Jancis writes: I know some old hands worry that younger wine drinkers will never have a chance to sample the most glamorous bordeaux and burgundy. As I argued recently in A dozen of the merriest reds, I'm not too worried about this. But I am a little concerned about how few wine lovers are likely ever to sample the unique pleasures of mature vintage port. Wines that don't show their most valuable qualities until they have spent three or four decades in bottle are not exactly in tune with our times. And you really need a rich connoisseur uncle, or friend in a venerable traditional wine company, to stand a chance of enjoying the sumptuous, jewelly quality of a fully mature vintage port. Even the French, who see themselves as great supporters of port, think that 10 years is quite an age for one. Very fortunately, as a wine professional, I have recently had a chance to try a few truly lovely mature examples. See below.
Mind you, at the other end of the port market, it's strange that it's not easier to get the (pretty thick) capsules off some bottles of port with a stopper cork. I struggled even with the mass-market brand Cockburns Special Reserve (could it not have a little rip-off thingy like most champagnes nowadays?). And I very nearly failed completely to manage to untwist the stopper corks off the Taylor's Late Bottled Vintage 2010 and Taylors 10 Year Old Tawny.
One thing I would draw to your attention in the fortified wine business is the transformation of Harveys. We all know what Harveys sherry used to mean: a supermarket ocean of very ordinary Bristol Cream. But the two Harveys bottlings described below really stood out in a recent blind tasting of strong and sweet wines. The reason is that the noble sherry house of Domecq no longer exists and Harveys recently took over all their vineyards, bodegas and some delightful old soleras responsible for these wines. Even more recently, Harveys, along with all the other brands owned by Beam Suntory, was sold to the Philippines Emperador group owned by Andrew Tan, which already owns Whyte & Mackay Scotch whisky. Let us hope he will do his bit to revive sherry's fortunes.
In another bid to keep up with the times, the Consejo Regulador (governing council) for the sherry region proudly announced yesterday that its website is the first to use the new top-level domain .wine (see www.sherry.wine – a site with a huge amount of useful information, not only on production methods and history but also on food and wine matching).
Richard's picture is of some of Roussillon's sweet wine treasure: some of Mas Amiel of Maury's vins doux naturels ageing in glass bonbonnes.
These 137 wines, many of them absolutely delicious, are divided by type and then in descending score order.
What a marvel this wine is! Enjoyed with the successful bidders for a boardroom lunch generously provided by Berry Bros & Rudd for an auction lot at the Tokyo Room to Read wine gala. On the nose there is a sort of gingery spice (though nothing whatever like bacterial spoilage). Such intensity and tension. Great richness and creaminess combined with extreme liquid excitement. Stunning. Berrys apparently sold 2,200 dozen bottles of this very special wine. Unusually approachable.
Just 350 cases of this very special bottling of Clos Ste Hune Vendanges Tardives were made in 1959, 1967 and 1989 and this was the best bottle I have so far tasted – served at the beginning of a dinner to celebrate my birthday, a few months late. Deep orangey copper colour. The nose is fully evolved Riesling though without aggressive petrol notes. Definite sweetness but absolutely not cloying – there is no shortage of acidity. This is hugely appetising (it was delicious with Simon Hopkinson's lobster tartlets) with an impressive undertow of lime marmalade. Something slightly burnt about this. Round but not creamy.
Deep orange colour. Coffee and marmalade on the nose, thick orange-peel infused honey. Catherine-wheel bright, vivid, like an electric shock of gorgeousness. Marmalade coming through to the palate, with all the sweet sharp bitterness and tang of the very best Seville oranges. Wonderful vibrancy and energy despite extraordinary sweetness. Just glorious! Long, lingering, can can dancing across the tongue and back again, taking curtain call after curtain call. I didn't spit this. I may have been mean with my score. (TC)11%
This follows the 1999 and 2005 vintages of this special bottling. Just 4,654 numbered half-litre bottles were filled. Lightly volcanic soil. Three passes through the vineyard between 28 September and 11 November yielded individually selected berries that were then steeped in a Furmint-based must.
Intense pineapple fruit on the nose – much more than the usual Tokaji apricot – with crème brûlée. Wonderfully clean, arrestingly sweet, but ultimately super-fresh on the palate. Layers of something mineral and a bracingly lifted on the finish.
From a half bottle filled by the female magician of Rust with a blend of Welschriesling and Weissburgunder with masses of botrytis influence. Wonderfully fresh but rich too, Admirable balanced and grip – like the perfect tarte Tatin juice. No hurry to drink this.12.5%
A blend of sun dried 80% Assyrtiko, 10% Aidani and 10% Athiri aged for four years in barrel.
No rancio notes. Lustrous mahogany with a greenish rim. Extremely sweet but with wonderful freshness and strong orange-peel notes. Beautiful balance and a fresh finish. Really intriguing.
Sun-dried Zibibbo (Muscat d'Alexandria).
