Vintage Port Notes - Recent
This was a challenging year for growers and a dream for wine makers. The major shippers, all with substantial vineyard holdings of their own, experienced a few nightmares during the growing season followed by euphoria at vintage.
The winter of 2010/11 was wet, followed by a warm dry spring with early budburst in mid-to-late March. April and May were warm which, combined with some rainfall, encouraged oidium and reduced yields. In June there was localized hail damage followed by an early and almost unprecedented burst of extreme heat over the weekend of the São João holiday (24th – 25th June). With the thermometer rising to over 40oC, exposed berries (especially Tinta Barroca) were burnt by the power of the sun. July and August continued dry but not unduly hot. Nonetheless, by mid-August some vineyards were showing signs of stress. Heavy but welcome rains fell on 21st August and again on 1st and 2nd September. The rain was perfectly timed and helped to swell the grapes prior to a generally early harvest - 10th September at Croft’s Quinta da Roeda and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas - a good week to ten days earlier than normal. After the early September rain, not a drop fell for the next five weeks and harvest conditions were perfect throughout the Douro. Temperatures were hotter than average at the start of vintage so must cooling proved essential for the lagares to take some work. The aromas inside the adegas were magnificent from the start, always a promising sign. It came as no surprise when talk of a full vintage declaration surfaced early this year, confirmed by a spate of declarations from late March onwards. At the time of writing, Noval is the only major house not to have declared.
The following notes are the result of a first and rather hurried tasting of cask samples at the BFT tasting in London on 24th April.
More detailed notes with star ratings will be posted on this website over the next two weeks.
Alves de Sousa 2011
A blend of Quinta de Oliveirinha at Chanceleiros and Quinta da Gaivosa in the Baixo Corgo: still raw and rather heady, soft and rich on the palate with a relatively soft finish.
Based on Quinta de São Luiz: fragrant, minty with good depth, firm and well-delineated. A good middle to long distance wine.
Elegant, though a bit green on the nose, firm and linear.
Not big but suave and very impressive, esteva (gum cistus) aromas, lithe tannins. Very well defined and delineated. A lovely wine.
From a field blend of 50+ year old vines at Quinta da Gricha: dense but with strange rather cheesy – spirity aromas; big, firm and gripping.
Sourced mainly from two estates in the Douro Superior: Quinta dos Canais and Quinta do Vale Coelho with a substantial amount of Touriga Nacional in the blend: closed, dense with sumptuous fruit, very pure with the right structure to back it up. Not big overall but with great finesse. This has the makings of a very great vintage Port.
Mostly Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from the south bank of the Douro just above Pinhão and above the Valeira dam in the Douro Superior: weedy nose, rather thin and lean.
From Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta Senhora da Ribeira and the nearby Santinho and Cedeira vineyards in the Douro Superior: dense, closed with underlying fragrance, tight knit in classic austere Dow style with a powerful, explosive finish. Certain to be one of the wines of the vintage.
From grapes grown in the Pinhão area, mostly Quinta do Porto and Quinta do Caedo: odd nose, perhaps spirity, firm but a bit lean and one dimensional, especially following Dow.
Very dark and deep, dumb on the nose, sweet, firm linear fruit, exceptionally fine grained tannins.
From all five of Graham’s quintas: dense and opulent, smooth and rich on the palate, ripe, characteristically sweet and minty in style, long and full. Very promising.
Graham’s Stone Terraces 2011
A newcomer in 2011 from 18th century stone terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos with easterly and northerly aspect: closed, with underlying intensity and purity, rich and opulent but very profound.
From Quinta de São Luiz and Quinta do Arnozelo: loose knit and rather green on the nose, long and linear, nice but one dimensional.
Niepoort 2011 (see Reflections of Vintage Port for a more detailed entry on this wine).
Suave, floral, gentle on the nose, peppery tannic structure, not especially big but very elegant.
Niepoort Bioma Vinha Velha 2011 (see Reflections of Vintage Port for a more detailed entry on this wine).
From a small, single estate called Quinta da Pisca above Ferrão, roughly midway between Pinhão and Régua: tight knit, very fine and minerally (not a word I usually associate with vintage Port), wonderful purity with long, fine grained sinewy tannins. Quite possibly one of the wines of the vintage.
From Quinta da Boavista and other nearby vineyards: plummy, sweet, quite opulent yet firm and spicy.
A single vineyard Port from 80 year old vines at Vale de Mendiz in the Pinhão Valley: green hedgerow aromas, rather lean and one dimensional
Quinta de La Rosa 2011
Dark chocolate concentration, rich with just a hint of hedgerow, firm, fine and well balanced. The best wine from this estate for many a year!
Quinta do Passadouro 2011
From grapes grown at Passadouro in the Pinhão Valley and the neighboring Roncão Valley: fragrant, floral, nicely balanced if a little lean on the finish.
Quinta do Vale Meão 2011
Legendary estate in the Douro Superior, 60% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional, 5% Tinta Barroca, 5% Tinta Roriz, 5% Sousão and 5% of other varieties: playful, lighter than some, full of fruit.
Quinta do Vesúvio 2011
Dense, liquorice, full and fleshy, velvety mid palate, lovely peppery tannins. Ripe and well defined.
Quinta do Vesúvio Capella 2011
Mostly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Sousão: floral, touch of hedgerow, fresh and vibrant with sweet berry fruit.
Quinta Vale Dona Maria 2011
Single estate, well located in the Rio Torto: rather simple, and one dimensional, fresh delicate fruit.
Quinta do Portal 2011
Picked in August apparently: thin and sickly.
Ramos Pinto 2011 (see Reflections on Vintage Port for a more comprehensive note)
From three quintas, Ervamoira in the Douro Superior, Bom Retiro and Urtiga in the Rio Torto, 50% Touriga Nacional: dense, sweet an opulent in style, ripe tannins, still a little raw around the edges.
Closed, sweet violety fruit, cassis, mid-weight with good definition.
From Quinta do Vau and Quinta do Seixo (ex-Ferreira): a really solid, powerful wine, dense, closed with lovely texture and weight. Possibly the most powerful wine of the vintage.
Quinta de Roriz 2011
Just 350 cases made, mostly Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca: still raw but pure and vibrant, lovely fruit character.
Smith Woodhouse 2011
Produced entirely from Quinta da Madalena in the Rio Torto with a high percentage of old mixed vines: open, floral and expressive, not as big as some of its peers but a well defined wine for the mid-term.
From Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta de Terra Feita: fragrant tea leaf nose, very refined, long and sinewy, not especially big but sculptural and well defined.
Taylor Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha
Wonderful purity of fruit, already fragrant and expressive; firm, long and linear.
From Quinta da Cavadinha in the Pinhão Valley and Quinta do Retiro in the Rio Torto: mid-deep and dense, ripe mouth coating tannins, firm, rich and complete.
Location: Glaziers Hall, London
This is a parallel tasting of wines from two very individual Port shippers, both with a strong family input. The wines were presented by João Nicolau de Almeida and Dirk Niepoort respectively. These two producers obviously resepct each other even though they admit to doing things very differently. This is emphatically not a Ramos Pinto v. Niepoort tasting and the vintages selected were the years in which they thought that their respective houses performed strongly. The absence of Niepoort wines from the 1990s corresponds to a time when the house performed badly with a number of years going volatile in bottle. Dirk Niepoort hinted at these problems during the tasting.
The tasting was conducted at a speed that most tasters (myself included) found hard to keep up with. We had just an hour to taste all these wines; hence some rather brief notes. The wines are listed in the order they were tasted, culminating in the launch of the 2011s which, of course, provided the reason for this rather more extensive tasting of older wines.
