Undervalued Wine Categories: Late Bottled Vintage Port


Port is a category of wine that conjures up different images depending on your experience or taste. The styles and methodologies used to produce, and in particular, age Port are also pretty wide ranging. There are two kinds of Port that are more commonly known and leap to the forefront of people’s brains more often than others. One is Tawny Port which is often aged for many years, undergoes gradual oxidation and generally uses an average age statement rather than a specific vintage year. So if a Port bottle says “20 year Tawny” it means that some of the wine used to make the blend was more than 20 years and some under, but the average is at minimum 20 years. With this style the Port House in question is aiming for a flavor profile. 
The Sandeman 20 year Tawny as an example will taste roughly the same if you buy a bottle now or have one from a previous batch. The other, most famous, style of Port is Vintage Port. This is produced from wine from a single vintage. In great years a Port House will determine if they have a great vintage about 16 months after harvest. Once determined they will submit it to the governing body to get approval as a vintage Port. It’s then bottled and released approximately 2 years after harvest. But that’s just the beginning of the journey for great Vintage Port. These wines tend to excel when aged for decades at a time, not just a few years. So patience is required to achieve the maximum experience. Additionally Vintage Port from even a current release can run the gamut from as “low” as $50 to well over $100, particularly if it’s scored well upon release. But how can we have rewarding experience similar to Vintage Port without waiting thirty years or spending a ton of cash? Read on to find out.

Late Bottle Vintage Port (LBV) may well be the least known style of Port to most consumers. These wines are aged much longer than Vintage Port (4 to 6 years on average in cask) and are ready to drink upon release. The prices are also much lower, often between $20 and $30. These are rich wines, loaded with fruit. They’re often big and ripe but not over the top. In short they offer a ton of hedonistic drinking pleasure for a really low premium. And like Vintage Port you get to experience variation from one vintage year to the next. Late Bottle Vintage Port is what you should be drinking while you wait for your Vintage Ports to reach peak maturity. They’re the style of Port that gets consumed most around my house. I just tasted through about a dozen examples and here are some thoughts on my four favorites from that batch.
While tons of producers now offer a Late Bottled Vintage Port, only Taylor Fladgate can lay claim to being the first house to market with one. This offering opens with deep, dark fruit aromas such as black plum and cherry. Hints of vanilla are evident as well. Blackberry and plum pudding spices drive the deeply layered palate. Chocolate covered black cherries and persistent spices are evident on the long, luscious and lusty finish. At just around $20 a bottle this makes a terrific accompaniment to dessert, or it can be dessert all by itself.
This offering from Fonseca is one that I see on shelves just about as much, if not more than any other in the category, so I end up reaching for it with some regularity. The nose is studded with an avalanche of fresh, ripe, black fruit aromas. Blackberry, cherry and more are in evidence. More than a dollop of sweet chocolate is apparent on the rich palate which also continues the parade of dark-leaning fruit flavors. Spices galore, black plum and cassis are all in play on the long, robust finish. It’ll work equally well paired with strong cheeses as it would bitter, dark chocolate. 
Red and black cherry aromas are evident on the nose along with a wisp of cinnamon spice. The sweet, red-fruit-leaning palate has a certain lightness to it which is quite pleasing. Red plum, raspberry and cherry flavors are all evident along with bits of chocolate sauce. The above average finish is loaded with continued sweet red fruits, cocoa and hints of fruitcake spice. This example of LBV Port is distinct for its relatively nimble mouth-feel and the fact that it leans more heavily than most towards red fruit flavors. 
I’m a rabid fan of the Sandeman portfolio in general. Whether it’s their Vintage, Tawny’s or other styles of Port I find that their House provides good value across the range. This LBV is certainly no exception. From the word go, dark fruits tell the story of this powerful but well proportioned wine. Mission fig, dates, blackberry and more light up the boisterous and welcoming nose. Black cherry, raspberry and a host of spices are evident throughout the deeply layered palate. Kirsch liqueur, black plums and continuing black fig flavors are all evident on the long, heady and spice-laden finish. Like the rest of the Sandeman portfolio, this is well worth your money and time.
Once you’ve opened a bottle of LBV Port it’s probably going to be gone fairly quickly since the deliciousness factor is pretty high. Nevertheless if you don’t plan on finishing that day don’t worry; most selections will still be tasty up to a month after you pop the cork. Good luck getting anywhere close to a month though once you taste these.

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