Amber. Complex, layers of smoky bacon, maple syrup and nectarines. Gingery citrus tang, over pecan bass notes. Layers and layers of flavour here, rich fleshy plums, cloves, and shimmering with madeira-like acidity. Stunning. (TC)
A vintage commemorating Johnny Hugel (1924-2009) and a handsome tribute. Deep and rich and even, this has quite a bit of residual sugar but masses of acidity too so was a fine acompaniment to thick slices of top-quality smoked salmon. Already there was lots of developed Riesling character on the nose.12%
Bought originally from La Vigneronne.
This, amazingly, managed to stand up to the sweetest imaginable cake from the Violet Bakery. Very rich and seductive and still firing on all cylinders yet with admirable freshness.
Half bottle in admirably good nick. Fresh amber colour and real zest. Lime-marmalade flavours and still really good fruit with acidity well in balance rather than sticking out of the side. This is a wine that teaches me that Eiswein can indeed age. And look at that alcohol level. A great pleasure to sip half a glass of this in the middle of the day without any adverse effects.6%
Very pale gold. Truffles, pungent, a high note of glue. Long and elegant intensity. Wrap-around sweetness yet delineated by acidity and a savoury edge. Quite lovely with both smoked chicken and a soft Cotswold blue cheese, but I could see this working with a wild mushroom velouté. VGV (TC)14%
Gold. Spicy grapes, apricots, ginger tea – stunning nose. Rosehip syrup. Delicate. Light white peppery spice and golden fig with a trace of cardamom. Delicate, filigree, spiced. Long, languid finish. (TC)11%
Compact and serious on the nose. Smoky, meadow grass, summer honey with the lightest hint of cobbler's glue. Lemon-peel zestiness shot through a palate drenched in honey, slow and languid with the weight of it. Delicate acidity lifting it to a gentle point, but not defined by acidity. (TC)12.5%
100% Muscat de Frontignan.
Intensely pure apricot and bitter orange. Such purity, with the merest hint of grip to the texture. At the end of a long tasting, this is soothing nectar – still so youthful and with good further ageing potential. (JH)
Mushroomy and rich and waves of tarte Tatin and lemon syrup. Chalky notes and lychees. Rich and sumptuous with a thin citrus edge giving just enough freshness. Tightrope balance. Very good. GV (TC)13.5%
Rosy amber. Salty smoky caramelised-pecan nose. Quite surprisingly dry-tasting with an intriguing cigar-smoke top note. Bacon fat and caramel yet fine and elegant with a long, dry, savoury finish. (TC)15%
Blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc.
Aged in big Austrian oak. Super-intense oranges and apricots, all reduced down to an essence of fruit, yet still with great freshness. On the palate, bitter orange, dried apricot, amazing intensity. Decadent but full of energy. VVGV (JH)
RS 98 g/l, TA 3.4 g/l, pH 3.7. Yields 38 hl/ha; average age of the vines 65 years. 50% botrytis. One-month fermentation, bottled September 2012.
Unctuous perfume of caramelised pears rolling through to the palate with slow, almost oily texture. Tangy, despite lustrous sweetness, and a very pretty, almost floral, lift at the end. Lychee syrup, but hinting at savoury development to come. (TC)
RS 72 g/l, TA 4.7 g/l, pH 3.5. Yield 33 hl/ha, average vine age 27 years. Grey marls and gypsum (Keuper). South facing, very steep slope.
Distinctly different from the Zind Clos Windsbuhl Hunawihr Pinot Gris tasted alongside. A much more toasty nutty nose, some orange peel, even slightly ashy, furniture polish. Almost holding back aromatically. Honeyed apricots, intense, like Earl Grey tea leaves dipped in lemon syrup. Subtle smokiness, and then a gentle beguiling finish. Not quite as long as the Clos Windsbuhl, but perhaps more structured. (TC)
Late-harvest grapes from old unirrigated vineyards of Monastrell, eight months in French and American oak.
Dark purple. Sage, tarragon, charred, and poached strawberries, leafy. Beautiful nose. Sharp green sorrel, rich sweet plum and that bitter-sweet tannic sharpness of sloe berries. Wonderful savour and sweetness altogether. Has a rugged herbal edge. Lots of character and a real sense of place. GV (TC)
Deep gold. Little bit of savoury complexity. Broad and honeyed and textured, as if there'd been a bit of skin contact. Fresh but drippingly ripe apricot and peach sweetness unfolding across the palate. Marmalade notes, long and tangy with an undertow of salty whisky spice. If anything, I'd like a tiny bit more acidity to lift the finish, but that's nitpicking on a beautiful wine. (TC)11.5%
Dark plum colour. Packed with sweet thick damsons on the palate. Rich, liquorice-laced plum compote. Very very sweet and juicy. A good wine for a rich chocolate pudding! (TC)13%
Very dark with a hint of brown at the rim. Complex aroma that is hard to describe: a slight herbaceous/herbal note giving way to a really savoury quality though there is sweet ripe dark fruit there too. On the palate, much more direct and simple than on the nose – sweet, lifted black and sour-cherry fruit. A gentle but definite tannic grip. Characterful and full of rich dark flavour. Sweet but not overly so. (JH)13.5%
Green apricots and lots of cut apple. Beautiful acidity – arching over the palate. Spiced marzipan and glistening with golden honeyed fruit, a sort of liquid watermelon confit. Clean sharp length. (TC)11.5%
Intense apricot and quince aroma. Very sweet, very pure, with flavours of figs, orange marmalade and a light note of ginger. Rich, viscous and balanced by clarity of freshness on the finish. (JH)13.5%
Very pure and fresh on the nose but then extremely sweet on the palate. More acidity would be needed for a really long-term wine but there is lots of present pleasure.
