Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2017
Sales of the Douro’s most famous wine rocket in December (I have my northern hemisphere hat on, obviously – I can’t imagine there are many beachgoers knocking back a glass of 1983 Warre’s Vintage Port for refreshment in the summery heat of Australia’s Gold Coast), and in the UK this comes on top of strong market growth. The UK has long been an important export market for Port, but rising sales through 2020 – up 11.4% in terms of volume (and 2.8% in terms of value) – helped push the UK up into fourth place in the Port export league table for volume (and second place in terms of value). I haven’t seen export figures for 2021 (perhaps they were not so good?).
While sales seem to have been on the up in recent years, in the broader wine market Port (not to mention Sherry, Madeira and a variety of other fortified and sweet wines) remain relatively unfashionable niche interests. This is of benefit to committed Port drinkers (myself included) as it bolsters the availability of good-quality wines in the marketplace, while prices remain tightly controlled, set to suit consumer’s wallets and purses (these are not Veblen goods!). You can’t pop into your local supermarket or corner shop and find wines from the likes of Château Latour, Maison Leroy, Clos Rougeard or Ridge Vineyards (not these days anyway, although I remember buying Ridge from the high street chain Victoria Wine about twenty years ago), but you can walk in off the street and pick up wines from Taylor’s, Warre’s, Graham’s and other leading Port houses.
Sadly, one facet of this – those favourable prices – could change for the worse in 2023. Rises in UK import duty payable on fortified wines, followed by a tax rebanding – a shift from a relative simple duty system to a ludicrous multi-banded system based on alcoholic strength – will see UK Port drinkers paying rather more for their favourite bottles than they have up until now. All the more reason, I guess, to make sure you have a bottle or two of Port lined up alongside the festive bottles (which no doubt include the likes of Latour, Leroy, Clos Rougeard and Ridge). Happily there are – as is often the case – several good and widely available options. I have spotted both the 2018 and 2017 Late Bottled Vintage Port from Taylor’s on the shelves in recent weeks, and of the two the rather coolly framed and fresher style of the 2017 is my choice, although the rather more burly and broad-shouldered 2018 will certainly appeal to some palates.
First a quick word on the 2017 vintage in the Douro, which was characterised by warm and dry weather, with an early budbreak and a bountiful flowering. The most significant challenge of the season was extremely heat in June, which caused some damage to the developing bunches. Thereafter the conditions were largely dry, with just the occasional rainstorm, and the vines remained well ahead of schedule, leading to an early harvest. After that burst of heat in June, the temperatures thankfully less torrid, with some cooler nights. The harvest kicked off on September 1st (at the time, the earliest since 1945), and the fruit was picked in excellent condition. Wines selected for the Late Bottled Vintage were then raised in cask for between four and six years – the key difference between this style and Vintage Port, which might see less than two years – before blending and bottling.
In the glass the 2017 Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port displays a dark and glossy appearance, with a vibrant raspberry red rim. It has a delicious nose, so expressive, with a bright and cleanly drawn character, bursting with blackberry and raspberry fruits, backed up by notes of toast, sweet liquorice and white pepper, all suggesting beautiful purity and definition. The palate is sweet and indeed it is well defined, beautifully balanced and energetic, with a core of juicy black summer fruits, delicious texture but also a cool sense of freshness. Underneath there lie tannins in a ripe and velvety style, leading into a long, bright, sinewy, pepper-laced finish. This is an absolutely delicious LBV, and without a doubt one of the best wines made in this style that I have tasted in recent years. Fill your shopping basket now, while the prices remain in your favour. The declared alcohol is 20%. 93/100 (27/12/22)