Epic Magnum Port event 1970-1890 February 2024- review by Christine Graham

Good friend, Don Schliff, co-founder and now retired CEO in Charge of Exports for wholesaler, Wine Warehouse in LA, has put on some epic Port tastings over the years and I’ve been fortunate to have attended, assisted and reviewed many; however, due to travel conflicts, I missed the last one.

Fortunately, esteemed wine writer, Christine Graham, did attend and produced an excellent review about the event and has given me permission to share it:



By Christine Graham

Don Schliff, renowned Port collector and one of the founders of Wine Warehouse, the famous wholesalers headquartered in Los Angeles, organized another historic Port tasting in February 2024, featuring Magnums of Vintage Port. The wines for this spectacular tasting came directly from Don Schliff’s underground refrigerated cellar. Most of the wines were acquired from England over the last 40+ years and the bottles have lain undisturbed since then. The provenance was perfect!

Most of the Ports are English bottled except for a couple that were Oporto bottled. All fill levels were base of the neck or better. Most of the Ports were opened by Don with Port tongs just before the tasting.

The high alcohol, elevated sugar levels, convex neck, and gradual deterioration of corks in vintage Port make their removal challenging when using a traditional corkscrew. Long ago aficionados dispensed with cork removal and decided to open the bottle by breaking its neck below the level of the cork. However, unlike the showy French who snap off the tops of large Champagne bottles with sabers, the Portuguese came up with the idea of applying a circumferential, red hot iron to the bottleneck to heat it to several hundred degrees and then quickly applying a cloth soaked in ice water. The abrupt temperature change produces an encircling fissure in the glass that allows the neck to be easily snapped off.

The event was held on February 24, 2024, at Cut Restaurant in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills in Los Angeles where Port enthusiasts flew in from all over the world for the tasting. Special guests were Adrian Bridge, Hugh Symington, Bartholomew Broadbent, and Darrell Corti. Throughout the tasting, these gentlemen offered insightful observations on the stylistic differences of the individual wines and Vintage Port in general. Other distinguished people in attendance included Martine Saunier, Richard Torin, Ken Frank and Wolfgang Puck.

This extraordinary tasting was accompanied by an outstanding luncheon prepared by Cut Restaurant. Famed chef Wolfgang Puck’s renowned cuisine perfectly complemented the Ports.

Red hot Port tong arms

The Genesis of the Port Tasting

The dress was formal attire in honor of Ardison Phillips, who along with Don, Roy Brady, and Andrew Quady, set the standard for Vintage Port Tasting Luncheons held at Ardison’s Studio Grill in Hollywood. In 1985 Ardison and Don organized a black-tie vertical tasting of Taylor Vintage Port from 1908 to 1980. In 1987 they did a vertical of Graham’s from 1927 to 1983. In 1988 it was Fonseca from 1927 to 1985. Some of the illustrious people who attended included Roy Brady, Andrew Quady, Bruce Guimaraens, Manny Klausner, Fred Brander, and Dave Williams. A tradition was started for an annual black-tie Port luncheon between Christmas and New Year’s that continued until Ardison closed the restaurant.

This event was a sequel to many Vintage Port tastings that Don has done in the past. The first was a tasting of 1945 Vintage Ports that Don organized in 1993 at the original Spago in Hollywood. It included a tasting of twelve 1945 Ports with Clive Coates and featured a menu crafted by Wolfgang Puck. In 2007 Don presented a retrospective tasting of the 1955 vintage, with 15 shippers at the new Spago in Beverly Hills where Ardison Phillipps was the guest of honor (sadly, Ardison passed away in 2011).

In February 2015, Don presented a tasting of eight top 1963s along with Quinta do Noval Nacional 1958, 1960, 1962, 1963 and the famous bottling of Quinta do Noval 1931 at the Hotel Bel-Air, food pairings created by Wolfgang Puck.This was followed in February 2017 by another unforgettable tasting featuring the great 7’s: 1997, 1977, 1947, 1927 and 1867. A February 2018 tasting featured four top 1935s and twelve 1945s. In November 2018, Don presented a tasting featuring five different bottlings of the 1931 Quinta do Noval and 1945-2016. A February 2019 tasting surveyed 100 years of Taylor Fladgate from 1890 to 2016 followed in February 2020 by a tasting of Decades of Vintage Port 1834-2017.