Deep gold. Deep and tangy and ginger flavoured. Barley sugar on the palate but somehow flat and disappointing after the promise of the nose. Shame because it is not expensive at all – worth a punt. (JH)14%
Tintilla de Rota is an ancient traditional grape – rare. 18 months in French oak.
Blackish purple. Crushed mulberries, char grilled. Very very very sweet. Heavily cassis and swathed in molten dark chocolate. Not quite enough freshness for me, but it's a very good match for chocolate. (TC)
Relatively reserved aromas for a dessert wine, a very light cheesiness. Really fresh and grippy, wonderful sharp apple brightness and apricot sweetness. Sticky apricot conserve and yet there is real freshness. Quite fine. Good with smoked chicken! VGV (TC)13%
Alas I cannot find any stockist of this outside France but Slurp.co.uk have reduced halves of the 2011, which one assumes may be even better quality, to £9.99. Lions is usually a selection of the lighter ingredients of the vintage but made initially with the same care but in 2012 there was no Ch Suduiraut so this is presumably made up of the produce of some pretty smart parcels. Pale gold and with all the richness and majesty of a top quality botrytised Sauternes. Although it currently seems to be available only in France, it should be GV.13.5%
Gunpowder and ash to start, which does blow off slowly, leaving sweet notes of apple pie. Dense, baked apple and pear, opulent and honeyed without heaviness. A slight metallic note, which adds intereste rather than detracting from the whole. Orange peel. Tight long finish. GV (TC)15%
Light cherry red. Very pure and fresh. Smoky nose, light bodied, medium sweetness with excellent acidity and freshness. Fun rather than classic. Unusual.
Sémillon, Muscadelle. Pure lemon and apricot aromas with a grapey touch. Hint of honey. Pure, rich and full of fruit. Relatively simple but well balanced. (JH)13%
Mid orangey gold. Intense orange and apricot aromas draw you in. Apricot and honey on the palate, rich and viscous but could do with a little more acidity to balance. Spicy aftertaste. (JH)13%
Very good botrytis nose. Not that much acid. Ready now. But very very creditable.9.6%
100% Ortega, botrytised grapes hand-picked in early October. 50% fermented in new French oak and 50% in stainless steel. RS 107.9 g/l.
Apricots. Quite light in colour and light on the nose. Masses of acidity, passion fruit in buckets, wonderful freshness on the finish. Good with fresh mango. Not as complex as some but it delivers surprisingly good depth of flavour and lime-sherbet freshness. A grassy green streak on the finish. Great fun! (TC)
Big, rond-fruited and pungently aromatic. Not exceptionally sweet, this would be lovely with pâté de foie gras or something similarly creamy, rich and meaty.
Spicy bitter orange aroma. Barley-sugar sweetness on the palate. Could do with being a little more chilled to show it at its best. Rich, with an almondy finish. (JH)14%
85% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc and some Muscadelle. Second wine of Ch Rieussec.
Barley sugar and cedary/oaky aromas. Richly viscous and full of caramelised orange flavours as well as a sour freshness. This is not chilled so it is not really flattered but it is very sweet and intense and satisfying. Just enough freshness. (JH)
Only medium sweet. Very delicate wine with a green streak from the Welschriesling and only mid weight. A slightly but not unpleasant bitter note on the end. Not nearly as magnificent as the Selektion Beerenauslese from the same vintage.12%
Deep on the nose, dark dried apricots. Very rich and caramelised and honeyed. Vibratingly and incredibly sweet – a bottled version of poached apricots in syrup with cream. Very luscious and a tiny bit toasty. Massively sweet – almost in need of a bit more acidity. (TC)10.5%
Tropical sweet Sauvignon Blanc nose. Punching it's way out with plenty of very succulent juicy pineapple and mango fruit. Explodes with pineapple. Not subtle but really good fun. Perfect fruit salad match. Pungent gooseberry and grassy notes left in the glass. GV (TC)12%
An old faithful. Pale gold. Lightly sweaty nose. Not much fruit concentration on the palate and rather citric-tasting acidity. Pretty simple and not actually that sweet. Short.10%
Odd nose, gripe water and new plastic. Very weird. Smells like a toy that has just been taken out the box, and tastes a bit plastic too. Super-sweet kerosene. Not good at all. (TC)13.5%
In late September one cask of the 150 of the 10-year-old Fino-Amontillado solera was chosen for this bottling, without filtration or clarification.
