We hope you’re sitting down. If not, find a leather club chair, dim the lights, cross your legs, tune your gramophone or iPhone to your preferred string quartet and place your left hand on the well-groomed head of your faithful Chinook. Now do some thumb stretches and shake out your right hand, your drinking hand, to get it good and relaxed. As a final step, call out to any loved ones in the vicinity to bring you a small plate of chocolates and the finest cigar available. You’re now in the appropriate position to pour a glass of Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port ($295).
It’s obvious but worth pointing out that this is a very old bottle of wine. 50 years. Fifty years ago Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States, the Beatles were #1 on the U.S. singles chart, the first Ford Mustang was released, the first desktop computer was launched at the World’s Fair and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, at the Taylor Fladgate vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley, the contents of this bottle of Port began its first of five decades aging in wooden casks. The world has changed significantly since then.
Sommelier Fabien Suquet of La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a New York branch of the Parisian wine bar by the same name, described drinking an old Niepoort Colheita port with a 20-year-old cigar as a “paradise moment”. If you’re looking to experience something similar he suggests tripling down on this after-dinner pairing. If you’ve got these three things in hand, though…screw dinner, we say.
Quinta do Noval 40-Year Tawny
This light amber-colored Tawny from the Port house dating back to 1715 has notes of nut, mint and almonds. Serve it cool with no decantation necessary.
Cohiba Behike BHK 54
This is one of the most expensive Cuban cigars, but well worth it according to Cigar Aficionado, which describes it as “bold, leathery smoke with a solid earty core and pleasnt notes of coffee bean.” cigaraficionado.com
Roasted Cocoa Nib Bark
Suquet was brimming with excitement about this chocolate made by a physician in Texas. It’s preservative-free, all natural and made by hand. drsueschocolate.com
The Port industry has, too, though the grapes at Taylor Fladgate vineyards are still crushed by foot, according to their CEO, Adrian Bridge. “In those days all Port came down by barco rabelo (river boats)”, he says, on its way from the Douro Valley in northeastern Portugal, the only place that Port can legally come from, 60 miles west to Port houses or “lodges” in the city of Oporto on the country’s Atlantic coast. Though the means of transportation is different (and much of it is now stored in the Valley), the fortified wine is still made basically the same way: grapes from the terraced vineyards of the Douro region are crushed by foot, fermented, combined with aguardente (brandy) to interrupt fermentation and aged in wooden casks.
It actually gets a bit more complicated than that: there are several types of Port, from White to Ruby to something called “Crusted”. For our purposes, since we’re dealing with a very old bottle of Port here, the most important distinction is between Vintage Port (VP) and a Tawny Port. VP gets aged in oak for at least two years and then goes into the bottle between the second and third year, where it continues to age, sometimes for very long periods of time. These are the big shot Ports. They need to be aged vertically (cork up), strained of sediment and decanted when they’re opened. Tawny ages exclusively in barrels, where it oxidizes and takes on a mahogany hue, and then gets filtered and bottled when it’s ready to drink.
While VPs are often considered the best-of-the-best, with their own special method for removing the cork (see sidebar), Tawnys tend to be a very popular after-dinner drink and have their own dedicated following, thanks to their unique flavor profile. “I like Tawny ports much better [than VP]”, says Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier and owner of Corkbuzz wine bar in New York. “I like that nutty, salty, toffee — the less sweet or fruity port. I prefer the oxidized or kind of bruised fruit.”
The Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest has all that. It’s a special edition Tawny made from a single harvest of grapes that were aged in oak, in Oporto, for 50 years. That is special. Even if you’re not a Port drinker you can appreciate what’s in this bottle the same way you do something that’s been cared for over such a long period of time. Neither does it take an expert to know you’re smelling and tasting something extraordinary. In the glass it’s a beautiful mahogany color. The smell is transporting: smokey, sweet, nutty and just a tiny bit brash to let you know that it’s 20 percent alcohol. It tastes fruity, spicy and surprisingly acidic — almost refreshing — with a long, peppery finish. Knowing how long this wine aged, coupled with its complexity and power in the glass, make it impossible throw this stuff back like it’s any old wine. It’s a wine that imposes its own parameters (very gently) on the drinker.
While Port has a somewhat stuffy reputation, it actually seems a bit less rule-oriented than wine can sometimes be. Have it after dinner with dessert or by itself. With fall around the corner, it’s a less intense nightcap than Scotch or bourbon. “We tend to drink aged Tawny slightly chilled”, Bridge says. “We would pair it with an almond tart or a great apple pie. Enjoy with friends.” That seems like as good — and simple — a way as any to honor such an old bottle of wine, though we stand by our recommendation of leather chairs, rare dogs and string quartets.
For something as old as port wine production, you’d expect there to be stately traditions to go along with it. And there are. Port “tonging” uses red hot iron tongs to cut off the top of the bottle, avoiding the potential mess of removing an old cork in bottles of Vintage Port. In this video, sommelier Caleb Ganzer of Eleven Madison Park in New York tongs a bottle of vintage port.