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“Old & Rare” Tasting with ’55 Taylor Port

September 10, 2010

“OLD & RARE” TASTING WITH ’55 TAYLOR PORT – K&L Wines, Redwood City, California (9/3/2010)

Gary Westby, Old, Rare & Champagne buyer at K&L

This fun, end-of-week tasting somehow managed to link my birth year (represented by a ’55 Port) with my introduction to California wine, i.e., my “birth” as a California wine lover. My first visit to Napa as an undergrad in 1976 took us to Louis Martini around the time the ’75 Cab in this tasting was released. On the whole these wines showed well, and most had some historic interest. I especially enjoyed the ’55 Taylor, from magnum, and not only due to the fact that I successfully guessed what it was (it was blind on the tasting sheet, and the label on the bottle was impossible to discern anything from). From just smelling the wine from Anh Thu’s glass when I arrived, I guessed “Taylor, from ’63 or earlier.” Looks like I learned something on my For the Love of Port trip to Portugal this year with FTLOP’s Roy Hersh.

For comments about the six individual wines we tasted, see below.

’97 Marc Collin Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru

Our single white was a decent lesser premier cru from Chassagne-Montrachet, in good shape for its 13 years. It was made by Marc Colin’s son, Pierre-Yves, who took over winemaking duties at his father’s estate in ’95, before starting his own small domaine, Pierre-Yves Colin Morey, in 2001. A nice start to this eclectic tasting of mature wines.

’95 Panther Creek Pinot

Panther Creek was originally founded by Ken Wright in ’86, but by the time this wine was produced, Wright had had a bad falling out with his original partner and the winery was sold to Ron and Linda Kaplan, Burgundy lovers from Des Moines. Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent was the winemaker for this vintage. This single vineyard bottling, from the Bednarik Vineyard, has been made every year since ’94. This was a lovely, mature Pinot, with silky texture and secondary and tertiary flavors, including soy sauce.

  • 1995 Panther Creek Pinot Noir Bednarik Vineyard – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Medium brick red color with clear meniscus; nice, mature, soy sauce, baked cherry, gravy palate; mature, silky textured, tart red fruit, soy sauce, mineral palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

’86 Pine Ridge Merlot

This Merlot was in remarkably good shape for 24 years, and one of the better mature Cali Merlots I’ve tried. Pine Ridge was founded in 1978 and the winemaker for its first 25 years was Stacy Clark. Pine Ridge typically blended other Bordeaux varietals into their Merlot–this one contained 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec, and they relied on French oak for aging. They currently own 220 acres of estate vineyards in Napa.

  • 1986 Pine Ridge Merlot Selected Cuvée – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Medium red color with pale meniscus; mature, tobacco, dried leather, weedy nose; mature, tobacco, tart currant palate with grip; medium-plus finish (with 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec) (91 pts.)

’75 Louis Martini Cab

Louis M. Martini was one of the pioneering winemakers of California, and–along with Charles Krug, Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyard–a founder of California’s great Cabernet Sauvignon legacy. The Louis Martini style was distinguished from the other three by varietal and geographic blending that produced agreeable wines ready for relatively early drinking. The Special Selection wines, however, were their wines made in outstanding years, produced in small lots aimed at greater quality and longer aging potential.

Louis M. died in ’74, so this wine was made by his son, Louis P., who was already actively working under his father starting in 1940. 1975 was a winegrowing year much like 2010, in which a cool, slow ripening season delayed sugar formation. As mentioned above, I believe I tasted this particular bottling, or at least others from the same year, when I first visited the winery in 1976 on a bus tour from Stanford, that also included visits to Beaulieu and Mondavi. I remember enjoying the Martini wines then, especially the Cabs, and thinking they were decently priced wines given the quality. By 1984, the Martini vineyards totaled more than 1,000 acres. I appreciate Gary including this particular bottle, which was in decent shape for its age, for taking me on a little memory tour to the beginning of my fascination with wine (exclusively California wines until many years later).

’92 Zilliken Spät

This, for me, was the weakest of the line up as a wine, and also didn’t have the same historical interest as the others. I’ve had better Zillikens, and ’92 was a good but not particularly great year. It was okay for a mature Spät, but that’s not saying much, as Späts with 20 or so years on them can be very exciting.

’55 Taylor Port

This was a wonderfully satisfying, mature Port to end the week on. I’ve only had a few ’55 Ports to date, and had never tasted the ’55 Taylor before. It was remarkably harmonious, with great balance and depth, and largely mellowed tannins, but still plenty of structure that will carry it for decades yet to come. It was reminiscent for me of the ’63 Taylor, which is why I was able to pick it out by the nose alone. Because the label was completely eroded, Gary had no idea who the producer was or any clue about the vintage until he pulled the cork, very carefully, with an ah-so, resulting in his being able to make out the bottom 2/3s of the cork, which were clearly stamped “Taylor” and “1955.” I always enjoy meeting vinous fellow children of my birth year, and this one was definitely a treat.

  • 1955 Taylor (Fladgate) Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    From magnum – light medium brown color with ruby lights and clear meniscus; VA, maple syrup, ginger cake, vanilla, dates nose, but drier than Graham, with lovely sandalwood edge; rich, sweet, ginger cake, maple syrup, sweet coffee, dates, brazil nut, almond palate, harmonious, with balance and depth; long finish 96+ pts. (this was poured as a mystery Port, and I guessed “Taylor, 1963 or earlier”) (96 pts.)
3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 11:08 am

    Ok, ’55 Port from Taylor’s is impressive just that but magnum!! Being a bit lazy and not searching through your writings on other VP’s from Taylor’s I wonder – which is your all time favorite vintage from the house?

    Mine is without doubt the 1963!

    All the best,


    • September 10, 2010 11:47 am

      Thank you for reading, and thank you for your Miseenbouteille blog!
      The one time I had the ’63 Taylor (at Taylor Lodge in Oporto this past May), it was slightly cork tainted, so I await the opportunity to try a good sample. I’m sure it will be amazing. Up until this ’55, my favorite Taylor was the 1970, which I’ve had a couple times, one of which I rated a 95. I also was really impressed by the ’88 and ’05.
      Warm regards,

      • September 10, 2010 12:02 pm

        Hi Richard,

        Oh, that is sad to hear. Have you detected cork you just can’t see the light 😉

        When you speak of ’88 and ’05; is that Vargellas then?

        Btw, I must say I really enjoy reading your posts. Always well written and you seem to be lucky to have great people around you – sharing the passion!

        All the best,

        Niklas – soon on the way to find a bottle top pop this Friday evening!

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