The first flight of this most recent Magnum event consisted of three Vintage Ports all from 1970: Taylor, Graham and Warre. The second flight comprised five Vintage Ports: Warre from 1963 and 1966, 1963 Croft, 1963 Dow and 1963 Graham. The third flight consisted of six Vintage Ports: Graham from 1955 and 1960, Fonseca from 1955 and 1960, 1955 Cockburn and 1955 Sandeman. The fourth flight offered five Vintage Ports: Graham from 1935, 1945 and 1948, 1935 Cockburn and 1927 Taylor. The fifth flight presented three Vintage Ports and a Mystery Port: 1911 Sandeman, 1896 Dow, 1890 Cockburn and the Mystery Port which was 1853 Niepoort, bottled in 2001.

Conceiving and executing a multi-course meal for a Port tasting is almost as difficult as doing one for Sauternes. Both share the quality of extreme sweetness, but one is made from botrytized raisined white grapes, while the other is a sweet red wine whose alcohol level is supplemented with brandy to the 18-20% range. So Port, in addition to sweetness, has the heat of alcohol for the cook to contend with.

The classical accompaniment for Port is Stilton cheese and freshly cracked walnuts. Some cultures like spiced savories with the wine.

The meal began with a variety of Canapes, accompanied by Champagne Krug Grand Cuvee 161eme Edition in Jeroboam and 168eme Edition in Jeroboam.
The Five Course Tasting Luncheon:

Duo of Hudson Valley Foie Gras Honeycrisp Apple Compote, Port Wine Gelee, Brioche Taylor 1970, Graham 1970, Warre 1970

Roasted Main Lobster Cipollini Onion, Balsamic-Port Glaze Warre 1966, Warre 1963, Croft 1963, Dow 1963, Graham 1963

Carnaroli Risotto Marcho Farm’s Veal Shank, Himalayan Morel Mushrooms Graham 1960, Fonseca 1960, Cockburn 1955, Graham 1955, Fonseca 1955, Sandeman 1955

Champagne Break Jacquart Brut Mosaique – Magnums

Jurgielewicz Aged Peking Duck Plum Sauce, Duck Fat Bao Buns, Blood Orange Duck Jus Graham 1948, Graham 1945, Graham 1935, Cockburn 1935, Taylor 1927

Cropwell Bishop Stilton Cheese Fruit & Nut Bread Sandeman 1911, Dow 1896, Cockburn 1890, Mystery Port

Port Producers

Founded in 1815 in Oporto by Robert Cockburn, in 1854 two brothers joined the firm, which was renamed to Cockburn & Smithes. In 1863 the Cobb family joined the company, with all three families playing key roles in the firm’s development. There were various changes in ownership, Harveys in 1962 by Allied-Lyons, later Allied-Domecq. In 2005 Pernod Ricard assumed control, selling the Port House to Beam Inc. In 2006 the Symington family took over all the vineyards and lodges and the brand name in 2010.

Founded in 1751 by A.A. Ferreira, a family of winegrowers in the Douro Valley, it was the first Port Wine company. Manuel Ferreira was followed by his grandchildren, then by Dona Antonia Ferreira, the grande dame of the Douro in the latter half of the 19th century, important in Douro viticulture and in creating new production facilities, the building of roads, construction of hospitals and schools. In 1988 Sogrape , who pioneered the vinha ao alto or vertical system of planting, acquired the firm.

In the 1700s the Brazilian Fonseca family was operating in Oporto but the present firm was not formally founded until 1822 when the Guimaraens family acquired control through the purchase of the Fonseca holdings. In 1862 it was named the House of Guimaraens. In 1948, ownership of Fonseca Guimaraens was consolidated with Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman. The firm is noted for its consistency of style through the years.