Ramos Pinto 1924 *** / ****
Pale to mid amber tawny; slightly soily casky aromas with delicate tawny style fruit emerging underneath, creamy milk chocolate intensity; light, still fresh with tobacco box character, drying out on the finish with the spirit showing through. Lovely but now fragile. 16.5
Niepoort 1942 ****
Mid-deep brick red centre, thin amber-tawny rim; surprisingly closed on the nose, sullen, arguably needing more time to show at its best; still firm and rich with tight knit fruit and fine peppery tannins, well structured and long but, incredibly, still too young. 18
Ramos Pinto 1970 ****
Mid- pinkish brick red; open and elegant on the nose, soft and mellifluous with lovely cherry stone fruit, firm, long and elegant, showing very well and drinking beautifully now. 17.5
Niepoort 1970 **** / *****
A wine entirely from grapes grown at Quinta da Pisca near Ferrão (see Bioma below), made by Rolf Niepoort, Dirk’s father. Slightly deeper than the Ramos Pinto, pink tinged; closed, dense and introverted, needs more time to show at its best; tight knit and foursquare in typical Niepoort style, well-structured with spicy-peppery tannins and bitter chocolate intensity. Long and lithe. 18.5
Niepoort 1977 ****
From Quinta da Pisca like the 1970. Good mid-deep youthful colour, showing very little age; open with lovely fragrant floral fruit aromas; tight knit on the palate , solid, dark chocolate intensity, firm and full. Long and linear though without much flesh on the finish. A very good 1977 with plenty of life left. 17
Ramos Pinto 1983 ****
Very deep at the centre with a thin browning rim ,surprising given that 50% of this wine comes from Tinta Barroca; hot plummy fruit aromas, big and rich; similarly so on the palate, hefty, rich and unsually full bodied for 1983. Solid and structured with plenty of flesh to carry the wine forward. Big rather than elegant at this stage and very impressive. A revelation 17.5
Niepoort 1983 *** / ****
Pinkish colour, rather paler than the Ramos Pinto; fine and well defined on the nose, lovely cherry fruit, firm and linear, boney and rather more typically 1983. 16.5
Ramos Pinto 1994 ****
Mid-deep youthful colour; ripe and opulent on the nose, open and showing the ripeness of the vintage; soft ripe and opulent initially in the mouth, with ripe well structured tannins rising towards a drier finish. Impressive. 17
Ramos Pinto 1997 ** / ***?
Good, deep youthful colour; a hot nose, rather heady, spirit and ugly (perhaps just a phase), big and rich in style with spirit showing through, still disjointed, reserve for future judgment? 14.5
Ramos Pinto 2003 ****
Made from 60% Touriga Nacional: deep, youthful and opaque; closed on the nose, sullen; seemingly soft and loose knit on the palate initially and still raw but overwhelmingly ripe with powerful tannins rising on to a peacock’s tail of a finish. Still needs another ten years in bottle. 17
Niepoort 2005 ****
Very deep opaque, youthful colour; still raw, closed and and lumpy on the nose; ripe and fleshy with dusty tannins and lovely sweet fruit. Very well balanced and very promising. Needs another 10 years at least. 17.5
Ramos Pinto 2007 *** / ****
Very deep opaque colour, still raw and closed in with some lovely purity of fruit underlying; firm, grainy tannins, quite dense, needs time to come together, 15 years? 16.5 +?
Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 2007 ***
Similar colour; deep, ripe heady aromas with more to give, rich, full and fleshy, very flattering in style, big, firm structured tannins with good over all balance. A lovely wine for the mid-term. 16
Niepoort 2009 ****
Very deep in colour, dense and still raw on the nose, sweet and opulent in the mouth, big, ripe minty fruit, naturally sweet and very promising. Needs 15 years plus. 17.5
Niepoort Bioma 2009 ****
The first vintage of this wine from Quinta da Pisca near Ferrão, now clultivated organically: deep, fine and focused, not so raw as the Niepoort wine above, more restrained, firm, tight knit, lithe, long and linear. Very, very good 18+?
Niepoort 2011 **** / *****
Very deep blue-black colour; attractive pure, tight-knit aromas and fine fruit (the sample was served very cold); lovely pure sweet-spicy fruit, dusty fine grained tannins, refined with good balance. 18.5
Ramos Pinto 2011 ****
Deep, dark and raw yet open with blossom fragrance (this is 50% Touriga Nacional); dense, rich, sweet and minty with ripe tannins rising in the mouth, full and structured if a bit rough and raw around the edges. 17
Niepoort Bioma 2011 **** / ***** +
Very deep opaque black colour; ripe yet restrained on the nose with lovely underlying purity of fruit, a hallmark of this vintage; minerally, a word that I rarely use to describe Port, firm and very beautiful already with firm tannic superstructure all the way to the finish, ripe yet very elegant. A star of the vintage. 18.5 +?
Location: Glaziers Hall, London SE1
There is currently a fashion for dated tawnies with Taylor, Warre and now Quinta do Vallado all releasing old colheitas over the past year. This wine from Vallado has a better pedigree than most. It has been bottled to commemorate Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira´s 200th Anniversary which fell last year. Vallado belonged to Dona Antónia and this wine dates from 1866, pre-dating phylloxera. She died some 30 years later in 1896, by then the largest landowner in the Douro with 24 quintas to her name.
The wine originally made up five chestnut casks and over time concentrated and evaporated to make two pipes of 550 litres each. With a baumé reading of 13.7º and alcohol of 19.5% this represents the very essence of old tawny Port. There is a total of 1,300 bottles. My tasting note follows:
Adelaide Tributa (1866) **** / *****
very deep, dark mahogany, thin olive green rim; rich, pungent, initially slightly rustic, high toned aromas, heady and floral (honeysuckle) very powerful and concentrated with a touch of toffee and molasses on the nose; incredibly rich and intense on the palate, real weight and texture, intense, mellifluous sweetness offset by a streak of acidity leading to a toffee apple finish. From just one glass, the floral pungency hovered over my desk for an entire afternoon. A very beautiful wine. 18.5
There is a saying in the Port trade that whereas ‘vintage Port is made in the vineyard, tawny is made in the tasting room’. This tasting led by Paul and Johnny Symington marks a subtle change in direction for Graham’s as a producer of tawny Port. The change is in the tasting room where Charles Symington is now in charge. There is no longer any mileage in the rather patronising categorisation of British houses as vintage Port shippers and the Portuguese houses as tawny shippers. Forward thinking shippers of any nationality have to be capable of both.
There are however stylistic differences between houses, as was very apparent in 20 year old tawny tasting that I recently undertook for Decanter magazine. Graham’s seem to make tawny in a fuller, richer style than some other shippers with new emphasis parton the second part of the palate and finish. Johnny Symington explained ‘we are seeking balance which means less sweetness, less sugar leading to a cleaner sharper finish.’ This change of direction applies across the range of aged tawnies, from 10 year old to the 30 and 40 year olds, some of which have had a tendency to be cloying and unbalanced in the past.
Aged tawny is still a tiny part of the UK market for Port. Out of a total of nearly 1 million cases, just 38,500 are 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year old tawny or 3% of the market. But Paul Symington was keen to point out that tawnies ‘are very relevant to the future of Port.’ They are wonderful served chilled in the summer months without any need to decant and can be kept on ullage in the fridge for weeks or months without suffering the oxidation of an LBV or vintage Port. To back this assertion, 23% of Graham’s total stocks are old tawnies, all ageing in the so-called 1890 lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. Unlike Dow or Warre, none of Graham’s tawnies are aged in the Douro where evaporation rates are higher. Nonetheless 2.5% of the wine is lost to the atmosphere each year amounting to a loss of 22% over ten years.
The following wines were shown at the tasting including three components, A, B and C that make up Graham’s 20 Year Old:
Graham’s 10 Year Old ****
Brick-red centre to tawny-amber on the rim; rich and fruit-driven on the nose, mellow summer fruit character; rich, full and spicy in style, broad and figgy, sweet and peppery on the finish, very clean and long, in no way sticky or cloying. 17.5
Graham’s 20 Year Old **** / *****
Mid-deep brick red to amber tawny; very elegant nutty aromas, soft and mellow; lovely dried fruit character, silky smooth initially with a touch of peppery tannin towards the finish, long and lovely, not especially smooth or suave on the finish but fresh and spicy. 18.5
The above wine, averaging 24 years in age, is made up the following components that are themselves blends:
A (15%) Deep in colour, still mid ruby with a thin browning rim; prunes and plums, quite rich and weighty, still loaded with spicy tannin, a little short in context. (14-15 years in wood)
B (15%) Brick red, broad browning rim; softer, more mellow woody/nutty in character; soft and rich, dried apricots, with more complexity and length (25 years in wood)
C (70%) Pale amber-orange tawny; lovely, gentle mellifluous secondary aromas, nuts, caramel and toffee with much less fruit evident, quite sweet in style with a delicate finish.