Pale glowing tawny. Strong nose of cushiony bread. Really lively and fresh – a step up from Dos Palmas in terms of crystalline precision. Seems to be more acid and indeed is 5.52 g/l as tartaric – presumably because of concentration in the cask. Salty and nutty – walnuts. Really exciting.
So, at least 30 years old... Bright pale orange tawny. Mild, unforced nose with a hint of jamon serrano (or is this auto-suggestion?) and no excessive concentration and really exciting bone-dry liquorice and peanut notes. An edge of saltiness. Just the thing to get the appetite going in the middle of the festive season. Very fresh, clean finish. Well done! It will not improve in bottle so get drinking.21.5%
Tasted blind. An old amontillado with some sweetness. Pale greenish tawny. Strong rancio aromas. Dried fruits and nuts. Light and refreshing and with real nerve. This would be great with cheese. Hardly sweet. Not sure about it with puds – too dry? Great with nuts.19%
This is a selection of old Amontillado (25 years plus), lying untouched, forgotten in the Sanchez Romate cellars, where their top Amontillado Solera is kept. Hand bottled, with no stabilisation.
Very pale greenish tawny. Headily pungent. Ridiculously cheap. But it deserves 100% attention when sipped. Fabissimo. Just this side of too concentrated. GV
Menthol, herbal scent floating above the dense dry fruit and distinct pipe smoke on the palate. Esoteric and loaded with flavour. Absolutely charming and flavoursome and unique. (RH)
On the back label, in tiny letters, this is described as a Cream raised as an Oloroso and a PX. Mid brown with a tawny rim. Not much nose – less entrancing than I remember. Buton the palate there's a most satisfying blend of fully mature Oloroso character with a light Pedro Ximénez sweetener. It sort of reminds me of a particularly rich cigar. The astringency on the finish is very light and the balance is excellent – still refreshing. I would enjoy this a lot with mature cheddar. It's probably a bit too tangy to serve with most sweet foods, though it is by no means unlike liquid Christmas cake so might work with it. Or with mince pies. Or even Christmas pudding.20.5%
Tasted blind. Blackish dark brown. Nervy nose that promises masses of sugar but also some freshness. Very thick and pungent with the suggestion of some age and interest. Proper and very sophisticated wine, with an undertow of acidity and a little grip – not just sugar. Pour this over top-quality vanilla ice cream? Christmas in a glass.16%
Very intense palate with muscovado and Christmas spice – clove, anise, cinnamon. Thick yet not cloying – quite a balancing act – an impressive mouthful. (RH)
Bright, shining fruit with amazing intensity and conviction. Absolute rocket fuel – quite remarkable in its power. Salty, profound, remarkable. (RH)
Tasted blind. Deep thick brown with blackish notes. Quite a restrained nose and then very syrupy. Light floral notes. Some attempt at subtlety here! Not too overwhelming in terms of sweetness. Some balance. Zest too.15%
Dark orangey gold. Two casks selected out of 150 of the eight-year-old Fino solera. Total acidity 4.47 g/l. Starting to have some amontillado on the nose. Lovely bite on the palate. Very chiselled with the flor layer smudging into something older. Good chew. This should be served with food! Quite exciting and nervy. Acetaldehyde 420 mg/l. Long.15.7%
I'm pretty sure this used to be sold as a Palo Cortado but in tiny letters on the back label is 'Medium – raised as a Palo Cortado and PX'. Reddish tawny. Lightly cheesy nose opens out to a relatively rich but dry sherry. I wonder whether the PX was needed to soften the high acid of a very old, concentrated sherry? It's pretty dry but not bne dry. Rather splits the difference between the tanginess of the Del Duque and the real richness of the Matusalem.20%
There’s a modern vanilla scent here which is slightly reminiscent of Rutherglen. Dried mixed peel, sour tamarind notes and a hugely heavyweight impact on the mid-palate. Fearsome stuff! (RH)
Golden brown and very expressive on the nose with hazelnut, golden syrup and mixed peel. Lovely tamarind sourness to the finish – very savoury, mushroom sauce finish. (RH)
Spirity and grapey. Dark brown colour but doesn’t really have any nutty character. Lovely purity and floral lift, and manages to finish without cloying despite the high sugar content. (RH)
Muscovado and dark treacle with dark chocolate and preserved figs. Intense, potent and heady – formidable stuff, but it isn’t just sugar and alcohol – there’s fruit flavour here too. (RH)
Salty and nutty with dry, chewy fruit – raisined and savoury with great concentration and a good amount of persistence. Dry and vibrant. (RH)
Three casks out of 142 of the six-year Fino solera were selected for this year's bottling and neither filtered nor clarified. Total acidity as tartaric is 4.47 g/l. Great bready flor nose. Bone dry (residual sugar 1.4 g/l) though a little soft on the palate. Lots of soft, easy fun for those looking for the en rama experience without paying too much of a premium.15.5%
Dark brown with a fox red rim. Treacle and age on the nose of this PX – fun to see what happens to this unusual grape with time. This is not too heavy or syrupy but has a refreshing freshness on the finish. Well balanced again – especially compared with most inexpensive PXs – but whether it's really worth the premium is another question.15.5%
Tasted blind. Mid blackish brown. Cabbagey prune juice on the nose. Treacle notes too. Very sweet indeed. But more vitality than some. Long and vibrant.17%
Greenish pale tawny suggests some extended ageing in wood. Interesting nuttiness on the nose. Just off dry as it hits the palate but great tang and dryness on the finish. Hint of treacle but nothing sweet on the finish. really appetising. VGV20%
Melted dark sugar and molasses. Gorgeously thick and rich, dark coffee treacle flavours. (TC)17%
Tasted blind. Virtually black! Coats the inside of the glass. Unusual minerally notes not unlike tarmacadam. Lots of syrupy texture, molten treacle toffee. But sufficient acidity too. In tiny drops this could please… Very distinctive. Looks quite young. A bit of alcohol on the end.17%
An usual style of fino, with wines 7-8 years old. It does not say 'en rama' on the label but effectively it is, with just a light filtration between butt and bottle. A previous wine of the week.
