Tasting Scion: A Piece of History

Taylor Fladgate's pre-phylloxera 1855 port


It’s rare to taste a wine that is over a century old. Rarer still is it to taste one that has been kept in the same place for 150 years and that comes from pre-phylloxera vines.

When Scion was first mentioned, it seemed almost unreal. A wine from the year that the Bordeaux wine Châteaus were first classified, a piece of history.
Phylloxera notoriously destroyed almost all of Europe’s grapevines in the 1800s. It arrived in France on the root stocks of American vines that had grown resistant to it. Sadly, vitis vinifera, the European grape vine, however, was not immune to its impact and succumbed to its devastation. The result was utter calamity in French vineyards and vineyards throughout Europe. The effects of the phylloxera epidemic are still felt and it is for this reason that European vines continue to be planted on American root stocks throughout the world, save for a few areas such as Chile.

This tawny Port has just made its debut in the U.S. market, although interestingly it was introduced in London and in Hong Kong in November 2010, two big auction markets for collectors. The wine retails for $3,200 and is clearly for collectors. Only 1,400 bottles have been produced. The wine was found by chance by winemaker David Gumaraens of The Fladgate Partnership, which contains the Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft labels. The Partnership bought two casks of the wine in 2008 from a family in the Douro Valley, which had held it for the past two centuries. The wine was sold because the owner had no living heirs.

Scion is remarkable not only for its history but for its exquisite flavors on the nose and palate. It had racy acidity and an amazing array of spice, fruit, floral and oak notes. In some ways it was reminiscent of an older sherry or a madeira. In no way, was it what one might have expected. Its long, lingering finish and persistence on the palate confirmed the sensation that one was in front of an exquisite gem.

However, if $3,200 for one bottle of Port seems extravagant, Taylor Fladgate, the only historic Port house still run by the same family, has a host of other Ports for you to try at a much lower price point.

At this same tasting, we were given samples of the Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas 1991 and the Taylor Fladgate Vintage 1992 to try as well. They cost $100 and $180-$200 respectively, considerably less than the Scion.

Vargellas is one of three vineyard properties that Taylor Fladgate owns in the Douro Valley. Interestingly, Adrian Bridge, CEO of the company, said that people tended to favor either the 1991 or the 1992. Both, he said, we excellent vintages, although in 1991 the company decided not to make a vintage Port, only the single quinta.

Ports are for the most part, blended wines, across properties and often vintages. They are a blend of grapes as well. Tourigas-Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa tend to produce wine of enormous concentration and full body. Tinta Roriz brings firm tannins and a note of cedar while Tinta Barroca is considered more floral and Tinta Cão can be added as well. These blending decisions are made by Natasha Bridge. She is Adrian’s wife and the daughter of Alistair Robertson, owner and chairman of Taylor’s and Fonseca.

The Taylor family bought Quinta de Vargellas in the years between 1893 and 1896. It is a 164-hectare property. The family also has a property called the Quinta de Terra Feita, which has a further 116 hectares of vines. The third property, bought in 1998, is called Quinta do Junco.

Grapes that are used to make Port are still trodden by foot in large stone tanks called lagares. Each lagar contains approximately 6,000 litres of grape juice. Of course, Lucille Ball comes to mind when one thinks of the treading of the grapes, but it actually serves a purpose.

Apparently the shape of the human foot as opposed to mechanical hands pushing down the grapes is better able to extract color and flavor. This is doubly necessary for Port because it has a shorter maceration period than most red wines. Port is fortified with grape spirit of 77º alcohol, before it has fully fermented. This raises the alcohol level of the Port to anywhere between 19-22º alcohol.

Getting back to the 1991 and 1992 wines, Bridge said that the Single Quinta could last 35 years while the 1992, a classic vintage, could keep for 50. The 1991 was more floral with spice notes and a balsamic, liquorice aroma, with a full body and racy acidity. The 1992, however, in my book, was a cut above. It was plummy, with raisin and spice notes and gorgeous acidity; without a doubt, a perfect complement to any evening.

Bridge noted that Ports all go through their “teenage” years, a funky and clumsy period that can last four to five years, like adolescence. The 1992 had just come out of such a phase, he said.

We also tasted a 2000, a 2003 and a 2007. Of the three, I preferred the 2007. The wine is still quite young obviously, but I look forward to tasting it in the years to come. Bridge also suggested tasting different Ports at various times in their lifespan. These wines ranged in price from $25 to $75.

As if that weren’t enough, the folks at Kobrand, the historic importer of the Taylor Fladgate lines, offered four tawny Ports as a lead-in to the Scion. We tried the 10 year, the 20 year, the 30 year and the 40 year tawny ports. All were truly exciting expressions of what a tawny can be, but it was the 30- and the 40-year-old ports that impressed me with their searing acidity, enveloping aromas, and rich flavors without being syrupy or overdone. The wines were complex and well integrated, balanced without being extravagant.