Graham’s 30 Year Old *****
Pale amber / orange tawny; orange peel and marmalade on the nose, very mellow but still wonderfully fresh and delicate in style; sweeter (4.1baumé compared to 4.0 baumé for the 20 year old), delicate but not fragile, mellifluous, long, gentle and suave. Great poise. Outstanding for a 30 year old. 19
Graham’s 40 Year Old **** / *****
Mid-pale amber, though slightly deeper than the 40 year old, touch of olive green on the rim; soft honeyed aromas, suave, complex and polished; lovely sweet, soft, sexy style, still very fresh with a savoury, woody character, raisins and almonds, nothing at all rustic about this (cp. some other 40 year olds), very smooth and dry on the finish, nothing cloying or funky! (4.3 baumé) 18.5
Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest ****
Mid-deep, touch of mahogany with a green tinge to the rim; very slightly lifted on the nose, dried fruit and a touch of roasted coffee bean; quite rich, sweet and concentrated initially, coffee again, toasty, smooth yet retaining some peppery spice mid-palate, rich and honeyed on the finish. A lovely wine but not quite so well poised as the blended wines. 18
Location: Fulham Road Wine Rooms, London
Cockburn, one of the great names in Port, has long held a rather idiosyncratic approach to declaring vintages. They missed out on some classic years in the last century: 1945, 1966 (preferring 1967) and 1977 (preferring 1978). Not helped by number of weak wines in the 1980s, Cockburn’s lost their reputation for vintage Port having turned their attention to Special Reserve, a wine into which they put an enormous amount of effort in the vineyard, winemaking and marketing. It grew, justifiably, into the number one Port brand in the UK.
Having been bought by Harvey’s and subsequently consumed into Allied Domecq Cockburn’s foundered at the top end of the market. Yet in the mid-twentieth century Cockburn’s vintage Ports commanded a higher price than their peers. The Symington Family (owners of Dow, Graham and Warre among others) took over the production of Cockburn’s in 2006 and bought the company outright in 2010.
This tasting, held by the Symington’s in Oporto, was organized to rediscover Cockburn’s DNA. From the very diverse set of notes below, it is difficult to draw conclusions other than to state (like Sandeman and Croft which also lost their way under multinational ownership) Cockburn used to make some outstanding wines. Judging from some of the more recent wines, which were shown at the start of the tasting, Cockburn’s is already well on the way to recovering its heart and soul.
Very deep in colour, black and spirit, raw and peppery, disjointed on the nose needing time to knit together; Touriga Nacional dominant, rich, sweet and voluptuous initially with firm, dry tannins building in the mouth, dark chocolate concentration on the finish. Very impressive all round wine. A possible constituent of a future Cockburn vintage. No mark given
Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais 2009 ****
Very deep, dark and opaque, still closed and demure, underlying floral, minty opulence; rich, voluptuous and soft initially, lovely texture with black pepper tannins rising in the mouth leading to a firm, well-defined finish. Long, fine and sinewy. Just 106 cases bottled, 100 shipped to Australia. This is already a rare bird. 17
Cockburn 2007 ****
Lovely opaque, youthful colour; just opening up to reveal beautiful floral fruit, violets and rose petals, very pure and fruit driven; again very pure on the palate, Touriga Nacional-driven berry fruit , not especially big or broad but fine, focused and linear, peppery tannins rising in the mouth leading to a long, dryish black pepper finish. 2,500 cases declared. 18
Cockburn 1977 (undeclared) *** / ****
The late John Smithes didn’t like the ‘77s so Cockburn’s didn’t declare. It was a big commercial mistake as this was the year when the Americans first took a serious interest in vintage Port. Cockburn’s bottled a small quantity of 1977 as ‘Crusted’ for themselves: mid-brick red; lovely open, floral aromas, fully mature, perhaps a touch hollow with spirit now showing through; fine, delicate, berry fruit character with a hint of dark chocolate mid-palate, focused, quite dry in style on the finish but still long and elegant. This would have been a very passable 1977 had it been declared. 16.5
Cockburn 1970 ****
Mid-brick red to mahogany; fine, tight-knit, sweet cherry fruit with mint and esteva (gum cistus), now slightly lifted; lovely gentle medicinal cherry fruit, quite rich and voluptuous initially with a bitter-sweet tannic core and a long, firm, bitter-sweet finish. Long and linear. 18
Cockburn 1967 ****
Cockburn’s idiosyncratic approach to vintage declarations meant that they preferred 1967 to 1966: mid-brick red with an orange glint; gentle tea-leaf aromas, soft fragrant and beautifully melded together; lovely sweet, sinewy, elegant flavours, quite dry in style with a touch of tawny marmalade on the finish. Not big but beautiful and still holding up very well. 17.5
Cockburn 1963 **** / *****
Mid-deep in colour, still with a pinkish glint; stunning wine on the nose, open fragrant, floral, and very elegant. Pretty (not a word I like using but it suits this wine); liqueur cherry character, rich and focused, still powerful with ripe tannins showing through, lovely length, combining power and finesse in equal measure. 18.5
Cockburn 1960 ****
Retaining good colour, mid-brick red centre, thin browning rim; honeyed aromas, rich, exotic and rather beautiful; rich and mellow in style, mellifluous texture backed up by a firm dry finish. A little short but standing up very well for a 1960, a year that suffered from high VA. 17
Cockburn 1955 ***
Good, mid-deep brick red with a thin amber rim; high toned (lifted), caramelized and rather clumsy on the nose, hot and stick; tastes fresher, rich and quite dense., very sweet in style with a bitter-sweet core, dark chocolate, richness continues through onto the finish. Marked down by the nose – possibly a poor bottle? 15.5
Cockburn 1950 ****
Surprisingly good depth of colour: mid-deep centre with a thin browning rim; lovely, pure scented, floral aromas, esteva (gum cistus) still fresh and fragrant; gentle, sweet fruit, still lithe, creamy milk chocolate intensity, long and fine with peppery length. Lovely balance and one of the best 1950s that I have tasted. Wyndham Fletcher (ex-Cockburn’s) described this as a ‘useful rather than a great year’. 17.5
Cockburn 1948 ****
Not declared by Cockburn: lovely colour, still deep with a thin browning rim; singed on the nose, a touch or roasted coffee bean; still tight-knit and powerful, very rich and sweet, toasted yet powerfully rich and sumptuous with a broad, ripe tannic finish. Possibly not the best 1948 I have tasted but not far off! 18
Cockburn 1947 *** / ****
Turning mahogany – tawny with an orange rim; lime marmalade aromas, slightly hollow after the 1948, fragrant yet mellow; very sweet and honeyed in style, retaining some peppery tannins with length and elegance though drying out on the finish. 16.5
Technically a ‘garrafeira’, this wine spent the first part of its life in garrafão (glass demi-john) until it was decanted into bottle in 1972. Only 7 cases were produced despite it being declared as a ‘victory vintage’ by most shippers. Mid-pale amber tawny; open, rather muted tawny nose, no fruit evident and rather hollow in context; better on the palate, toasted, touch of coffee bean, lovely texture, rich but burnt, lacking freshness and fruit and not really in the 1945 league. A curiosity that is hard to award a mark to.
