Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

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Alex Bridgeman
Fonseca 1966
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Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

Raby Castle, County Durham
Raby Castle, County Durham
Raby Castle - aerial view 2.png (176.41 KiB) Viewed 640 times

Rabi was a settlement built by the Vikings in what is now County Durham during the time of King Cnut in the early 11th century. The castle was built in the 14th century by the Neville family, who held it until it was confiscated by the Crown after the unsuccessful Rising of the North in 1569.

The Crown sold the castle to Sir Henry Vane The Elder, in 1626. Sir Henry’s grandson was appointed as the first Baron Barnard in 1698 and the castle has remained in the possession of the Lords Barnard ever since.

Bin labels record the one time the bottles were moved between bins in the castle cellars
Bin labels record the one time the bottles were moved between bins in the castle cellars
D24 Bin Label.jpg (66.39 KiB) Viewed 644 times

Christopher William Vane, the 10th Baron, loved his Port and recognised the cellars of Raby Castle offered the perfect conditions to slowly mature Vintage Port in dark, damp and cold conditions. There are household accounts and cellar records showing that he bought 360 bottles of Dow 1924 from Page & Sandeman, which were binned in the castle cellars in November 1926, for which he paid the grand sum of £85 and 1s. He followed this up with a purchase of 240 bottles of Dow 1927 also from Page & Sandeman, then 240 bottles of Fonseca 1934 from Hatch Mansfield, 237 bottles of Taylor 1948 from Hatch Mansfield and finally 240 bottles of Cockburn 1950 from Hatch Mansfield.

An entry in the household accounts showing the purchase of 20 cases of Cockburn 1950 for 96p per bottle
An entry in the household accounts showing the purchase of 20 cases of Cockburn 1950 for 96p per bottle
Ck50 Accounts Entry.jpg (69.27 KiB) Viewed 640 times

The story goes that Christopher Vane and his eldest son would often dine together in the evening and would share a bottle of Port from the cellar at the end of their meal. Christopher died in 1964 and very few bottles were taken from the cellar after his death.

Until 2024 when the family took the decision to release the majority of the bottles remaining in their cellars for other Port lovers to appreciate and enjoy, and to generate some funds to invest into further development of the estate and restoration of the castle.

Cellar records confirm the 1927 purchased from Page & Sandeman was shipped by Dow
Cellar records confirm the 1927 purchased from Page & Sandeman was shipped by Dow
D27 Capsule.jpg (58.53 KiB) Viewed 640 times

The wines will be sold by Christie’s over two sales, in June and later in the year and will include bottles of each of the Ports purchased on release by the 10th Baron: Dow 1924, Dow 1927, Fonseca 1934, Taylor 1948 and Cockburn 1950. The wines were the central feature at a wonderful lunch hosted by Lord & Lady Barnard for a selection of Port specialists and collectors to give an opportunity to taste the wines before the sale. Two bottles of each Port were opened using tongs in the grand hall of the castle, providing an unexpected piece of visual entertainment for the visitors to the castle that morning.

Edwin Vos and Charles Symington using tongs on a bottle of Dow 1924
Edwin Vos and Charles Symington using tongs on a bottle of Dow 1924
Opening a D24.jpg (54.24 KiB) Viewed 640 times

Lunch was accompanied by a selection of wines from the portfolios of Symington Family Estates and the Fladgate Partnership, including two delicious Ports at the end of the meal which were both chosen to celebrate the lunch taking place on the 50th anniversary of Portugal’s Freedom Day.

The Ports. Left to right: Grahams 1974 Colheita, Taylors 50YO, Cockburn 1950, Taylor 1948, Finseca 1934, Dow 1927 and Dow 1924
The Ports. Left to right: Grahams 1974 Colheita, Taylors 50YO, Cockburn 1950, Taylor 1948, Finseca 1934, Dow 1927 and Dow 1924
IMG_7151.jpeg (57.16 KiB) Viewed 637 times

The Ports from the cellar of Raby Castle were served after lunch was finished. There was some variation between the bottles and where I could, I tried a sample from each bottle. My thoughts on the wines were as follows:

Cockburn 1950
Bottled by Hatch Mansfield. 40% opaque ox-blood red. Some medicinal fruit on the nose. Light fruit on the palate, light but balanced - perhaps in danger of drying out in the next couple of decades. Today the wine is nicely elegant with plenty of fruit but the spirit just starting to show as a little menthol on the finish. Enjoyable and unusual. 87/100.

Dow 1924
Bottled by Page & Sandeman, decanted 2½ hours. Russet brown colour, 40% opaque. Big spicy nose of sweet red fruit. Balanced and evolved on the palate, but the palate showed dryness with the fruit fading to reveal the spirit and heat. Not showing well at all.

The second bottle was much better, still holding some sweetness to match against the bitterness in the fruit which dominated the first bottle. 85/100.

In fairness, however, I note that I did seem to be in a minority of 1 when it came to my opinion of this wine.

