Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Kopke Aged White Ports: A Rare Wine Category You Should Know

As I recently discussed in The Origins & Early History of White Port, only about 10% of all Port is White Port, and aged White Ports are even rarer. When perusing local wine stores, it's very rare to see one that carries an aged White Port. Most of these stores could probably special order an aged White Port for you, but they are generally not part of their regular inventory. The last time I saw an aged White Port for sale was at a wine shop in Portland, Maine. 

Kopke is a highly regarded Port producer which truly embraces the production of aged White Port, making Colheitas and White Ports with an Indication of Age (10, 20, 30, 40 and even 50 year old White Ports!). I received some media samples of three of their aged White Ports, and they were all impressive, showcasing the complexity and quality of aged White Port. 

Kopke is also the oldest Port House, having been established in 1638 by Nicolau Kopkë. Nicolau, a German, came to Portugal in 1636, as the Consul General of the Hanseatic League. Two years later, he started shipping Portuguese wines to other European countries. Almost 150 years later, in 1781, Kopke bought a vineyard in the Douro, and started producing their own wine, eventually making Port wine their primary focus. And in 1841, they changed their name to C. N. Kopke

In 2006, Kopke was purchased by the Spanish-owned Sogevinus, which now owns several other Port producers, including Burmester, Cálem, and Barros. Sogevinus concentrates on Port Wine, and in 2020, about 7.8 Million bottles of their annual production of 8.8 Million were Port. In addition, their Calem Velhotes brand is the top seller in Portugal, accounting for about 25% of all Port sales. 

Kopke is also the only Port House to sell both a 50 Year Old White Port and a 50 Year Old Tawny Port. The 50 Year Old Port category was only instituted in 2022, so Kopke was quick to capitalize on this new Indication of Age. It helped that they have an extensive supply of aged Ports in their vast cellars. For example, they currently sell a 1934 Colheita Tawny and a 1935 Colheita White


When were Kopke Ports first exported to the U.S.? Let's explore some 19th century history, where Kopke received only a small amount of mentions. 

The earliest mention of Kopke that I found was from 1839. The Evening Post (NY), March 5, 1839, printed an advertisement for an upcoming auction of wines. This included, “Port Wines, in pipes and bottles of extra quality, selected by John Wylie, Esq. from the London dock; do Roriz, direct importations: Kopke & Co. Sweet Port.” These Ports were from the famed Quinta de Roriz vineyard, and often sold under the brand of "Kopke Roriz."

The Charleston Mercury (SC), January 3, 1857, discussed a recent sale of old Port, noting 3 bins of the 1820 vintage. The article mentioned, “...each was a rare example—different in style, but all of unexceptionable quality; it is indeed remarkable that among port wines of these ancient dates, so few decayed or even impared wines are found, and this seems to attest their general purity. Of these the Kopke’s Boriz took the lead, containing all the vigor of youth, showing substance, fruit, the highest quality, and remarkable character.” The term "Boriz" was obviously a typo and should instead be "Roriz."

There was a brief mention in the Shipping & Commercial List (NY), January 30, 1861, of, “Port Wines—Kopke Roriz, Cockburn’s and other brands.” The New York Times (NY), June 1, 1864, mentioned an auction sale, including Kopke’s Roriz old brandies of 1838, 1840 and 1848.

The Commercial Advertiser (NY), February 8, 1871, noted that James Reid & Co., located at No.49 Broad Street, New York, was the Sole Agents in the U.S. and Canada for a number of of wine/spirit companies including Kopke & Co.

The Baltimore Sun (MD), January 30 1892, printed an ad where the company had recently received Port wine from C.N. Kopke & Co., from the rare old vintage of 1847. The seller stated that he “..can therefore vouch for its genuineness as a reliable, delicate, dry, high-flavored old Wine, suitable for invalids requiring such a tonic.” 

So, we know that Kopke Ports have been imported into the U.S. for at least over 180 years. In the present day, it's also important to realize that Kopke sells more than 65% of the Colheita Ports, red and white, in the U.S. When's the last time you bought a Kopke Port?