Cockburn 1935 ***
Mid-deep amber-mahogany; lovely lifted aromas, fine delicate and perfumed with a touch of toffee; sweet honeyed and mellifluous in style with dusty tannins on the finish, drying out and a bit flat after an hour or so in the glass. Not nearly as good as the last time I tasted this (Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club dinner – see note). 15.5
Cockburn 1927 **** / *****
Deep mahogany, thin amber rim; amazingly powerful, exotic, maderised aromas, tropical fruit (passion fruit and mango), gooseberry with a touch of cat’s pee! Lovely rich liquorous character, still firm and gripping with beautiful freshness underlying, fime and grippy on the finish, chocolate and raspberry here. An amazing wine after eighty five years. 18.5
Cockburn 1912 ****
Quite pale, tawny centre, thim pale rim; lovely nose, apples with honey and cinnamon (apple pie), just a touch of spirit showing through; fine, gentle and still wonderfully fresh after 100 years with a green streak running right the wau through on the palate, firm dry tannins, beautifully pure. 18
Cockburn 1908 *****
This is the first time that I have tasted this legendary wine: pale golden amber in colour with a touch of olive green, disappointing at first sight; ethereal, spicy, scented nose, honey and orange blossom, slightly caramelized at the edges; lovely gentle sweet fruit, mead, wonderful texture making it a joy to hold in the mouth, fading yet still retaining power and a vestige of grip. A very, very beautiful wine. 19.5
Cockburn 1904 *** / ****
Very deep mahogany colour, still with a glint of red; rich, smoky aromas, still quite dense and showing the ripeness of the vintage, it may be the stage in the tasting but did I get a whiff of potato then candy floss? Very rich and voluptuous in style, licorice and dark chocolate, still structured and tannic but a bit course and clumsy on the finish. Very interesting wine which must have started as tannic blackstrap! 16.5
Cockburn 1896 **** +
Still brick red in colour with an amazing pink hue then a browning rim; gentle dusty nose with a touch of milk chocolate; still rich and sweet with dark chocolate at the core and dusty tannins. Still has grip and depth after all this time. Amazingly youthful and tight knit. This was the best of a number of variable bottles. Not voluptuous (possibly never was) but still elegant. 18+ ?
Location: Factory House, Oporto
Fonseca, Quinta do Panascal 2005 ****
Deep, youthful colour; big, mint and cherry fruit on the nose, ripe and heady, very expressive in a ripe sort of way; hugely sweet, ripe cherry-berry fruit, powerful tannins, a bit disjointed, still needs time to come together. Sweet cherry fruit finish. 17
Croft, Quinta da Roeda 2005 ****
Very deep but not quite as youthful in colour as above; surprisingly closed, underlying floral perfume; lovely purity of fruit, still very young and a touch raw, powerful tannins, needs time to meld but will be very impressive, fruit comes back on the finish. Very impressive. 18
Silval 2005 *** / ****
Very dark, verging on black, opaque; closed, dense and a bit lumpy a this stage, more to give; rich, dense and very powerful, bitter chocolate intensity with the fruit coming out on the finish. Still slightly raw and coarse. 16.5
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2005 *** / **** +?
Deep and youthful; either a touch or cork on the nose or just at a funny stage in its development, not giving much away; big and powerful, massive tannic structure needing time to soften, a bit angular and needing time to come together. Reserve judgement. 16.5 +?
Fonseca Guimaraens 2005 ****
Deep colour; totally closed on the nose; big, foursquare, solid tannins, very ripe and powerful but not showing much fruit at the moment. Needs time to come together but should develop well over the medium-to-long term. 18
Taylor’s Quinta de Terra Feita 2005 ****
Deep colour; again closed, a bit spirit and disjointed; big, rich and powerful, once again in a solid foursquare style, powerful gripping tannins leading to a ripe, foursquare finish. 17.5
Warre, Quinta da Cavadinha 2006 *** / ****
Very deep, dark, youthful colour; still raw on the nose yet showing refinement, quit a big, powerful wine, dusty tannins, solid and dense, especially for Cavadinha. 16.5
Quinta do Vesúvio 2006 ****
Even deeper and darker; ripe, suave, dense with a touch of tar on the nose but integrating well; rich, dense and powerful, tight-knit wine, tar and dark chocolate at the core. Very powerful and impressive if still a bit raw around the edges. 18
Cockburn, Quinta dos Canais 2006
The first Cockburn vintage under Symington tutelage: deep, dark and totally closed, still a bit lumpen and disjointed on the nose; big, powerful and dense, lovely ripe berry fruit with some peppery tannins and attractive underlying berry fruit going right the way through to the finish.
Dow, Quinta Senhora da Ribeira 2006 ****
Again, deep and youthful; raw on the nose, tar and spice, big and powerful with massive, broad spicy tannins, finishes with a flourish. Heat of the vintage evident. Needs time to knit together. 17.5
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2006 ****
Deep and dark; strange nose, a touch musky, going through an odd phase but tastes very good, ripe broad, minty frui, big spikey tannins with a raw tannic finish. 17
Cockburn, Quinta dos Canais 2007 ****
Very good colour; closed but dense and suave with lovely pure underlying fruit; firm, tight knit tannins, lovely balance and poise, quite big for a 2007 but with the streak of acidity and purity that characterisies the vintage. 72% Touriga Nacional. 18
Dow, Quinta Senhora da Ribeira 2008 ****
Deep, ripe, integrated and suave, dense fruit, big ripe, quite chewy and raw but coming together, crushed berry fruit, lovely ripe, sweet fruit lingering on the finish. 17
Quinta do Noval 2008 *****
Deep and dense; very expressive on the nose, packed with pure, fresh-picked berry fruit; rich and intense, fine grained tannins and pure berry fruit, there is a real wow factor here, long and fine. Good all round. 19
Graham, Quinta dos Malvedos 2008 ****
Deep, dense and intense with big opulent fruit and powerful tannins, a big wine, very fine and will be very good indeed, some lovely pure berry fruit all the awy on to the finish. 18
Fonseca Guimaraens 2008 ****
Very deep and opaque; sullen and not very attractive on the nose at this stage, a touch green and stalky, minty fruit underlying; foursquare tannins, big and impressive with a tannic peacock’s tail on the finish, covering the fruit. Multi-layed and very good. 18
Taylor, Quinta de Terra Feita 2008 **** / *****
Dark and dense, closed, not giving much away on the nose; very full rich and fine, broad and fleshy with dark chocolate concentration and intensity. Lovely. Complete. 18.5
Quinta do Vesúvio 2008 **** / *****
Deep, dark with a lovely young vintage Port nose, still a bit raw but with plenty of ripe, berry fruit underlying, dark chocolate intensity, lovely ripeness, broad tannins with pure fruit underlying, very, very impressive. Finishes with a flourish. 18.5
Cockburn, Quinta dos Canais 2008 ****
Dense, impressive, quite suave, full and fleshy, dense tannins, bitter-sweet fruit at its core with a warm, ripe finish. 80% Touriga Nacional although it doesn't really show at this stage. 17.5
Fonseca, Quinta do Panascal 2008 ****
Black, opaque wine; totally closed on the nose; rich and fleshy, another big wine, broad, ripe tannins with a massive finish. Very, very good. 18
Taylor, Quinta de Vargellas 2008 ****
Very deep colour; smells odd, very spirity, not yet joined together, still very raw, massively rich and powerful, a big strapping wine, still needing time to come together. Reserve judgement. 17 +
Croft, Quinta da Roeda 2008 ****
Deep colour; ripe opulent, quite expressive, floral on the nose, rich and plummy, supported by bold, ripe tannins right the way through to the finish. Very impressive. 18.
Warre 2009 **** / *****
Not a single quinta but an outright declaration of just 500 cases: deep and dense, closed but integrated, lovely tight-knit bitter-sweet fruit, big and powerful with berry fruit showing through. This wine has come together very well without showing the heat of the vintage. 18.5
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2009 **** +?
Not quite so deep in colour; closed, spirit still showing, lovely texture, fine, dense, fine grained tannins, quite broad and rich in style for Vargellas VV with lovely pure fruit on the finsh. 18 +?
