The great Portuguese fortified wine tasting
Tasting some thrilling old Ports, Moscatels and Madeiras in a once-in-a-lifetime event

Was this the greatest tasting of Portuguese fortified wines ever? Possibly.

Certainly, Bento Amaral (head taster of the IVDP, below), who led the session, admitted in his introduction that even for him, it would include some of the oldest wines of their type that he had tasted.

The tasting was part of the Encontro e Prova Internacional de Vinho program (here) – a conference held in Celorico de Beira on March 19, 2011. It was a small tasting with 12 participants, and it was spectacular.

The wines were poured in five different flights by an excellent team of sommeliers, and basically took us from one high to another. As well as great, relatively young wines, we had a large number of older wines, and even some very old wines, with three dating back to the 19th century.

A Moscatel that's over 100 years old

The tasting was conducted blind, although we were told the age and type of the wine. Only at the end, when we’d written our notes and submitted our scores, were the identities of the wines revealed. I found many of the wines truly thrilling, and it seemed absurd even to be thinking in terms of a score. It was also very difficult to convey the amazing flavours and aromas of these wines in words.

Portugal has demonstrated, again, that when it comes to fortified wines, it has few, if any peers. Only Spain can begin to approach the greatness of these wines with its old sherries.

Flight 1: Moscatels from Douro and Setúbal

Adega de Favaois Moscatel 1975 Douro
Warm, complex nose of spice and fudge, with some raisin. Nicely fresh with good complexity. The palate has nutty, appley depth with a long, spicy finish. Dense, broad with a hint of floor polish complexity. Really complex. 92/100

Secret Spot+ de 40 anos Moscatel, Douro
Full brown colour, with some orange. The palate is warm with baked apples and some herby notes, as well as raisin. There’s a darker, savoury edge here. Complex, lively palate with nice fresh acidity. Very sweet and quite smooth with a long finish. 90/100

Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal 2004
Orange colour. Very fresh and lively with fruity tangerine, spice and marmalade nose. The palate is fresh and bright with lovely precision, and citrus and spice flavours as well as grape and herb notes. Fresh and delicious. A lovely wine. 93/100

Casa Ermelinda Freitas Moscatel Superior 2000
Orange with a hint of brown. Lively, pithy, citrus and marmalade nose. Starting to develop some subtle furniture notes. The palate is warm and spicy with an almost spirit, spicy, whisky edge. Sweet lively acidity and good complexity. 92/100

Bacalhôa Moscatal Roxo 2000
Orange/gold colour. Warm, lively, spicy, citrussy nose. Fresh, pithy and nicely complex. The palate is fresh and alive with taut, dense sweet citrus and grape characters. Nice intensity and brilliant complexity with a long spicy finish. 94/100

Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal 1999
Orange/gold colour. Lovely open, aromatic nose is complex and lively with sweet citrus pith and raisin notes, as well as some orange peel. The palate is fresh, open and sweet with lively marmalade and grape richness, with hints of tea. Nicely complex. 92/100

José Maria de Fonseca Alambre 20 Anos
Complex sweet and savoury nose: pithy, with some treacle notes and a hint of old casks, as well as raisiny richness. Quite tight. The palate is lively, dense and complex with the sweet grapiness of the Muscat contrasting with the sterner, more savoury notes of the casks. Really intense with lots of presence. 93/100

José Maria de Fonseca Moscatel de Setúbal Roxo 20 anos
Full red/brown colour. Dense and firm with a savoury nose showing lovely old cask complexity. Warm, earthy and spicy with savouriness as well as sweetness. The palate is complex and lively, with sweet earthy notes and lovely casky depth. Brilliant acidity here: so intense and vital with a long finish. A complex, brooding wine of real intensity. 95/100

Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal Superior 1983
Brown colour with some amber notes. Aromatic, lifted, complex nose is fine and fresh with notes of old casks, tea and raisins. The palate has a firmly savoury character with a casky dimension and also great acidity. Complex and mature with a long spicy finish and rich raisiny sweetness. 93/100

José Maria de Fonseca Moscatel de Setúbal Apoteca 1902
Very deep brown colour. Hugely concentrated in the glass. Volatile, lifted nose is hugely aromatic with notes of herbs, treacle, Christmas cake, spice and old wood. The palate shows incredible concentration. It’s viscous, amazingly concentrated and lively, with the acidity concentrated along with all the other flavours. Spicy, almost eternal finish. Massively concentrated with flavours of Christmas cake and tar. A remarkable experience. 98/100

Flight 2: Vintage Port

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2004
Pure, elegant and rounded with nice plum and cherry fruit. Sweet with nice freshness and aromatic cherry fruit. Very linear and fruit driven, with lovely purity and real potential. 93/100

