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Cockburn’s 200th anniversary tasting

Decanter recently attended an event to mark the 200th anniversary of Cockburn's port, tasting not only the cask sample of the 2014, but also past vintages going back as far as 1863.

200 years of Cockburn: tasting notes

Cockburn 2014 (cask sample)

Single quinta wine from Quinta dos Canais, made from over 70% Touriga Nacional with a slug of Sousão for colour and acidity: very deep, inky colour; still raw on the nose but floral with spring blossom; already quite suave, rich and opulent with a broad dusting of tannin, not especially big but elegant. With rain during vintage this was a year for the Douro Superior. ***/****

Cockburn 2011

A blend based on Quinta dos Canais and Quinta de Vale Coelho made in a fairly dry style; ‘as dry as Dow’ according to Charles Symington: deep and youthful in colour; closing in the nose with underlying delicacy and finesse, cassis with a floral Touriga Nacional fragrance; smooth, suave cassis and berry fruit, firm but not massive in structure, long and beautifully balanced. With Cockburn’s looking to recapture their reputation for vintage Port, this is one of the best value wines of the vintage. ****  

Cockburn 1977

A generally declared year, but not declared by Cockburn who were busy building up Cockburn’s Special Reserve at the time. Consequently this wine was bottled as ‘crusted’: mid-garnet with a pink – browning rim; open, fragrant, with a wild edge, a touch herbal with eucalyptus on the nose; delicate in style, cherry stone fruit with firm peppery tannins and an attractive bitter-sweet finish. Still standing up well, if just a touch rustic in style. ***

Cockburn 1969

This is the year Cockburn launched Special Reserve which subsequently became the best-selling Port in the UK. It was a year of low yields and rain fell just before vintage, consequently no one declared: mid-garnet though still fresh and youthful in appearance; gentle berry fruit on the nose, still fresh though not especially aromatic; soft with a savoury / meaty character mid-palate, plummy fruit with lovely richness evident at the core yielding to a bitter-sweet dark chocolate finish retaining a dusting of tannin. A rather lovely, rare and very unusual wine. ***/****

Cockburn 1967

An unusual declaration with Cockburn eschewing the generally declared 1966s in favour of 1967: pale-mid garnet-tawny; delicate, fragrant and a touch medicinal on the nose with a hint of jelly babies(!); soft, sweet and gentle on the palate but by no means lean, peppery tannins with a lovely sweet. Spicy finish. Beautifully balanced, in its prime and effortless to drink. ****

Cockburn 1965

This was a good second-string vintage with some attractive single quinta wines made despite sporadic rain during vintage. This is undeclared: deeper in colour than the 1967; surprisingly rich in style for the year, black cherry and a touch of dark chocolate at its core; very opulent in style retaining lovely purity of fruit, medicinal sweetness backed by peppery tannins with the opulence returning on the finish. ****  

Cockburn 1947

Declared by Cockburn in preference to 1945. Ideal weather conditions: damp spring, hot summer, low yields and fine weather during the harvest meant the lagares took plenty of work: lovely garnet-to-tawny colour; a touch roasted on the nose and possibly drying out, coffee bean; wonderful bitter-sweet richness, fleshy and almost fat in style backed by good tannic grip followed by a smooth, suave finish. Lovely balance: impresses more on the palate than on the nose. ****/*****

Cockburn 1945

An outstanding year, bypassed by Cockburn when others declared a ‘victory vintage’. Due to lack of bottles at the time this was probably kept in demi-johns and bottled later as a garrafeira: consequently pale and faded with a tawny rim; gentle, lifted orange peel aromas; smooth and delicate in style, mellifluous with lovely richness mid-palate and an elegant, almost creamy finish. Hard to judge this as a vintage Port but good nonetheless. Just two bottles of this wine remain. ***

Cockburn 1934

A successful year, declared by some though not by Cockburn: wonderful, youthful pink colour; still fresh, most attaractive on the nose with real depth underlying; sweet and minty, remarkably fresh with berry fruit still evident. Long and lovely. This has developed beautifully and is seamless from start to finish. *****  

Cockburn 1924

Another successful declaration overlooked by Cockburn. There is just one bottle of this wine left: pale tawny-orange; volatile on the nose, this is rather more than vinagrinho; hot, sweet and edgy, orange peel with a burnt edge, quite exotic in style, much better on the palate than it is on the nose but I find it hard to award a mark. No stars.

Cockburn 1918

A fine harvest but ‘a miserable vintage’ in the words of Ernest Cockburn due to an outbreak of influenza, not generally declared: pale orange/amber; rich and aromatic, citrus peel aroma, high toned, rather heady and slightly sweaty; rich, thick cut marmalade character, still all there but rather coarse in style compared to its peers. **/***

Cockburn 1908

‘It seemed probable from the start that the year would be declared a vintage year’ wrote Ernest Cockburn and so it was for most shippers. Still with the original cork, this wine is now 107 years old and a real survivor: amazingly youthful in colour, still pink at the centre; heavenly aromas, floral and ethereal, still fresh and fragrant; rich and structured on the palate with beautiful bitter-sweet fruit and a tannic core, plenty of grip remaining on the finish, still fresh, upright and alive. Cockburn at its finest. *****

Cockburn 1868

This vintage coincides with the arrival of phylloxera which reached the Douro in 1863 but didn’t greatly reduce yields until the 1870s: remarkable pinkish colour, still looks youthful; fruit still very evident on the nose, fragrant and elegant (apparently this had some bottle stink on the nose when it was first opened but it soon dissipated); sweet cherry fruit, just drying out (but who cares!), tannins dry but still gripping with a lovely flourish of acidity keeping the finish alive. A ‘wow’ of a wine, the last two bottles of which were opened for the Bicentennial Tasting. *****          

Cockburn 1863

There was just one bottle of this wine, opened for this tasting. It proved to be ‘one of the outstanding years in the history of Vintage Port’ according to Ernest Cockburn but sadly this bottle did not quite live up to its billing: pale orange-amber; maderised and high toned on the nose with an aroma of wild honeysuckle; bitter-dry character initially with a vestige of honeyed sweetness leading to a long and lasting roast coffee finish. Showing its age but hardly surprising after 152 years! Hard to award a mark. It made the freshness of the 1868 look all the more remarkable. 

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