Last Friday we had a port tasting at work with Taylors / Fonseca and whilst we didn't show anything particularly out of the ordinary we did show those things that our customers are actually likely to buy :-
Chip Dry White
Taylor's 10yo Tawny
Taylors Vargellas 2001
Fonseca Terra Prima
Fonseca 20yo Tawny
Fonseca Guimaraens 1998
and to put something with some real age Fonseca 1985. Now the '85 is an interesting beast - a lot of people on the night really enjoyed it, and a lot of critics and writers have marked it quite highly. Yet I was really rather underwhelmed by it, a colleague completely damned it (although that was definitely too harsh) , and there are those who have also written less than enthusiastically about it. So what is going on with it?
Well I think that firstly it's at an awkward stage, that means that sometimes when you open it it's going to hit the spot and at others it will be closed a little fruitless and clunky - it's all because it is still a pup waiting to become a big dog of a wine.
I also think that in the trade, we taste a lot of young port, either just bottled, cask samples or just port made for drinking young, tasting older port doesn't happen so much and so our opinions on what makes good port are perhaps altered towards something that it a lot bigger and more freshly fruited than perhaps a connoisseur may be. I think also that because we don't taste them that often, we don't have the same benchmarks we have for other things - and this is exagerated by having only two or three declarations in a decade. If we wanted to see how good the 85 is - we'd not only want to taste it against other ports from the same year (many of which are having the same problems) but it would be nice to taste against 84 and 86 - something that just isn't going to happen.
Then there is the issue of the spirit used - pre the early 1990's all port houses bought all their spirit from the IVDP (port's rule makers) but quality wasn't always high and it has been known for ports to fall apart or go weird because the spirit has gone wrong - after all there is quite a high volume of spirit in a bottle.
So what of it - well I'm not ready to write it off yet. We tasted the 94 Fonseca and Taylor on the same evening - the Fonseca was just beginning to think about hitting early stage maturity - the Taylor was closed tannic and a little behind. By contrast I'm led to believe that the '85 Taylor is now beginning to show a little more maturity and come out of it's shell just a little bit. But the '94 Fonseca is a beast to behold - here is a seriously classy act - sure it's been given 100 points, I'm not sure its worth that but then again I don't think anything is worth 100. Full of depth, complexity and richness, smooth velvety with sensational structure - this is perhaps the finest port I have yet tasted - but at £120 a bottle it isn't cheap.