Cockburn Quinta dos Canais 2009 ****
Deep, ripe if raw fruit, very perfumed (Touriga Nacional), full and fleshy, still raw and spirity but with lovely ripe fruit underlying. Big and bold. Top notch single quinta. 18
In the course of updating my book, Port and the Douro, I asked a number of leading shippers to submit single quinta vintage Ports from the decade 2000 – 2010 for tasting. The first part of the tasting includes a very impressive set of Ports from the 2004 vintage.
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2000 *****
Mid-deep colour, broad purple rim (these wines from the oldest vineyards on the estate are never quite as deep or dark as wines from more recently planted vines); very expressive, open, floral pure berry fruit (bilberry); firm and focused, rapier-like tannins, right the way through to the finish, long and linear. Great poise and very, very fine. 19
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2001 *** / ****
Deep centre, thin purple rim; quite closed on the nose with underlying ripe berry fruit; firm and foursquare in style, big, bold spicy-peppery fruit. Solid, long with a ripe full, finish. A bit clumsy at this stage, needs time to emerge. 16.5
Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 2001 ****
Deep centre, thin purple rim; aromatic berry fruit; soft and elegant, sweet and succulent, not nearly as powerful as the Malvedos with a fine tannic flourish and a lovely lithe finish. 17
Silval 2001 ***
Very deep, opaque centre with a thin purple rim; strange, rather meaty aromas, slightly burnt and rubbery (may just be at an awkward stage); big and plump, marred by slightly cooked fruit, spicy and a touch jammy (blackberry jam) with a rich, broad finish. 15.5
Taylor’s Quinta de Terra Feita 2001 ****
Very deep centre, just turning on the rim; cloves on the nose with ripe berry fruit; rich and plummy in style, broad and sweet with firm tannins rising in the mouth and fanning out on the finish. Very impressive. 17.5
Dow’s Quinta Senhora da Ribeira 2001 ****
Deep, dark centre, thin purple rim; ripe and expressive on the nose, really sings from the glass; big, rich, broad sweet plum and berry fruit, full yet focused with a solid tannic backbone rising on to the finish, fine and linear. 18
Quinta do Vesúvio 2001 ****
Deep centre, just starting to show age on the rim; dense, opening up to reveal rip, plummy fruit on the nose; soft, sweet, supple plum and berry fruit initially with tannins rising to an explosive finish. A lively streak of acidity running all the way through. 17.5
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2001 ****
Deep centre, purple rim; again opening up on the nose to reveal ripe, plummy fruit, perhaps a bit more expressive at this stage than some of the other 2001s; firm, tight-knit tannin structure, right the way through to a peacock’s tail of a finish, fruit reveals itself on the finish. 17+
Fonseca Guimaraens 2001 ****
Deep and very youthful in appearance; still closed, giving very little away on the nose; rich, ripe, quite fat in style, broad ripe tannins rising in the mouth leading to a big finish. Needs more time: another 3-5 years in bottle. 17
Quinta de Vargellas 2004 ****
Deep centre, thin purple rim; tight and angular on the nose, needs time to open up, underlying ripe fruit; sweet and spicy with big, bold peppery tannins rising in the mouth, rather masking the fruit at this stage, big powerful expansive tannic finish. Needs another five years in bottle. 17
Quinta do Noval 2004 *****
Black, opaque, thin crimson rim; closed, dense on the nose with underlying richness and brooding potential; rich, complete and very fine, intense cassis fruit, fine grained tannins, powerful yet round, not angular. Still needs another 10 years in bottle. 19
Fonseca Guimareans 2004 ****
Deep centre, purple rim; ripe, still closed with underlying minty fruit; again dense, mouth-filling with fine-grained tannins and some lovely blackcurrant fruit underlying, rich, broad, still needs another 5 years to open up. 17.5
Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 2004 *** / ****
Deep, youthful colour; fragrant, floral, aromatic, already open, charming and very expressive; lovely elegant, sweet blackberry fruit with fine tannins rising in the mouth, leading to a balanced finish. Ready now (just) but will develop well for another 20 years. 16.5
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2004 **** / *****
Not as deep as some though youthful in appearance (see my note above); very pure and expressive on the nose, not big or closed, just very beautiful and wonderfully pure, tight, fine grained tannins, building in the mouth but with the purity of fruit retained all the way through, focused and poised. Exquisite. 18.5
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2004 ****
Very deep in colour; rich and plummy, opulent in style, still with plenty more to give; reflected on the palate, rich sweet and plummy, ripe tannic backbone, rising through to the finish. 17
Croft Quinta da Roeda 2004 ****
Another very deep, dark wine, just starting to turn on the rim; lovely, expressive floral aromas, mint, esteva (gum cistus) too; open, opulent plummy with a touch of clove. Plump with ripe broad tannins right the way through to the finish. Very impressive. 18
Dow’s Quinta Senhora da Ribeira 2004 **** / *****
Very deep in colour; still closed but suave, dense, brooding cassis fruit underlying; very fine, pure, minty berry fruit, ripe and already delicious, ripe tannins leading on to the finish with that cassis fruit coming back for a final flourish. A wow of a wine. 18.5
Fonseca Quinta do Panascal 2004 ****
Very deep youthful colour; slightly hot, touch of Bovril on the nose at this stage, more to give; solid foursquare, dark chocolate character, big and very impressive, well-structured and complete with a streak of fresh fruity acidty running all the way through to the finish. 17.5
Quinta do Vesúvio 2004 ****
Deep and youthful in appearance; ripe, perhaps a touch cooked and baked on the nose initially but opening up to reveal plums and cassis; very full, ripe and opulent in style, tight-knit, powerful tannins with a peacock’s tail of a finish. 17
Location: Dick's Bar, The Yeatman Hotel, Vila Nova de Gaia
The silence on my website has been deafening over the past few weeks, at least to me. I have been busy finishing the third edition of my book Port and the Douro which is due to be published in the autumn. With nearly all the i's dotted and t's crossed I can go back to posting tasting notes on my website. One of the highlights of updating my book was spending a day with António Agrellos at Quinta do Noval. At the end of lunch he served two wondefrul wines, Noval Colheita 1968 (bottled in 2012) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994. I was too busy talking about clonal selection with Nuno Magalhães, viticultural consultant to Noval, to take detailed notes on the '68 Colheita, but suffice to say that it was a beautiful wine, quite sweet and rich in style with highlights of chocolate and torrefaction. It is bottled to order. However I never miss an opportunity to take notes on a Nacional:
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 ****
Mid-deep, youthful colour as you would expect from an eigthteen year old wine of this calibre; wonderfully pure fragrance, surprisingly delicate, open and floral in character, cherry fruit, not especially big, powerful or muscular and seemingly quite forward (surprisingly so), pure, great finesse, long and very charming. Despite being ready to drink this is a beautifully poised Nacional which I suspect will surprise us with its longevity. Only 240 cases made. 18
Location: Quinta do Noval
For some reason it has taken me over a year to post these notes form a tasting that I undertook at the end of the day after the Big Fortified Tasting in London. The wines were tasted blind and my palate was more than a bit jaded at the time so make allowance for this in the notes I am posting here. There was also a high indidence of faulty wines.
I am very grateful to member of the Port Forum for inviting me to this tasting. The wines are listed in the order they were submitted.
At the end of the tasting, Johnny Symington presnted Graham's 1952 Colheita.
Noval 1965 Crusted
Apparently 1/3 of this wine is make from 1962 Nacional: mid-deep brick red centre. thin browning rim; lifted, strange TCP aromas, mouthballs and slighty musty; soft, rich and very sweet with a strange edge to it, some grip remaining leading to a rather dry finish. An oddball, very hard to give a mark to.
Sandeman 1966 ****
Mid –deep youthful hue, touch of brown on the rim; lovely, open, floral perfume, scented, petals; still firm, fresh and tight knit, very pure berry fruit, retaining richness and depth. Complete 17
Warre 1966 ****
Mid-deep youthful colour, pinkish rim; fine, fragant, again very pure, youthful berry fruit; rich and round with firm tannic backbone lasting right the way through to the finish. Very good indeed. 18
Mid-deep centre, browning round the rim; rustic aromas, cigar box character with lovely pure fruit underlying; a certain boxiness about the flavour, possibly slightly corked, quite rich with dark chocolate concentration, firm and well structured with tannins dominating on the finish. No mark awarded.
