While Adrian Bridge was born in Britain in 1963, one of the most renowned years for Vintage Port, the 1994 vintage also looms large in his life. That was the year that Bridge left the London banking industry and moved to Portugal to join the Fladgate Partnership, his son Kit was born and the company made two perfect Vintage Ports.
For some historical context, Bridge kicked off his tasting of the 1994 Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca Vintage Ports, both rated 100 points on release, by noting that 1994 was when a little company known as Amazon debuted. It followed up with its IPO in 1997—the same year that Wine Spectator honored the two Ports as joint Wines of the Year.
“For those of you who had decided rather than buy some stock in Amazon, you would invest instead in a bottle of Taylor Fladgate or Fonseca 1994, I’m afraid you missed out on $60,000. But,” Bridge stressed to the crowd’s laughter, “what’s far more important is that you have a great bottle of Port.”
Bridge has been CEO of the Fladgate Partnership—the parent company of Taylor's, Fonseca and Croft Ports—since 2000, taking over from his father-in-law, Alistair Robertson. He and his wife represent the 13th generation in the family business, which dates to 1692.
Since then, the ever-active Bridge—a father of three, cyclist, mountaineer and collector of antique drinking vessels—has done much more than continue to maintain the Port houses' excellence. He has helped build up tourism in and around Porto, with the opening of the luxurious Yeatman hotel and the development of the new World of Wine complex, and he launched the Porto Protocol, an initiative to get wine industry members around the world to share information about how to combat and adapt to climate change.
The 1994 growing season was unique in a few ways, Bridge said: A series of rains in the middle of flowering dramatically reduced grape yields; temperatures in the Douro Valley never exceeded 100° F, which is a rarity; and the mid-September harvest occurred in fairly cool conditions, allowing for a little more time for extraction of color and flavor. The grapes, a mix of native Portuguese varieties, were foot trod in stone lagares; both Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca still follow this traditional practice for their best wines.
The 1994 Taylor Fladgate ($55 on release), sourced from Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta de Terra Feita, epitomizes the house style: tight with dense tannins, energetic but reserved. “Often people describe it as being a little bit English,” quipped Bridge, who enthused about its tremendous layers of fruit, great structure, complexity and harmony. “For me, this wine justifies its 100 points because nothing is out of place.”
The Taylor stood in direct contrast to the more flamboyant, exotic Fonseca ($55 on release), sourced from the house’s three quintas, which gushed with succulent cassis, black currant and black plum flavors. "For me, 25 years on,” said Bridge, “what's extraordinary is the pungency of the fruit, the richness, the layers, the sense that this is still quite a youthful wine."
Bridge concluded that the two wines illustrate the concept of terroir. “They are made by the same team of people, with the same values, the same outlook of what the wine industry should be, how we should get the best out of our vineyards,” he explained. “Same people, different vineyards, producing two perfect Ports but with immensely different characters, and that I think is what makes this tasting so extraordinary.”