As for Kopke and White Port, I received some information from Carla Tiago (pictured above), part of the Kopke Winemaking Team. Carla grew up in the Douro region, eventually graduating from the University of Porto with a degree in Biochemistry. In 2005, Carla did her first harvest for Sogevinus, and she found her passion in wine making. In 2007, she joined the Kopke team, working under master blender Carlos Alves

Carla stated, “In fact, there are no exact dates of the origin of Port wine, neither white nor red,... It is known, however, that white wine has always been made, in much smaller quantities than red, and that after the phylloxera crisis, vineyards were planted with only white varieties and these wines began to be more common.” She also mentioned that though they don't know exactly when Kopke first started producing White Port, it's believed they have been making it since their beginning in 1638. As for their oldest White Ports now in their cellars, Carla noted their oldest vintages are from 1935 and 1940. 

80+ year old White Ports! That should intrigue any wine lover. However, wine lovers, and others, should also be intrigued with younger, although still aged, White Ports, such as Colheitas from 2002 and 2005. 

The Kopke 20 Years Old White Port is made from a blend of white grapes of different vintages, with an average age of 20 years. The wine was aged in oak for a number of years before being bottled in 2022. With a 20% ABV, the wine presented an amber/golden color and an aroma of dried fruit, salted nuts and a bit of citrus. On the palate, it possessed a rich mouthfeel, with a mild sweetness and a complex blend of dried fruits, citrus, almonds, a touch of ripe plum, and subtle spice notes. It had a pleasing, lengthy finish and good acidity.  

It's recommended that this Port be served chilled, and it went very well with some blue cheese (which is one of my favorite Port pairings). 

The Kopke 2002 Colheita White Port is made from a blend of white grapes from the 2002 harvest, and it remained in oak for about 20 years, being bottled in 2022. The term "colheita" roughly translates as "harvest" or "vintage," however it's also a specific category of Port. It must be aged in the barrel for at least seven years, although it can be aged for much longer. A Vintage Port must be from an excellent "declared" vintage, so Vintage Port cannot be produced every year, but a Colheita Port can be made in any vintage. Vintage Ports seem to get the most publicity, but Colheita Ports definitely are worthy of much more attention.

I was thoroughly enamored with this White Port. With a rich amber/golden color, its aroma was more subdued, but still complex and appealing. On the palate, it was elegant and compelling, reminiscent in some ways to a fine aged Sherry. It possessed an intriguing melange of flavors, including dried fruit, honey, subtle spices, salted almonds, a light sweetness, and much more. Each silky sip brought something new to my palate. It's finish was extremely lengthy and satisfying, and overall, the wine was impressive, my favorite of the three. Everything was in perfect balance, and there seemed to be so much life remaining in the wine. This is a wine to slowly sip over the course of an evening, observing it develop over the course of the night. It's also a wine meant to be shared, to experience with good friends. 

It was also recommended that this Port be served chilled, and it too went very well with some blue cheese. 

The Kopke 2005 Colheita White Port is made from a blend of grapes from the 2005 harvest, including 50% Malvasia Fina, 15% Gouveio, 15% Rabigato, 15% Viosinho and 5% Arinto. This was the only wine where the grapes were specifically mentioned, although it's possible these grapes might also have been the ones in the other two White Ports, although maybe not in these percentages, and other grapes may have been included as well.

This Port  remained in oak for about 17 years, being bottled in 2022. This wine had a stronger aroma than the 2002, and the flavors on the palate were stronger and more intense as well. In addition, it had a richer mouthfeel, with more sweetness to it. It was less Sherry-like, but still had a nutty aspect, as well as complex flavors of dried fruit, citrus, fig, and spice. A lengthy, pleasing finish and excellent acidity. It was also recommended that this Port be served chilled, and it too went very well with some blue cheese. 

I'd highly recommend all three of these aged White Ports. It's a fascinating category of wine, and is sure to impress your palate. In differentiating these three White Ports, the 2002 Colheita is the lightest, least sweet and most complex of the three, and reminds me in some respects of a fine aged Sherry (another of my favorite wine categories). The 2005 Colheita is richer, a bit sweeter, with bolder aromas and flavors. The 20 Year Old has much of the richness of the 2005, but is a touch less sweet, and its aromas and flavors are also a touch less bold, although still more intense than the 2002. 

I'd like to visit Kopke in October when I visit Portugal, and if so, hope to try maybe some of their even older White Ports.

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