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Kopke’s The Library Collection: Port, but not as we know it

As the world has increasingly fallen in love with tawny Port, the release of long-aged examples has become relatively commonplace. But a trio of remarkable expressions from Kopke includes a couple of unique historical curiosities, as Richard Woodard discovers.

It’s reassuring that, even if you’ve spent decades in and around wine, just now and again something comes along that makes you stop, scratch your head and ask the question: “Where the hell did that come from?”

The Library Collection from Kopke – famed as the oldest Port wine house, founded in 1638 – provides not one but two of those moments: century-old bottlings of a vermouth and a quinine (or quinado), alongside a Very Very Old tawny Port blend dating back to 1890.

The £3,000 trio of bottles, packaged, appropriately enough, in a case resembling an old library book, constitutes a time capsule of Port winemaking from 100 years ago and more, with 385 sets available globally.

“These wines continued to age in our cellars at Vila Nova de Gaia for a minimum of 100 years in barrel,” says Carlos Alves, master blender and winemaker at Sogevinus Fine Wines, owner of Kopke. “This is unique. I believe it’s not easy to find this in another region in the world, that they have this capacity to age. It’s our legacy.”

It would be easy for the Very Very Old tawny expression to be overshadowed by the historical curiosity value of the others, but this blend of wines ranging in date from 1890 to 1937 is a showcase of the signature Kopke style, as seen in the house’s excellent range of aged white and tawny Ports. The undoubted sweetness (167g/l residual sugar) is counterbalanced by a vibrant acidity and freshness that belies the wine’s venerable status.

One of the issues with wines of this age is knowing precisely how they were made. Alves is pretty confident that both the vermouth and the quinine were based on Port – such products were relatively common at the time. But he can’t say what ingredients went into the vermouth – not because it’s a secret, but because he simply doesn’t know.

The fact that the production rules changed in 1992, banning the use of Port to make products like vermouth or quinine, only enhances the rarity of these products. “The first wine [the Very Very Old tawny] we can repeat,” says Alves. “The last two wines I believe it’s not easy to repeat. The quantity is very small and we don’t know the recipe.”

The quinine – or quinado – style was a popular one during Portuguese colonial times, the wines exported to Brazil and Africa in a bid to combat malaria. The style lingers on – Poças for one has made quinados – but not in liquid of this age and pedigree. “This is a real story of something that happened in the house of Kopke,” says Alves. “This for us is historic, it’s not just about the wine. It’s about one century of age, and it’s a story of the house.”

In all three wines, the long, gentle maturation in the Kopke cellars has taken the inherent qualities of the original wines, intensifying and magnifying them. “This evaporation is necessary for the Port wine,” explains Alves. “The barrels lose water and alcohol, and integrate with some elements, such as acidity and sugar.

“This wine [the vermouth] has 215g/l residual sugar but, when the wine was created, it would have had 80-100g/l. That’s the result of evaporation and concentration, and the acidity also changes and intensifies.”

As well as giving a liquid snapshot of how Kopke Ports were made in the distant past, the wines also impart to Alves and his team a sense of inspiration – and responsibility – in terms of their winemaking today.

“These wines, to me and my team, they show us that we need to make wines with the same quality today, to age for a long time,” says Alves. “This is a very big focus to us … when you make Port wine, you need to imagine the ageing process in the barrel. You need to imagine the future.”


Kopke The Library Collection Very Very Old Tawny

ABV: 20%

pH: 3.45

Total acidity: 8.43g/l

Total sugars: 167g/l

  • A wine of great age from the first glance: olive-dark with a greenish tinge. Rich flavours of caramel and walnut leap from the glass, with a balsamic note in the background. Seamless, concentrated and almost oily on the palate, reinforcing the nose with more walnut, some rancio, figs and dark chocolate. The breadth is astonishing, the finish endless. A remarkable old tawny that has everything: balance, intensity, acidity and sweetness.


Kopke The Library Collection Vermouth

ABV: 19%

pH: 3.27

Total acidity: 13.9g/l

Total sugars: 215g/l

  • Slightly darker, and showing subtle vermouth flavours from the off: orange peel, and an edge of spice that resembles garam masala, then a mildly bitter herbal note. There’s a fascinating interplay between the rich, earthy Port and the bitterness from the vermouth elements, with more of that orange peel character and a touch of the balsamic seen on the ‘straight’ tawny. An unforgettable and slightly discombobulating tasting experience.


Kopke The Library Collection Quinine

ABV: 17.5%

pH: 3.22

Total acidity: 12.5g/l

Total sugars: 200g/l

  • If you thought the vermouth was different… There’s an immediate and appropriate medicinal note on the nose, alongside crushed demerara sugar and rich double cream. The sweetness is apparent on the palate, but the acidity rises to meet it, bringing in that consistent balsamic note alongside hazelnut and an elusive floral element. The herb-tinged bitterness makes for a rich but balanced and palate-cleansing finish. In time, the flavours darken into dried fruit and roasted walnut. Unique is an overused word, but in this case…


The Library Collection from Kopke is available in the UK via Vintage Wine & Ports, RRP £3,000

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