Rather Youthful Showing for a Historic Port at 36 Years of Age

Today’s Story: Dow’s Port

Dow’s is one of the most highly-regarded producers of Port, with the family-owned house tracing its roots back to the year 1798. Bruno da Silva, who was a Portuguese merchant from Oporto, moved to London and created a wine importing business concentrated on the Port trade from his native land. He quickly rose to prominence both for his business acumen and the quality of his wines, however the Napoleonic Wars threatened to cut off the crucial trade routes for his Port. Not one to face defeat, Bruno applied for the right to arm his ships with guns and cannons to fend off enemies of the British Empire in the Bay of Biscay, and he was awarded the opportunity so his business could continue to flourish.

Bruno’s son, John da Silva, later joined the family business and proved himself to be equally savvy. In 1862, John forged a partnership with Frederick William Cosens and re-established their Port trading business as Silva & Cosens. Over time, as the business continued to prosper, the duo was joined by George Acheson Warre whose family had been a critical player in the Port trade since its earliest days. George helped lead Silva & Cosens to even more success in Portugal itself, and the team later merged with Dow & Co. in 1877. James Ramsay Dow, who ran Dow & Co. at the time, was highly regarded for his exceptional vintage Ports even though he wasn’t the largest house. Due to this reputation, when Silva & Cosens merged with Dow & Co. they chose to keep the entire company under the Dow name.

Dow’s experienced decades more of continued success under this partnership, growing into one of the most important names in Port that continues to this day. In 1912, though, Andrew James Symington held a partner position in Warre & Co. and, while the Warre family maintained a majority ownership in Dow’s, he was propositioned to take over Dow’s operations in Portugal to allow George A. Warre to return to London. At this time Andrew James Symington received a 30% stake in Dow’s, while he traded shares in Warre & Co. to George A. Warre. For nearly half a century, the Port trade continued to blossom as the Symington family managed the vineyards in Portugal and the Warre family managed the sales and import business, though the Symington family purchased full control of Dow’s in 1961. The Symington family maintains ownership of Dow’s to this day, alongside their other producers including Graham’s, Warre’s, and Cockburn’s.

Today’s Wine: 1985 Vintage Port

Blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, and Vinha Velha; 20% ABV

The 1985 Vintage Port is deep purple in color and nearly black at its core. Appearance here is quite youthful considering the age. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose offering up classic notes of plum, crème de cassis, blackberry compote, dried cherry, fig, brown sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate. The flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, and the palate showcases a similar profile of plum, raisin, dried cherry, fig, cassis, mint, grilled herbs, caramel, and chocolate. This sweet wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannin, high alcohol, and a long finish. A very good Port showing quite well for its age, but overall nothing mind-blowing.

Price: $115. Given the age of this bottling and how well it showed on this occasion, I think this is a pretty solid price to give it a try. I will say, however, that I think you need to be cautious about provenance if you decide to purchase a bottle. This bottling came from remarkable provenance and sounds like it showed better than others who recently enjoyed it.

50 Year Old Port Still Kicking

Today’s Story: Warre’s

Warre’s is a large, historical Port company established in 1670 as the first and oldest British Port company in Portugal. Though no members of the Warre family were involved at that time, two Englishmen named William Burgoyne and John Jackson established Burgoyne & Jackson as a trading company involved in wine, olive oil, fruit, cod, and wool trading. As the company grew over time and added new partners, it was known as Clark & Thornton by 1723. In 1729, however, William Warre (1706-1773) arrived in Portugal from India and joined the business which became Messrs. Clark, Thornton & Warre. By the time the Warre family shifted into control and the company was known as Warre & Sons near the end of the 18th century, Warre’s was one of the largest exporters of Port accounting for about 10% of the total with 21 companies in the trade.

Under the Warre family, Warre’s grew and became ever more prestigious, particularly under another William Warre (1784-1853). This William completed an illustrious military career fighting alongside the Anglo-Portuguese army with the Duke of Wellington (whom he supplied with Port wine) in nearly every major battle of the Peninsular War (1807-1814). A half century later, Andrew James Symington joined Warre & Co. in 1905 and took sole ownership in 1908. Andrew James comes from a long, long lineage of the Port making Symington family, which spans 13 generations and 350 years of history, so he was a natural individual to pick up the reigns of this great company. More than a century later, the Symington family still owns and operates Warre’s and six members of the family are actively involved in day-to-day operations today.

Not only is Warre’s the last Port producer of British origin owned by a single family, they are also one of the few great estates who own 100% of their vineyards (named Quinta da Cavadinha, Quinta do Retiro Antigo, and Quinta da Telhada). This point of pride and tradition carries into the cellars as well, where they continue to make some of their Port by the traditional treading method in shallow stone treading tanks (though not all is made this way). Instead, Warre’s introduced the first automatic treading machine in a stainless steel tank with pistons that mimic human treading to produce a large number of their wines. Fermentation lasts a very short period of time (roughly 2 days) because Port is fortified and a natural grape spirit is added to interrupt the process when about half of the natural sugar is converted to alcohol. This is why Warre’s Port is sweet, rich, and high in alcohol while commanding great longevity in the cellar.

Today’s Wine: 1970 Tercentenary Vintage Porto

Port Blend (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barocca, Touriga Francesa, and Tinta Amarela); 20.5% ABV

The 1970 Tercentenary Vintage Porto is translucent pale ruby in color with garnet variation (I’d never guess this is 50 years old). The nose on this is absolutely captivating and only got better after several hours, showcasing aromas of ripe red cherry, pomegranate, strawberry rhubarb, fig, cola, spice cake, tar, clove, and sweet rum spice. The palate is fantastic as well, characterized by notes of cherry, black raspberry, dates, cranberry, rose, anise, rum cake, toffee, caramel, chocolate, and baking spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. A really fun and exciting wine that is beautifully balanced.

Price: $250 (but I’m seeing it up to $900 online). This was a gift to my father, so in our eyes it was the best value we could ever find! Jokes aside, I think if you can find a properly stored bottling with great provenance this could be really fun to try, though I’d hope closer to the $250 price. I can’t see this selling for $900.