Port Club of 1981 – Tasting Notes 7 November 2012

As some will have noticed I have not posted on this blog for some time. This is mostly due to my having fallen with my bike and suffering a concussion a few weeks ago, and my resultant need for resting my head. I am fully restituted (and back on the bike), and while I haven’t been writing, I have certainly been tasting, most prodigiously on a recent tour to Piedmont for truffles and Barolo, and then a week of judging wines for Vinitaly’s International Wine Competition in Verona. More of this anon, but first I would want to relate my impressions from a recent world-first tasting under the aegis of the venerable Port Club of 1981.

The famous Port house of Dow’s has a new importer in Denmark (The Wine Company – TWC), and since TWC started with Dow’s there has been a flurry of welcome activity around the brand in Denmark. For this occasion, our chairman had managed to persuade TWC and Dow’s to present an unprecedented line-up of Dow’s Vintage Ports in magnums. Expectations were high, but the wines fully lived up to them, as you will see shortly.

Gustavo Devesas of Dow’s presented the wines, and could tell us that this tasting was without precedent in the world (by which he surely meant outside of Portugal), in that never before had 9 vintages of Dow’s Vintage Port in magnums been tasted alongside each other. Further, the tasting could be seen as paying homage to one of the greats of Port, Peter Symington, who started his career in Port with the 1963 vintage and ended it in 2009, when the 2007 Dow’s Vintage Port famously obtained the perfect score of 100 from James Suckling. All of the magnums in the tasting were of impeccable provenance, having been shipped from Dow’s cellars two weeks prior to the tasting.

In terms of house style, Dow’s is famous for making firm, dryish, masculine Vintage Ports  with impressive tannin and structure, frequently described as not necessarily being very charming in youth, but having the stuffing to last for decades. The perceived dryness and increased structure is probably due to Dow’s keeping their musts fermenting the natural sugars for three to four hours longer than many other houses prior to adding spirits to stop fermentation. These characteristics, as you shall see, were very much borne out in the tasting. I hasten to add that I am a great fan of Dow’s, and that Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Ports (presently the 2005’s and 2006’s) are my “every-day-Ports” of choice (quotation marks because – alas! far from it! – I do not partake every day). The structured style makes for wonderful, non-cloying Ports, which stand up well to most cheeses and desserts.

The following are my tasting notes, in the order tasted. As usual in the Port Club, we tasted semi-blind, knowing which wines were there, but not in which order. As usual, I was an uttter failure  at getting the order right, even if I pride myself on getting the 1963 and 1970 right. As also usual, we scored the wines on a 20 points scale, and despite my stinginess, I found myself rating the wines very highly. As even more usual, I do not relate colour notes; they are even more irrelevant than usual for purposes of tasting Vintage Ports, where the individual vintages can give very diverse colour development.

Wine #1:

This was the aperitif, and so not tasted semi-blind. Delicious berry nose, raspberry liqueur, violets, very minerally. Medium weight, quite dry for a Port, noticeable tannin, slight alcohol heat. OK length, some alcohol heat, good berries, violets, bark-like tannins. Somewhat closed at this stage, as you would expect for Dow’s, but lovely nose promises good potential. The wine: Late Bottled Vintage 2007. My points: 15.

Wine #2:

Slightly closed nose, but elegant, very minerally, flowers, high-toned berries, touches of wood tar and bark. Medium weigt in te mouth, fresh, beautifully structured, fine tannins, intense, quite dry. Long, quite intense, touch of bark, berry liqueur, minerals, flowers, some wood tar. Very fresh and handsome. The wine: Vintage 1997. I did not get this right, and this wine, for me, was unusually juicy, fresh, elegant and balanced for the vintage. Clearly a keeper. My points: 16. Average points: 15.7.

Wine #3:

Rather volatile, varnish-tainted nose, some exotic wood, underneath a bit of light raspberries, sweet spices and a hint of rubber. Light to medium weight, somewhat aggressive acidity in the mouth, little tannin. Acceptable length, but tainted with varnish, weak berries, a touch of bark, hint of liquorice. This was clearly not in good shape, and it was decided not to assign points. The wine: Vintage 1983. I got this right, but there is little pleasure to be derived from that. 1983 is not turning out well for quite a broad range of Vintage Ports. This turned out to be Gustavo’s birth year, and he made a bit of fun out of that. My points: 12.

