Tasting top fortified wines blind: the 2023 Best Bottle Award in Lech am Arlberg, Austria

Best Bottle Award 2023, Restaurant Fux, Lech am Arlberg, Austria

Part of the Arlberg Weinberg festival, this is the fourth edition of this competition where the sommeliers in the hotels of Lech and Arlberg select their best wines on a specific theme. This year, the chosen theme fortified wines. This was the only restriction, and so the competition included a variety of different wines. Then we gathered as a jury of journalists and sommeliers to taste them blind. Here I’m reproducing my notes as well as scores when tasted blind, with no further editing once I knew the identity of the wines. I think that my scores are OK, but I went a little high on the Taylor’s Tawny, which is not an expensive wine: but it’s remarkably good, even if perhaps not as good as my score suggests! It was quite a difficult tasting as we were jumping around stylistically all over the place: these wines were tasted in this order.

We began with a reference wine.

Niepoort 10 Year Old Tawny NV Portugal
This is a pale cherry red colour with a slight bricking to the rim. It looks and smells like a Tawny Port with moderate age. Lovely richness here with some sweetness, and notes of raisin, spice and plums with some red cherry fruit. This has real elegance and poise, with good concentration and depth. Lovely balance, finishing quite sweet. A good Tawny with some age. 93/100

Then it was on to the competition wines, in flights of three. The winner was the Taylor’s Coronation Very Very Old Tawny Port, with the Barbeito Tres Amigos Madeira in second place.

Taylor’s Tawny Historic Edition Reserve Tawny Port NV Portugal
Pale cherry red with a bricking rim. Very fine and pure with nice fruit and tannin, showing beautiful elegance. There’s a vitality and life to this wine with beautiful purity, and faint hints of leather and savoury spice, with nice sweetness and some fine tannins. Beautiful expression here: superb elegance and purity, and if it is old, it disguises this so well with its lovely red fruits. 97/100

Poças Quinta do Junco Vintage Port 1963 Portugal
Wonderful old wine: it has a faded colour with yellow/brown notes and some sediment. Beautiful elegance to this with pure cherry, pear and peach fruit with some fine spices. Textural and fine with notes of aniseed, pear and persimmon as well as a bit of fine spiciness. Superb elegance here. Very fine. 97/100

Bodegas Toro Albalá Pedro Ximenez 2002 Jerez, Spain
A remarkable Pedro Ximenez, showing raisin, spice, caramel, herbs and lovely complexity. Very rich and intense but with good balance for this style. Lovely complexity. 95/100

Blandy’s Bual 1971 Madeira, Portugal
Golden/bronze colour. Wonderful aromatics: marmalade, spice, some polished wood, bright lemons. Powerful, lively palate with good acidity and some sweetness. Has some age and lots of complexity, with brightness and focus and a long, almost eternal finish. So fine – this tastes like a really good Sercial Madeira. 96/100

Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port 2001 Portugal (half bottle)
Some cloudiness from sediment, and a cherry red colour. Nice richness and sweetness, but also fresh red cherry fruit with some spice. Vivid and focused with lovely texture, showing fine spicy notes and a long, complex finish. Still has fruit, but very classy: an excellent Port of moderate age. 95/100

Graham’s Vintage Port 1970 Portugal
Beautiful elegance here: fine red cherry fruits with some nice spice, showing sweetness and depth. There’s some liquorice and liqueur-like berry fruits, with lovely texture on the palate and some finesse, finishing long. Superb elegance here with some finesse and purity. Very fine. 97/100

Niepoort Colheita Port 1997 Portugal (magnum)
Gold with a brown hint, this is rich and intense, with bold, spicy fruit and some nuts and honey. There’s some marmalade and raisin with nice intensity. Has some warmth and depth with lovely richness. An old white Port? Very nice intensity here with good complexity. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2000 Portugal
Youthful and fresh with nice intensity. Has structured cherry and berry fruit with good sweetness. Warm, spicy and dense, this is perhaps a middle-aged Vintage Port, beginning to mellow but still with plenty of fruit and structure. Hints of mint and earth, too. 94/100

Taylor’s Vintage Port 1977 Portugal
Some musty hints here, which may be cork taint, but lovely elegance and purity. Good age here, but some real refinement and elegance showing sweet red cherry and plum fruit with nice finesse. Tasting through the musty character, I’ll score it. 96/100

Barbeito Tres Amigos 50 Year Old Madeira NV Portugal
Very lively aromatics with spice and marmalade, old furniture and some resinous qualities. The palate is powerful and vivid with great acidity and intensity, showing high acidity. Very powerful and lively and really long. 97/100

Niepoort Vintage Port 1977 Portugal
Very pale red in colour this shows wonderful elegance with amazing freshness and detail. A beautiful aged vintage port of real class, with the fruit receding to deliver purity, texture and finesse, with notes of sake. Very fine. 97/100

Taylor’s King Charles III Coronation Very Very Old Tawny Port NV Portugal
Powerful, vivid, rich and spicy with some acidity but also spice and earth. Very refined with nice depth showing some spiciness. Has some apple and cherry hints, with earth and tar in the background. Very fine old Tawny? 94/100

See also: my report on the 2022 best bottle award, on sparkling wine