Dow 1960 ****
Mid-deep centre, thin browning rim; ripe, sweet an opulent in style both on the nose and palate, plenty of berry fruit, rich with plenty of depth and structure remaining. A real surprise as I though that this wine would be tiring by now. 17.5
Niepoort 1977 ****
Mid-deep colour, thin browning rim; barley sugar nose, very opulent and open; soft. sweet and succulent initially with good firm tannic backbone mid palate and on the finish, rich sweetness lingering. 17
Quinta do Noval 1975
Good colour, mid-deep centre with a browning rim; funky, volatile nose, volatility dominates fruit throughout, some sweetness mid-palate, but the wine falls away fast. 8
Quite pale, brick red with a pink rim; flat, baked and oxidized on the nose, leathery, dry with a burnt finish. Clearly a bad bottle. No mark
Dow 1960 ****
Another Dow 1960 submitted to this blind tasting: very good, mid-deep colour, still quite youthful; lovely firm, tight knit aromas with more to give; rich opulent, dense fruit, big and well structured, deep, dense and succulent on the finish. Another very pleasant surprise and better, if anything than, the pervious sample. 18
Graham 1952 Colheita **** / *****
Deep amber mahogany colour; lifted liquorice-like aaromas, very rich and concentrated, sweet and intense, still very fresh with crystalised and candied fruit, retaining just a vestige of tannic grip, verging on unctuous, rich but zesty oragae and lime marmalade finish. A very fine old colheita, beautifully kept. Just under 6 pipes in total, bottled for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. 18.5
Location: The Bung Hole, London
I have a strange soft spot for the 1982 vintage. It was the summer that I was properly introduced to the Douro, spending a month in the region researching my undergraduate dissertation on vineyard micro-climate. I also recall reading Brideshead Revisted among the vines with a glass of chilled tawny so I associate it with a certain about of youthful decadence! Although a handful of shippers declared 1982, the year never had the makings of a great vintage and in general the wines are soft, sweet and raisiny reflecting the heat of August and early September. However I seem to recall that Croft hailed 1982 as ‘the vintage of the century’ when they declared two years later. The story of Croft’s 1982 has been partly told in James Suckling’s book, Vintage Port, but in short it was a wine made by accountants. Croft belonged at the time to drinks multinational IDV and the local management, Robin Reid and John Burnett, were by all accounts overruled by their boss who effectively doubled the size of their intended vintage declaration. At the time Croft refused to divulge just how large the declaration was but I estimate that it must have been between 30,000 and 40,000 cases. Having said that Croft made 36,000 cases of 1963 which turned out to be a long-lived wine but wine making was better I those days and Croft’s vineyards were not being milked for yield in the same way as they were by the early 1980s.
Croft 1982 was not on show in the Century of Croft vertical hosted by the Fladgate Partnership in 2007. I thought I would never see Croft 1982 again so I am very grateful to Tom Archer of the Port Forum for sending me a bottle to taste and record here.
Croft 1982 **
Very pale and obviously stretched in colour, almost a deep rosé at the centre and turning tawny on the rim; clean, some fragrance but not much richness or depth, rather hollow and attenuated, soft fruit pastille character both on the nose and palate, still tasting quite fresh, a touch of medicinal raspberry and strawberry character with just a vestige of bitter-sweet tannic grip remaining. Falls away quite quickly on the finish leaving rather simple fruit pastille sweetness. At thirty years old this has held up much better than I expected although it is a long way from being a great vintage Port. 13.5
Location: The Rookery
I tasted the following Ports at the Wine Society’s London tasting and thought my albeit rather brief notes were worth recording:
Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 1999 ****
Deep, youthful and demure on the nose, yet rich, fresh and vibrant on the palate, intense, seemingly quite sweet (for Dow), with layers of ripe tannin and a firm finish. Only just ready to drink and will be good for another 15 years at least. 18
Quinta do Vesúvio 1998 ****
From a small harvest that turned out to be a great year in the Douro Superior: still deep and opaque in colour; open, fragrant with lovely purity of fruit, still young and spicy but fully ready to drink. 17.5
Fonseca Guimarens 1998 ***
Not nearly as expressive as the Vesúvio, restrained almost minerally, firm and spicy, peppery, leaner but with a lovely long, linear finish. Ready now but may benefit from a bit more time in bottle. 16
Taylor 1980 ****
Mid-deep in colour; open, fragrant, characteristically floral, now gentle with bottle age; sweet and peppery not much flesh but very elegant with rapier-like focus to the finish. Lovely now and over the next ten years or so. 17.5
Once again I am very grateful to the Port Forum, especially Rob Coombes, for inviting me to this triple vertical tasting of three second tier houses belonging to the Symington family. All three of these shippers have a reputation for value-for-money Vintage Port and I was interested both to see how the wines from all three houses have developed as well as to compare the style of the wines. At the end of the tasting two conclusions were immediately evident: (1) you generally get what you pay for and while there were some good wines here there were no hidden gems (except perhaps Smith Woodhouse 1977 which was corked). (2) There isn’t much in the way of a house style evident for either Quarles Harris or Gould Campbell, neither of which are attached to a particular property in the way that Dow, Graham and Warre are. I suspect that both QH and GC are an exercise in blending the leftovers after the main wines have been fine tuned and finessed. Smith Woodhouse (which usually sells for a premium) has a more definable house style. It is attached to properties in the Rio Torto, particularly Quinta de Madelena, and won this tasting hands-down although I should emphasise that none of the wines were close to what I would term as ‘classic’.
The wines below are presented by shipper in the order they were tasted.
Quarles Harris 1970 ***
Brick red centre with a pink amber rim; either closed or hollow on the nose?, I suspect the latter, vague milk chocolate fruit aroma; light, soft and sweet, still standing up well with good firm spicy tannins rising in the mouth. 15
Quarles Harris 1977 ***
Good mid-deep youthful colour; still quite tight knit on the nose with a character in between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, perhaps with more to give; sweet and peppery, spicy, quite dry but standing up well, attractive, fresh berry fruit character, minerally underneath slightly let down by a rather dry, austere finish. A good ‘77 but lacking length and breadth. 16
Quarles Harris 1980 ****
Very deep opaque black colour, in common with a number of the Symington ‘80s, thin browning rim; solid, rich plum and berry fruit, quite opulent in style on the nose; rich and fleshy, lovely, sweet voluptuous fruit backed by firm tannins, not big or long on the finish but well balanced. 17
Quarles Harris 1983 ***
Mid deep, youthful colour, pink-purple rim; not much on the nose, rather flat with some underlying minerally fruit; well developed, still firm and spicy with good tannic grip mid-palate (in common with many ‘83s), tight knit towards the finish but rather boney and lacking flesh. Short. 15.5
Quarles Harris 1985 **
Looking more mature than the ’83, mid-deep with a broad browning rim; rather cooked aromas, liquorice both on the nose and palate, full and sweet but now starting to fall apart. Short but correct (given the tendency for this vintage to throw up some volatile, out of condition wines). 14
Quarles Harris 1991 *
Pale to mid deep in colour, pink rim, just on the turn; hot and rather lumpy on the nose, not very well knit together; again rather hot and spirity on the palate, spirit showing right through to the finish, perhaps just a phase (but I doubt it), not a very enjoyable drink. 12
Quarles Harris 1994 *** / ****
Good, deep centre, thin purple rim; still closed with underlying ripeness evident, showing off the heat of the year; soft, sweet and fleshy, just as you would expect from this vintage, rich plummy flavours with good breath and depth, ripe tannins to back it up, looking good now but would benefit from another five years in bottle. 16.5
Gould Campbell 1970 **
Brick red centre, browning on the rim; even more subdued on the nose than the QH 1970, hollow; quite light but sweet and gentle with milk chocolate intensity, some charm but without much depth or power and rather short. 14
Gould Campbell 1977 (bottle) ****
Very good colour, still deep and youthful; dense on the nose, suggests that there may be more to give; still firm with lovely fleshy fruit and ripe, dusty tannic grip rising in the mouth, big, solid foursquare finish, quite dry in style but tight-knit and firm. A good 1977 with more to go at. 17
Gould Campbell 1977 (magnum) **
Deep but surprisingly showing more brown on the rim; oxidised on the nose, loose knit; soft, sweet, ripe but lacking definition, better on the palate than on the nose, liquorice, good grip but not nearly as good as the bottle above. 13.5
Gould Campbell 1980 ***
Very deep, opaque with a thin browning rim; not quite as open or as opulent as the QH, a touch of tar and heat; rich but rather soupy and lacking focus, full, sweet and round, dark chocolate depth and good grip, finishes with a punch. Quite powerful if ill defined. 16
Gould Campbell 1983 ** / ***
Very good colour, still deep with a thin pink/purple rim, deeper than the QH; closed, sullen on the nose but some underlying depth here; firm tight knit, gritty tannins, not big, quite lean and boney, upright but linear. 14.5
Gould Campbell 1985 ***
Mid-deep with a pink-purple hue; attractive, open, clear fruit, a touch floral; soft and sweet, quite light and evolved, creamy fruit with a spike of tannin towards the finish, not very 1985 in style but holding together and drinking well. 15
Gould Campbell 1991 ***
Very good colour, still deep and youthful with a purple rim; tight, sullen and withdrawn, possibly with more to give; firm, linear with gritty tannins rather dominating the fruit, firm, dry finish, rather austere but standing up well. Better than the QH. 16
Gould Campbell 1994 **
Deep centre, just starting to brown on the rim; still closed but rather soupy and stewed underneath; tastes rather coarse too, still young and vibrant, some flesh (in common with the QH) but ill-defined and backed, perhaps just an adolescent phase but flat on the finish. Difficult to mark – revisit in five years. 14+?