Pale gold but darker than a typical young fino. Deeply aromatic – salty, bruised apples and a touch yeasty and even a hint of honey but with zero sense of sweetness. Complex and inviting. Bone dry, almost savoury in its sour/fresh flavours, with terrific depth and intensity. This has perhaps more flavour and complexity than elegance but it has to be my bargain of the year. And the finish is deliciously fresh. (JH)
Strong Demerara scent. Spirity and spicy. Raisined and very sweet, of course – though it doesn't cloy. Simple, powerful, balanced. (RH)19%
Sugary and spirity on the nose, but not crude. There’s a fresh grape scent to the palate, and it just manages to deliver a cleansing finish. (RH)
Less forthright and outgoing than their Amontillado, though the palate has plenty of concentration and chew. There’s a minty hint in there, and some smoke too. (RH)
One cask from the mere six that constitute the Very Old Amontillado solera that has been ageing for an average of 51 years for this bottling that is much darker than the Fino Palmas bottlings. Total acidity 9.42 g/l, residual sugar 7.2 g/l (much higher than the other bottlings in this series), acetaldehyde 215 mg/l.
Dark fox red. Very concentrated. Dusty nose, painful palate – just too concentrated and tart for me. A curiosity rather than a drink. It cries out for more sweetening as far as my palate is concerned. Green treacle finish – bone-dry impression.
Very pale tawny indeed. Smells a little sweet and rank and then with a light layer of caramel, Definitely not from the top Palo Cortado drawer but bone dry and tangy. Marked acidity. Just a little smokiness. GV19%
Pale brown. Unusual to find a PX this potent. Presumably it has been heavily fortified. Light raisin juice. Awfully, almost painfully sweet. Great for pouring over vanilla ice cream or cooking with but probably a bit much to sip – although there's a nice treacly kick on the end.19%
Mid gold. Nutty and medium bodied. Lacking a bit of fruit vibrancy but delivers classic traditional Amontillado style. (RH)
Rather stronger than the usual Manzanilla. Very pale. A little bit smoky/stinky on the nose and heavier than the usual Manzanilla but there's nothing wrong with it at this price. Good tang on the end.17%
Pale lustrous brown. A bit unappetisingly raisiny on the nose. Very sweet and syrupy on the palate. Raisins macerated in alcohol? Lightly dry end. Far from the worst PX I have tasted.17%
Pale gold hue – as befits en rama. Quite dilute, but there is merit in its delicacy and I like the Marmite yeast flavour on the finish. Understated fruit, but pleasantly fresh to finish. (RH)
Straightforward dried apple and fresh tobacco flavour. Charming floral notes but fairly brief to finish. (RH)
Tasted blind. Dark brown. Very very sweet indeed, with melted brown sugar the dominant flavour. Prune juice. This would overwhelm most puds and could do with a little more acidity and lift.17%
Fairly dilute and easy. Drinkable but doesn’t excite. (RH)
Light, gently fragrant and slightly nutty. Easy and unchallenging. (RH)
Bottled by Berry Bros & Rudd, who bottled their last wines in 1991 with a 1990 Chapoutier. They were still bottling bordeaux in the late 1970s and wood ports in the late 1980s.
Sweet red fruits on this with a peppery finish. This was still going strong! A note of pimento even. Lots of flattering roundness of texture. Mature vintage port is a very special treat.
