Here's the entry from my wine diary, typed up immediately after the tasting for my own personal use. A bit more flamboyant than my usual recordings, I was probably still high from tasting such great wines.
To calibrate to my scoring system, point equivalents are
VERY GOOD: 85-89
Please don't hesitate to ask if I've used some wine geek jargon that needs explanation.
1994 Port Tasting and Dinner
City Club, San Francisco
August 11, 2000
Wine personality Don Baumhefner hosted a blind tasting of nineteen 1994 Vintage Ports from his cellar for comprehensive look at their early stage of development, plus a California ringer. Bartholomew Broadbent provided additional color commentary and slipped in three 1994 Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) ports for fun.
Overall, the 1994s continue to merit the hype they received on release. Consistency of high quality across this range of producers made it a difficult task to rate the wines and pick favorites at this early stage before they have differentiated along different development paths. Some concern was raised about the color of the wines, which while very dark, were not as black and saturated as would be expected for relatively young Ports. There was also debate over the seemingly soft structure of the wines and potential for aging. The fleshy fruit of the vintage masks the structural underpinnings, e.g., hammer in the velvet glove. The raw insides of my mouth the following morning gives testament to the hidden tannic grip of these Ports. Of note, the LBVs showed very well in this company and are worth seeking out for current drinking.
The wines were tasted single blind in two flights. They are described in order of my preference with my rank, group rank and total scores.
BROADBENT, $55 (10, 10, 88) - Before the wines' identities were revealed, Bartholomew kicked off the comments on this one by saying, "this is either the best or the worst wine, depending on what you like." Off-putting initial nose with VA, acetone
and aldehyde overlaying red cherry and raspberry with salted plums, aromas
flesh out with aeration to show peppery spice, more acidity in the mouth,
brighter flavor profile with spicy red fruit and medium sweetness, lacking
bass notes, tart and bitter aftertaste with gritty finish. Rated higher
when last tasted 8/99. GOOD
1995 CARMENET CONTRA COSTA ZINFANDEL PORT, $15 (9, 8, 76) - Lighter color
than the flight, prominent alcohol in nose of chocolate, raisins, dried
cherry, prunes, burnt rubber and buttery charred wood, very sweet and soft,
simple jammy blackberry fruit with buttered peanuts, round finish of
moderate length. GOOD
CHURCHILL, $50 (8, 7, 69) - Unusual nose with shitake mushroom, plum candy and dried cherry, tight linear impression and straight ahead, closed black fruit with mocha and bittersweet chocolate, bitter tannins, dusty finish.
WARRE, $65 (7, 9, 79) - From half bottle. Sweet solventy aromas dominate stern closed nose, more open expression on the palate with firm spine, seems more mature than the rest, well-balanced supporting sweetness well, black-fruited with tarry complexity, very long and deep with full finish.
DOW, $80 (6, 3, 56) - Reticent nose with more wood showing through black
plum aromas, surprisingly rounded and flashy in the mouth with abundant
fruit, softer structure with lower acidity, sugary and grapey, plum jam and
chocolate-covered cherries, not as deep or complex, fat finish. EXCELLENT
CROFT, $80 (5, 1, 46) - Lifted nose with prune, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, gravel and green tea, gripping entry, more apparent tannin with classic proportions, tarry black fruit with mineral and green tobacco leaf, very long lasting and powerful, hard finish with medicinal edge.
TUKE HOLDSWORTH, $45 (4, 4, 62) - My first experience with this producer. Huge legs, bigger, deeper and more complex nose with plum pudding, black cherry, raisinettes, toffee nuts and carob, plush on the palate with fine-grained velvety tannins, sweeter and accessible in low acid style, luscious plummy fruit with chocolate and wood spice, round finish.
TAYLOR FLADGATE, $150 (3, 6, 66) - Open-knit spirituous nose with cocoa
powder, prune and vanilla, muscular structure with firm chalky tannins,
chunky and backward in the mouth with jammy black fruits, vanilla wood,
licorice, pipe tobacco, and bittersweet chocolate, full finish. For the
QUARLES HARRIS, $50 (2, 5, 64) - With its candied and easy personality, I
was convinced this would be Grahams. Accessible nose with chambord, dried
cherry, mushroom, blackberry and hint of menthol, voluminous and
mouthcoating with forward jammy fruit and ripe tannins, sweeter and
confected, richly flavored with fruit cake, chocolate, dried cherry, plum,
coffee and berry cobbler, impressive persistence. OUTSTANDING
GRAHAMS, $90 (1, 2, 50) - Fruitier nose with carob, cherry pie, stewed fruits, plum candy, anise and mint, dense and concentrated in the mouth with chewy tannins, moderate sweetness, heftier core with expansive layers of blackberry, plum and licorice, extra dimension, long meaty finish.
