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Wine Legend: Cockburn’s Vintage Port 1947

Cockburn’s Vintage Port 1947 is legend because…

Although the 1947 vintage was not that widely declared, it was one in which the Cockburn’s team had the highest confidence. The 1948, recalls family member Peter Cobb, was a bigger wine but the 1947, although relatively light in body, had just the elegance and breed that were most sought after by the blending team. In his 1978 book, Port: An Introduction to its History and Delights, Wyndham Fletcher, who worked at Cockburn’s from 1930 to 1975, wrote: ‘Possibly because the [1947] wines were light in colour and body they have never quite achieved their due recognition. The fine, delicate quality reminiscent of the 1900s has tended to be overlooked.’ Yet the ‘light’ 1947 has stood the test of time and is still drinking well, if with inevitable bottle variation.

Looking back

The company was founded in 1815 by Robert Cockburn and, as it evolved, other partners were taken into the firm. It continued as a family enterprise until 1962, when it was bought by Harvey’s of Bristol, which in turn was bought by Allied-Lyons and later renamed Allied-Domecq. These weren’t the best decades for Cockburn’s, but in the 1940s it was still a name to be reckoned with. Later, the company would show little interest in vintage declarations, focusing instead on the high-volume Special Reserve Ruby. Cockburn’s decided to skip both 1977 and 1980, though it returned to the market with its 1983. In 2010 the somewhat moribund company was bought by the Symington family.

In the 1940s there were four partners: Reggie Cobb, his cousins John Smithes and Felix Vigne, and Trevor Heath. Vigne and Heath were the principal blenders for the vintage Ports, but it was Smithes – one of the great Port tasters of his generation – who would have had the final say on the blend. It is ironic, given the later decline of the brand, that in the 1940s Cockburn’s was the highest-priced vintage Port.

The vintage

The spring was wet but followed by a hot summer. A little rain shortly before harvest brought the grapes to full ripeness. The grapes were picked from late September onwards. Eleven shippers declared the vintage.

The terroir

The principal source for Cockburn’s vintage Ports was Quinta dos Canais, a 96-hectare, south-facing property that stands directly opposite Taylor’s famous Vargellas vineyard. Peter Cobb, the nephew of Reggie Cobb, believes it is likely that the 1947 would also have included fruit from Quinta do Tua (today part of the Graham’s holdings) and from Quinta da Gricha, a property in the Rio Torto Valley now owned by Churchill Graham. It is highly likely that most if not all the plantings in these quintas would have been field blends, making it impossible to determine the proportion used of the principal Port varieties.

The wine

The grapes would have been trodden and then fermented in lagares. There was no temperature control. Then the wine was run off into oak vats, and the fermentation arrested by the addition of pure grape spirit. Michael Broadbent confirms that at the time of declaration, the 1947 was regarded as a relatively light wine. The trade found the wine very attractive but doubted that it had great ageing potential. However, the vintage has lasted well, though most wines are probably by now at or just past their peak.

The reaction

In 2002, Broadbent recorded: ‘Fairly pale, little red though pink/red highlights; pure liquorice, harmonious, well evolved, firm, good flavour and flesh, smooth texture, dry finish, delicious aftertaste.’ After the wine was poured at a retrospective tasting in 2012, Steven Spurrier noted: ‘Fragrant, dried red fruits, slightly “burnt” from the heat at harvest, but with remarkable sweetness. Still holding well.’ Port expert Richard Mayson was more critical: ‘Lime marmalade aromas, fragrant yet mellow. Sweet and honeyed, retaining some peppery tannins, with length and elegance though drying out on the finish.’

The Facts

Bottles produced about 72,000
Composition N/A
Yield N/A
Alcohol 19%
Release price 45p
Price today £302–£951 per bottle

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