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XIX The Rare Port Selection

It’s not often we get a chance to offer a piece of history. When we were approached last year with a selection of three exceptionally special tawny ports from the 19th Century our interest was piqued, and we are now very excited to make an offer of 1860, 1870 and 1888 ports from the Van Zeller family.

The Van Zeller family history is a long one, and their ties to Porto go back to the 1600s. The company Van Zeller & Co. was founded in 1780, and was responsible for the first trade routes from Portugal to Russia and the Baltics.  They were once owners of both Quinta do Noval and Quinta do Roriz. They are “Douro royalty” according to Port expert Ben Howkins, and have a particular speciality in seeking out the rare old casks that still exist.

Casks of very old port are not uncommon in the region though it is rare to find them in good condition; when they can be found, the challenge of persuading the owner to sell follows. Cristiano Van Zeller had been aware of three very old casks for some years, visiting the farmer whose family owned them, advising him on how best to keep them in pristine condition until finally taking custody of the wines in 2018.  The wines are now finally being released for sale.

Each wine is bottled in a unique hand-blown bottle. They are presented in their own wooden presentation case, with a hand-blown crystal decanter produced by Vista Alegre - Atlantis. A 5cl sample bottle of each wine is included.

The Ports pre-date the foundation of the Port Wine Institute; as such they are not officially Colheitas, nor is the vintage marked on the label. The Van Zellers have thus chosen to name the 1860 “Liberty”, the 1870 “Family” and the 1888 “Poetry”. These commemorate the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States, the marriage of Cristiano van Zeller’s great-great-grandparents, and the birth of one of Portugal’s greatest poets, Fernando Pessoa.

We have tasted the wines and they are nothing short of extraordinary. No superlative fits the bill; they are just something else, something entirely different: it is no exaggeration to describe them as out of this world. Very few others have been lucky enough to taste them, though Julia Harding MW, writing for jancisrobinson.com, writes: “All three are outstanding, different from each other in ways that I found hard to describe: elixirs of long stewardship, liquid history.”  She scores “Poetry” a perfect 20, “Liberty” 19.5 and Family “19“.  Our own Thomas Parker MW, a man who rarely throws big scores around, rates them 100, 99+ and 98+.

Each bottle is filled to order and the wines will ship to the UK after the Summer. 75 cases will be released worldwide.

1888 XIX Crafted by Poetry, Van Zellers & Co

"Mahogany with a green-yellow tinge at the rim. The nose is profound, deep and concentrated, unfurling with such a unique array of aromas that make it difficult to describe. A sense of mahogany wood, dried figs, plump sultanas, candie citrus rind and layer upon layer of spice come through. The palate has an effortless power that can only come through age. Supple but not overly sweet, the leathery notes of age from the nose follow on the palate, with a hint of coffee and old books also coming through. Dried tamarind and brown sugar form a balance for the savoury, spiced notes of age. The finish is minutes long, framed by impressive acidity that keeps the wine in perfect balance. A unique expression, this has to be tasted to be fully understood."

100 points, Thomas Parker MW, Farr Vintners 

"Greeny brown with some ochre at the rim. Striking note of bitter orange at first, then opening to a complex range of aromas and flavours such as mocha, bitter molasses, dried orange peel, raisins, figs and even shoe polish. But floral, too. So incredibly concentrated that it is almost, but not quite, over the top. The very long and mouth-watering finish with a touch of saltiness, keeps all that intensity in bounds."

20 points, Julia Harding MW, jancisrobinson.com

1870 XIX Crafted by Family, Van Zellers & Co

"Mahogany in colour. An intense and savoury, layered nose of cigar wrapper, bitter cocoa, raisins, charred silver birch, clove, nutmeg and candied orange peel. As with all these remarkable, aged wines the acidity has concentrated with the sugars and flavours, giving a deft and tangy profile with no sense of cloying texture. This is fleshy but not sugary, the sweetness coming from layers of dried fruit, caramelised nuts and sweet spices. This is wonderfully pure, with a textural profile and balance akin to very old Madeira. The smokiness of the nose is present again on the palate, with a salty, almost peaty profile to make it stand out. Minutes long on the finish, another remarkable wine."

98+ points, Thomas Parker MW, Farr Vintners

"Considerably darker than the Liberty (1860), more fruity and open and more sweetly raisined. Dark, bitter-sweet toffee, burnt apricot flavours. It's more viscous too and incredibly concentrated, with a long, sweet finish, lifted by the VA. Of these three very old tawnies, this is the exhibitionist. More in your face, more sweet/sour but still addictively delicious and, miraculously, balanced even if I feel the alcohol a little more on the finish."

19 points, Julia Harding MW, jancisrobinson.com

1860 XIX Crafted by Liberty, Van Zellers & Co

"Pale mahogany, yellow tinge at the rim. A nose that is hard to describe, with such a weight of age yet remarkable vibrancy and life. There are layers of rosemary, cigar leaf, toasted hazelnuts, dried green figs and so much more. This benefits from a little air, unfurling over time to show more layers of fruit which balance the nutty, woody tones of age. On the palate this has incredible intensity, piercing in its briney, salted fruit character that is layered with wave upon wave of spice. The acid-sugar balance is impeccable, giving a measured sweetness yet bright, mouthwatering freshness. This is a self-assured powerhouse, with multi-dimensional flavours that are ever changing in the glass. A special and emotional wine, a chance to drink history that also delivers quality at the very highest level."

99+ points, Thomas Parker MW, Farr Vintners

"This is the lightest in colour of these three 19th-century tawnies, a sort of browny ochre colour with a bit of green. Even though it is sweet, it smells somehow savoury thanks to the nutty and polished-wood aromas alongside sweeter notes of raisins and dried figs. There's also hints of dried flowers, mostly lavender, caramelised bitter orange. With time, a suggestion of curry spice. But even while trying to tease out all these complex, intervowen impressions, the overriding one is elegance, refinement and remarkable freshness. Utterly mouth-watering on the finish."

19.5 points, Julia Harding MW, jancisrobinson.com