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!

The generosity and great gift of friends

We had a small and very private event for my 60th birthday.  For a man who has everything (and many things twice!), I certainly did not need any presents.  But I have found it impossible to convince others of that, so through my lovely wife, Deanna, I was able to have her help guide people to buy some small things that I did need or at least desire!  The presents were great and I will cherish and use them with enthusiasm over many years.  The collection is in the picture below.

I got a nice wine bottle thermometer to help check the temperature of my wine and when to drink it, a dozen serviettes with funny wine servings on them, a couple of Riedel Vinum Montrachet glasses, 4 Riedel ‘O’ series portable red wine glasses, a nice Riedel decanter, and a couple of wine cork picture boards to create great memories from the corks of the fantastic wines I have drank over the years.  Additionally, I got a few good bottles of wine and a Nespresso coffee capsule holder which is very handy (my only non-wine gift).

I received great generosity from great friends, but most importantly, they all gave of their time to spend a wonderful evening with us. However, above and beyond these wonderful gifts, there were three gifts that emotionally moved me and which I will treasure forever:

Gift #1

One was from Nessa Doyle, who is not a long-term or close friend (but becoming much closer to Deanna and me with each passing week!).  I have worked with Nessa over the last several years and we have respected each other being able to get things done in difficult situations.  I had invited her to dinner about three weeks before my birthday with some other colleagues we have worked with previously.

It was another great meal cook by Jay Huxley, Masterchef and my regular go-to guy with anything to do with food.  Jay also cooked my magnificent birthday dinner which I just blogged about and which all attendees claimed was the best meal they ever had!

We were about three hours into the dinner of three weeks before my birthday and discussing the joy and learnings we get from charitable work, especially feeding the homeless.  Nessa is one of the most supportive people I know of great causes and and we mutually like giving of our time and funds to support these causes.  Nessa was planning to attend a wonderful dinner and fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at the Sydney Opera House.  Nessa offered to take and pay for Deanna and me to attend with her as a 60th birthday present for me.  Nessa was not only being very generous to me with such a great gift, but also for one of her work mates who has a son with CF and hosting a table for the evening.  Nessa made a large donation to the cause that evening by picking up three seats.  Additionally, it is a gift that keeps on giving as it introduced Deanna and me to CF and the tragic impact it has on people’s lives, but also the wonderful miracles that are made possible through the funds raised.  Nessa’s generosity will remain with me forever.

Nessa, Steve, Deanna – not often I am surrounded by so much beauty!

Thank you so much, Nessa Doyle for day-in, day-out being such a wonderful, generous and caring person!  And for those of you who also want to support CF, you can do so by making a donation to Cystic Fibrosis in Australia, or to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead CF Department which was the fund-rasier we were at that evening.  And if you can share this around to others who may be able to help, please do so.

Gift #2

Rob and Jude Tudor came up from Melbourne to share the special day with us.  Rob is one of the few people I greatly enjoy sharing a good cigar with (Jim Covington being another, but he lives in New York state now).  As a special treat, Bob was bringing up the last of the two very special cigars he had been gifted from his son, who is a masseuse to a very wealthy Arab sheik.  The sheik gave Rob’s son (who then gave to Rob) two cigars made for Castro from the Cohiba factory in Cuba.  When I do occasionally smoke and greatly enjoy a cigar, it is almost always a Cohiba.  But this one was really special.  It used the very best tobacco leaves from selected years and were intended to be for Castro’s special collection.  These cigars cost a fortune but that is not what makes Rob’s gift so generous, it is the scarcity of being able to find or obtain these rare cigars.

Rob and I were going to share this cigar together and both enjoy it that evening.  We smelled the cigar earlier in the evening and we were planning on sharing the cigar later that night with some very fine aged vintage port.  Usually, we would each have our own cigar and avoid the “men exchanging spit thing.”  However, this was a cigar worth savoring and sharing.  I have had some very fine cigars in my life (seriously, as little as I smoke cigars, why go with a cheap one?), but I have never smelled a cigar as fine as the one Rob brought along for the evening.  I looked forward to smoking that great cigar with Rob later that night, but it was not to be.  After ten courses of the finest food anyone could want and 13 bottles of great wine, we had little left for enjoying a great cigar.  It was at that point that Rob presented me with the cigar to have on my own when the time is right.  What a friend and what a guy!

This cigar is a few millimeters longer and a little thicker than a Cohiba Robusto.  And the smell is beyond awesome.  A regular Cohiba (which many, if not most, consider the finest cigar you can buy) is tepid and flat compared to “Castro’s cigar.”  If there is a cigar to smoke in heaven, this is the cigar!  Unfortunately, after about 5 hours of eating and drinking, we were satiated.  My estimate is that Castro’s cigar was a two hour smoke and after all we had to eat and drink that evening, it would have incapacitated us!  Therefore, we did the smart thing and passed so we could wake up (late) once again on Sunday morning.

Castro’s Cigar

I will never smoke a better cigar in my life time.  Rob has smoked one and knows the pleasure, and to give me his other one to enjoy is a gift beyond belief.  I will find the right place and time to smoke this.  I do not want to wait too long as I am concerned about the risk of anything happening to compromise the pristine quality of this cigar.  While I have it stored in my humidor, it is always possible that it may pick up a fungus or dry out.  I am watching it almost every day and ensuring it retains its pristine quality, and do not want to do anything to increase the risk of it going off.  Therefore, it will be smoked soon and likely at our place in the Hunter Valley.  This could be as early as next weekend, but I am going to ask Rob if it is possible for him and Jude to join us for a few days over Christmas in the Hunter Valley and if they can, then I will save it to share with him then.

