Behind nearly every bottle of wine, there is a story. It may include the story of the producer, the wine-maker or even how and why that particular wine came to be made. Sometimes the saga of a select bottle becomes a great story unto itself and such is the case of the bottle of 1970 J.W. Burmester Vintage Oporto you see pictured at the left. When sharing a particular wine with special guests or friends, there’s often nearly as much enjoyment in sharing the story behind the wine as there is in the tasting of the wine itself. Allow me to share the special story of this bottle with you and you’ll discover how The Wine Guy came to enjoy a 40-year old bottle of port from the third oldest wine appellation in the world.
A charming and gracious co-worker named Donna came to me one day and announced that in preparation for a visit from family from New Zealand, she had discovered this unopened bottle of wine amongst her “stash” of tucked away family treasures. She wanted to know a little bit about the wine and whether or not, it would still be good to serve.
First the wine itself:
In 1730 German immigrants Henry Burmester and John Nash founded Burmester & Nash in London to import popular port wine from Portugal. By 1750, their success led to a move to become producers in Via Nova de Gaia on the south shore of the Douro River near its mouth and in close proximity to the city of Porto, which gave its name to the third oldest wine appellation in the world. This was also the site of the ancient Roman Empire city of Cale. By the 18th century another Burmester immigrated to Portugal from Germany to assume the presidency of the company which was renamed J.W. Burmester in 1880. Throughout the rest of the century, the company earned numerous accolades for its port products including recognition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Toward the end of the millennia, the firm was acquired by a banking/investment consortium and continues operation today as part of the Sogivinus Group.
Vintage Port is declared in select years and many Portuguese producers only declare vintages a few times a decade. It is required that the vintage must be aged at least 2 ½ years in barrels and it often takes a decade or more of aging in bottles to achieve what is considered proper drinking age. Foot treading in traditional stone vessels called lagares produces typical Portuguese Vintage Port. Fermentation is halted by fortifying with distilled grape spirits called aguardente, which adds alcohol while retaining some residual sugar content thus giving port its sweet, yet full body taste. Much of the complex character of vintage ports comes from the slow decomposition of grape solids during the years of bottle ageing. As a result, settling, careful decanting and even filtering needs to take place in order to enjoy the wine. In the case of our bottle in question, we’re talking 37 years from its bottling date of 1973.
The story behind this particular bottle:
My friend, Donna is a New Zealand native, lived in Australia and now resides in Arizona. She believes the wine in question was given to her in Australia in the early to mid 70’s to commemorate the birth of one of her children. Not knowing the conditions under which the bottle was transported or stored, I advised her the wine would either be superbly aged or terribly broken down. In other words, she either had a very, very good port or a very, very bad one. Opening and sampling would be the ultimate way to discover which she had. In either case, sharing with visiting family from down under sounded like the perfect opportunity for just such a discovery. She was kind enough to invite my attendance at the planned opening of the bottle. Unfortunately my schedule didn’t permit me to seize that opportunity. Donna, however, did save a portion and presented it to me the next day as a thank-you for my efforts in researching her wine (As I told you, she IS a charming and gracious lady in the truest sense!)
The ever-fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I lit a fire that very evening and proceeded to decant, filter and savor the remainder of Donna’s family treasure. While just slightly past its prime, it was, indeed, a superb, complex and rich wine with all the wonderful aromas and flavors you would expect to find in a good, well-aged vintage port! It made for a most enjoyable evening by the fire. I hope Donna and her family enjoyed the taste and the saga of this particular bottle of wine as much as The Wine Guy did. It created a great wine memory and we will be forever grateful for her thoughtfulness in sharing. I hope, as well, that you, as a reader, enjoyed the story of this particular bottle of wine.
As I said at the outset of this tale, nearly every bottle of wine has a story behind it. In selecting your next bottle to share with family or friends, ask your merchant to share that story so you can share it with your company. Remember, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a rare or unique wine to create a memory you’ll cherish for a long time. Sharing a good story over a glass of good wine with good company will always increase your enjoyment of wine
Have a great experience of your own soon…. enjoy some wine!