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A visit to the Taylor Fladgate Port cellars

Port aging in barrels at the Taylor Fladgate cellars
Port aging in barrels at the Taylor Fladgate cellarsPhoto courtesy of Taylor Fladgate

A trip to Porto, Portugal, is not complete without a visit to at least one of the Port cellars located just across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Taylor Fladgate is one of the oldest Port houses, established in 1692. A tour through its cellars offers an education in the history of the company, and of Port itself. Visitors learn about the process of growing and harvesting grapes in the Douro Valley, and how those grapes are transformed into the unique varieties of Port wine.

Here’s quick primer on some of the varieties of Port found aging in barrels in the Taylor Fladgate cellar:

  • Vintage: Vintage Port is made from grapes of the finest growing years – usually three per decade – and is not blended with grapes from other years. It is kept in the barrel for two years, only long enough to determine whether the quality is high enough to be declared vintage. Vintage port ages at least 20 to 30 years in the bottle and can continue to age indefinitely.
  • Late bottled vintage (LBV): LBV, like vintage ports, is made from the grapes of one year’s harvest. It is filtered and aged in the bottle for four to six years (hence the name “late bottled”), so it does not need to age in the bottle, making it a more affordable option than classic vintage port. Its flavour is fruity and it has a ruby colour. Taylor Fladgate pioneered the LBV concept, releasing the first bottles for sale in 1970 from the 1965 vintage.
  • Ruby: Ruby is a blended Port aged in large oak vats for about two years and then bottled and consumed. As its name suggests, it has a bright ruby colour, and its short aging time means it retains a fruity flavour.
  • Tawny: Tawny Port is aged in small oak casks, and over many years it takes on an amber (or “tawny”) colour. It has a more mellow flavour than ruby Port, but like ruby is ready to drink when bottled.
  • Chip dry: Chip dry is a white aperitif Port made from white grape varieties. It is aged for several years in oak vats and is ready to drink when bottled.

When walking through the cellars, you’ll notice the barrels have their contents measured in litres, but they also retain the old measurement system of almudes (25 litres) and canadas (2 litres). There’s an old saying that an almude is what a woman can carry on her head and a canada is what a man can drink in a day – though an unpractised Port drinker who drank a canada of Port in one day might be very sorry indeed.

Tours of the Taylor Fladgate cellars cost 5 euros per person and include tastings of three Port wines: A chip dry, a late bottled vintage, and a 10-year old tawny. The cellar’s patio has an exceptional view of Porto, and the lovely gardens are home to a pair of peacocks that just might put on a full tail display.

Taylor Fladgate Port wines are available in British Columbia at government and private liquor stores.

The writer visited the cellars as a guest of Taylor Fladgate.