One of the first single-harvest tawnies made by Peter Symington after his family company acquired Graham in 1970. He nursed it through decades in wood before passing it on to his son and winemaking heir Charles in 2009. In 2015 Charles selected nine of the casks to bottle and release. Beautifully lustrous, shaded pale tawny. Toffee and a hint of rancio on the nose. Raisins and cut peel with a hint of eucalyptus. A host of Christmassy flavours indeed. But it's light and fresh on the finish. This is something very special. Transparent rather than heavy. In its smart but not OTT packaging, it would make a great Christmas gift. Urge the recipient there is no point in giving it any bottle age.20%
Transparent ruby. Fully evolved with beautiful round satin texture (all tannins fully dissolved) with a very winning combination of liquorice and haunting sweet red fruit. Very gorgeous. This is clearly a great vintage to enjoy now.
Still dark crimson. Just a little spirity on the nose but wonderfully opulent and sweet on the palate with the tannins still making their presence felt. Pretty dry on the end now. I would choose the Fonseca Guimaraens 1998 as offering better value for current drinking. Amazingly, this still needs a bit of time, I think!20.5%
Mid to dark crimson. Very light nose – so much so that I almost wonder whether there is a problem with this particular natural cork? Very sweet – quite a contrast to the Taylor LBV 2010! And indeed to the stereotypical Taylor style. Massively rich. Big raisiny delivery. Fun and exuberant and then a dry peppery finish. Not quite married yet but very interesting. Big and beefy. Unexpectedly so.20.5%
Bottled in 2015. Mid rosy tawny colour with a pale rim. Note the alcoholic strength which suggests this has been so long aged that it has gained strength. This is not as assertive on the nose nor as sumptuous as the bottling I described last year but it is more vigorous than the Graham counterpart. Pretty rich on the start of the palate and then it finishes dry. Almonds and orange peel. A good wine, worth a premium over the Graham 20 Year Old – just not quite as wonderful as last year's model.21%
Unusually, this is the produce of a single quinta. Extremey dark – much, much darker than, for example, the Taylor's LBV 2010. Almost blackish purple. Very spicy, intense and very sweet nose. But with a fresh, dry, lightly tannic finish. This surely rivals some of the single-quinta ports that tend to cost much more. Masses of character and integrity and with sure Quinta do Noval character. Really very complete and sophisticated. So easy to see how this really is an accelerated vintage port. You could force it down this Christmas, I suppose... GV19.5%
Dark crimson. Mild, well-mannered nose. Very smooth and massaged with lots of peppery fruit on the palate and then a refined, dry finish. Strong liquorice notes and drinkable already. Still youthful though with more to come. A fair price for this amount of integrity and refinement. Just a little subdued on the finish.20%
The backbone for Graham comes from Quinta dos Malvedos where there are newly installed robotic stainless-steel lagares.
Mellow nose with cordite and dry finish on pretty tannic fruit. Not really ready yet but you could serve some food that would complement the liquorice sweetness.
Presumably matured by Wiese & Krohn, fairly recently acquired by The Fladgate Partnership. This comes in a smart wooden box and the 2,000 bottles filled are just at the end of their life as half-century birthday gifts. I tasted a small sample from a test tube. It didn't have much nose and was a little rank on the palate but had masses of alcohol and punch. It's fun with some dried apricot flavour but is much more jagged and less integrated than the Graham's 1972. I can see why it is cheaper. A bit hot, then dry, on the end.20%
From a notably small harvest. Very deep ruby with a shaded, ageing rim. Fully mature nose with liquorice and dark chocolate notes. More bitter chocolate on the palate. Very vigorous with the tannins well in retreat. Lots of interest and at just the right stage to start enjoying. A solid, not that sweet, style that should survive in a decanter for a few days rather than a few hours. Real concentration. Relatively GV.20%
Very distinctive smell of tobacco leaves while they are still curing, turning to yellow, the scent of cigar becoming stronger than the slowly blurring, pungent greenness. Dark dried figs, meaty and more savoury than plushly sweet. Tannins assertive and muscular, but fitting the whole with comfortable ease, and the alcohol still pungent enough to clear a head cold. (TC)19.5%
Mid ruby. The nose is still a little unformed but there is most attractive violet lift on the nose. Not as concentrated as the Warre's Quint da Cavadinha offering from the same vintage but lots of fun with great charm. I suspect the nose will not develop into anything much more complex. GV20.5%
Virtually black at the core with a rim the colour of elderberries. Fabulous aroma, almost raw in its dark-fruit intensity. Sweet and tarry. On the palate, very sweet, full of figs and prunes but still fresh enough to balance all that richness. Deep, grainy tannins, as you would expect from such a baby. Generous, rich and long. As Jancis would say, perfect for a sore throat – but not yet. (JH)19.5%
Mid bright tawny colour. Light nose. Raisiny fruit but not that vital. A bit low key. Dry, treacley finish. Beautiful packaging... Much drier than the Taylor's version. But actually with lots of interest and more obvious wood-aged character.20%
Very pale rose-coloured tawny colour. Not that aromatic but very delicate on the palate with some rancio character and marked acidity. Arguably too delicate to serve with food. I'd favour the 10 Year Old Tawny over this to serve with cheese and/or nuts. Sip this contemplatively. At its peak now so no point in keeping it. Very handsome packaging in a squat flask and wooden stopper – comes in a smart cylinder with wooden lid.20%
This is made from Quinta do Noval's younger vines. The back label urges us to serve it chilled as an aperitif or with dark chocolate at any time.
