I’m not keen on this. Not keen at all.
Taylors, the legendary port house, have released a port called Scion and it has got me worried. Earlier this year two pipes of port were discovered by David Guimaraens, the company’s head winemaker, in a private cellar which date from the 1850s, and a third that was apparently owned by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. It is this third barrel that has been bottled and will be on the shelves of Harrods and Nickolls & Perks in December.
Now that is all fine, I’m sure that Churchill would hate to see booze being left undrunk but what bothers me is the price of £2500 per bottle, not because I can’t afford it, but for a much more worrying reason.
If we look at the whisky market for a moment, every so often a distillery will release some old, rare whisky and put a price tag of many thousands of pounds on it. They argue that it is because of the rarity and cost a lot to produce, that they only get 50 bottles or that it has a hand blown crystal bottle that has been polished with the breath of twelve Mongolian virgins. The real reason is that they charge this amount because they can, and it makes them a pot load of cash. There is a market for uber expensive whisky, predominantly in the far east, and whisky makers know that this collectors market is very lucrative.
We can also see that Bordeaux too has taken off in the far east, and wines that were once attainable to the average punter are now strictly off limits due to their huge prices, but vintage port has always remained affordable. The nature of vintage port is that only the best three vintages every decade are released to the market place so there is a natural scarcity of the regions best wines. Yet prices haven’t skyrocketed. Even the poorest port fan can save up enough money to buy a half case of the best that Taylors or Grahams can offer every few years.
There are expensive older vintages of port, and old Tawnies, that have always pottered along selling in wine merchants all over the world, certainly commanding high prices, but never being marketed by the port house, and therefore these wines have remained within the realms and clutches of port buffs.
My worry, as a port fan, is that port producers want their category to go the same way as whisky or Bordeaux, and become a collectable, highly commercialized market. This release from Taylors might be the first major step towards that. The high price point of two and a half thousand pounds, plus the Churchill link, will generate a bit of a buzz around this wine, and will attract the attention of collectors. I just hope that the resale price for this wine is less than its release price and that vintage port remains, for a bit longer, a fine wine that enthusiastic drinkers can afford.
Sarah Ahmed's The Wine Detective