A review of several vintages of Croft, Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca Ports
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers October 26, 2011
Port, produced in the northern Portugal region of the Douro Valley, is created by adding a neutral spirit to stop the wine’s fermentation while there is still some residual sugar.
While many different grapes can be used to make Port, typically Tourgia Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Francesa are chosen. Several Port styles vary, depending on the amount and the type of storage; the oak barrel aged, Tawny Ports are the longest lasting. Vintage Ports are made from a specific year and producers “declare” them in the spring of the second year after a particularly special harvest. Declared vintages usually occur three times per decade.
While vintage Port is only a very small percentage of the total Port production sold, it is the most age-worthy and expensive. Sometimes vintage Ports do not reach their peak for decades; most are purchased young and put away to be enjoyed many years later. Finding older Ports at a reasonable price or buying young ones from producers with proven track records of excellence is the most value-oriented approach.
A recent Port tasting sponsored by The Fladgate Partnership offered an opportunity to evaluate several exceptional recent vintages from different producers with distinctive house styles. The oldest Port producer is Croft, founded in 1588 and known for big, plump, jammy and luscious wines, while those from Taylor Fladgate, founded in 1692, are more elegant and structured with firm tannins meant for long-aging. The relative newcomer, Fonseca, founded in 1822, produces rich, very aromatically floral Ports with complexity and vigor.
The most mature vintage offered was 2000, a year marked by low yields at harvest of very concentrated and aromatic grapes. The Taylor Flagdate 2000 is remarkably powerful and complex with deep dark black currant, cassis, blackberry and smoky herbal flavors. The Fonseca 2000 displays violet aromas along with dark fruit, anise and raspberry flavors leading into the long finish. Also very floral is the Croft 2000 with blueberry, black currant and dried red fruit notes.
The 2003 vintage in Europe was marked by intense heat waves that added an element of dried fruit flavors to these powerful wines. Spicy and well-balanced, the full-bodied Taylor Fladgate 2003 reveals currant, licorice, plums and black cherries along with raisins and cocoa in the finish. The Fonseca 2003 is concentrated and rich, displaying jammy plum, raspberry, chocolate and red cherry flavors. Opulent and also intensely jammy, the floral Croft 2003 shows dark cherries, raisins, molasses and blueberries with a spicy lengthy finish.
2007 was a year for slow and even grape ripening that resulted in balanced and complex Ports. Stylish and somewhat restrained, the Taylor Fladgate 2007 has full-bodied blueberry, black fruit, red currant and herbal notes with great length and polish. Exuberantly floral and fruity aromas characterize the Fonseca 2007, which has some intriguing citrus notes accenting the sweet black fruit, coffee and fig flavors. More subtle is the Croft 2007 that displays black cherries, eucalyptus, spice and raspberries leading into a bright and long ending.
The graceful Taylor Fladgate 2009 reflects the low harvest yields that characterized the vintage. Blackberry, plum, mint and spice are evident within a structure that will continue to develop for another 20 years. Similarly, the Fonseca 2009 is multifaceted and stylish with dried plum, blackberry and coffee notes, while the Croft 2009 is more jammy with earthy dark fruit and red cherry flavors.