Dark crimson. High-toned and rather refined on the nose. Then very sweet and smooth on the palate. Builds on the finish, which turns dry in the end. Pretty damned good! Very appetising and ready to enjoy already. Clean and fresh with, yes, a hint of violets.
Dark crimson, even if not as dark as the Quinta do Noval version. Very rich dried herbs on the nose. Lots of excitement and dried raisin fruit with a dry finish. Correct and with a little bit of tannin on the end. Pretty good really! Understated and not too sweet. A very different, less concentrated, style from the Noval LBV 2009. GV20%
This looks pale ruby rather than tawny! Chocolatey nose, sweet and round with the tiniest rancio note. Dry finish. Pretty sweet with essence of marzipan the dominant flavour. Quite refreshing on the finish.20%
Bottled in 2007. On the label it says it's made by Quinta and Vineyard Bottlers Vinhos but on the website the producer is given as Fonseca.
Malted thick mince-pie nose. Real Christmas-pudding wine, savoury with spices, yet sweet and dense with dried fruit. Quite smooth and easy although I don't think it's worth keeping for too long. (TC)
Very low-key rancio nose. Sweet and a little nutty, some marzipan and wood spice. Dusty treacle and a tiny bit of orange peel on the end. Quite short. (TC)20%
Burnt plum jam with a green streak. Pungent and fiery with broad muscular tannins and plenty of sweet dark-berried fruit. Power and impact over finesse. (TC)20%
New owners (since 2010) Symingtons have been trying hard to beef up the quality of this leading brand of ruby port. Certainly the fruit smells attractively fresh with a fine assertive chewy end. This was my note in 2011. It is still dry – quite pleasingly peppery – on the end but much richer and more satisfying on the palate now. It's really pretty good for £12. GV20%
From certified organic vineyards. Mid crimson. Relatively light nose and very smooth on the palate – even very slightly timid. All fruit (much less chewy than Cockburn's Special Reserve, for example). The finish is relatively dry. The whole impression is pretty muscular. One of the less obvious branded ruby ports.20%
Dark purple. Very spicy and dark, notes of dried and stewed fruit almost buried in rather burly tannins. Quite hot, a bit rough on the edges, lacking a little in refinement. But very inexpensive! (TC)20%
Pale rose red with a ruby rim. Not much nose. Very sweet start to the palate and then bravely dry on the end. The fruit is just a tad tired and it's a little spirity on the end. But it's nicely delicate and appetising.20%
Rosé port. Bright loud pink! Smells a bit like raspberry-ripple ice cream. Tastes not unlike cherry cough medicine. Shades of very sweet Campari. Definitely not for port lovers. I'd top up with soda water, add ice, and add it to the cocktail menu. (TC)19.5%
Deep crimson. Very fancy packaging but not much on the nose. Clean, well mannered, fresh but rather inexpressive fruit. Pretty dry and chewy on the end. A sort of mild shadow of the Taylor's style. I'm not quite sure of the appeal of this wine as I'd have thought that the market for this relatively inexpensive wine would want a bit more oomph and would never have experienced a fine Taylor's vintage port proper.20%
Hooray for Blandy's under Chris Blandy, who is working so hard to put the company back on the map. Last year saw the launch of 1998 Verdelho and Sercial Colheitas. This year's rabbit pulled from a hat on the Atlantic island is this bottling of an almost-extinct grape variety, the wine orginally designed to commemorate Blandy's bicentenary in 2011. Pale reddish tawny ('topaz' according to Blandy's notes). Smells just slightly sweaty/cheesy. But on the palate there is all the grip, intensity and acidity of fine madeira with some extra smokiness. It starts rich but definitely finishes dry. This should make it extra versatile. Really clean and fresh. I will definitely be looking for a revitalising glass of this at various points over Christmas. This is ready to enjoy now. Considering the rarity and the age, this is relatively GV.19%
Blend of Champagne grapes. Colour of Victoria plum skins, ie light tawny. Smells rather like apricot eau de vie with that woody aroma of spirit. Sweet, powerful but so deliciously scented on the palate: orange and rose and dried apricots. Scrumptious. (JH)17.5%
Grenache Blanc and Gris. Deep orangey gold. Wonderful aroma of butterscotch, dried apricot and dried flowers but also dates and nuts. Utterly delicious and elegant on the palate – sweet but fresh and full of apricot flavours as well as spice. Viscous and full in the mouth but finishes miraculously fresh. Stunning. VVGV (JH)16%
Tasted blind. Dark tawny. Rancio edge and some almonds and orange peel on the nose. Really fresh and intriguing. Not that sweet but with exciting raciness. Lovely with nuts or cheese. May not be quite sweet enough for Christmas pudding. Cask 835 is £13.95 per 50cl from The Wine Society and Cask 932 is £19.95 per 50cl from Berry Bros & Rudd17%
Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris. Aged in wood for one year.
