Saturday, May 28

The magic of fortified vintage wines | Wine

Taylor’s 1896 Single Harvest Port, Douro, Portugal (£ 3,950, inquire at Mentzendorff) What makes a wine worth almost £ 4,000? This, inevitably, is the first question brought to mind by the latest release from Taylor, the venerable port shipper. And having been lucky enough to receive a small test tube filled with a few precious sample drops of this very rare elixir (1,700 bottles have been made), I can suggest some kind of answer. It is an overwhelmingly sensual experience, where aromas of cedar wood give way to Chinese spices, caramel, orange zest and a hint of incense, while the wine caresses the tongue with a texture like suede, its flavors linger like ghosts long after they’ve swallowed it. These properties would be seductive enough if you tasted the wine blindly; but they intensify, magnify, with the wonder of knowing that they come from grapes grown a century before the last. Yeah yeah, but is all that worth £ 4,000? All I would say is that if you were ever lucky enough to have that kind of cash on hand, there would certainly be worse ways to spend it.

Valdespino Solera 1842 Oloroso VOS Sherry, Spain (£ 37.50, Lea and Sandeman) Aged wines tend to be fetishized, as if the mere fact of age was proof of quality. In reality, very few wines made today are made to last, and even those that sometimes taste much better in youth. As always, it depends on your taste: some of us lean towards the tastier, leathery, woody and earthy flavors that accompany the preservation of a wine for years or decades, while some of us may find more pleasure in fresh fruit. and the flowers. the liveliest and sharpest feel of wines in the first year or two after harvest. As with Taylor’s 1896, what those purely sensual descriptions don’t take into account is the emotional component of drinking older wines; I don’t think I’m the only one who gets a little dreamy and contemplative at the thought of drinking wine. from the 19th century, or, in the case of Valdespino’s superbly intense and nutty sherry, drawn from a solera (a set of barrels that are continually replenished) that was started in 1842.

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Henriques & Henriques Single Harvest Verdelho, Madeira, Portugal 2007 (£ 41, inquire at Mentzendorff) Aged and tawny ports are among the oldest wines. That 1896 vintage from Taylor isn’t even the oldest of his recent releases – the carrier has released an 1855 and 1863 in recent years. But for sheer longevity, it’s hard to beat that other great fortified Portuguese from the Atlantic island of Madeira. Something in Madeira’s unique winemaking approach, which, in addition to fortification with grape schnapps, traditionally involved gently warming the wines by placing the barrels under the eaves of the lofts in the sun, makes the wines almost indestructible. The island is the source of the oldest wines I have tasted, dating back to the mid-1800s and drinking similar wines at least 100 years younger. It is possible to find very old wines, such as 1900 Bual from one of the best historical producers on the island, Henriques & Henriques. But there is plenty of Madeira’s signature blend of lively acidity, plus salty olives, walnuts, citrus peel and dried fruit, in the mere cub of a 2007 Verdelho from the same producer.

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