An Old Wines Tale
Tawny Port owes its character to a magical synergy with oak wood. Port, with its inexhaustible reserves of aroma, continues to develop its sublime, intense mellow flavours over many decades of ageing in oak casks. As it slowly ‘breathes’ through the tight grained oak staves, it interacts with the wood and air gradually acquiring its rich, complex character and seductive tawny hue. At the same time, the wine loses some volume to evaporation – the so-called ‘angels share’ – gradually becoming denser over time until, after a century or so, it has concentrated almost to an essence.
Taylor’s has one of the largest reserves of old Tawny Ports of any Port producer. Thousands of casks of wine slumber for decades beneath the vaults of the firm’s cool dark cellars in Oporto. The guardians of these wines are the firm’s skilled blenders and cellarmasters.
It is their task to look after them as they mature and judge when they are ready to see the light of day. In some cases, a single wine may be cared for by several generations. At the same time, Taylor’s team of expert coopers tends the oak casks and keeps them in good repair throughout the long ageing process.
Most wines in these reserves are blended to make Taylor’s celebrated 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Tawny Ports. But hidden in this vast treasury are a few unique gems, very old and rare Ports of exceptional interest and value. Very occasionally, it is decided not to use such wines for blending but to release them on their own as rare limited editions.
The first release of this kind was the legendary Taylor’s Scion. Only two casks of this remarkable wine had reached the present day. Dating from 1855, Scion was one of the few survivors of age before the Phylloxera mite devastated the Port vineyards in the 1860s and 70s.
This was followed by Taylor’s Single Harvest 1863, a very rare cask aged tawny from one of the finest nineteenth century Port harvests, the year of the Battle of Gettysburg and the opening of the London Underground. Taylor’s Managing Director, Adrian Bridge, described it as ‘like a time capsule, offering a fascinating glimpse into a distant past’.
Not surprisingly, these collectors’ editions were snapped up very quickly. For those hoping to secure a piece of wine history, there is the recently released Taylor’s Single Harvest 1896. Another outstanding year for Port, 1896 was the year of the first medical use of X-rays, the debut of Puccini’s opera La Bohème and the revival of the Olympic Games. Although quantities are very limited, the 1896 is still available in the UK from selected fine wine merchants.
Chestnuts And Mallets
As befits wines of their age and rarity, these 19th century ports are expensive. Much more affordable and easier to find is the Taylor’s Historical Collection series. Each of these specially blended Reserve Tawny Ports is presented in a bottle inspired by a different historic bottle mould. During the 17th and 18th centuries the early Port bottle with its globular shape and stubby neck gradually evolved into today’s tall cylindrical bottle in which wine can be cellared and aged. The Historical Collection series represents different stages in this evolution. The first in the series, launched to celebrate Taylor’s 325th anniversary, was a bottle inspired by the bulbous ‘onion’ shape from around the time of Taylor’s foundation in 1692.
Next was a bottle modelled on the ‘flat chestnut’ flagons manufactured in England from about 1715 to 1740. The most recent addition is a bottle moulded in the distinctive ‘mallet’ shape well established in England by the 1730s. The Chestnut and the Mallet Reserve Tawny Port in the series are still readily available.
Scoring A Half Century
And to celebrate a 50th birthday or anniversary, there is also the sequence of Taylor’s Single Harvest Ports released when they are five decades old. Every year, Taylor’s launches a fifty-year old cask aged Single Harvest Tawny Port packaged in an attractive wooden presentation box.
Single Harvest Ports, often known by their Portuguese name ‘colheitas’, make excellent port gifts. Fully mature at the time of release, they require no decanting and can be poured straight from the bottle. The most recent release in the series is the superb Taylor’s Single Harvest 1971.
Stocking Up For Christmas
And, last but not least, we should not forget Taylor’s magnificent 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Aged Tawny Ports. With the arrival of winter weather and the festive gift season is fast approaching, our choice would be the versatile Taylor’s 20 Year Old. Beautifully smooth, rich and complex with warm mellow flavours of butterscotch and dried fruit, it pairs beautifully with the plum pudding flavours of festive fare as well as being the classic marriage with the Christmas Stilton.
And while you enjoy your festive celebrations or simply sip a warming glass of Taylor’s 20 Year Old by the fireside, you can rest assured that we are continuing to set aside reserves of the finest aged tawny for you to enjoy for many years to come.
Taylor's 1896 Single Harvest Port was made as Queen Victoria became the oldest reigning monarch in British history.
Source: Taylors Port