Fonseca Vintage 1985
Some warmth and complexity on the nose: spicy and quite fresh, with a hint of tar. The palate is dense and concentrated and still shows nicely complex fruit: plums, cherries and spice. Dense, warming and nicely complex. 93/100

Kopke Vintage 1985
Very fine, pure, elegant nose with red cherries and spice. Pure, sweet and focused on the palate with lovely precision and focus, sweet cherry fruit and subtle spiciness. Nice density and focus. 94/100

Ramos Pinto Vintage 1983
Warm, complex nose with spice and herbs, fresh plummy fruit and a hint of mint. The palate shows lovely smooth elegance to the cherry and plum fruit with some subtle earth and herb notes. Nicely fresh. 93/100

Dow’s Vintage 1980
Savoury earth, herb and tar notes on the nose along with some plummy fruit. Lovely fresh fruit on the palate with a savoury, earthy edge. The fruit has a real density and firmness to it. Finishes spicy and long. This is a really fresh, delicious vintage Port. 95/100

Niepoort Vintage 1970
Cherry red colour with just a hint of bricking. Beautiful stuff: rounded and harmonious, and still fresh, with lovely subtle sweet cherry fruit. Just what you want old Vintage Port to be: some fruit, real elegance and lovely focus. Thrilling stuff: really fine. 97/100

Borges Vintage 1970
Slightly cloudy, and a brick red colour. Spicy, earthy nose showing some evolution and hints of marmite. The palate has mellow, soft, spicy warmth with some fudge and a faint remnant of cherry fruit. Mellow, harmonious, but evolved. 92/100

Sandeman Vintage 1963
Orange/red colour. Faintly cloudy. Warm complex nose with some fresh spiciness, a hint of toffee and some cherry notes. The palate is elegant mellow and quite dense with a subtle spicy, earthy quality. Broad, rounded and mouthfilling with a subtle earthy dimension and mellow complexity. 94/100

Borges Vintage 1963
Clear cherry red with some orange notes. Elegant, fresh, cherry fruit nose. The palate has lovely freshness and precision with bright fruity notes as well as more complex spicy depth. Subtle herb and earth complexity. Pure, mellow, well defined. 95/100

AA Ferreira Garrafeira 1863
Brown/amber colour with a fine sediment making it cloudy. Lively, lifted nose with warm spice and fudge notes, as well as herbs and citrus pith. Waxy, herby palate with dense mellow citrus, pith and subtle earth notes. There’s some sweetness but also a strongly savoury dimension. Really long finish. Multidimensional, and a bit like an old Madeira. 95/100

Flight 3: Tawny Port

Taylor’s 30 Year Old Tawny
Deep coloured, with some red hints as well as brown. Tight with some firm, savoury, earthy notes. Firm and robust. The palate is lively and distinctive, with fresh nutty flavours and some earthy, casky qualities. Fruity notes, too. A fresh, intense, distinctive style. 93/100

Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny
Orange/amber/brown colour. Fresh aromatic nose with notes of herbs and wax, along with sweet raisins and old furniture. The palate is fresh and mellow with lovely citrus, fudge and subtle tar notes. Mellow and complex with freshness. 92/100

Ramos Pinto 30 Year Old Tawny
Rich orange/brown colour. Mellow, warm, casky and spicy on the nose. Lively, fresh palate with lovely elegance and spicy complexity. Nutty, rounded, fresh and bright with lovely focus. Brilliant. 95/100

Niepoort Garrafeira 1977
Red/brown with a hint of cloudiness. Seamless, mellow, elegant palate with subtle spice, herb and cask notes, but also some cherry fruit. Broad yet fresh with real precision. Brilliantly elegant. 95/100

Burmester 40 Years Old White Tawny
Fine, fresh citrus, nut and herb nose, with a hint of vanilla. Very fine and reminiscent of Madeira. The palate is fresh and complex with real precision and interest. Nutty, waxy, citrussy. A beautiful wine. 96/100

Sandeman 40 Years Old Tawny
Orange/brown colour. Warm, spicy, fudgy, nutty nose. Complex and alluring, with some raisin notes. The palate has earthy, casky, savoury character as well as sweet raisiny fruit. Lively and nutty with beautiful complexity, as well as a long finish. 95/100  

Flight 4: Colheita Tawny

Poças Colheita 1964
Finely-wrought, complex nut and herb notes on the nose. Lively despite the age. The palate has savoury cask and old furniture notes, as well as sweet citrus and raisin fruit. Mellow with a long finish. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1964
Quite deep coloured brown/amber, with some reddish notes. Lively, aromatic, nutty, citrus, wax and raisin nose. The palate is bold, lively and complex with raisin and citrus notes as well as old cask complexity. Finishes very long. Real intensity to this wine. 96/100