Founded in 1820 by a textile firm of W & J Graham, with its roots in Glasgow, Scotland, eventually its reputation grew as shippers of fine Port. In 1882, the Symington Family joined the firm and gained complete control in 1970. Their property Quinta dos Malvedos is one of the most famous vineyards in the Douro.

Founded in 1852 by Kenneth Mackenzie, a Sherry shipper from Cadiz, it joined with Driscoll & Co. in 1870. The Port production of the Sherry house started during the 19th century but after WWII, the house was sold to J.H. Andresen. In 1970 Andersen sold Mackenzie to Harvey in Bristol. Their last known Port was the 1982 vintage.

Founded in 1842 by Eduard Kebe, the small Dutch company added F.M. van de Niepoort as a partner in 1847. In 1858, Niepoort became sole owner, managed for 20 years by Dirk Niepoort, the fifth generation in the family. A specialty of Niepoort is a rare style, called Garrafeira, which requires wine to be developed for a short time in wood casks, followed by a longer period spent in glass demijohns, decanted of its sediment and then finally aged in conventional bottles.

Established in 1790 in London by George Sandeman, the firm was family-owned until 1979 when it was acquired by Seagram. Sogrape bought the firm in 2002.

Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman
Established in 1692, the firm experienced many name changes from Bearsley in England to Taylor in 1816, then Taylor, Fladgate in 1837, followed by Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman in 1844. This was the first British shipper to buy property in the Douro in 1744 in order to produce the wine themselves. Their crown property is Quinta de Vargellas. Taylor Ports are noted for their firm alcohol content.

Established in 1670, it is the oldest Port house and has continued to be a major force since then. It is the first and oldest British firm in Portugal and a pioneer in the Port trade. Originally known as Burgoyne & Jackson, in 1729 the first member of the Warre family arrived in Oporto. In 1905 the Symington family joined the firm which had been family-controlled and run by the Warres for over three centuries. Symington became sole owner in 1908 and the company is now run by the 4th generation of the family.

Port Tasting Notes

Flight 1
Taylor 1970
Dark garnet color, with a gold rim, it offers a faint aroma of herbs, coffee, cacao, flowers, spice, caramel, and toffee. It has similar delicate flavors, hinting of sweet cherries, oak, toast, and peppery spice. It is mature, at a peak, complex, still alive, fresh, well-balanced, with a medium body, and a warm, lingering, spicy finish. A lovely, aristocratic Port. Outstanding Plus.

Graham 1970
Dark garnet color, with a brickish rim, it has a subtle nose of black currant, incense, toffee, spice, flowers, licorice and caramel. It is mature and peaking, full bodied, with similar, chocolate-tinged, delicate flavors, a bit sweet and hot. Still alive and fresh, complex, balanced and long. A bright, opulent, wonderful, elegant Port that should last for years. Extraordinary.

Warre 1970 (Tercentenary – 300th Anniversary)
Dark amber color, with a gold rim, it has a bouquet of caramel, toast, licorice, coffee, and cacao. Similar flavors are full, rich, mature and peaking, with sweet fudge, and a dried orange peel note on a long, dry, slightly hot finish. It is a beautiful, balanced, sweet, complex Port. Extraordinary.

Flight 2
Warre 1966 (Celebrated Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee)
Mature amber color, with a yellowish tone, it is aromatic, with notes of caramel, dried cherry and berry fruit, spice, pepper, coffee, tea, and ginger. Similar flavors offer a tawny quality, with great balance, elegance, complexity and length. Peaking now, it is full, rich and lovely. Outstanding Plus.

Warre 1963
Medium amber color, it has a nose of vanilla, cherries, coffee, creme caramel, orange zest, and flowers. Similar flavors have faintly medicinal cherry fruit, with light caramel, chocolate, licorice, leather, earth and orange zest tones, followed by a balanced, lingering, appealing, warm and sweetly fruity finish. Outstanding.

