthwhile for those who will be around in 60+ years to track this as it has been proclaimed by some to be one of the finest this house has made.
As if this wasn’t enough, Don pulled out 2 masked mystery bottles for which he used the Port tongs to remove the necks and I decanted them before before they were poured for all to taste and identify. Almost immediately, Darrell Corti began to deduct what some of the nuances suggested and in short time, nailed it as being a 1934 Colheita. Genius!
1934 TAYLOR FLADGATE PORTO COLHEITA- it was sherry like with its maple, dark amber color, it smelled like and tasted like a sherry to me, but I had to go with a Tawny from TF knowing this was more likely the case; the nose was redolent of almonds, vanilla and maple and even the texture was somewhat thick and creamy maple syrup like; the amazing fact about this wine was is was bottled in 1977.
For me, it was such a special treat to meet some of the principals in the world of Port as well as many others who are impassioned in this wonderful world of all things wine.
I learned a lot and have even great appreciation for aged Ports that I would treasure having in the cellar and sharing with others as Don Schliff does. Obviously, to taste through 20 Vintage Ports from 1890-2016 made it an exceptional experience for which I am extremely grateful.