TAYLOR FLADGATE 1997 VINTAGE PORTO ($95)
Seeking a substitute for French wines, which the political situation had made inaccessible, 17th-century Brits discovered the heady wines of the Douro Valley in Portugal, fortifying them with brandy for shipping back to Britain. This explains why most port companies still have English names. Taylor is now into its fourth century of operation, run today by descendants of the Fladgate and Yeatman families.
The vintage porto is Taylor's flagship wine. In port tradition, a port house "declares" a vintage only in years when conditions warrant. This wine continues to develop in the bottle long after you've forgotten its rather steep price tag. If you can wait long enough, it will look like a bargain by the time you drink it. On the other hand, you might not want to delay enjoying its massive yet stylish intensity, its notes of plum and chocolate, and the overtones of sweet oak.
DOW'S 1999 QUINTA DA SENHORA DA RIBEIRA PORTO ($50)
Things change very gradually in the port trade, but one recent shift in direction has been toward single-quinta vintage ports. Rather than being blended from purchased wines made from various vineyards, these ports are sourced from a single property (quinta) in a single year (usually a year that is not declared), somewhat on the model of a Bordeaux estate wine. Single-quinta vintage ports are especially appropriate to the export market, where consumers increasingly want to know exactly where their meats, their produce, and their wines come from. (I've even received press releases recently about single-dairy milks and single-estate coffee beans.)