Smith Woodhouse 1970 ***
Good, mid-deep youthful colour, the best of the ‘70s here with a pink rim; again quite demure on the nose with none of these wines singing from the glass in the manner of say Graham ’70, just a touch of underlying floral character; soft and mature but a bit simple and one dimensional, firm, quite austere in style towards the finish and, like so many of these wines, lacking a bit of flesh. 15.5
Smith Woodhouse 1977
Very good colour, best of the 77s but this sample was badly corked. Not tasted. No mark.
Smith Woodhouse 1980 ****
Very good colour, dark, opaque centre, just starting to brown on the rim; lovely pure berry fruit aromas, still tight-knit with plenty more to go at; rich, dark chocolate intensity, firm, solid and tight-knit with a slightly rustic foursquare finish. [Voted best wine of the night]. 17
Smith Woodhouse 1983 ***
Another very good colour; closed on the nose, austere and / or hollow (?); firm initially, yet with some richness and depth mid-palate, plumy fruit backed by dusty tannins, a little coarse but still standing up well with another 20 years life left at least. 15
Smith Woodhouse 1985 (Berry Bros & Rudd) ****
Mid-deep youthful colour, pink rim; fragrant, attractive, floral, showing the ripeness of the vintage; soft, sweet and fleshy with a firm tannic backbone, ripe tannins, still a relative youngster and much more ‘85 in style than the GC above. [Voted second best wine of the evening] 17
Smith Woodhouse 1991 *
Quite pale and fully mature in colour, broad browning rim; hollow on the nose and on the palate, soft mid-palate but going nowhere fast, drying out. 12
Smith Woodhouse 1994 ****
Very good colour, thin purple rim, the darkest of the three ‘94s; dense, closed, underlying ripeness; big, rich and fleshy, quite dense and still a youngster, firm, ripe tannic superstructure followed by good length. Good now but better in five years. [Voted third best wine of the evening] 17.5
Location: RAF Club, London SW1
This is the second time I have been invited to the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club to lead a Vintage Port tasting. The first dinner three years ago was organised by the Chairman of the Wine Committee, Arnold Smith, who provided wines from some of the best vintages of the twentieth century, going back to 1927 (see entry for 13th May 2008). Given the supremely high standard all the wines, it was one of the finest Port dinners that I have attended. Arnold asked me to come back this year to lead a tasting of (mainly) 1970s from the club cellar but very sadly he died suddenly this summer. The dinner took place in his memory.
Croft 1970 ****
Turning quite pale in colour; open milk chocolate aromas, still attractive and floral (violety); now very soft and sweet, quite with a vestige of tannic grip, smooth totally ready to drink with good balance and finesse. Drink now and over the next five years. 17
Dow 1970 *****
Much deeper in colour, restrained, demure on the nose with underlying intensity; lovely firm tight knit fruit with a drier edge in the Dow style, bitter-sweet, dark chocolate character, very Dow and very good. Still with amazing vitality for a wine in its 42rd year. Drink and enjoy now by all means but this will open up with age and will last a lifetime. 19.5
Graham 1970 **** / *****
Retaining a lovely deep colour; typically rich, sweet and opulent in style, smooth dark chocolate concentration with fresh, sweet cherry fruit (I got in to trouble for describing it as medicinal but I like Benylin!), long and fine, delicious. This was just pipped to the winning post by Dow for the majority of members attending the dinner, myself included. 18.5
Taylor 1970 *****
This was bottled by Thomas Baty, once a well-known Liverpool Wine Merchant on North John Street whose former premises are now occupied by the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. I make mention of it because it was a particularly good bottling of this wine, the best Taylor 1970 that I have tasted: not quite as dark as the Graham; lovely bitter-sweet character, very concentrated and intense dark chocolate character retaining wonderful freshness and life. A very fine example, long and fresh on the finish, just beating Graham on this occasion. 19
Graham 1963 (no label, embossed on the seal) **** / *****
The last two bottles in the club’s cellar which we drank at the end of dinner: good mid-deep youthful colour, open, fragrant, floral but still showing its power and depth on the nose; rich and opulent in style retaining a lovely dark chocolate core. Fine and fresh with good gripping tannins and lovely gentle length -, just as a top 1963 should be. 18.5
This tasting of single Quinta vintage Ports was organised by the Symingtons to showcase wines from their family estates back to the 1950s. It includes wines from the ex-Cockburn properties bought by the Symingtons in 2006, many of which were on show for the first time. The tasting began with a horizontal of 2006s from all the estates followed by wines from a number of family properties dating back to 1950. I found a series of very well made high-scoring wines with the differences in marks among the horizontal of 2006s is determined more by my personal preferences than any major qualitative difference in the wines. The character of each of the different quintas shows through and, where relevant I have added background notes on the vintages.
Graham Quinta dos Malvedos 2006 ****
Very good deep colour; big, ripe heady aromas with rich dusty tannins underlying, still wild and headstrong; very rich, sweet and fleshy in Graham style (3.8 baumé), liquorice, mouthfilling ripe tannins, opulent all the way through to the finish, rich yet well-defined. Very promising – for drinking in another ten years. 17
Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim 2006 ****
Very similar in colour but slightly less crimson on the rim; closed-in on itself with a suggestion of heat (burnt rubber) on the nose, heat very evident; rich and quite fleshy for Dow (3.3 baumé), firm peppery tannins leading to a big peppery finish. Very impressive. Needs more time to show at its best. Drink in 15 years. 17.5
Warre Quinta da Cavadinha 2006 ****
Very deep, opaque colour; lovely pure berry fruit aromas, mountain fruit character; soft and sweet initially with that lovely purity showing through again on the palate and a touch of bitter chocolate concentration, considerable finesse here (from relatively late-picked fruit) yet quite powerful on the finish with berry fruit all the way through . 17
Graham Quinta do Tua 2006 *** / ****
Bought by the Symingtons in 2006, this ex-Cockburn property has been re-branded ‘Graham’. A thousand cases of this wine were made in robotic lagares at Quinta dos Malvedos: very, very deep and opaque in colour, crimson rim; lovely aroma, restrained and pure, ‘violets’ evident from the 24% of Touriga Nacional that make up the blend; similarly pure peppery blackcurrant fruit on the palate, firm, dense tannins, leaner than some of the others but leading through to a fresh, pure finish. Lovely now but better in a decade. 16.5 +?