Dow 1927
Dow 1927, bottled by Page & Sandeman. Spiced cranberry nose, pronounced and dominated by the fruit. Smooth palate on entry, but a bitter tone on the mid-palate. Some heat on the aftertaste, settles quickly to deliver a cedar centred dried fruit finish. Starting to dry out and a showing a quite a lot of hot. 86/100.

The second bottle of Dow 1927 was also much better than the first, with more fruit and a much better balance on the palate. Perhaps the issue with the first bottle was that it had been under-decanted. This bottle had the benefit of a further 2 hours in the decanter and was showing really well. 89/100.

Fonseca 1934 bottle, replica label and decanter
Fonseca 1934 bottle, replica label and decanter
F34 Decanter.jpg (67.27 KiB) Viewed 635 times

Fonseca 1934
1934 Fonseca, purchased from Hatch Mansfield and believed to have been bottled by the same firm. Decanted for 3 hours when tasted. Very rich, deep red colour. Delicious dried red fruit nose. Sweet fruit on the palate with layers of spice underneath, but the sweet fruit dominates the palate. Sweet raspberry finish of wonderful length. Showing tremendously well. Great, great Port. 95/100.

Taylor 1948
1948 Taylor, bottled by Hatch Mansfield. Decanted 3 hours when tasted. Soft fruity nose, more elegant and refined than the Fonseca 1934. Wonderful fruit, but with so much by way of spice and complexity sitting within the fruit. The gorgeous red fruit settles on the senses for minutes on the aftertaste and finish. So close to being a perfect wine. Much more complexity than stunning the Fonseca 1934 from the same cellar. 98/100.
Top Ports in 2023: Taylor 1896 Colheita, b. 2021. A perfect Port.

2024: Niepoort 1900 Colheita, b.1971. A near perfect Port.
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hadge
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by hadge »

thank you for this Alex, what a fun time you must of had.
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flash_uk
Graham’s 1977
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by flash_uk »

Very much enjoyed reading about this fabulous experience!
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mcoulson
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by mcoulson »

very good read :-)
winesecretary
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by winesecretary »

May I echo the comments of others on the quality of the write up.

Good bottles of Taylor 48 are the real deal. This bottle sounds like it was the real deal.
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Doggett
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by Doggett »

Great report… sounds yummy and a wonderful experience
Bertie3000
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by Bertie3000 »

Richard Mayson has now also published his review of the tasting:

https://www.richardmayson.com/vintage-p ... ck-to-1924
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hadge
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by hadge »

thanks for posting that, an interesting read.
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Alex Bridgeman
Fonseca 1966
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

Received yesterday from Paul Symington and posted at his request:
Dear Alex, Derek and Andy,

I hope that you well.

The Port Forum may like to know of an extraordinary auction that is taking place currently at Christies London. The auction closes next Thursday 20th June.

There are many bottles of Dow’s 1924 and Dow’s 1927 for sale. These bottles have been perfectly kept in Raby Castle in County Durham since declaration. My cousin Charles went over to the UK last month and tasted them and found them to be in superb condition. Richard Mayson and Jancis were tasting as well. Have a look at Mayson’s comments about the Dow ’24 on his site. He called the Dow 1924 ‘One of the most magnificent Ports that I have ever tasted.’

Both Vintage Ports were made by my great grandfather Andrew James and his three sons Maurice (my grandfather), John and Ron. Below are Andrew Symington’s comments written at the time that I have transcribed from the Bomfim book that we still have. Also attached some photos taken by my grandfather Maurice of the 1924 harvest .

I am personally bidding for some of these wines, as is our company. This is a unique opportunity to buy some extraordinary Ports. The 1924 being exactly 100 years old….

Would you post this on your forum?

Best wishes,

Paul



Andrew Symington wrote July 13th 1924:

‘Vines wonderfully free from disease but showing a little queima. Quantity looks as if it would be less than last year. Some rain before the end of this month would do much good and increase the chance of our having wine good enough for a Dow 1924.

Old farmers say here:

‘Chovendo pelo S. Pedro não facas poço nem rego.
E pelo S. Tiago, cada pingo vale um cruzado.’

= ‘Rain end June don’t dig a well or a channel. But end July each drop is worth gold.’

Andrew Symington wrote on October 6th 1924 AJS wrote
‘Vintage began at Zimbro and Senhora de Ribeira on 29th September - elsewhere on 6th October – under favorable conditions weather being fine throughout the gathering. The mostos show good colour and life. That the ‘24’s will turn out to be better than an ordinary vintage seems to be the general opinion. The quantity however has been considerably reduced by the queima which occurred 3 times during the earlier stages of ripening.’

14th January 1925 Andrew wrote
‘For the lotas. 1924’s promising well.’
Top Ports in 2023: Taylor 1896 Colheita, b. 2021. A perfect Port.

2024: Niepoort 1900 Colheita, b.1971. A near perfect Port.
MigSU
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Re: Historic Ports from the Cellars of Raby Castle

Post by MigSU »

Wow. A very hot year's harvest began at the end of September/beginning of October. Really makes one think.
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