Rob, thank you so much for providing me with what will certainly be the best cigar I ever smoke. I will honor you first and foremost with attempting to share it back with you, or at least pick the perfect setting and time to enjoy it over several hours without distraction!

Gift #3

Many, many years ago while still in graduate school, I started to learn about and drink some better wine.  This mostly consisted of $3 – $5 bottles of Chilean reds.  However, someone at Surdyk’s, one of the premier wine stores close to the University of Minnesota campus where I attended graduate school, convinced me to pick up two bottles of the 1977 Dow Port.  I think I spent about $15 – $17 per bottle for it, but cannot really remember.  However, I held onto it for a long, long time.  When I arrived in Sydney, Australia in 2000, I gave a bottle to my (now) in-laws as a gift.  My wife (just girlfriend at the time) told me that it was easiest to get along with her parents if you provided them with nice material things!  So I gave them one of my two treasured bottles of the 1977 Dow Port about 14 years ago.  I was hoping they would share it with me over time, but that has not happened.  I am not sure what ever happened to that bottle and if they drank it or lost it in their cellar (I am at their house tomorrow so may look for it!) or gave it away.  But I have never seen it since.

The second bottle of 1977 Dow Port was consumed in a state of drunkenness which I greatly regret.  I lived next door to my wife’s cousins back in 2006 and they were having a BBQ.  We had a lot of food and quite a bit to drink when someone suggested that some Port might be nice..  I quickly ran back to my house and got a bottle for us to drink.  Instead of pulling out a bottle of some cheap tawny port, I decided to share my last bottle of the 1977 Dow Port.  Well, it was gone within 20 minutes, having been consumed by 20 year olds who could not tell the difference!  Yes, I had a glass and it was magnificent, but now realized of the two bottles of 1977 Dow Vintage Port that I had carried around for between 20 – 30 years, both were gone and I only had one damn small glass to make me realize how good it was and how it had gone to others who had not appreciated it.

Don’t get me wrong – I love sharing great wine and last bottles of special wine with others.  However, I feel my generosity was wasted here.  Giving up both bottles has been a great regret and both bottles went to my wife’s family.  While I never blamed her nor blamed her family, I did feel regret in having these two great bottles being given up to others who could nor did not appreciate them.

My wife is not good at keeping secrets, especially when she wants to tell someone about something ‘good’ she has done.  Therefore, it is amazing that she was able to keep this secret for over three years from me!  I knew she had gotten me a bottle of wine for my birthday, but I just could not figure out what she bought me.  I checked on if there was a bottle of 1952 Penfolds Grange and this was their first trial year.  One half-bottle of the 1952 Penfolds Grange signed by Max Schubert could be had for $12,500 (it originally was given away as samples and then sold for $4.50!).  I was pretty certain she would not spend that kind of money, nor take the risk on a 60 year old Grange.  A 1952 Chateau D’Yquem would still be a great drink, but they did not make a vintage that year.  I also did not figure she would risk a 60 year old Bordeaux.  The only thing I could come up with is that she got me a bottle of the 1952 Sepplets Vintage Port, or some other birth-year Port.  A Port would last a very long time and get better over time.

Never in a million years did I think about about her finding or replacing the two bottles of the 1977 Dow Port!  What a special gift and and great surprise.  This gift is like being given back life!  Or like someone coming in and correcting a really stupid mistake I made (which I had).  I love my wife greatly every day of the year, but never more than for the very special gift she gave me on my birthday.  I was totally blown away.

These three gifts will all be consumed in due course.  The fundraiser gift from Nessa was consumed a week ago, but will live forever in my memory.  The gift of the cigar will be consumed and greatly enjoyed before the end of the year.  And I am opening a bottle of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port this evening and will likely consume both bottles over the next year.  (I also have about 15 bottles of the 2004 Dow Vintage Port and two bottles of the 2007 Dow Vintage Port – a spectacular vintage!)

While these gifts will be consumed, they will last as great memories forever, and for that I want to thank Nessa, Rob and Deanna for the impact they have made on my life by being so generous and considered in their gift giving.

[BTW, this post has taken me four hours to write, edit and take the pictures for! Wow!]

What an affogado!

Last night we made pizza and had the Gabbiano Classico Riserva to go with it.  What I failed to mention was that we made affogados for desert.  They were magnificent!  Using a scoop of vanilla ice cream and shot of espresso plus a shot of liqueur made for a most pleasant way to finish the meal.  Two of us had it with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, while two of us had the affogado with the RL Buller & Son Rare Liqueur Tokay.  While Frangelico is the standard liqueur to make a very fine affogado, the Buller Tokay was something special.

I had a sip of the Buller Tokay about six months ago, thought it was special, and bought three bottles to have on hand with the intent of making an affogado with it some day, and yesterday was that day.  It was incredible.  Previously, I have never found a Tokay I enjoyed as much as a very good Port or good Rutherglen Muscat.  But the Buller Tokay is something else.  Unfortunately, since Robert Parker reviewed it and scored it 100, the price has doubled.  I was able to get a decent deal on it from Nick’s Direct, who are my favorite online wine agent.  If you want to call them, ask for Alex – he has been serving us for over a decade now and provides great service.


I doubt I will ever have an affogado again with anything other than the Buller Tokay!  Which means I will probably only do so when eating at home.  And that’s not a bad thing – an affogado in a typcial Italian restaurant costs about $10 – $12 to have with the Frangelico.  But since I can make or buy a great vanilla gelato or ice cream, make a great shot of espresso and have a bottle of the Buller Tokay sitting around, I am set!  To do that for four of us, I will be saving $30 or so that I would otherwise be giving some restaurant.

If you want to step outside the normal boundaries to establish a truly sensual eating and drinking experience, make an affogado with the RL Buller & Son Rare Liqueur Tokay!