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Cellar Serendipity: Finding an Unexpected Bottle of Amazing Port Wine

Cellar Serendipity they should call it. That feeling of unexpected joy as you put what you think will be a jaded wine to your nose, take a sip and realise that the sensory receptors and processes in your brain are telling you this really isn’t such a dodgy bottle at all. In fact it’s bloody marvellous. And you pour out some more.

It has happened to me twice in the last two years. The first was a year ago when, with my parents, we opened a bottle of 1997 Swiss Lavaux (made from Chasselas grapes grown on the slopes that tumble down into Lake Geneva from the Jura mountains) from a relatively unspectacular producer. Chasselas itself (with all the love in the world) is relatively unspectacular, and I have only ever really drunk it young. So it will not surprise you to know that I fully expected the wine to be as vibrant as a mule being led to the knacker’s yard.

But shame on me, I thought, as I drank it. It was wonderful. It had lost the canter of youth but the old show pony still had a kick in her (I’m still talking about the Lavaux, fyi). It had taken on that kind of oily, waxy texture that old white Burgundies get and was ageing gracefully (albeit not for a great deal longer, I admit).

The second moment was at the RAC Club in London. I toyed with the idea of letting my readers think that this was ‘my club’ and that in having ‘a club’ I was entitled to de facto membership of the UK’s wine writing fraternity (like it comes as part of the membership fee). But I wouldn’t just be lying to you, I’d be lying to myself as well. So I must state that the RAC is not my usual haunt. You can find me at the RAF, down Picadilly.

Anyway. After a very decent meal – and in keeping with the tradition that once kept Port sales buoyant – our host ordered a bottle of vintage port. 1980 was his birth year – which made vintage decisions easy, as did the relatively good price – and it was from Graham’s.

Having tasted how soft, developed-but-still-fruity, gentle and pleasurable this wine is, I can say that it surpassed all my expectations. I never knew that what I thought to be a relatively unspectacular vintage could produce something of such sublimity. Of course, dear reader, you should allow me a little room for indulgence as 1980 was also ‘my’ vintage and I think it’s difficult to be very objective about wines or spirits that share our age. But it was bloody fantastic.

Not only that but, in a world where the price of great Bordeaux can be mistaken for its vintage, Port offers amazing value. A Graham’s 1980 will set you back just over £60 ($80, €60) according to wine-searcher.com (and some merchants are advertising around £400 for a case which, if you’re disillusioned with Bordeaux, is a no-brainer).

Cellar Serendipity. Age becometh the wine. Go on, give those unloved bottles a chance. They may yet surprise you.

Graham’s Vintage Port 1980

Of course, it would have been grossly inappropriate to have taken a tasting note at the table (noblesse oblige) but I was heartened to see that both Wine Spectator and Decanter rate 1980 relatively highly (the latter calling it, as it should, ‘unfairly under-rated’). I also commend to you James Suckling‘s tasting note of the wine in question (if you have access to Wine Spectator online).

Cheers,

Oliver Styles

  • http://www.duerowine.net Pilar Maria Gil

    Oliver, despite Aranda de Duero in Spain and Tua or Oporto in Portugal being on the same river (geographically speaking) you very rarely get a good stock of Port wine around here. I may just have to take a drive along side the Duero through Spain, over the border at Miranda de Douro to Tua, home of Quinta dos Malvedos, to give your 1980 vintage a try…if there’s any left of course.

  • Oliver

    That’s a very good point, Pilar – even in the more ‘gastronomic’ shops around Spain, a good Port is hard to find. If you’re in Madrid you can of course try Lavinia although (generally speaking) their list is a bit…how should I put it…erratic? Eclectic?

    Or maybe even Vila Viniteca, although I confess my ignorance as to their range.

  • http://twitter.com/virgiliocosta virgiliocosta

    Well, the sommelier is portuguese and he bears a strong knowledge of ports. The RAC is the best club in town (good food and great wines)!