27 Apr Port 101 and a tasting of a 150+ Year Old Port, Courtesy of Taylor Fladgate
- Pick grapes from special vineyards where it’s ass hot (incidentally 80 varieties areauthorized for use although only 5 are used for quality stuff — Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca are most common for red Port). Use a variety of grapes so you can get different flavors in the blend.
- Bring the grapes from the remote location where they’re grown into a winery, take the stems out, and then stomp them by foot, press them really gently, or use a machine to create a grape soup. Ferment them for a short while.
- Just when things are getting frothy, pour an crapload of brandy into the fermenting vat, stop the fermentation, murder all the yeast and then figure out what you’re going to do to affect the flavor of the wine. That means you either leave it a vat a while or age it in a bottle. The wine will be sweet and have high alcohol but this last point on aging vessel is no small one. It determines flavor and quality in a big way.
- Fermenting all together. They are doing something called co-fermenting. What does this mean? Well if you AREN’T co-fermenting, you take one grape type, pick it, crush it up, ferment it by itself, filter it to get the goop out, age it, and then mix it up with other grapes you want to blend it with. In the case of co-fermenting, you take the grapes you want to use in the approximate proportion you want to use them and ferment them all together. This is the old school way of doing things: how people used to do it before wine became more science than art and it’s not too common. Robert says that it creates lighter, more floral flavors and a note of complexity and uniqueness to the wines that you can’t find anywhere else. I buy it.
- Simulating the human foot. Taylor Fladgate did a crazy study to figure out the human foot’s motion in crushing grapes and why the resulting wines seem to taste so much better than those crushed in mechanical presses. They created a special automated crusher/fermentation tank that closely simulates the motion of the foot. Although their higher end stuff is still tread (people dancing around in grapes), some of their mid-tier wines have seen improvements in quality with these custom tanks. Very cool.
- Use better sauce. Per my very detailed description above (I kid, I kid), you gotta pour colorless brandy (a spirit made from grapes) into the fermenting wine to stop fermentation and leave a little sugar in it. Most places use cheap brandy sold by the Portuguese government. Like in cooking, every ingredient matters. Taylor Fladgate raised the quality of the brandy they used in recent years and it’s created a huge jump in quality — you can taste it when you taste the wines.
- Ruby — Big, dark, fruity and simple, this berry flavored wine is strong and only aged 2 to 3 years in a barrel before bottled and sold. It will keep you warm on a cold night and it’s not expensive! There’s a Reserve version of Ruby as well, made with slightly higher quality grapes and approved by an advisory board to make sure it’s up to snuff in flavor.
- Tawny — Technically, these wines become kind of amber colored or orange-brown because they spend more time in a barrel and with lots of oxygen hitting them (oxidation) they lose color and get a tawny hue (sadly, the real inside dirt is that the bad producers sometimes use unripe grapes to achieve the color because they don’t want to hold wine in the barrel for a long period of time, they’d rather just sell the stuff they have and let you think it is made well).
- Aged Tawny is a subset. It has to spend at least 6 years in a cask. It’s nutty, mellow, and has a butterscotch flavor from the oak and from the age. You’ll see 10, 20, 30, and 40+ years on the bottle, but this is another bait and switchy thing — this isn’t how old the wine is, but whether a panel of experts thinks it TASTES like the wine is that old. Weird.
- Late Bottled Vintage — These grapes are all from one year, but they are bottled after the grand poobah of all Ports, vintage Port — hence they are bottled “late,” or 4 to 6 years after the harvest. There are a few different types — those that aren’t filtered and need to be decanted (and are similar to fine vintage Ports), those that are matured in a bottle for a minimum of three years (even more similar to vintage Ports), and those that are filtered and treated to have no sediment (this strips the flavor so these aren’t that great but are most common).Taylor Fladgate invented this kind of Port in 1970, Robert knew a thing or two about this wine! Just for clarification, Here’s how Taylor Fladgate eloquently describes vintage Port v. LBV:
“Vintage Port and LBV both present a selection of very fine full bodied red ports from a single year. The fundamental difference between the two styles lies in the way each is matured. Vintage Port is kept in wood for only twenty months or so before being transferred to the bottle where it will continue to age.
Late Bottled Vintage, as the name suggests, is bottled later, remaining in wood between four and six years. During this relatively long period of wood ageing, an LBV matures and settles down – it is ready to drink when bottled, does not need to be decanted and can be served by the glass for several weeks after the cork is drawn.”