Port Wine Tastings

Exclusive Report

This is an exclusive report of an official Port Wine Institute tasting held in London on October 19th 1999, covering 24 single vintage Ports from 1977-87. The results are being published within 48 hours and demonstrate how the Internet is a much faster medium than print magazines. The information enables vintage Port lovers to have an insight into the development of wines they may have in their cellars, which in its turn will preclude the need to experiment and possibly open bottles prematurely.

1980 Surprises Tasters

Seven different vintages were tasted, namely 87, 86, 85, 83, 82, 80 and the highly reputed 1977. The big surprise of the day was that — overall, the standard of the 1980 vintage clearly outshone the 1977.

For current consumption GRAHAM'S 1980 appealed most. It has wonderful depth of ruby color, plenty of legs (glycerine) and a rich, fruity aroma. It is quite mature on the palate with a slightly sweet foretaste, while the middle palate provides soft-fruit jammy flavors. It is full-bodied, very smooth in texture, with a little acidity and a fine long finish. It is delicious now but may still improve for another 5-7 years.

Quinta da Terra Feita (Taylor Fladgate)

WARRE'S 1980 was the unexpected star for those looking for a long-lasting wine. For a 19-year-old Port it has great depth of ruby, almost purple, color. Its bouquet is still somewhat closed but it is remarkably full and rich on the palate, still retaining some tannin and acidity. At this stage its finish is limited but that will change substantially. It is likely to peak in 5-10 years.

DOW'S 1980 completed a trio from that year, and all were from Port houses owned by the Symington family. Dow's is more developed than Graham's or Warre's. It has quite a mature color with some legs. Its aroma opens gradually with slightly sweet fruit. It is middleweight in body with some soft fruit and a little acidity and is quite long on the finish. It was curious that two tasters commented about a slight corkiness which no-one else identified. This may perhaps have been due to some residue on the tasters' glasses.

1985 Shows its Potential

FONSECA was the champion from the 1985 vintage for a variety of reasons. It has the greatest depth of color with a surprisingly deep ruby hue. It shows plenty of legs and though its nose is still relatively closed, it is rich and opulent on the palate, offering a fine balance of fruit and acidity. It is extremely smooth with a long, firm finish. It is quite drinkable now but will clearly benefit from another 5-7 years in bottle.

GRAHAM'S 1985 has even deeper color than Fonseca but is not so developed as a wine. It has plenty of glycerine and its aroma gradually develops in the glass. On the palate it gives great concentration of really jammy fruit with relatively little acidity. It is full-bodied and has a long finish but it is still a little asleep and may need 10 years in the dormitory.

Typical Douro Valley
vineyards at Quinta do Noval

POÇAS (Poshas) was the next preference amongst the 1985's. It is a small specialist house with a good reputation for single vintage Port. Its wine is lighter in color than the previous two and it has some hints of tawny at the edges. It is altogether a lighter, more elegant style but it does possess some delicious soft jammy fruit with a little acidity and quite a lingering finish. It is a pleasant and mature middleweight Port that is drinking well now but should still improve for 5 years.

Other Vintage Ports Tasted
Quinta do Crasto

Slightly tawny color, yet plenty of glycerine. Open mature aroma, quite well-balanced on the palate but lacking in fruit. Miguel Corte Real of Cockburn's, who hosted the tasting, said it was 'quite typical of the vintage'. Drink now.


The second and well-reputed Port from Fonseca. It has quite a deep ruby color, with its bouquet fairly closed, but is fresh and healthy on the palate with soft fruit which seems to be developing. It may be a surprise bottle for anyone who keeps it for another 4-6 years.

Quinta do Crasto, possibly the
first Vintage Port to be fortified


Probably the most highly rated of the second labels amongst the greatest of the Port houses, with an excellent record for consistency in the 'lesser vintages'. It is usually only produced in those years. It is fractionally lighter in color than the Fonseca Guimaraens and appears more mature. It has a rich, slightly sweet foretaste with middleweight body and an attractive fruit-laden, lingering after-taste and is drinking well now.


This is lighter in color and body than the other 1985's. It offers a sweetly perfumed bouquet, is well-balanced on the palate, smooth, quite elegant and ready for immediate consumption.


The color is showing hints of tawny but with ample legs. The Port has good fruit with some acidity, is soft on the palate but as yet a little undeveloped. Hold for 5-7 years.

