Potpourri of Port wines review

I often get asked the question, “Do like like Shiraz,” or “Do you like Chardonnay,” or something similar.  Recently, I was asked if I like Port.  I do!  But what is Port?  True Port wine or Vinho do Porto comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal.  There are over 100 grape varietals sanctioned for making Port wine.  Additionally, many other countries make Port-styled wines.  With so many differences in the grapes, the regions grown and styles of Port, it is almost impossible to define what Port wine is.  It comes sweet, semi-sweet and dry.  It comes as single vintages (Vintage Port) or Tawney Port which is often multiple vintages aged for several years in wood and blended to provide some interesting characteristics.

2004 Dow Vintage Port croppedThe other evening my brother-in-law and his family were staying with us and we decided to drink some Port wine after dinner.  I started with my regular drinking Port which is currently the 2004 Dow Vintage Port.  I have one bottle of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port (for a special occasion and to drink with great pleasure over a short period of time in the not too distant future).  I also have two bottles of the 2007 Dow Vintage Port which is one of the highest rated vintages ever, but those two bottles will be lying in the cellar for another 20 years or so before I touch them.  The 2004 Dow Vintage Port is a very nice wine.  This wine matured early and is easily drinkable now.  It is fruity and has softened, especially when the bottle has been open for a while.  This wine is very inexpensive ($12 – $15 per bottle in the US and about $25 – $30 per bottle in Australia) and provides for a great-valued drink.  A truly wonderful drink for the money, but should be drunk over the next few years.

Penfolds Grandfather Port croppedWe then tried a bottle of Penfolds Grandfather Tawny Port.  This is a non-vintaged Port blended across eight years with the vintages all being 20 years old or so.  This wine was very, very smooth and had a completely different mouthfeel to the 2004 Dow Vintage Port.  The Penfolds Granfather Tawny Port had a luscious, smooth feeling with caramelized, nutty sugars.  The wine reminded me of the recent Christmas fruit cakes with brandy I had eaten – thick, juicy and sweet.  A completely different style of Port from the 2004 Dow Vintage Port.

Lindemans 1967 Vintage Port croppedWe then opened a bottle of the 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port.  This ismy last bottle and while not quite as good as the 1954 and the 1957 Lindemans Vintage Ports I have had, it is a magnificent wine.  I had some problems getting the cork out being soggy after 35 years in the bottle!  Even the Ah So corkscrew was not able to help and ultimately, I ended up with the cork in the bottle.  Yet, I was able to pour us a glass and we had just experienced our third very different Port that evening!  The 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port was very big with plummy fruit flavors, luscious to the feel on the tongue beautiful, but slightly medicinal smells.

Therefore, when asked if I like Port, the answer is a resounding YES!  I like the wide variety of Ports available from Vintage to Tawny, young and old, but particularly very old (30 years or more).  Ports take on so many different identities with various flavors and styles made from so many different varietals of grapes that it is impossible to classify Port as a single type of wine.  There are many different Ports, but any good Port is a great companion when sitting down in the evening and reading a good book.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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1977 Dow Vintage Port and 2004 Dow Vintage Port

I am sitting with a glass of each of these glorious Port wines in front of me as I write this.  These are some fine Ports!

1977 Dow Vintage Port (left) and 2004 Dow Vintage Port (right)

I would have to give the nod to the 1977 Dow Vintage Port being superior, both in terms of wine quality and also since it holds a special memory for me.  I had two bottles for a very long time that I purchased while in Graduate School a long, long time ago.  However, through misfortune, I was only able to drink only one glass of this brilliant Port wine.  As a very special treat for my 60th birthday, my wife found and surprised me with two bottles of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port.

The picture above shows the 1977 Dow to be slighter browner, but that is not the case.  This is still in its optimal drinking period.  Being high in alcohol, most Port wines will last a very long time.  When I opened the 1977 Dow Vintage Port, the cork crumbled (even when using the Ah So – that’s how saturated and weak the 35 year old cork was!)  The cork split and the bottom went into the bottle.  I had to filter the wine to remove the cork and the sediment.  Fortunately, being a high alcohol wine, it was still in good condition and improved after decanting.

The 2004 Dow Vintage Port is an excellent wine and I paid $30 per bottle for this.  But the wine is a child yet – so tight and with the grape fibers still interlocking (that is why is looks darker around the edges compared to the 1977 which is looser and therefore smoother)!  While drinkable today, it will last another ten years and soften over that period of time and even longer.  However, once I work my way through my two bottles of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port, my last 1967 Lindeman’s Vintage Port, and two bottles of the 1980 Lindeman’s Vintage Port, then I will seriously start work my way through the 14 bottles of the 2004 Dow Vintage Port I have.   I expect this will not occur for another 2 – 3 years.

The 2004 Dow Vintage Port tastes of blackberry and boysenberry.  It has a sharp smell when you nose it, but is smoother to the palate.  It is thick, a bit sweeter and and does not have the complexity of the 1977.  It starts full, but has a weak finish.  The 2004 Dow Vintage Port is still trying to figure out what type of wine it wants to be and is almost combative with your palate.  I expect this Port has a lot of potential though and will benefit from more years in the bottle. 

By comparison, the 1977 Dow Port is elegant.  The nose is softer and more subtle, but once the wine hits your palate, you can taste the intensity and concentrated plum and blackberry flavors.  This wine is sharp to the taste and lasts a very long time.  But then the 1977 Dow Vintage Port does benefit from 35 years of aging!  It is beautifully balanced and sits in perfect harmony on your tongue and against your cheeks.  And the 1977 is certainly a more expensive wine (than the 2004) today, even though it went at a reasonable price when first available. 

The very best vintage in a long, long time of Dow Vintage Port is the 2007.  This wine was so popular, it never made its way to Australia.  I was fortunate to pick up two bottles of this in the US about 18 months ago.  This wine is rated by many to be a rare 100/100.  However, I definitely need to let this wine mature in the cellar for a long, long time.  The trick is to determine when is the best time to drink them.  I want to make sure I still have a good enough palate to be able to discern the quality, yet not drink it before its time.  I just hope its time comes before my time!