Croft 1963 (Bottled in Gaia)
Medium brickish-amber color, it has lovely subtle aromas of berries, spice, pepper, coffee, plum, toffee, and an herbal character. Similar flavors are still youthful, showing freshness and richness, etched with chocolate, leather, lovely black and red fruit, full bodied, ending in a long, delectable finish. An elegant, silky Port, at a peak. Outstanding Plus.

Dow 1963
Mature yellowish-red color, it reveals tropical aromas of sweet fruit, caramel, cherry, berry, fig and almond. Similar flavors, tinged with roasted coffee, spice, chocolate and ginger, are complex, full, rich, round and elegant. Dense, delicious, and lush, it has an intensity extending through the wonderful finish. Evolving slowly, it is not yet at a peak. Extraordinary.

Graham 1963
Medium ruby color, with a brickish rim. The nose is beautiful with notes of chocolate, coffee, flowers, toffee, caramel, cherry fruit and liqueur, all of which carry over to the palate. It is mature, full bodied, elegant, balanced and complex, ending in a long, lingering, sweetly, fruity finish. This is a lovely, exuberant Port. Extraordinary.

Flight 3
Graham 1960
Medium ruby color with amber rim, a lovely bouquet offers soft, dried fruit, caramel, burned sugar, chocolate, coffee, plum, and a note of oak. Similar flavors showing delicate sweetness, are tinged with herbs, nuts and spice. It is elegant, balanced, concentrated, mature, medium-bodied, ending in a long, warm and spicy finish. Outstanding Plus.

Fonseca 1960
Light amber color, with a yellowish rim, it has sweet, rich aromas and flavors of plum, dark chocolate, cedar, raisin, almond, coffee, cacao, flowers, spice, ginger, and cherry. Full-bodied, mature, complex, balanced, dense, and elegant, it has a lovely, old acidity. At a peak, ending in a long, harmonious, slightly sweet and hot finish, it is a lovely Port. Outstanding Plus.

Cockburn 1955
Ruby/amber in color, it has a delicate bouquet of lovely plum, dark chocolate, toffee, raisin, nuts, licorice, and burned sugar. Similar flavors hinting of herbs and spice are balanced and complex, medium-bodied and elegant, with an old and balanced acidity, ending in a long, expressive, rich and sweet finish. At a peak, it is a delicious, silky Port. Outstanding Plus.

Graham 1955
Light ruby amber color, it has a nose of beautiful berries, mint, licorice, fudge, flowers, toffee, creme caramel, spice, and nuts. Similar flavors are soft, complex, elegant and balanced, full-bodied, with an old acidity, ending in a lingering finish of sweet, spicy fruit. Fully mature, at a peak but still smooth and youthful, drinking beautifully now. Outstanding Plus.

Fonseca 1955
Medium amber, with a light brickish rim, it has aromas of tobacco, flowers, fudge, toffee, raisin, berries and pepper. The palate is similar, with added notes of licorice, spice and herbs. It is elegant, complex, balanced, rich, and plush, with a lovely, lush, smooth, very long, berry-laden finish. Fully mature, at a peak, it is still an amazing, voluptuous Port. Extraordinary.

Sandeman 1955 (Tregnum)
Medium amber color, with an ochre rim, it has aromas of oranges, spice, roses, cacao, gingerbread, toffee, almonds and brown sugar. The similar flavors are balanced, elegant, and complex, etched with cherry fruit, ending in a long, slightly sweet, hot and fruity finish. This is a wonderful Port, at a peak but aging beautifully. Extraordinary.

Flight 4
Graham 1948 (Graham released 10 of their very last remaining bottles to commemorate His Majesty King Charles III’s 75th birthday)
Light ruby color, with a faint brickish rim, it is aromatic with coffee, cacao, ginger, sweet cherries, mixed nuts, smoke, and spice. Similar full-bodied flavors, with sweet berries, chocolate, and plums, are balanced, complex, elegant, and rich, ending in a long, lingering finish. This is a lovely Port, with great depth and richness. Extraordinary.

