Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 1991
Despite my obsession with Bordeaux and the Loire, there are some other little parts of the wine world of which I will never be able to let go. Interestingly there are also some, such as the wines of Jerez, that in recent months I have been grasping more strongly than ever. The pragmatist in me rationalises that this is simply because the Douro and Jerez both give us wines that are entirely unique, or if not truly unique then at least these are styles which will never be replicated in Bordeaux and the Loire. The romantic in me, however, believes that this is because I have held a much longer obsession with the wines of the Douro than with these other regions. Two decades ago I was only just learning about wine (I still am, I suppose – aren’t we all?) and yet Port was already a well-established part of my life. The number of bottles of Warre’s 1970 (the Tercentenary Vintage, as the label proudly declared) I worked my way through in my student days – when I almost always had a decanter of Port to hand – doesn’t bear thinking about.
Meanwhile, the cynic in me thinks that maybe I’ve got it all wrong, and I could have all the Porty experiences I could ever wish for if I stick with Bordeaux, where some table wines now clock in at around 16%. There are a handful of estates, sadly some with great terroir, making super-saturated boozy point-monsters such as this, and they look and feel more like Port than Bordeaux. Nevertheless, perhaps for no other reason than to avoid encouraging them, I will eschew this style and stick with the Douro as the source of my Port for the time being (it’s less expensive as well!). And the week just passed, especially the Winter Solstice last Friday, a day more dark and dreary than any I have experienced in many years, was the perfect excuse to open some Vintage Port, in this case from the 1991 vintage.
The 1991 vintage brought some long awaited relief to the Port houses, who had not been able to declare a vintage since 1985. There were some very good single-quinta wines from the intervening years – I have fond memories of the 1986 and 1987 Quinta dos Malvedos from Graham’s, for example – but none had been suitable for a broad declaration. The growing season began with some replenishing rains, followed by hot and dry weather through spring and summer. This carried right though into harvest when temperatures crept above 40ºC. As a result of this dehydrating heat some grapes developed raisined flavours, and reportedly – although my personal experience of the vintage is not that broad – some wines do display such raisined flavours today; this is a very relevant point with this week’s wine choice. It comes from Taylor’s, a house that chose not to declare, opting to do so in 1992 instead (a note on which can be seen in my recent mini-tasting of the 1992 Vintage at twenty years of age), and thus in 1991 they released their single-quinta wine, the Quinta de Vargellas.
One of the first tasks with any older Port is removing the cork; even at just twenty-one years of age they can crumble when even the most careful attempts at extraction are made. With this particular bottle of 1991 Quinta de Vargellas, however, I experienced a more unusual problem; when the corkscrew was applied here the cork rapidly began to disappear into the bottle. Once gently pulled it showed wine staining all the way to the top; such mobility in the cork obviously raised concerns about the condition of the wine within. Nevertheless, the wine’s colour in the glass looks fresh, appropriate for the wine’s age, maturing but dominated by red pigments rather than anything brown or overly old. The nose is rich with slightly figgy fruit, perfumed with hints of spiced sandalwood, plum pudding and dark cherry, and it seems very reminiscent of the last bottle I tasted. Having said that, mixed in with these aromas there is also a little hint of baked fruit that I haven’t seen before, as well as a touch of raisin to it, and it’s hard to know if this is the fault of the cork or of the vintage. Previous good showings from other bottles, with none of the raisined fruit of the year, lead me to conclude the cork may be at fault, but whatever damage might have been done here is very subtle. The palate is full, sweet and rich, with an attractive backbone preventing it from falling into softness despite the plump character of the fruit. It is savoury and spiced, with some grip in the finish, but mainly a lip-smacking and lengthy sweet harmony. Still a lovely wine despite my initial concerns. 17/20 (24/12/12)