A brief dinner interlude of roasted duck breast with demi-glace port reduction, turnip and potato puree, and baby vegetables. Then, back to blind tasting. . .
DUFF GORDON, $30 (13, 13, 97) - Woodier nose of sandalwood, anise, prune
and cocoa, drier and more astringent than the rest, leanish black fruit and
anise in the mouth, bitter edge in tannic finish. VERY GOOD
BURMEISTER EXTRA SELECTED, $32 (12, 12, 84) - More advanced aromas with
roasted nuts, coffee, prune, carob, earth, and blackberry in woody nose,
rounder impression, not as complex, very tannic with moderate finish. VERY
FERREIRA LBV, $18 (11, 11, 81) - Dense and voluminous nose with prune,
dried cherry, caramel, oak and a bit of nutty oxidation, open-knit and
accessible on the palate, less fresh than the group with drier and woodier
impression, tannic finish. VERY GOOD
OFFLEY BOA VISTA, $35 (10, 10, 78) - Saddle leather, black cherry, plum
jam, wood and a hint of menthol, silky texture with elegant balance,
well-integrated in the mouth with blackberry, cocoa, black berry and mint,
lighter and leaner profile, very long finish. VERY GOOD
QUINTA DO CRASTO LBV, $18 (9, 8, 71) - Plump nose with red and black
fruits, plum pudding, raisin and sandalwood, big and jammy on the palate,
resolved tannins, soft round mouthfeel, impressive depth of flavor with
blackberry, chocolate and coffee, mouthcoating finish. EXCELLENT
QUINTA DO VESUVIO, $80 (8, 9, 72) - Lifted nose with red cherry, plum,
spicy wood, licorice and cocoa powder, sweeter impression with warmish
alcohol, lighter bodied with licorice and red fruits in the mouth with some
bass notes, more pronounced acidity extends very long finish. EXCELLENT
OFFLEY BOA VISTA LBV, $18 (7, 7, 68) - More developed nose with toffee,
dried figs, prune, mint and black fruit, approachable structure for current
drinking, brighter acidity, multi-faceted and more red-fruited with gentle
spice, big finish. EXCELLENT
MARTINEZ, $45 (6, 5, 60) - Lighter and more buoyant nose with black
raspberry, sugar plums, wood spice, leather and walnut skin, lighter body
with broadly expressive fruit, a bit lacking in depth and focus,
well-balanced, dusty finish of moderate length. EXCELLENT
FONSECA, $150 (5, 2, 49) - The first time I submitted my score sheet, Uncle Don gave it back to me and suggested I retaste this sample. I did raise my vote, but did not find this wine in a state of perfection. Flattened aromatics with whiffs of sulfides, acetone, green tobacco leaf, coffee, malt and rustic black fruit, tannic entry, chalky structure, massive proportions but disjointed, a streak of green with blackberry, plumskin, walnut and bittersweet chocolate, awkward phase, very persistent.
QUINTA DA EIRA VELHA, $75 (4, 3, 56) - My first experience with this single quinta. Dense and chunky nose with fruit cake, plum jam, earth and cocoa, good acidic cut and medium sweet, medium-bodied, impeccably balanced, more restrained on the palate with prune, linzer torte, and bittersweet chocolate, very long and firm finish with sweet aftertaste of ripe fruit.
QUINTA DO CRASTO, $50 (3, 6, 67) - Red berries, potpourri, and black plum
in fruitier nose, poised with good balancing acidity, elegant carriage,
layers of black cherry, red plum and blackberry with earth, very long and
sophisticated through mouth-watering finish. OUTSTANDING
QUINTA DO NOVAL, $60 (2, 4, 58) - Spirituous and fresher nose of dried
cherry, fruit gums and tart/sweet note of raspberry, sweeter profile in the
mouth with lower acidity, warm and lusciously fruited in the mouth with
maraschino cherry, stewed plum and bittersweet chocolate, long lingering
finish with bitter walnut skin aftertaste. OUTSTANDING
FERREIRA, $50 (1, 1, 44) - Deep and dense nose with berry cobbler, earth, sandalwood and chocolate, fleshy and concentrated impression, ripe velvety tannins, robust yet very harmonious, well-focused and concentrated with direct flavors of jammy black fruit and mocha, long mouthcoating finish.
Mentally drained and completely fatigued, by this point, the creamy Stilton hit the mark before we said our good-byes.