While one could argue about which variety of table wine to pour during Thanksgiving dinner, there can be few arguments as to what comes after — a glass of port, preferably vintage, with some cheeses or a savory pie.
Tasting vintage ports from the same year calls for a little more acuity than tasting table wines from the same region and vintage — say, four 2010 Oakville cabernet sauvignons. First, table wines allow a lot more variability in the winemaker’s expression because they aren’t set pieces and don’t come with the regulations and traditions of port. Second, vintage ports are blends that generally try to hew to a house style. Third, there is always an intellectual challenge in describing and judging a vintage port now versus what it will become after years in the bottle married to a dollop of oxygen.
These wines are always going to have lots of dark, purple blackberry and blueberry fruitiness, varying amounts of savory notes, lots of tannins of varying hospitality, and a strong shot of alcohol. You know all this even before you put your nose to the glass. That being said, while the taste profiles of vintage ports may be similar than dissimilar, their styles are often quite different.
Take four vintage ports just tasted from 2011 — three from three houses within the Fladgate Partnership and the other from Sandeman. The Sandeman is from a standard 750-milliliter bottle, while the three from Fladgate were poured from half-bottles. The 2011 vintage was a difficult one in progress that turned out to be very good in the end, with almost all houses declaring a vintage, the first such general declaration since 2007.
Rather than dwell on the tasting profiles, let’s be brief and comment on what really sets one apart from the others. (Prices are for a full bottle.)
2011 Croft ($78). The Croft is especially supple and is already beginning to compartmentalize between the fruit up front and the savory notes at the finish.
2011 Taylor Fladgate ($91). The loads of ruby fruits at the front really soar on this one like a Peyton Manning touch pass to the far corner of the end zone.
2011 Sandeman ($85). The intensity shines on this, really zinging, which seeks out an audience of those who like more-assertive expressions.
2011 Fonseca ($91). Probably the one with the most savory notes of the group, a little bit of a brooder in a very good way.
Which to choose? Although the Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca bring higher ratings and will age better, for drinking now and for the friendly price, my Pick of the Litter is the Croft, which is very welcoming and harmonious, something that will ease me into cold winter nights that are already upon us.