Wine #4:

Utterly delicious nose with exotic wood, spices, juicy sweet light red berries, violets and minerals, full but elegant, very intense and very complex. Medium weight, very intense, lovely tannins are noticeable but round and sweet, still fresh, round, slightly dry balance. Very long, intense and complex, juicy berries, sweet liquorice juice, spices, bark, minerals, violets. Fantastic wine, clearly the wine of the tasting for me; this clearly has age, but equally clearly is so vigorous and so balanced that it will last for decades yet. The wine: Vintage 1963. 1963 is a legendary vintage that (once again) proved its worth. Vintage Port is a difficult discipline, and I frequently find that Vintage Port is best in its youth, where the power, freshness and sweetness work together to provide a very powerful experience (and there is a marriage made in heaven for young Vintage Port and pepper steak). When it comes to older Port, I tend to prefer wood-aged Ports, such as 20- and 30-year tawnies and thoroughly wood-aged colheitas. Very rarely do I come across an aged Vintage Port that manages to maintain the power of its youthful fruit while providing the complexity of age. However, on the rare occasion that this happens, as with the Dow’s 1963, greatness ensues. This for me scored right up there with some of the greatest Ports I have ever had, such as the fairly recent Krohn 30-year-old and 1965 colheita, as well as the Niepoort colheita 1984. Oh, and I got this one right. My points: 19. Average points: 17.1 (this is one of the highest averages ever recorded in Club history).

Wine #5

Dark, serious, austere nose, dark berries, humus, very minerally, fresh flowers. Medium weight, dryish balance, noticeable tannins, serious. Long, somewhat strict, cranberries, very minerally, bark, violets. Rather concentrated, somewhat closed and austere wine; seems to me to be a sleeper that may have spectacular development. The wine: Vintage 1980. I got this one wrong, but it seems to me this might be a good investment for future drinking from a somewhat underrated vintage. My points: 17. Average points: 15.9.

Wine #6:

Somewhat feeble nose, quite dry, a bit of fruit, then meat, tobacco, cough syrup and liquorice. Light to medium weight in the mouth, soft, quite intense, not as dry balance as the previous wines. OK length, soft berries, tobacco, bark, minerals, violets, ending on a somewhat dry off taste. While this wine clearly had complexity, for me it lacked charm. The wine: Vintage 1977. I did not get that right. As a vintage 1977 was highly praised for its potential for  many years, but frankly has not delivered the goods for quite some time now, so this is hardly a surprise. My points: 15. Average points: 16.1.

Wine #7:

Quite delicious, slightly caramelly, light berry nose, powerfully minerally, flowers, exotic wood and spices. Medium weight, elegant, balanced, delicious mouthfeel, quite dry, good tannin structure. Long, light berries, elegant, spices and wood, light tobacco touch, light bark touch, minerals. This wine for me was somewhat less exciting in the mouth than on the nose. It seemed to me that this was an issue of time, and that the mouth would follow in a few years. The wine: Vintage 1970. I got this right. This is a vintage that seems to have stood in the shade of 1977, but which is now emerging as far better, and with a far greater potential life span. My points: 16 (I would expect this to improve for the next 20-30 years). Average points: 16.3.

Wine #8:

Broad, dry, austere nose with hints of snail, Bovril, and then malty fruit, hint of minerals. Medium weight, soft, somewhat sweet in comparison. OK length, but somewhat anonymous, repeats the aromas from the nose, adding hints of violets and minerals. This does not seem to have the stuffing for much further ageing. The wine: Vintage 1985. I got that wrong. My points: 14. Average points: 14.6.

Wine #9:

Nose with powerful essence of blackberries and blueberries at the core, hint of coffee, quite intense and concentrated, slight caramel, violets and minerals. Medium weight to big, lovely hit of tannins, very well put together, slightly dry balance. Long, intense, concentrated, power-berries, dense and substantial, very broad all the way into the very end, hints of bark, minerals and flowers. This is another sleeper and will potentially last for many decades to come. The wine: Vintage 1994. I got that one wrong too. My points: 18. Average points: 16. There clearly was not great appreciation for the youthful power of this one.

Wine #10:

Very handsome nose, intense and concentrated, but elegant, with liquid shale, dense blackberries, exotic spices and violets. Powerful in the mouth, concentrated, densely packed, dryish balance, strong tannins. Long, dense fruit, slightly bark-like tannins, minerals, violets, very concentrated and intense. This was a dense, powerful wine, clearly with good future potential. The wine: Vintage 2000. Another miss on my part. My points: 18. Average points: 16.4.

For me, this was a landmark tasting, for which I thank TWC, Gustavo Devesas and the Club. I have the sneaking suspicion that there are not many venues in the world where this type of tasting is possible. The event left me with an even greater apppreciation for the Dow’s house style and the potential longevity of its Vintage Ports. I also seemed to find a few common traits among the wines that I might want to use to recognize Dow’s wines in future. The most frequent occurrences for me were the violets and the bark notes, closely followed by the dry balance – which was somewhat absent in a couple of the wines. In short, this was a magnificent evening.


Yours truly


This entry was posted in Douro, Fortified Wine, Port, Port Club of 1981, Portugal, Portvinsklubben af 1981, Wine, Wine producers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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