Q: I just bought a bottle of Taylor Fladgate 1977. It is my first time opening up a bottle of Port of this age. How do I open it? Do I decant a day in advance? Do I need a special filter for the sediment? —Tony Carucci
A: Older vintage Ports often have thrown significant sediment, and have soft, crumbly corks, so it's a challenge to serve them at their best.
First, stand the bottle upright for at least a day before you intend to serve it, so any sediment can settle at the bottom. Before your guests arrive, open and decant the bottle.
Remove the top of the capsule completely, and clean the lip of the bottle with a damp paper towel. Choose a reliable corkscrew, perhaps a waiter’s corkscrew with an extra-long worm and a double flange, or a screw-pull with a Teflon-covered worm. Drill the worm through the center of the cork, and pull it slowly and evenly out of the bottle. If by chance the cork breaks (a not uncommon occurrence with older vintage Ports), the best recourse is to remove the corkscrew and penetrate the cork again at a 45 degree angle. There is no point in inserting it into the original hole. If, after repeated attempts, you fail to extract the cork, then slowly push it into the bottle.
Raise the bottle until it is at a right angle to the lip of the decanter and pour very slowly until the sediment approaches the neck of the bottle. If you place a light (a candle is traditional, a flashlight easier to handle) under the neck, it will be easier to see when the sediment enters the neck.
Most likely, there will be an ounce or two of sediment-laden wine still in the bottle. If you want to recover it, pour it through a funnel or a sieve lined with cheesecloth.
If you are decanting the Port more than an hour before serving it, I recommend putting a stopper in the decanter.
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