Warre’s Vintage Port 1977
Vintage Port might make only an infrequent appearance on the pages of Winedoctor, nevertheless never a year passes without one or two bottles being broached. And it’s that time of year again; I can’t let the darkest days of winter pass without a glass of Port to see me through. And so, after a sorry afternoon of collecting together fractured shards of clay tile, torn from the roof of my garage during a recent storm, and broken asunder on the ground below (I thought my house had escaped any damage during the storms of early January, but was mistaken – although I have to confess a week had passed before I realised my stupid mistake), it was time to wade into this increasingly elderly bottle, the 1977 from Warre’s. Port has been perhaps one of the most durable of my vices; as I have written on these pages before, it was a regular tipple during my student days, when bottles from the 1970 and 1977 vintages in particular were ten-a-penny. The wines of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux have since grown to dominate my thoughts, but I will never totally desert Portugal and her fortified wines (I acknowledge, by the way, that Portugal now also gives us some wonderful table wines, as well as these more traditional styles).
Nevertheless my encounters with the vintages of the 1970s are becoming quite rare, and these days I am more often drinking single-quinta wines from 1995, 1996 or 1997, or one or two vintage-declared wines from the latter of those three years or even 2000. So it is good to look back at 1977 (possibly – although hopefully not – for the last time) for a change. It was one of the better vintages of the 1970s, although it was not blessed with a particularly auspicious spring or summer, which were warm but otherwise unremarkable. It was the autumn months that really made the vintage, both September and October blessed by hot and dry weather, and by the time the fermentations were underway it seemed clear that the quality was good. Although not rich or sweet the embryonic wines displayed deliciously deep colours and fine, defined flavours. The result was a broad declaration of the vintage, with most houses – including Warre’s, obviously – earmarking their very best wines for a vintage bottling. The exceptions to the declaration were Croft, Martinez and Noval. These days it seems that, although the wines have given many hours of pleasure to me and no doubt many others, this is by no means a truly great vintage. It seems accepted that 1963, 1970 and 1994 were all superior, and I would not argue this point. Indeed, acknowledging the fact that we cannot make vintage judgements based on single mature bottles, I have to confess I have had more fun with other ‘lesser’ vintages from Warre’s, including under-dogs from the 1980 vintage, than I have with this particular bottle.
In the glass the 1977 Warre’s Vintage Port has a lovely vibrancy, an amazingly youthful red hue, only showing its age with the suggestion that it is fading to a red translucency rather than any deepening or browning of the colour. The nose is vibrant and fresh, showing smoky fruits with a gritty, crunchy edge, and early on some smoky, smouldering elements. Later it shows a brighter character, with tinges of raspberry, smoke, bay leaf and black liquorice. There are also little touches of raisin, but this is faint and not suggestive of over-ripeness, with mature leather and clove tones. Eventually this multilayered and complex wine settles into a very direct, energy-filled perfume which lasts through to the last drop. The palate has a sweet and rounded entry, remaining full and softly textured into the middle, with increasing spice and pepper through the midpalate, and there is still a firm seam of acid and alcohol backbone through the middle. But that texture is still very sufficient and it runs right through to the finish, where there is a real sense of vigour, backed up by a spirity backbone of alcohol. With more exposure to the air this does become somewhat more prominent, although it remains charged and invigorating rather than hot.
Overall this is a wine which is admirable – venerable, perhaps – rather than impressive, and I have to admit that the slightly disjointed seam of alcohol that runs through the wine, from the midpalate into the finish, does dampen the effect a little. Other bottles, of course, may show better, but this has seen impeccable storage since it was purchased, including several decades in a college’s cellars. Nevertheless, this is a good wine, and I would be delighted if I were to uncover a few more bottles buried deep in my cellar. Unfortunately, that’s not very likely! 16.5/20 (9/1/12)