Graham 1945
Light ruby color, with a mature yellow edge, it offers a subtle aroma of ginger, cinnamon, red fruit, mint, honey, plum and caramel. It is full-bodied, balanced, elegant, complex, and exotic, with old but balanced acidity. It is sweet, rich, deep and concentrated, with a delightfu, mint and caramel-toned finish. This is a fabulous Port. Extraordinary.

Graham 1935
Light ruby color, with an amber tone, it has a bouquet of licorice, coffee, cacao, prunes and honey that segues to a palate of sweet berries and cherries, flowers, mineral and caramel. It is complex, spicy, generous, full-bodied, complex, elegant, and balanced, ending in a long finish. A Port packed with charm. Outstanding Plus.

Cockburn 1935 (Re-corked by Whitwham)
Light amber-orange color, it has aromas of black currant, blackberry, tobacco, spice, dried figs and dates. Full-bodied, similar flavors are complex, spicy, balanced, elegant and sweet, with a slight medicinal note, followed by a rich, fruity and long finish. Mature, at a peak, this is a lovely Port . Outstanding Plus.

Taylor 1927 (from 2 750s)
Light ruby color, with a yellowish tone, it has concentrated aromas of mulberries, cacao, coffee, toffee, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. Flavors are similar with subtle, yet very appealing dried cherries, and a note of smoke. It is full bodied, mature, at a peak, concentrated, and complex, with good depth, ending in a long, lingering finish. Outstanding Plus.

Flight 5
Sandeman 1911 (Tregnum ‘Coronation Bottling for King George V’)
Light pink color, with a pale gold tone, has a bouquet of burned sugar, toffee, ginger, molasses, light fruit and cinnamon. It is medium-bodied, elegant, balanced, with light fruit, herbs and spice in the mouth, and a slight medicinal note. It is mature, at a peak, ending in a light, finish. A smooth, enjoyable Port. Outstanding.

Dow 1896
Light yellowish pink color, it has subtle aromas of dried fruit, coffee, cacao, toffee, cherries, tobacco, raisin, and light spice. Flavors are similar. It is mature, at a peak, with a nice, warm, minty finish. Mature and at a peak, it is medium bodied, balanced and elegant. A real treat! Very Good Plus.

Cockburn 1890
Light pink color, with a yellowish, mature color, it has a nose of spice, herbs, ginger, and subtle fruit. Flavors are similar. It is mature, at a peak but still alive, with a short finish, and offers enjoyable drinking. It is a smooth and delicate Port. Very Good Plus

Mystery Port Niepoort 1853 (Reserve King Pedro V. While much of the 1853 vintage had gone into lesser blends, what was left was bottled as vintage port, growing in stature, becoming the greatest year of the fifties, and one of the four greatest vintages prior to Phylloxera. Bottled in 2001.)
Deep mahogany color, it offers aromas of coconut, nuts, figs, creme caramel, and spice. Similar flavors are intense, deep, rich, full and concentrated, ending in a long, sweet, beautifully balanced finish. Extraordinary.

Don Schliff’s Vintage Port tasting once again was an exceptional event, proof that Vintage Port is one of the greatest wines produced in the world.

Links to a couple of previous Port events:


I was also there. Natasha Bridge, Adrian’s wife, and former winemaker at Taylor Fladgate was also in attendence. After the event a number of us went next door to Wolfgang’s bar and consumed the leftovers. Wolfgang also provided more food for us there. Adrian and Natasha also came, but had to leave before us because their son had arranged them to go to a King’s game.

I have done old Port tastings before, and always had problems matching the wines with the food. Could those who have attended please expand on what Puck served.

The menu and various courses are detailed in the story.

So much for skimming

Nice. Superman kind of stuff.

Of all of the events I’ve attended/ assisted Don, I’ve stayed at his home and we have never indulged in left overs, except one time we finished off a magnum of Krug Grand Cuvee and I slept for 2 days.

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