There is port, then there is good vintage port and then there is very rare, very special Port.
And in the last category one finds this week’s Five Star Nick’s Wine of the Week, the Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha Port 1997 ($220).
All port is a blend. A blend of different varietals from different vineyards, different estates and, most of the time, different vintages. Only about 5% is deemed good enough to be bottled as vintage Port, and then only in good years. But in years that aren’t declared vintages some estates, or quintas, produce wine of such quality the it is bottled as single quinta vintage port, such as Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta de Vargellas.
And then we come to the rarified world of Vinha Velha, Portuguese for old vine.
Taylor Fladgate’s Robert Bower explains when and why this rare wine is produced. “Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha is completely different product to Quinta de Vargellas Vintage. Firstly Quinta de Vargellas Vintage is blend of grapes from the whole vineyard and is not made in declared years because the juice is in the vintage Port.
“Taylor Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha means old vine, and old vines, 80-120 years old, don’t perform in sync with the rest of the vineyard. What may be too stressful for the younger vines can often be ideal for the old vines with their deep root structure. We have to have a completely separate viticultural plan for our old vines in a vineyard. The net result is that in off years you can produce absolutely stunning wines from the old vines but not from the rest of the vineyard.”
The difference shows in the depth and complexity of flavour. Old vines tend to produce intensely flavoured wine, and this is the case with the Vinha Velha. Not bigger or more powerful wine, in fact it is surprisingly delicate, but so pure and precise, so shot through with flavour that it leaves the otherwise superb Quinta de Vargellas Vintage looking insipid.
As for food to pair with this special wine, stay away from Stilton, the traditional accompaniment for vintage port, it’s too pungent and is better suited to a Tawny. Rather go with a hard cheeses like good cheddar, pecorino or manchego.
Vinha Velha is made only in years when the wine is not required for vintage or Quinta de Vargellas bottlings, and then only in miniscule quantities. The typically US allocation is 600 bottles, and the wine is so coveted by collectors that it’s extremely hard to find even if you’re willing to pay the mad-money price.
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