The late Tony Mossop, great wine aficionado and founder of top but fairly recent Calitzdorp Port property Axe Hill, apparently used to say that the only thing smaller than the brain of an ostrich in the Klein Karoo was the personal cellar of the Nels, owners of Boplaas, one of the producers to originally pioneer the making of fortified wine in the area.
A privilege then to undertake a tasting of 10 vintages of Boplaas Port Vintage Reserve: ’86, ’89, ’91, ’94, ’99, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’05 and ’06.
To add interest, the standard 1986 Port bottled under screwcap in contrast to the Reserve bottled under cork, the former definitely fresher if not as concentrated as the latter.
For the wine geeks: The 1986 vintages through to 1991 were all made entirely from Tinta Barocca. From 1994 onwards,two other major varieties associated with Portuguese Port, namely Souzao and Touriga Nacional start to make an appearance, the blend today being approximately 35% Tinta, 35% Touriga and 30% Souzao.
South Africa produces some 200 000 cases of Port a year compared to Portugal’s 10 million. Boplaas specifically makes 10 000 cases of Port annually, of which a mere 750 to 1 000 cases is Vintage Reserve. The 2007 Vintage Reserve is currently available for R150 a bottle from the cellar, while its 2006 counterpart is available for R250.
In terms of an EU-SA trade agreement, local producers lose the right to term fortified wine made according to the Portuguese method “Port” from 1 January 2012, but there is no doubt that this category, small though it is, remains world class.
For those who know the category well, what distinguishes Portuguese Port from South African is the spirit addition used to arrest fermentation. Boplaas winemaker Carel Nel readily concedes that what the Portuguese use (sourced from Cognac in France) as opposed to what is employed locally results in a subtle but meaningful difference in taste but argues that there is little difference in quality and some sort of difference is anway key to ensure that the the product of the two countries are not so similar as to be entirely interchangeable.
Tasting notes in brief and my scores:
Standard 1986 (under screwcap): Light bodied but good delineation, fresh and long. 15.5/20.
1986 Reserve: Rich and broad, very concentrated but lacks focus. Slight oxidised note. 15/20.
1989 Reserve: Clean, pure dark fruit. Great structure, tannic grip. Fresh acidity. 18/20.
1991 Reserve: Red fruit on nose and palate. Spiritous. Medium bodied with developed, nutty character. 15/20.
1994 Reserve: Red and black fruit on nose and palate. Medium bodied yet complex. Elegant. 16.5/20
1999 Reserve: Aromas and flavours of very ripe dark fruit and chocolate. Slippery tannins. Lacks precision. 15.5/20
2001 CWG Auction Reserve: Dark fruit on nose and palate. Full bodied but pure and focused. Long, savoury finish. 18/20.
2002 Reserve: Very concentrated with sweet, juicy fruit and soft, round tannins. Rich and full but approachable now. 16.5/20
2003Reserve : Ulra-ripe dark fruit and chocolate. Rich and broad on the palate. Relatively lacking in complexity. 16/20
2005 Reserve: Dark fruit and some fynbos on nose and palate. Great purity and focus. Fresh acidity and a long, dry finish. 18/20.
2006 Reserve : Dark fruit, spice on nose and palate. Rich and full but shows great balance. Extremely promising. 17/20