CROFT 1985

This too is showing touches of tawny, has impressive legs, and a clean healthy bouquet. It is slightly sweet on the foretaste; middleweight in body with some ripe fruit flavors and has a lingering fruit-laden finish. It will probably benefit from 5-7 years extra aging or more.

DOW'S 1985

A tasting note by Dow's award-winning head winemaker Peter Symington was read, describing its 'deep ruby color', but my sample was showing tawny hints and certainly wasn't as described. It was an utterly confusing example; although its color appeared quite advanced, its bouquet was still quite closed. Yet the palate gradually opened, becoming a little creamy with gentle flavors of soft fruit. Then suddenly it woke up and appeared quite round and laden with ripe fruit, giving a long, rich finish. The conclusion must be that it is still improving and will do for 5-10 years.


Its color has some hints of tawny, few legs and its palate offers a slightly sweet foretaste. Its fruit is quite soft and its body amongst the lightest tasted. It was, perhaps, the sweetest of all the samples and sweetness dominated the finish.


A sleeper without doubt. It has good depth of color, which is still a rich ruby and it has ample legs. It is closed on the nose, but on the palate there is some young, developing, soft jammy fruit and a little acidity with a lingering palate. Lingering in the cellar for 5-10 years is recommended for a very promising wine.

WARRE'S 1985

Our host suggested that our sample was not a particularly good example bottle. This, of course, can always happen to any label. It had good depth of color but its nose smelt slightly volatile. It had quite a sweet foretaste, was between middle and heavyweight in body, with ripe fruit emerging and a long finish. But it just didn't taste right for a house that has a wonderful track record.


Our host, coming from Cockburn's, was extremely enthusiastic about this. It is a pleasing Port with reasonable depth of color, showing hints of tawny, and has very good legs. A slightly sweet foretaste precedes a mid-palate with an attractive balance of soft summer fruit, fresh currants and acidity. It is quite well-developed but lacks a little in body weight. There is some compensation with a jammy, lingering after-taste. In other words it was good but not great.


This Port has apparently been a great favorite amongst the Portuguese-speaking population in Brazil for over 100 years. The 1983 displays good depth of color and decent legs, and has a slightly closed bouquet which fills out into a gentle, sweet aroma. This is followed by impressive fruit but a little more acidity than anticipated. It is quite a smooth, middle to heavyweight wine, with soft, jammy fruit on the palate and a curious sticky, slightly sweet after-taste. It will probably improve for 3-7 years.


I preferred the 1982, which is slightly deeper in color than its 1983 brother, and still showing a bright ruby hue. Its bouquet is gentle, a little fruity but also quite sweet and the palate develops that sweetness through soft jammy fruit which eventually gives a lingering finish. Drink now or keep up to 10 years.

CROFT 1977

This was rather disappointing, a great name from a highly rated vintage and yet a Port that was heading downhill. Its color is paling with hints of tawny but there certainly is no great depth and legs were few and far between. It has an open, quite fruity bouquet but its palate is lightweight with slightly jammy fruit followed by a relatively limited aftertaste. One must suspect a poor bottle but there was no smell of cork taint.


Owned by Diageo this is a Port with a fine reputation for the single vintage style. Yet the 1977 was paler than expected, but with much more glycerine than the Croft sample. It is slightly sweet on the bouquet and lightly jammy on the palate with a soft, reasonably long finish. However it did not have the rich, full character anticipated.


The Editor confesses to be a great fan of the Rolls Royce of Port houses but unfortunately this too didn't excite in the usual Taylor Fladgate fashion. It was fairly pale in color with tawny edges, had an open, almost raisiny bouquet, and was middleweight in body with less developed fruit than expected. It still displays some acidity and lingering fruit but does not have the character and style for a top house in a great vintage. Further research will be carried out, for one can only believe it was an off-bottle.


Readers who do their arithmetic will find that of 24 samples only 22 are featured. The reason is that 2 bottles were clearly corked. You will also note that 3 are described as off-bottles. This is indicative of one of the risks taken when laying down Port or other wines for a long time. What may begin as a minor case of cork taint or TCA in a new wine might not even be noticed by many after a couple of years, but after 20 it will develop into a serious problem. Both the wine and the cork industries are actively researching the matter but so far with limited success.

Last updated on 06 March 2000
Published by Stephen Harriman
© Wine on the Web Limited 2000