These wines retail anywhere from $21 for the 10-year-old to $125 for the 40-year-old. It's not a bargain, but still a lovely gift and an amazing experience to share.

The entire experience made me wonder why I haven’t been drinking more Port all these years. Perhaps I can’t afford the Scion, but I have much to choose from and many Port houses to try.

Susannah Gold is a New York-based wine writer, publicist and certified Italian sommelier. She is the founder of Vigneto Communications, a boutique public relations, marketing and educational consulting firm specializing in the food and wine industry, and she posts on all things Italian at her blog, Avvinare.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: rolifingers
    Hand of Snooth
    434970 415

    This is amazing. I am a Port lover and I think it would be excitng trying a Port this mature.

    Mar 02, 2011 at 1:16 PM

  • It was a fabulous experience. While Scion might be a budget stretch, the 20,30 and 40 year old ports were unbelievable as well. Thanks for commenting. Susannah -Avvinare

    Mar 02, 2011 at 2:05 PM

  • Snooth User: rolifingers
    Hand of Snooth
    434970 415

    Thank you as well Susannah I enjoyed the article.

    Mar 02, 2011 at 3:26 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    I don't get a chance to taste much port but I really appreciate your account, Susannah. I will be looking for opportunities to pick up some of the 40 year.

    Mar 02, 2011 at 4:25 PM

  • We enjoyed a 1966 Croft port this Christmas... It was orginaly owned by my Uncle who passed away 4 to 5 years ago. I couldn't sell it so we where forced to drink it. I am glad i have a family that understands the meaning of giving, and yes it was excellent and worth all the accolades!

    Mar 02, 2011 at 5:19 PM

  • Sorry about your Uncle but glad your family understands the meaning of giving. 1966, that's very exciting.

    Mar 02, 2011 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Azeredo
    536111 9

    I hope that Susannah can repeat this experience looking the Douro river, from the The Yeatman Hotel and Wine Spa's salon. This will be more fabulous.
    I am an Old Port's fan, and say thanks for sharing your feelings with us.

    Mar 02, 2011 at 8:05 PM

  • Snooth User: chazz390
    394391 1

    Excellent and well written...wish i could sample some and taste a piece of history. Cheers!!!

    Mar 02, 2011 at 8:11 PM

  • Snooth User: sipn
    785227 6

    Thank you for an excellent article, i am very fond of Port and the North Central vineyards of Victoria, Australia have a long tradition of supplying England (called home by Aussies until recent years) with fortified wines. A visit to Australian Vineyards by Susannah would be most welcome. A recent great pleasure for me was to find http://torbwine.com/home.shtml, as commentator on our wines. Aussiepaul

    Mar 03, 2011 at 6:25 AM

  • This was a great article - I'm not a port drinker (mostly due to lack of experience with port) but this makes me want to branch out.
    When you tried the 2000, -03 & -07, it seems from what I know and your article that these ports will not be at their prime for years. Is that correct or are they drinkable now?

    Mar 03, 2011 at 6:56 AM

  • Thank you all for your wonderful comments.
    @mark I loved the 40 year old.
    @Azeredo I would love to have the experience you discribed.
    @Chazz390 Thanks for reading my article.
    @sipn I have had a few Tawnys from Australia were great. I haven't been there in a long time. Maybe I'm due for a trip.
    @VitaVinifera I actually enjoyed the 2000, 2003 and the 2007 very much. You can drink Young Port, it just is a different experience. What I was told was that Ports go into various phases throughout their long lives. I would drink any of these Ports after dinner so yes they are drinkable now and/or later.

    Mar 03, 2011 at 11:31 AM

  • Snooth User: Corkbouy
    670685 4

    Hi Susanna!
    Thank you for sharing your tasting notes from a one of a kind tasting.
    Age can be tricky when deciding to buy old wines. I use Wasserman's guide to fortified wines and spirits. It goes waaay back.

    Someone said "I think it would be exciting trying a Port this mature".

    Sometimes older wines don't taste old. I look for those.

    For example, the 1985 Taylor's was drinkable 5 or 10 years ago, yet the 1983 isn't quite ready and may last into the next decade. So too with Taylor's 1977.
    Some say it's drinking now, but I think it needs 5-10 more years to become fabulous and will live on forever.

    Examine the 1964 Montrose;
    "It tastes like it is a 10 year old wine. Can you believe that? It may become Bordeaux's longest lived wine." --Robert Parker 92+ pts. 1998

    Also interestingly, the best wine I ever had was a 1946 Clos De Lambray French Burgundy.

    No one could believe how young it tasted. Everyone at my wine club agreed it was the best wine they ever had.

