Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Report from ... Essence of Port Luncheon - March 5, 2009

Port fans unite … what an amazing tasting of vintage and non-vintage ports this was; and we had the managing director of the Fladgate Partnership, Adrian Bridge, to take us through it. So let’s start this Port lesson with who the Fladgate partnership is.

If you drink port or even casually know about Port these names are as familiar to you as your own: Taylor Fladgate, Croft and Fonseca - they all fall under the Fladgate umbrella. But before I get to what I thought was the real reason for us assembling let’s meet Adrian and learn a little about Port.

Adrian is one of those guys that comes to the wine world by way of non-traditional means, as many do. He was an investment banker and before that was part of the British army … then he married into the Fladgate family – welcome to the world of wine. He still retains his British accent, you know, the one that seems to make all the women on this side of the pond melt; and I have to admit he says the word “port” with the aplomb and debonair lilt that I am sure we all wish we had when we said it … very British.

By the Numbers …
There are 120 million bottles of Port made every year (industry wide), that’s roughly 10.5 million cases of which only 1.5% is vintage port and 4.5% is Late Bottled Vintage Port. 30% of all port sold is done so in France – they are, in fact, port’s largest market (though Adrian was quick to point out that this is low end Port). 90% of all Port is exported. Most, if not all, of the Taylor/Croft/Fonseca Ports are still foot trodden and that equals a long day - 8 hours of picking, 4 hours of treading on 2000 tons of grapes per year.

Choice Quotes from the Afternoon …

On the purchase of Croft by Taylor: “We bought Croft on September 10, 2001; before the world changed a little bit.”

On going bio-dynamic: “I find there is confusion about bio-dynamics, do I pack horns full of dung or sing to the moon? What it means to me is attention to the details, after you’ve certified organic.”

Are Ports being made to drink younger? “We are not making Port to be drinking younger, we’re making them better. Modern technology allows us to do things that take the edge off the wines that were there because of the primitive nature of the way we made it in the past. For example, we got electricity at Vargellas in 1978 … pumping became a lot easier as you can well imagine.”

On whether or not Taylor will be making table wine: “We have no plans to do so in the near future. We focus on special category Port, that’s what we do best and have for the past 300 years.”

And that quote brings us to the real reason we assembled. The Fladgate Partnership has introduced the newest style of Port, Rosé … it is the first new Port category since the last time Taylor did so in 1970 when they launched Late Bottled Vintage port. In an attempt to de-seasonalize port Croft is introducing a Rosé style port called “Pink” - although it is not a recognized category in the region of Portugal where Port is made … yet. It took 3 years to get LBV approved so this wine is probably going to be in the same boat. They are expecting to sell 50,000 cases in the next year. It is still made in the same way “real” port is made, this one in particular is a blend 3 vintages worth of grapes and for the record still comes in at 20% alcohol - so it is not a wimpy wine in any sense of the imagination. It also takes 3 times as long to make and is made with all the traditional Port-grapes we know and love - but the one’s for Pink have to be of even higher quality fruit and hand sorted because of the delicate flavours of the wine. Grapes are bladder pressed and there is no more than 24-48 hours of skin contact; then it is cold fermented for 6-7 days and then fortified with 77% neutral high quality spirits. As for what it tasted like … I was so busy being fascinated by the colour, the taste and uniqueness of the product that I forgot to take notes. I know it was served chilled, it was amazingly fruity and delicious and went down way too easily. This could be the next big, exciting thing in port that brings it more in line with the masses; taking the stigma of having to be a stodgy old fart that comes with liking Port. This style of port is not cigar-ready it’s summer ready and when was the last time you drank Port in the summer? If you answered, like 95% of people do, that you don’t drink Port once the hot weather hits, that’s exactly their point … welcome Pink Port … coming, hopefully soon, to a liquor store near you; and it looks like it’s going to be a very reasonable $20 for a standard sized bottle.

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