Code: Select all
1860 Fair to middling; wines rather too dry 27,860
1861 Fair but not fine; wines rather too light 26,920
1862 Good, sound wines, but too dry 29,710
1863 A splendid vintage 34,905
1864 A poor vintage 35,619
1865 A moderate vintage 39,209
1866 A bad vintage 40,507
1867 A very fair vintage 34,686
1868 A splendid vintage 35,727
1869 A poor vintage 40,833
This decade produced two quite outstanding vintages, those of 1863 and 1868, but there were also some ’61, ’64, ’65, ’66, ’67, and even one ’69 shipped as Vintages.
Between the ’63 and ’68 I would not hesitate to place ’68 first, but that is probably because my experience of both these vintages was when they had already spent about forty years in bottle and the ’63, a lighter wine, did not stand up to the ordeal of time with the sweet smile which the ’68’s did not lose for many years after that. The two best ’68’s, or the two ’68’s which I knew best, were Cockburn and Dow: we had a bin of each at Mark Lane and whenever one was opened so was the other in order to try to settle the much vexed question as to which was the better wine, and both bins came to an end before we could make up our minds; both were delightful wines right up to 1930, when there was no more.
Cockburn ’68 was a truly magnificent wine which I have met many times at the board of many friends as well as at my own, always with keenly pleasurable anticipation that was never disappointed. But I do not think that it ever stood out in greater glory than upon a memorable evening, in November 1936, at “Bachelors,† Mr. and Mrs. Eustace Oldham’s charming home in Ockham [pictures of the farm]
, when our guests placed before us—and Ernest Cockburn was one of the guests—a symposium of Cockburns, four perfect specimens of the 1912, 1908, 1900 and 1868 vintages. The ’68, which had been bottled in 1870, by Palmer, of Hull, had a finer bouquet than any of the youngsters, more colour than the 1900, the sweetness and fresh charm of the ’12, but with greater intensity or concentration. It was, indeed, a magnificent wine. The last time I tasted a ’68, presumably Cockburn, the cork was branded “Biggs 1868† (Biggs, of Dorchester, being the bottlers of the wine), it came from Charles Hasslacher’s private cellar. He gave it to us in June 1944, at 6 Idol Lane, Ian Campbell, Alfred Heath, William Clemow and I being the guests, and it was still delicious. It had lost some colour and power, of course, but none of its charm.
I have never owned any ’61 Port and I do not remember ever tasting any except once, when staying with Sir Francis Colchester-Wemyss [author of Pleasures of the Table]
; the name of the shipper was not known, but the wine was very pleasant. In his Notes on a Cellar Book
, Professor George Saintsbury mentions the ’61, without name of shipper, Sandeman ’63 and ’67, Rebello Valente ’65, and, of course, the ’68. Of the ’65 he writes: “Now ’65, like ’53, has no general
repute as a vintage, some people think the Rebello Valente ‘coarse’. I can only say that this, for a ‘black-strap’ wine, was excellent, and I confess that I do not despise ‘black-strap.’ †
Although there is every reason to believe, from contemporary evidence, that ’64 and ’66 were both bad vintages, two firms, and two of the best-known among shippers, Martinez Gassiot and Offley Forrester, offered and sold a ’64 vintage and a ’66 vintage, which goes to prove that there is no bad year in which it is not possible to find some good wines somewhere. The case is different with another notoriously bad vintage, that of ’69, which was shipped by one solitary shipper, Messrs. Croft, and a beautiful wine it was, but it was not
a ’69 and everybody knew it.
What happened was this: the summer of 1868 was exceptionally hot and the grapes were shrivelled by the heat; there was no question about this; the head of the House of Croft had seen them with his own eyes, when visiting the firm’s vineyards in the Alto Douro; and so he declared to all who met him on his return to Oporto that there would be no Vintage—and hardly any wine at all. But it so happened that the moment he had turned his horse’s head towards Oporto, a fine rain had descended upon the shrivelled grapes which were bursting forth sugar and only wanted this gift from heaven to swell out and bring forth a wonderful wine, one of the finest vintages ever made in the Douro. But Croft would not go back upon their word: they had declared that there was not going to be a ’68 vintage and there was no Croft ’68—but everybody knew that Croft ’69 was ’68.
Both the ’65 and ’67 vintages were shipped by a limited number of shippers, all of whom shipped both the ’63 and ’68; here are their names:
1865: Croft; Dow; Fonseca; Graham; Martinez; Morgan; Offley; Rebello Valente; Sandeman; Smith Woodhouse; Taylor; Tuke Holdsworth.
1867: Cockburn; Croft; Dow; Feuerheerd; Gould Campbell; Graham; Martinez; Offley; Sandeman; Tuke Holdsworth.