Hello friends. We have a screamer of a deal today: a Late Bottled Vintage Port in 750ml format, at a tariff lower than what you’d normally pay for a 375ml split:
As you can see here, 375ml splits are going for $25, and 750ml bottles for closer to $50, so this is quite a tariff we’re able to offer today, and I hope it encourages those of you who are curious about Port to jump in and give the LBV category a try.
The timing couldn’t be better, either. Many of you know that I’m in the middle of a long, active pursuit of the Master of Wine qualification. Towards that end, I just wrapped up a fortified wine exam down in San Francisco (To be more specific, it was the WSET Level 4 Diploma Unit 6 Fortified Wines Examination. That clears everything up, right?) so I spent most of January and February tasting boatloads of sherry, port, and madeira (the exam involves a blind-tasting portion).
The exam also contains a theory portion, so I studied the fortified wine industry enough to know this: fortified wines are not cool right now.
One of the things I love best about Full Pull list members is our willingness to embrace the unfashionable. Wine is a fashion business in many respects, and those of us willing to go against the grain of fashion can find some remarkable values.
Ports and sherries and madeiras all fall into the “Grandma’s Tipple” stereotype, which is rough for producers but wonderful for we consumers who don’t mind being compared to grandmothers (and who, in fact, love our grandmothers and their tastes in alcohol), because that stereotype has a clear impact: it artificially suppresses prices on otherwise lovely categories.
Among the fortified wines I have been geeking out on for the past few months, I’m not sure any caught my fancy more than LBVs. Now a quick explanation is probably in order, since Port is a fairly confusing category. Let’s set aside cask-aged ports (tawny ports) for another time, and focus here just on bottle-aged ports.
At the top of the heap, you have vintage ports. So let’s say you have an outstanding summer in the Douro, and the grapes come in at maximum ripeness and at high yields, *and* (often overlooked), the port shippers feel the market is ready to support another vintage, then woo-hoo, blow the trumpets, and “declare” the vintage. As you can see from this chart, about three vintages per decade are generally declared.
At that point, the wines spend 2-3 years in barrel and then go into bottle, where they’re generally expected to age (in bottle) for another 20-30 years before pulling the cork. Good vintage ports are extremely expensive and essentially undrinkable in their youth, so you have to a) pay for the expensive bottle; and b) hold it in a temperature-controlled environment for several decades before opening it.
Can you see why vintage port only represents 1% of the overall port market? Can you see why an alternative was needed? I think the immediate-gratification culture that helped spawn LBVs is best summed up by one Homer J. Simpson. [Moe: You could flash fry a buffalo in 40 seconds. Homer: 40 seconds?! But I want it noooooowwww.]
A Late-Bottled Vintage Port is Port from a single year that is bottled later: typically 4-6 years after harvest. In this case, the vintage was 2003, and it was bottled in 2007. LBVs are made in a softer, more approachable style, and they’re generally ready to drink at the point they’re bottled, although they’ll continue to evolve in bottle for years after that. An LBV is basically a baby vintage, and in my experience tasting through a bunch of them recently, the best of them can really mimic an aged, vintage Port, at prices that are a fraction of their vintage brethren.
Quinta de la Rosa is located right on the banks of the Douro (see location here), right by the bend at Pinhao. Here are several photos from the Quinta (one, two, three) to show a) how crazy it is farming the steep-sloped Douro Valley; and b) how we all need to visit Quinta de la Rosa as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we can at least drink their lovely LBV at a wonderful tariff. This comes entirely from ‘A’ grapes (you really don’t want me to get into the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto – IVDP – system of vineyard grading) and is made in a very traditional style (yes, that means foot-trodden, in low stone lagares; no, there are not any foot aromatics in the wine).
The aromas come soaring up out of the glass: golden raisins and dried cherries, figs and dark chocolate. The palate sees more of the same, along with notes of date, candied orange peel, and a fine mineral streak. It’s sweet, rich, and openly delicious. The 19.5% alcohol is completely integrated, and the entire package is well-balanced and delightful. If this showed up blind in my exam, I suspect the structure and concentration would have led me to call it a vintage port. I would have been wrong, but I would have been happy.
If you’re interested in going long on these because of the price, it’s worth noting that Roy Hersh (our foremost expert on Port through his For the Love of Port publication) suggested drinking these over the next six to eight years. That was in 2011, so he’d be suggesting a drinking window lasting until 2019. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.