Burnt sugar, black cherries and orange peel. Slight char on the nose, like singed rose wood. Doesn't smell overtly like a sweet wine. Lots more of that dark sweet cherry and orange zest on the palate with a bracing mandarin/deep citrus acidity. Just a hint of wood spice. Delicious. Despite the alcohol and sweetness, it's sharp and tangy and refreshing. VVGV (TC)
In oak barrels for five years.
A wonderful rich earthy fresh-truffles aroma. Chestnuts and roasted mushrooms give it a deep baritone flavour, herbs and damp sous bois of autumn. Not overly sweet, though rich, nutty, bold, long, and fantastic. Outrageously cheap. VVGV (TC)
90% Grenache Noir, 10% Carignan.
Deep brick colour. Ripe plum, raisin, prune, still some red fruits. Deliciously moreish on the palate with plenty of red fruit and prunes and figs on the palate and a super-silky texture. I’d love to try this with hard cheese. GV (JH)
Bottled in 2014.
Tasted blind. A little stale and occluded on the nose. Lots of green rancio flavour. Quite tart really but a fine madeira and well made and nervy. But because of the acidity it doesn’t taste very sweet. Lots of energy though.
Tasted blind. Pale orange. A hint of vomit on the nose. But attractive sweetness and some dried peel character. Very transparent and appetising. Good acidity. But rather fragile. Not quite sweet enough for a pud.19%
Bottled in 2014.
Tasted blind. Dark pale transparent orange tawny. Strongly pungent rancio. Medium sweetness and lots of transparency and wood ageing. Another wine that would be great with nuts and cheese but a bit too dry and delicate for a pud.
Nutty, intense, cooked fruit and a good deal of figgy intensity. It has the requisite mix of sugar and acid but the flavour complexity is pretty ordinary. There is a definite rancio note on the finish, mind, giving a caramelised quality. (RH)19%
This blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu has spent 17 years in cask, exposed to the elements.
A bit deeper coloured than most Amontillados. Broad and sweet and tangy with just a hint of rancio. Not quite as exciting as the wines from the Roussillon Archivist. More sticky than lively.
Dark, chewy and porty. Very youthful fruit character – bright and concentrated, with a smoky coffee character giving complexity. (RH)17%
Pale bright, almost greenish tawny. Smells of caramel – not the freshest grapes – and rather sickly on the palate. For sugar freaks, with a lightly floral nose. Certainly not expensive, and packaged in a smart clear bottle with gold etching on it. Boudoir market.15%
Tasted blind. Dark crimson. Sweet clarety nose is rather beguiling. Good freshness, not that much sweetness. Rather austere tannins on the end – as though Bordeaux decided to produce a rather light VDN! Clean but I’m not sure where I would place it in a meal. With cheese?15.5%
Biodynamic. Percussion-bright mandarin-liqueur notes on the nose. Lots of satsuma and orange on the palate with a faint almond note of alcohol rising on the finish. Citrus-peel bitterness giving edge to the sweetness and some heat evident towards the end. (TC)15%
Tasted blind. Very dark crimson with some glow. Sweet, treacley nose with some aromatic appeal. Medium sweet on the palate but a bit simple. Tastes like a novelty rather than an accepted wine style. A tad tart on the end. And overall a little simple.15%
Tasted blind. Blackish crimson. Intense, almost Zinfandel berry aromas on the nose. But it falls away a little on the palate. It’s not really all that sweet nor does it taste that alcoholic. Rather a strange beast. Falls away.16.5%
Tasted blind. Pale orange tawny. A bit tarty orange flower water on the nose. Not really the follow-through one seeks. A little astringent on the finish. Perfectly OK but not exciting. Sweet and a little sugary as well as quite strong.17.5%
Tasted blind. Mid orangey brown. Not much nose. A little tart. Sweet and sour without much knitting the two.15%
Huge impact on the nose, seems to loud-hail its way out the glass. Easily the most attention-seeking wine in quite a big line-up of dessert wines. Lots of very sweet orange syrup and orange blossom and a bit spicy. The alcohol is evident and a little bit harsh, overall a bit one-dimensional. It's certainly not expensive but there are so many more interesting dessert wines out there. (TC)15%
Tasted blind. Very pale orange. Excessively rancio! Bone dry and rather acetic. Not for me.18%
Tasted blind. Very deep blackish crimson. Char and liquorice on the nose. Then it falls away on the palate. Watery. Is this one of those strange Madiran things? Tannic finish.16.5%
Tasted blind. Sweet chocolatey rather artificial aromas. Then tart and bone dry! Can’t see what this wine is trying to do.18%