Lesser-known Vintage Port producers offer savings, quality

June 17, 2013

Another active week on the tasting front. The 2011 Vintage Port is universally excellent. This is first vintage since 2007 where every nearly producer declared, across the board. Most of those I sampled were in the mid- to upper 90s. Of those tasted by me, the Cockburn’s 2011 Vintage Port was the best. I rated it 98. Dow, Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate, Warre’s and Graham’s, all from Symington, and Sograpes, Sandemann and Ferriera, and Croft, one of the oldest and best, were just a tad less, 96-97, and honestly that is not a distinction. The anticipated cellar time is from 60-100 years, and I think the high end is likely.

Smart buyers who cellar and enjoy great Port will get out a map of the Douro River Valley in Portugal that lists Port Quintas. I think this website is excellent: Find one of the less-renowned producers bordering one of the above-listed producers and you will likely pay much less for great Port. This will take some diligence, but it will be well worth the effort for those who cellar. I mentioned Cockburn’s because it got my highest QPR and I found a six-pack offered on a presale. However, the best pure rating regardless of price was Fonseca, 98.7. My notes read: intense inky with purple rim. Opens to blackberries and black currant with redolent herbal as it evolved. Palate reflects color - dense, concentrated with sandalwood, plum, marzipan and pencil lead flavors. Minerality and balanced tannins support dark chocolate, black fruit and licorice flavors. Although I try to shy away from mundane superlatives, I wrote in caps SUPERLATIVE. You can find the 2007 priced well under $100 if you wish to see how this might shape up over time. For smaller budgets, look for Smith Woodhouse, 93 points under $48.

This product is constantly overlooked by the snob set of reviewers.

Bodega Martin 2009 Malbec Reserva is being touted under $11 if you buy a case. Great QPR at $135/case for a 90-point Mendoza Malbec from a highly regarded producer in its perfect window. Only buy what you intend to drink in the next year or two. Nice dark-purple color, graphite, cassis and wild berry aromas, with dark berry, spice and licorice flavors, ripe, dense finish. The finish shows some wood but not off-putting. WE said 90 points, but at this price it is an easy 92.

Joseph Phelps Freestone Fogdog Sonoma Chardonnay 2010 has been advertised as though it were a bargain at $38. No bargain. $34 or less works for this lovely, full-bodied Chard. Peach, honeysuckle, lemon zest, vanilla, gravel and toast aromas comprise its bouquet. Creamy texture offset by crisp acidity helps carry the citrus, peach, honey and crème caramel flavors.

A full-bodied wine with balanced minerality, the flavors reverberate through a long, clean finish. This is a chard I long for, with the pre-one-size-fits-all profile so often found today in this price range. It is noteworthy that nearly all the independent reviewers rated the 2010 1 or 2 points higher than “the experts.”

In an effort to always leave you laughing, I’m recommending Leyda Valley Chilean SB Montes Limited Selection 2011 if you can find it priced under $150/case. I say 89 points. Pale yellow/green-tinged color, tropical, saline with green-fruit aromas. On palate, tangy flavors of lemon, green apple and green pineapple. The finish shows lime, tarragon and grassy notes. A pleasing dry summer sipper.

I want to compliment Dennis on his obit for Bob Raley. I’ve known the Raleys since Peggy and Suzanne were kids and Nassau Valley Vineyards was probably not yet conceived. Bob was everything Dennis described and more. The man had foresight and the determination to bring his ideas to fruition. RIP Bob, you will be missed by many. My heartfelt condolences to the Raley family.

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