Vail Wine Ink column: Celebrating 325 years of wine with voyage to London
Under the Influence
“Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Reserve Tawny Port.”
I have not had an opportunity to taste this celebratory blend, but amongst those who attended the introduction the response was positive. It will be on sale in the U.S. in June and will retail for $37.99 Decanter Magazine, the British wine bible said about the wine: “Lifted but dense dried and candied fruit nose along with chocolate-covered coffee beans and Christmas baking spices. Multilayered, plush palate with a concentrated, juicy, bright mulberry core of acidity surrounded by rich sticky toffee pudding and warm gingerbread notes. Complex but approachable — a delicious tawny.” The publication awarded the wine with a 94 score.
In the world of wine marketing, no anniversary is too small to promote.
It seems that every winery wants to tout a 10th anniversary of this release or a wine that is a “perfect match” for Father’s Day or Groundhog Day. And I get it. But the vast majority of the ideas are a stretch and some are just downright cheesy.
Ah, but not this one.
A SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVMENT
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This year, Taylor Fladgate, the famed Port house with an extended history and reputation for quality, celebrated the — get this — 325th anniversary of their founding. To celebrate this milestone, they asked Portuguese single-handed, solo yachtsman Ricardo Diniz, the brand’s “sea ambassador,” to sail a cask of Port from Taylor’s Port cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, to London. His voyage replicates the first such transfer in the year 1692. Here in America, we were holding trials and hanging witches that year.
Earlier in May, Diniz sailed a 60-foot yacht, christened appropriately as Taylor325, from the Portuguese coast to the mouth of the Thames, up the river, under the Tower Bridge, which was raised to allow passage, and into the very heart of London. There, he delivered his prize cargo, the Port cask. It was just in time for a special black tie dinner for members of press and trade and special friends of the brand that has been called “The Rolls Royce of Port.” Now that’s how you mark an anniversary.
But it gets better.
Diniz, today, is in England preparing to sail Taylor325, by himself, from Plymouth, England, to Newport, Rhode Island, in OSTAR 2017. The race will set sail on Wednesday, May 29. OSTAR, which stands for Original Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race, is a prestigious and renowned contest that is held every four years since its origination in 1960. The crossing of the Atlantic will take approximately 21 days and this will be the first time a Portuguese yachtsman will compete in the race.
In a press release, the 40-year old solo-sailor said, “This is not just a special moment for Taylor’s. This is an important part of Port and Portugal’s history and something I am proud to represent and share.”
Taylor Fladgate has also created a special bottling to mark the establishment of the brand and that first sailing. Monikered as the “Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Reserve Tawny Port,” the wine comes in a squat, onion-shaped bottle that replicates one used in the 1600s. Taylor Fladgate winemaker David Guimaraen is the sixth generation of his family to be involved in the Port business. For the anniversary bottling, he selected a range of wines that have been aging 10, 20, 30 and 40 years as Old Tawny lots. A Tawny Port is a wine that has taken on a “tawny” color from extensive time spent in a barrel, rather than just the two years that a vintage port will age in-barrel before bottling. Guimaraen’s blended these lots to form a wine that is described by the Port house as an “opulent and seductive aged tawny port.” We shall see.
A FORTIFIED EXPERINCE
Of the world’s special wines, Port is known as much for its storied history as it is its unique flavor profiles. In the mid-1600s, there was a thriving trading relationship between England and Portugal and there already existed a community of Brits and Scots living on the sunny coast of Portugal. Trade agreement between the two monarchies gave ex-patriots special privileges and preferential customs duties. Simultaneously, a rift developed between England and France, creating an opportunity for English/Portuguese wine merchants to corner the market in England.
It was around this time that Job Bearsley, an English merchant, traveled to Portugal with an eye toward making his mark in the wine business. From his base in Vila Nova de Gaia, just south of Oporto, Bearsley founded the company that eventually became Taylor’s, or Taylor Fladgate, as the brand is known today here in the USA. And it was from there that the first cask was shipped to London.
While the practice of pouring brandy or grape spirits into the casks before shipping to help preserve the wines, called fortification, was used at that time, it was not until the second half of 18th century that blending wines with spirits became an important part of the production process. That evolved because, well, it simply tasted good. And in fact, it was not until 1850 that fortification became the standard with all Port wines. Today, the fortified wines of the region offer rich and flavorful tasting experiences that are sought after by sippers across the globe, not just in England.
Let’s hope that the voyager Ricardo Diniz kept a solid ration of the celebratory “Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Reserve Tawny Port” for his trans-Atlantic crossing. He deserves it.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.