    1946 was a Michael broadbent one star year. (out of 5). He said forget it.
    Yet 5 years ago this wine tasted like a 15year old French Burgundy, and it was at 60 years of age. The best I ever had.

    I think the winemakers were at war or killed and household staff picked the best vinyard & left the stems on the grape bunches, thereby adding acidity and longevity.

    Now port is certainly another matter. Especially one that is not just vintage, but was 150 years in keg! Does that make it a 150 yr old vintage tawny?

    I have found one can trust buying old ports like that because people don't usually save them unless they are good and ageworthy. However, If you aren't sure, There's always Michael Broadbent's New Great Vintage Wine Book or Wasserman's book to which you may refer.

    OOps! I just checked Broadbent's two books and he skips it entirely.
    He must never have tried it. Probably too tannic to release.

    If it is a not so good a year he always makes a note of that. Maybe it too was undrinkably tannic at the time.

    Another thought, I wonder what the owner of the barrels, (and his father and grandfather), used to top up the barrels? Probably had more of the same vintage in casks or broken down into demi-john's. I wish I could find my wasserman's book. Now I am really curious.

    However, if the wine wern't capable of lasting all those years, they would have bottled and sold it off sooner when it was peaking don't you think?

    Also, as you mentioned Suzannah, sometimes in a non vintage year, some houses make a single quinta of the best pickings of the best grapes they have and it is most often wonderful.

    2 years ago I had a 1928 gruaud Larose, 28 Margaux, 28 Calon-Segur, and a 28 Rauze-Sybil, (Cenac). They were all tasting much younger than 105 years. All very good! However the Rauze-Sybil was a complete surprise. It tasted the youngest of them all. The color was deep red & had a spicy nose of cedar and cinnamon and later added coffee & chocolate. Sweet and rich on the palate, still somewhat tannic, alcoholic, and a rich aftertaste that lingered for over an hour. I wish I could get more.

    Because of your notes on the 1992 Taylor, I will open one soon. I have been waiting.......

    You mention Port has a shorter Maceration period than most wines.

    Did you mean to say Port has as long a maceration period as they decide for the house and the year and a shorter primary fermentation than most red wines? Please advise.

    It is the 1st moon day. I am going to ask for the ability to easily afford the Scion and any wines and ports my heart desires for the rest of my life!
    ...and for you too Suzannah and all who responded to your notes.

    Mar 04, 2011 at 8:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Corkbouy
    670685 4

    To: VitaVinifera

    Drinking a vintage port before it's ready is expensive.

    2007 Taylor is probably $150-$200.00 1992 Taylor is $180. to $200.00 (all plus tax!)

    There are many other lower priced ports to drink that you don't have to cellar for 15-20 years.

    For example, Taylor has a port that is only $12-$15.00 and is ment to be drunk young. I think it is called 'First Estate' and it is a ruby style.

    This is the style of port that goes extremely well with chocolate.

    Mature port does not go well with chocolate.

    It is that rich young red (ruby) port that does.

    Another young inexpensive and good Port is LBV or Late Bottled Vintage. It is usually made of a extra grapes or in a lesser year or something and has been in keg longer for that reason, to make it more drinkable.

    Mature Vintage Port is fabulous with Stilton or any blue cheese. Use capons on which to serve or Crustidi, or whatever.

    Cigars do not go with port.

    Cognac, Marc de Bregogne, yes.

    Port no.

    I believe Taylor and Fonseca are arguably the two most consistently wonderful ports in the wine world today. Croft has slipped and is hopefully returning.

    Hewshey Bowers, an elder Principle of Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman and possibly a relative, (maybe shirt-tail), of Adrian Bridge said to me at Randolph's wines in Chicago a few years ago:

    "There is an old saying, 'All wine would be Port if it could'."

    Enjoy learning about port. (and buy small bottles).

    Mar 04, 2011 at 9:16 PM

  • Snooth User: cellarat
    169900 12

    From your description of the taste of the tawny ports it seems like this is something I would not have thought of before reading your article but it sounds like you could pair an aged tawny port with a nutty type of balsamic based vinegar salad...it seems to me to want to work together...... I wonder if it would....or if it could ? Just a thought cellarrat

    Mar 05, 2011 at 11:25 AM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    I like and occasionally drink port, would drink it more but few friends like it. I use Warre's Warrior, and feel it has a different taste, perhaps more grape like, more red wine like, than other ports. Query -- why add 77% alcohol, most red grapes can reach 15-18% on their own, at least here in California?

    Mar 09, 2011 at 3:59 PM

  • Snooth User: echodk33
    156008 1

    @steve666, the alcohol is added to kill the yeast, stopping fermentation which yields the sweetness inherent to all ports. It's not done solely to increase the alcohol content of the port.

    Mar 10, 2011 at 5:33 PM

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