Stayin' Alive: Getting Down with 1977 Port

A lineup of time-capsule Port icons from a most exceptional year
Stayin' Alive: Getting Down with 1977 Port
Taylor Fladgate's Adrian Bridge and Symington Family's Rupert Symington celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of Port's greatest vintages. (Deepix Studio)
Oct 24, 2017

The original Nike waffle-soled trainers. The opening of Studio 54. The MobileVoxx mobile telephone—“Like any other phone. But without the wall attached.” And four Vintage Ports from Graham, Taylor Fladgate, Dow and Fonseca poured at a Friday morning seminar at the 2017 New York Wine Experience. What do these have in common?

All date to the 1977 vintage, and Adrian Bridge of the Taylor Fladgate Partnership cited the pop-culture throwbacks to demonstrate just how many decades these remarkably vivacious wines had aged. Bridge, whose group includes Taylor and Fonseca, was joined by Rupert Symington of the Symington Family that owns Graham and Dow, along with Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth.

Shannon Sturgis
Pouring the 100-point Fonseca Vintage Port 1977

“I actually remember the ‘77 vintage quite well,” said Symington. “I was 13 years old when this wine was made. [I was] allowed to go up to [Quinta do] Bomfim,” the estate where the Dow grapes were foot-trodded for crush. “But I wasn’t allowed to come into the dining room; children were very much kept in the kitchen!”

Introducing the curious crowd to the Douro region, “the most extraordinary hidden corner of Europe,” Symington explained that it’s walled off from coastal rainfall by mountains. “It’s probably one of the driest regions in the world where grapes are still grown without irrigation.” The roots of the stressed vines grow deep into the schist and granite soils, and the resulting fortified Ports have extraordinarily concentrated flavors.

When Vintage Port is young, said Symington, “it’s like 100 people shouting in a room. You can’t really identify the fruit components. But only when the wine ages, you can start to pick up individual voices,” like the menthol, tea leaf and dried herb accents in the Graham Vintage Port 1977 (91 points).

Bridge took the mic to describe the style of the Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1977 (97). “It tends to show quite a lot of reserve, quite a lot of elegance, often described as being perhaps a little bit English—a little bit stiff, perhaps!” the Brit said fondly. Bridge also set the scene for the Douro in 1977, still a rustic wine backwater then. All four wines would have been made by foot-trodding grapes. The Quinta de Vargellas estate, where the Taylor was vinified and from which much of its fruit was sourced, did not even have electricity at the time.

“I would call ‘77 one of the last of the really old-style Vintage Ports—farmers’ wines rather than négociant wines,” said Symington as the Dow Vintage Port 1977 (92) was poured. The attendees enjoyed some of the winery’s last stock, poured from old-fashioned “tappit hen” 2.1-liter bottles. The rustic, slightly “green” flavors, said Symington, identified the Dow as a wine made in a time before grapes were destemmed for crush.

Bridge concluded with the Fonseca Vintage Port 1977 (100), which showed the wine's house style—"quite rich, quite plump, quite Rubenesque."

Shifting the focus from Port past to future, Bridge concluded, “We’re finding quite a bit of demand for Vintage Port coming from Millennials; I think Millennials are being drawn to this style of wine, primarily because of the authenticity that exists within the story of Port.” That was certainly evident from these stately wines made by hand under candlelight.

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