Vintage port

1948 Taylor Fladgate vintage portMy wife and I stopped by a friend’s house after Thanksgiving, where as luck would have it her father had recently opened a crusty old bottle of port.

Now, I’ve always liked port, but never really embraced it. Sure, it efficiently delivers both dessert and alcohol in one convenient glass, but it’s often more like a sweet, sloppy puppy than a poised, mature animal.

This was an entirely different species. To begin with, it was from Taylor Fladgate, one of the giants of Oporto. But better, the last time it had seen the great outdoors was 59 years ago. Yes, The Bicycle Thief had just illuminated post-war Italy, the Marshall Plan had just passed Congress, and Harry Truman was only a few weeks away from gaining the White House. That 1948.

The bottle had the telltale (and traditional) swab of white paint across its base, just below where the label would have been had it not rotted off decades ago. It’s a simple marker for those lucky enough to carry a bottle home that one side of the bottle is up, so the sediment (or “crust”) settles in one place for easy evasion when you (or your grandchildren) get around to pouring it.

Michael Broadbent, the charming lion of British wine critics, had this to say about the 1948 in The Great Vintage Wine Book:

Tasted 19 times [ Ed: ! ] since 1958, invariably magnificent. Still fairly deep and intense; beautiful bouquet, lively fruit, scented, citrus, vanilla; sweet, full-bodied, powerful yet perfect flavour and balance with glorious blackberry-like ripeness. Most recently lovely, shapely, ethereal.

Broadbent wrote this in 1991, but 16 years later, it crossed my palette as if we’d shared the same glass. What’s truly remarkable is that even at the close of its sixth decade, it’s still wonderfully alive and full. Deep, resonant layers of flavor, like floating down through successive panes of tinted glass, each a slightly different tint, opacity, and delight.

“Most recently lovely, shapely, ethereal.” I say, old chum: spot on.

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