Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 1987
The weather remains rather wintry in parts of Scotland, although also rather changeable; for every January day on which I have stepped outside to find it milder than expected, I can think of another when I was greeted by Arctic blasts of bitter cold, flurries of snow and the menacing growl of passing polar bears.
Well, that’s mostly true.
Ursine utterings aside, such gelid conditions are, of course, perfect for (carefully) pulling the (often weak and crumbly) cork on another bottle of the Douro’s best. And after my recent foray into young Port, with the 2017 Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage, this time I chose – while sticking with the same house – something a little older; thirty years older, to be precise.
This is a bottle I have had for some time, for at least eighteen years. I know this not because of meticulous record-keeping but because there were a few telltale vestiges of protective clingfilm on the label, and the last time I needed to preserve labels in this fashion was back in 2005, before I moved house. At that time I was living in a post-war semi-detached maison with an extraordinarily damp cellar (I am not sure ‘damp’ really cuts it – there was often water dripping from the ceiling), and any unprotected labels were quickly transformed into a festering fungal mess. The only effective protection was clingfilm, and all my bottles were wrapped in it.
I often refer to my time at that house as The Clingfilm Years.
In this case the results are far from perfect, but the important bits are at least legible. And I never discovered a better defence against the mould and the mildew.
There was potential in the 1987 vintage, although in the end the quality was not sufficient for a broad declaration. The season started well, with a good flowering and a large potential crop, and hopes were high. But these hopes faded somewhat during the summer, which was extraordinarily hot and dry. By the time of the harvest many berries were dehydrated, bordering on raisined, and while the fruit was rich in intense and concentrated flavour, it was also rather roasted. Only a few minor shippers declared, with the majority of the reputable names choosing instead to bottle single quinta wines.
Taylor’s own a number of quintas along the Douro, but the most prestigious and most strongly associated with their brand is surely Quinta de Vargellas. This estate is located in the eastern reaches of the Douro Valley, and has been a cornerstone of Taylor’s wines since at least 1820. While the single quinta wines do not usually have the standing or aging potential of a declared vintage, it would nevertheless be wrong to assume they are light or easy drinking; they often repay cellaring in a similar manner to a Vintage Port.
Not always though.
In the glass the 1987 Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port displays a fading oxblood hue, with a honeyed rim, the core tinged with nuances of strawberry red and liquorice black. There soon emerges a rather scented nose, in an evolved style, charming and fragrant, with suggestions of rose petal and baked olives, the latter surely a nod to the story of the vintage, along with perfumed sandalwood and pencil shavings. It continues on the palate with a dark, gripped and toasted style. At its heart there is still a nucleus of dark fruit, but wrapped all around it there is a ribbon of fungal degeneration and gently sun-baked driftwood, the first suggesting a rather advanced age, the latter hinting at oxidation. While clearly evolved, it still feels firm and angular, and I think it speaks of glories past rather than present. It is still giving pleasure, nevertheless this is a wine from which joy must be coaxed rather than merely taken. 89/100
Looking at my cellar records (yes, I do keep some), it seems I have another bottle tucked away somewhere. Alongside a few old vintages of Château de Beaucastel and Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, it must be one of my last few bottles from The Clingfilm Years. It seems like I should drink it sooner rather than later. (30/1/23)
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