Normally we think of vintage ports as something we drink only in winter in front of an evening’s fireplace, but they are just as appropriate in the summer as something to sip with the cheese course or instead of dessert. To me, there are few dining experiences as enjoyable in extending a leisurely dinner as bringing out the port with a small, scoop-able round of Stilton blue cheese.
There are many good port houses — as the wine producers are called in Porto — but one of my favorites is the Fladgate Partnership. They make many kinds of port, from pink to tawny, but they are best known for their formidable line of vintage ports. Vintage ports are those from the best years, and they are bottled just after blending with no additional oak aging. You can drink them young and assertive — as are the 2009s listed below — or you can let them age and mature.
Ports are stronger than table wines by about a third, usually weighing in at around 20 percent alcohol, so we drink less of them at one sitting — or at least should — than table wines.
The three newly released Fladgate Partnership vintages are Taylor Fladgate (known as just Taylor’s outside the U.S.), Croft, and Fonseca, all of which were once separate houses. Each house retains its own specialties and styles. The 2009 growing season was a hot year in Europe’s vineyards, but, as one Taylor’s exec once noted, "Every year is a hot one in the Douro."
In this lineup, the 2009 Taylor Fladgate vintage port ($99) is the most elegant and classic of the three, with excellent balance between berry fruitiness, tannins, and alcohol. The flavors are those of dried and crushed blackberries with hints of dark-chocolate creaminess and an undertone of bread pudding.
The 2009 Fonseca vintage port ($99) is a little warmer on the palate with more elevated flavors and more noticeable tannins — yet it is the dried herbs and savory sensations that separate the Fonseca from its two brothers. The 2009 Croft vintage port ($70) is more voluble and fruity, the ying to Fonseca’s yang. This is a port for those who love blueberries and black raspberries.
If the prices are a little scary for a full bottle, remember a half bottle (375 ml) of any of them can easily serve four to eight people at dinner.