|Robert Bower (left, 8th generation Port shipper) and David Guimaraens|
A little background: "gray market" means wines offered for sale that the retailer did NOT get through officially approved channels. In the most common example, New York retailers often buy French wines from UK distributors when they get them cheaper than their US counterparts. This has varying degrees of legality. "Gray market" also includes cult wines sold to retailers or restaurants by ordinary folks who bought them from a mailing list. This should be called "black market," as it's completely illegal, but "gray market" doesn't sound as wicked.
My blog was originally called "The Gray Market Report" as a "clever" pun on this phenomenon. Nobody got it, and I never report on the gray market, so recently I acted like the razor-wielding newspaper editor I used to be and removed an unnecessary word from the title.
But Guimaraens didn't get the memo; when I saw him last week in San Francisco, after he had been tasting Port all afternoon, he cheerfully said in his could-be-shouting British-Portuguese voice (Check out the video, below), "The Gray Market Reporter!" So we got to talking about the gray market, and he immediately told me he thought that -- contrary to what Bordeaux and Napa producers think -- the gray market has been good for Port wine.
He explains why on the video:
Guimaraens was in San Francisco to introduce the 2009 Port vintage, and it was very impressive. Even if you can't get a deal on the Gray Market, I recommend buying the Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca for your grandchildren. Or, if you plan to eat healthy and exercise regularly, for yourself.
Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2009 ($70)
Rich, powerful and concentrated with plenty of blackberry fruit. Gets more impressive as it goes on: very long finish dominated by blackberry, but with a leavening acidity and some high citrus notes. Excellent. (Although see the Vargellas note below)
Fonseca Vintage Port 2009 ($70)
Very sweet, but with enough acidity to carry it off. At this stage you mostly taste sweet, juicy blackberry fruit, but some licorice notes add interest on the long finish. Could be a great one in 20 years, but if you're going to rob the cradle, do so with the Taylor Fladgate.
Croft Vintage Porto 2009 ($60)
Not at the level of the other two. Cherry fruit with a murky, funky note that's kind of interesting, but not wholly pleasurable.
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Porto 2009 ($190)
An unusual release. Taylor Fladgate sometimes makes a Single Quinta wine from its Vargellas property in years when it doesn't release a vintage Port. But in 2009, the company decided to release this "old vine" (vinha velha) Port from five individual plots on the Vargellas property.
Philosophically I oppose this. The idea of not making a single quinta wine in a vintage Port year is so that all the best grapes go into the vintage Port. The press material for this wine says the grapes "seldom represent more than 2%" of the main vintage Port. But still, if that 2% is the property's most delicious grapes -- and this wine certainly indicates that they are -- then there's no way that the main Taylor Fladgate Porto release wouldn't be better with them in it.
That said, this is a delicious wine, the best in a good portfolio in a good year: ripe and rich blackberry fruit, with pretty rose petal and cassis notes that intensify on the long finish. You could drink it now; it's hard to imagine how delicious it might be in 25 years. One can only imagine how nice the Taylor Fladgate Porto might be with those rose petal and cassis notes.