On a rainy day in Vila Nova de Gaia, there’s nothing better than warming up with some fine Port wine in a nearby cellar. Last Saturday, we were invited to Taylor’s cellars, a well known and respected name in the Port wine world. Despite being one of the largest and oldest Port wine houses, this would be our first time visiting, and we were grateful for the warm welcome!
Taylor’s is situated on a steep hill, just off the main street along the Douro river, which allows for a stunning view overlooking the iconic Porto skyline. Even on a rainy day, the grounds are romantic: granite, fountains and painted “Azulejo” tiles, all keeping with the traditional Portuguese style, and reflecting the rich history of the brand. In the tasting room: traditional stone walls, unique, fabric-draped ceiling, and a selection of displays containing wine bottles, books and other antiques. Much like their website, the Taylor’s cellars gives you a much broader experience than just a simple look at Port wine, they provide you with an atmosphere to truly feel the history behind the brand, and to appreciate the craft of Port wine making.
We were welcomed by Francisco Barreiro and Débora Oliveira, Débora would be guiding us on our tour through the cellars. During the tour we were shown their expansive cellar, one great hall containing endless rows of small, stacked “Pipa” barrels, which are most often used to age their Tawny range; and in the next room, large “Tonel” casks, which are home to the Ruby Ports, including the Late Bottled Vintages. The star of their collection by far is the massive, single cask featuring the Taylor’s crest, which is the largest in Europe still in use, and could easily double as a very luxurious swimming pool. It contains several thousand liters of wine, and was currently aging their Chip Dry white Port wine, which we would try later.
The Taylor’s brand produces Port wine exclusively, and within the Fladgate partnership are some other famous names in Port wine, including Croft and Fonseca. Taylor’s is also unique in that it has never been sold, it has been owned and operated by several generations of family since it’s creation in 1692. It is also one of the very few houses to produce a wine made from a pre-phylloxera vineyard: a Tawny more than 150 years old called Scion, which has been bottled unblended and has an incredible history. Although (sadly) we wouldn’t be trying this rare and legendary Port, we did try a selection of their best-selling Ports during our visit, which was a great introduction to the brand.
Taylor’s Chip Dry Port: This would be our first time trying the Chip Dry variety of white Port, which is a fairly new style introduced by Taylor’s in the 1930s. What makes it unique is not its aging, but its extended fermentation, which creates a very crisp and fresh Port. Tame in its citrus and nutty flavors, and short in the finish, this is not a Port that lingers (which is what Port is traditionally known for) making it ideal as a refreshing Apertif or served with Tonic as a cocktail.
|We Recommend: Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny: – A surprisingly unique 10 year old Tawny, that definitely wasn’t what we were expecting. Most 10 year old Tawny Ports are still fruity, with the flavors inherited from the oak (vanilla, nuts, caramel) being more subtle, but this 10 year old is deeply smokey, with lots of butterscotch, while still being mellow and smooth. It is surprising how much Tawny Port varies from estate to estate, but this particular Tawny was a pleasant surprise. Fig and jam notes are also there, but in comparison to many others with a similar age, we appreciated the matured flavors that it provided. Later this month we’ll be doing a post on pairing this specific Tawny.|
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2009 (Filtered): A staple of any Port wine house, this LBV is everything an LBV should be, and understandably so considering they claim ownership over its original creation in 1970. Robust fruit flavors, with prominent black cherry, blackberry, and plum, and tame tannins that make for a nice finish. While a traditional Vintage is bottled wild, and needs a few decades to reach its full potential, LBV is a great alternative: instant gratification, ready to drink. Definitely a crowd pleaser, this LBV is a great way to introduce someone to Port wine. It’s also interesting that although they created the LBV style, Taylor’s only produces the unfiltered variety.
After our tasting, we were very excited to watch the opening of a Vintage Port using the traditional hot tongs method, which was being done for a group. This is another thing that sets the Taylor’s cellars apart from the others, and something we have not yet experienced before. We’d like to thank the generous group for sharing the experience, and this fantastic Quinta de Vargellas Vintage with us! The honors of opening the Vintage went to Timo Silva, pictured below. The process involves heating iron tongs over an open flame, then clamping them around the neck of the bottle, roughly two thirds of the way down the cork. After just a few seconds, cool water is poured over the glass near the tongs, creating a sudden change in temperature. And as simple as that, a single, loud crack, and a clear break in the glass. More water is poured over the break to clear away any tiny glass shards, then the cork is removed.
This method is often used for very old Vintages, especially those that have been bottled for 50+ years, where it’s likely the cork has been compromised by age and decay. A cork screw risks damaging the precious Vintage wine, because the cork could crumble inside the bottle and ruin the wine. This way, the delicate cork doesn’t undergo any stress or pressure, and the wine is preserved.
Though this particular Vintage is from 1998, and doesn’t require opening with the tongs, it is a great experience and definitely something we recommend you see at least once. The Vintage was decanted by Sara Sampaio, who was also the host for the tasting. And with the build up of such a ceremonial opening, this Vintage did not disappoint.
Quinta de Vargellas 1998 Vintage Port: this vintage is still in its adolescence, with aromas and a flavor profile full of fruit. Vibrant with smooth tannins, it is reminiscent of an LBV with plenty of cherry and black fruits, but has more floral notes, and plenty of room for an evolution of the flavors. As with any Vintage, it will only improve, but it is already a pleasure to drink. We can only imagine that, with more time in the bottle, it will grow into a rounded Vintage when the deeper, mineral flavors begin to develop, which you can already pick out in the very subtle smokey and cocoa undertones.
It’s a rare opportunity to try a Vintage Port, which is the best of the best in the Port wine world, and it was the perfect ending to a great day. We’d like to thank the Taylor’s staff, and Ana Sofia Borges for inviting us to the cellars, and for a wonderful visit and tasting! We look forward to visiting again sometime soon, to try a few more Port wines in the Taylor’s portfolio.
This is a sponsored post: Taylor’s offered us a complimentary tour and tasting, however the opinions expressed in this post are our own, we paid full price for the purchases we made during our visit.