A tale of three ports

What’s in a name?  Or the way it is pronounced?  Or the way it is presented?  Hyacinth Bucket was famous for re-packaging her married name as “Bouquet”.  Snob residents of Burnage in Manchester (pronounced burnidge since 1478) are heard to mutter that they come from Burnaaaarj (as the French would pronounce it).

Long ago, the Cockburn family must have realised that their own name needed a bit of thought.  Who is going to buy a bottle of port from a company that sounds like a naked barbecue incident?  And so they became Coeburn by pronunciation.

193 years later, and change is on the agenda again, as Cockburn’s have decided to repackage port to make it more trendy, more appealing to the contemporary drinker, more relevant to the modern dinner table, and perhaps more attractive to the Buckets of the world.

Maybe I am a Bucket because I received a couple of bottles and asked my opinion.  Naturally, I embarked upon a taste test.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve is apparently the best selling port brand in the world.  Cockburn’s Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) 2003 is slightly more expensive and plays to those that appreciate a 4 digit number on their wine bottle.

I have admitted before to being a marketing nut, and I think that packaging is really important in the touchy, feely, tasty world of wine.  It is all part of the ceremony - unpackaging the goods, and the longer it takes, and the grander it looks, then the better the contents taste.  Having said this, I am always suspicious when something that is exactly the same product as ever, is re-packaged for no other reason than to try to generate new interest.

In fairness to Cockburn’s I know little about port, and rarely drink it.  But I think their new bottle design is smart, and the overt tasting notes are a welcome change to the sparse information we are used to seeing on a French wine label for example.

What really matters though?  It’s the taste, stupid!  So I pitched the two bottles of Cockburn’s into a scientifically prepared dinner party test laboratory.  As a benchmark, I threw in a bottle of LBV 2001 from Taylor’s for good measure.  The port was served after dinner with optional cheese.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve was quite nice, but simple.  Smelling of wet fruitcake mix with a touch of party poppers, it was very red and tasted quite smooth.

Cockburn’s LBV 2003 was the pick of the three bottles by unanimous vote.  Woody, with old spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and prunes, it was all of Christmas in a glass – a slightly scary thought mid August, but belly warming and distinctly satisfying nonetheless.

The Taylor’s LBV had a touch too much sugar for me which detracted from the base flavours.

The experience has given me a new interest in port, and irrespective of the packaging, I’ll definitely be drinking more of the stuff – all year round.

As for temperature?  I tried it at just off room – about 18°.  If you have an ice bucket left over from an earlier white wine, pop the port in for just a few minutes before serving.

Cockburns LBV 2003 is available in the UK from Asda and Morrisons at £10.68 RRP.

4 Responses to “A tale of three ports”

  1. jonathan cockburn Says:

    Just read your bit about my family. Good stuff. Yeah, I guess some of my ancestors decided that ‘Cock’ was a bit of a joke, so they decided to change it to ‘Co’ but couldn’t be arsed to change the spelling (probably too much paperwork for a Cockburn I guess)! Strangely, I was never teased at school because of my surname, but when I went off to university my colleagues were a bit brighter and came up with nicknames like ‘ hotcock’ and ‘Priburn’ (you don’t pronounce the ‘ck’). All good humoured stuff and I gave as good as I got.
    When I tell people the spelling of my surname they often say to me “Oh yes, of course, Coburn, like the sherry.”(?!)
    Louise (my wife and I went to Marques de Riscal the summer before last and met the children of the current owners. It’s a great little place with a new mini Guggenheim hotel which was just about to open (I think).
    I bought their 2001 Rioja Reserva and it’s great. I’ll bring over my 1 remaining bottle, should we ever meet up! All best
    Jonathan Cockburn

  2. Alastair Bathgate Says:


    Funny stuff! Strange thing about names – little did I know when I was young that having a strange name is such a big USP in the internet world.

    Coincidentally I was at Riscal last weekend – hope to post about it soon.

  3. jonathan cockburn Says:

    Hi Alastair.
    That’s why I mentioned Riscal, because of your photo of a bottle on your main blog. I will be interested to read what you have to say about your visit.
    Strangely enough, I kept a blog for a short while when I stood against a certain Mr Tony Blair in Sedgefield at the last general election and it was quite popular at the time. After Blair resigned I could not be bothered to keep paying the web fees though, so I gave up my ‘blairmustgo.org’ site.

  4. Recent Links Tagged With "cheese" - JabberTags Says:

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