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Chief of the Week: Cockburn's Vintage Port

Published:  13 March, 2015

OK admittedly it seems strange to bestow our "Chief of the Week" honour on simply a vintage Port house. But then Cockburn's, now safely ensconced in the paternal ownership of Symington Family Estates, is not your average vintage Port company.

At least not by the reaction to the "once in a lifetime" tasting of vintage Cockburn's Ports held in London earlier this week with an invited who's who of the international wine world.

A tasting of vintage Ports is hardly unique, but this was no ordinary tasting.

To help mark the bicentenary anniversary of Cockburn's, the Symingtons decided to venture deep in to the cellars and present the last bottles of two of the oldest vintages of Cockburn's still in existence and allow influential members of the trade the chance to taste them.

That meant pulling the original corks of the very last bottle of Cockburn's 1868 Vintage Port and, wait for it, the very last bottle of Cockburn's 1863 Vintage Port.

What's more it was a chance to taste Ports made from un-grafted vines and before phyloxerra devastated the Douro vineyards in the 1870's.

Incredibly both Ports were still in excellent condition. Not bad considering the American Civil war was being played out across the Atlantic at the time in 1863 and closer to home the the first London Underground station was opened.

The Symingtons also opened some of the few remaining bottles of the legendary Cockburn's 1908 Vintage Ports, acclaimed as one of the greatest Ports ever made, and two Vintage Ports that were never actually 'declared' by Cockburn's; the 1934 and the 1918.

For Paul Symington, chairman of Symington's, there were two key reasons for hosting such an event, which follows a similar tasting of vintage Cockburn's in 2012.

Firstly they helped the Symington family better understand the heritage, the make-up and DNA of what makes a Cockburn's Port, which, in turn, will help them better understand how to make future releases.

The 2012 tasting, for example, helped them create the final blend for the 2011 vintage as it made them appreciate that dryness that was a key component in the early Cockburn's' vintages and that it needed to balance out the blend to reflect that.

"But it was also about putting Cockburn's back on the map. These are one-off, never to be repeated tastings. We will never see these wines again," stressed Symington.

The main Portuguese news channel even flew in to London to cover the event.

Of this week's tasting Paul Symington added: "Along with Johnny, Rupert, Dominic, Charles and my daughter Charlotte, we had the most extraordinary wine experiences of our lives last Tuesday with a small group of friends from the wine trade. We will never ever do a tasting like this again. It was a unique experience and proof, if any was necessary, that our Douro vines and our schistous soils produce legends that can age for well over a century and half and still be utterly glorious. What other wine can do that?"

So let's raise a glass to this week's Chief of the Week: Cockburn's.