Niepoort Colheita 1957
Bottled in 1977, so almost like a Garrafeira. Full orange/brown colour. Really complex with intense nut and citrus notes. Still very fresh with a savoury, casky quality as well as citrus pith and spice. 95/100

Barros Colheita 1957
Full orange/brown colour. Lively and fresh with nutty complexity and sweet spicy citrus notes. Pithy but also showing some warmth from the casks. A fresh style with real complexity. 94/100

Burmester Colheita 1941
Full orange/brown colour. Finely aromatic with notes of old furniture, almonds and toffee. Mellow and complex. The palate has a broad, savoury, earthy dimension as well as fine nuttiness. Bold and complex with some citrus pith freshness. A beautiful, complex, concentrated old wine. 96/100

Kopke Colheita 1937
Brown with an amber rim. Lovely combination of raisiny sweetness and savoury, earthy, old wood notes on the nose. The palate is sweet and lively with mellow tar and raisin notes. Smooth, quite deep and finishing long. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1937
Dark brown colour. Highly aromatic, lifted nose of intense old furniture and old wood, as well as leather, herbs and spice. The palate is super-concentrated with lively acidity providing a wonderful foil for the very sweet, casky, raisiny, slightly treacly fruit. Wonderful stuff with fantastic acidity and a very long finish. 96/100

Barros White Colheita 1935
Golden/bronze colour. Subtly aromatic with a hint of marmalade and some raisin. Nutty and fresh with taut citrus fruit and focused savoury characters. Long and nutty, but perhaps lacking a bit of complexity? 93/100

Andresen 1910
This was the year of the revolution in Portugal. Deep brown colour with an amber rim. Complex cask and raisin nose. The palate is intense and concentrated with warm spicy flavours of old furniture, nuts and vanilla, as well as some sweet raisiny fruit. Mellow, complex, concentrated and very long. Real intensity. 96/100

Flight 5: Madeira

Barbeito Malvasia 20 anos L10292
Pale amber/yellow colour. Wonderful sweet and sour nose with grapefruit pith, some bitterness and a hint of tangerine. The palate is brilliantly fresh with some herby notes and nice pithiness. Grapefruit and lemon fruit. Amazing freshness, great acidity and a bit of sweetness. 95/100

Barbeito Boal 1978 Frasqueira, bottled 2007
Gold/bronze colour. Pithy, slightly bitter aroma of grapefruit, mandarin and citrus peel. Lively and complex. The palate is nutty and fresh with high acidity and taut bitter herbal notes. Complex and alive, with some sweetness, but a dry finish. Brilliant. 94/100

Justino’s Madeira Boal 1978, bottled 2010?
Bronze/brown colour. Lively, warm and nutty with dense citrus, herb and nut flavours. Nice acidity with a casky twist, as well as notes of orange peel and herbs. Dense and quite firm. 92/100

Justino’s Madeira Terrantez 1978
Orange/amber colour. Lovely bright vanilla, citrus and mandarin nose. Lively and complex. The palate shows wonderful fresh acidity, with bright fruit and citrus peel complexity. Zippy and precise, with a bit of sweetness but also lovely freshness. 95/100

Blandy’s Terrantez 1976, bottled 1997
Brown colour. Lively, warm spicy and herb nose with notes of tar and old furniture. The palate is firm, earthy and spicy with some sweetness working well with the bright acidity. Complex, dense, earthy tarry edge. 93/100

Blandy’s Bual 1920, bottled 2006
Brown colour with hints of orange. A little cloudy. Really aromatic with citrus peel, pith, grapefruit, warm spices, wax. The palate is thrillingly complex with amazing acidity and complexity. Warm, eternal finish. 97/100

Barbeito Malvasia 1875 do Garrafão No2
Clear dark brown with orange hints. Wonderfully aromatic with notes of leather, herbs, citrus peel and old furniture. The palate has amazing acidity and is thrillingly alive and complex with earth, leather, spice, treacle, raisin and citrus notes. Incredible finish: nutty and fresh. Mindblowing. 98/100

Madeira Wine Company Bual 1863, bottled in 1978 and recorked in 1986
Very deep brown colour with an amber rim. Concentrated in the glass. Lively, complex, earthy and spicy with great intensity and notes of fudge, earth, spice and herbs. Still sweet but with high acidity. Dense, spicy and intense with an array of flavours: treacle, spice, wood, molasses. Incredible concentration. 96/100

See also:

An amazing tasting of Noval Nacional and Vintage Ports
A tasting of some great old Sherries
Spotlight on the wines of Madeira

Wines tasted 03/11  
Find these wines with

Back to top