Dow Quinta Senhora da Ribeira 2006 ****
Deep, opaque; lovely rich, dark chocolate aromas, open and opulent, floral (Touriga Nacional very evident), with minty ripeness; initially this seems very rich and sweet for Dow (a characteristic of this vintage perhaps), fleshy and opulent with a big tannic backbone and bitter-sweet length. Impressive for the medium to long term. 18
Cockburn Quinta dos Canais 2006 ***
From the flagship Cockburn quinta which was extensively replanted in the early 1990s. Just 350 cases made at Sra. da Ribeira as an experiment, none of which will be put on sale: deep opaque and dense, rich and ripe but still closed on the nose; very full, sweet and rich, fleshy and quite opulent initially with a touch of mint and eucalyptus (esteva), firm tannic finish and overall quite suave. Lacking the weight of its peers but good middle distance wine for drinking within 10 years. 16
Quinta do Vesúvio 2006 ****
Deep and opaque in colour; very opulent, floral with minty ripeness, overt and heady; similarly sweet, rich and opulent on the palate (3.7 baumé) but backed by dense, gritty textural tannins which rise in the mouth, sweetness and opulence returning on the finish. Lovely texture and length. Drink in ten years and for another twenty years beyond that. 18
Graham Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 ****
Good, mid-deep colour, still nearly opaque; lovely open floral fruit with a touch of esteva (gum cistus), classic; sweet, minty ripeness with a touch of dark chocolate at the core, already quite suave with a peppery finish, not especially big or structured but lovely to drink now and over the next ten years. 17
Dow Quinta do Bomfim 1999 ****
Paler and showing more maturity on the rim, starting to brown; closed, not showing very well on the nose, perhaps still to emerge from its adolescent phase, just a hint of violets; much more expressive on the palate, fine linear fruit, well-knit with lovely purity showing through mid-palate, firm tannins. Not big but charming. Ready now throught to 2020 + 17
Dow Quinta Senhora da Ribeira 1998 *****
Still very deep and youthful, opaque; not very expressive on the nose, closed, sullen (just a phase I suspect); fine, dense and tight-knit, some flesh yet with characteristic Dow austerity (2.95 baumé), dark chocolate core and cast-iron tannins, overall big and solid with a fabulous, explosive finish. Top notch single estate Port. 19
Quinta do Vesuvio 1998 ****
Similarly deep and opaque; slightly more open and opulent on the nose, mint and eucalypt ripeness showing; soft and fleshy with lovely purity and sweetness backed by good grippy tannins mid-palate, tails off on the finish leaving pure berry fruit. 17.5
Warre Quinta da Cavadinha 1996 ***
Mid-deep maturing colour; evolved, truffley and slightly soupy on the nose (lacking definition); rich soft and quite loose-knit in style, especially alongside the 1998s, quite big and round, fully ready to drink and not a long-term keeper. 15.5
Graham Quinta dos Malvedos 1979 ****
Brick red centre, amber rim; fine, mature, open floral character, very beautiful on the palate, soft and fleshy with milk chocolate depth and length. Really lovely now but not one to keep for any length of time. 17
Dow Quinta do Bomfim 1979 ***
More youthful in appearance than the Malvedos; fine and focused yet gentle on the nose, dry and lacking some fruit both the nose and on the palate, now starting to look a bit frail, peppery tannic backbone leading to a rather austere finish. Good now but drying out. Drink in the next 5 years. 16
Warre Quinta da Cavadinha 1979 ****
Brick red centre, broad amber rim; fine, perfumed, nicely evolved floral, esteva (gum cistus) aromas, open but possibly with a bit more to give; soft, sweet and fully mature, beautifully balanced cherry fruit. To be enjoyed now. 17
Graham Quinta dos Malvedos 1965 ***
Mature brick red to amber colour; open but looking dry and fragile with a touch of roasted coffee bean on the palate, characteristic of a very hot, dry year, roasted nuts too with affinity to an old tawny, fine and delicate, still sweet but drying towards the finish. 16
Dow Quinta do Bomfim 1965 ****
Slightly darker and blacker in hue than the Malvedos; scented but seemingly hollow on the nose and a touch roasted; firm and dry in the Dow style, powerful tannins retaining the purity of fruit at its core, big. peppery tannins lingering on to the finish. 17.5
Graham Quinta dos Malvedos 1958 ****
Now very pale pink-to-amber; fine, delicate, more than a touch of tawny character (more so than vintage) with almonds and a soft creamy element to the nose and palate, very elegant and linear, sweet fruit backed by peppery tannins, still fresh and expressive on the finish, long and delightful. 17
Graham Quinta dos Malvedos 1950 **** / *****
Excellent colour for a wine now 61 years old, pink centre with a thin browning rim; seemingly quite dry on the nose, a lovely rose petal scent with an underlying vestige of chocolatey intensity still evident; fine, delicate, still firm and very much alive with a stream of freshness running all the way through, delicate sweetness and supremely elegant on the finish. 18.5
Location: Chandos House, London
I celebrated a significant birthday this year and with the help of some enthusiastic members of the Port Forum (click on ‘links’ for more information) we uncorked some splendid wines including the oldest Vintage Port that I have ever tasted:
Noval 1961 Crusted Port ** / ***
I have drunk this on a previous occasion and it was great to see it again. Just to clarify any doubt, written on the that we uncorked are the words: ‘Noval 1961 Crusted Port. This unblended wine, produced at the famous Quinta do Noval and bottled in 1964, should be carefully decanted before serving.’ Now brick-red to tawny in colour; fruit fading with cough mixture aromas; firm, still focused with some lovely cherry fruit mid-palate, still sweet but medicinal in style, not big but quite well balanced. 14.5
Fonseca Guimaraens 1961 ‘Reserve’ ***
A wine from my vintage that I have never tasted before: slightly more mature and tawny in appearance but fresher on the nose, similar sort of Benilyn aromas and sweet cherry flavours, still retaining some dark chocolate concentration and depth with grip and length. 16
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 1961 No stars
This is the last bottle from a case that I bought at Christies 12, years ago I suppose as I have been opening one a year ever since. All the bottles have been high-toned, nay volatile. This was quite badly ullaged: the palest of the three 61s, cloudy; VA, nail varnish nose, no fruit, dry and fading fast, just a vestige of bitter-sweet grip on the finish. 8
Dalva Golden White 1952 ****
Dalva are making a name for their white Ports, helped by Export Director Jim Reader who used to head Cockburn’s: mid-amber with a distinct green tinge to the rim; pungent rancio character on the nose seemingly quite dry with a woody –tawny character; much sweeter on the palate, marmalade and spice with a lovely, long, tawny marmalade finish. 17
Graham 1977 mark withheld
Good youthful ruby colour if quite pale; rather ugly on the nose, still quite tight with spirit showing, more to give; lovely soft fleshy fruit on the palate, not big but firm and let down by a rather woody finish. A poor bottle, possibly slightly corked?
Warre 1970 ****
Good mid-deep, youthful hue, thin browning rim; touch of coffee, torrefaction on the nose; firm, tight-knit and focused, fine and linear, bitter-sweet mid-palate, quite dry in style, almost austere, without much flesh on the bones, but in this case the bones are very elegant. Despite the lack of fruit this will make old bones! 17.5
Niepoort 1970 **** / *****
There are two bottlings of this wine, one in a short dumpy bottle, the other in a tall bottle. This is the latter. Still very youthful in colour, mid-ruby with a pink rim; surprisingly light on the nose, very fresh, fragrant and floral but doesn’t give much impression of power or depth; firm, seemingly quite lean to start with but beautifully focused, tight knit with linear rapier like tannins that go on and on and on. Gentle berry fruit. Near perfect poise. This was voted the wine of the evening.18.5
1851 Vintage Port, shipper unknown *****
This is the oldest Port I have ever tasted, produced from pre-phylloxera grapes. According to Michael Broadbent this was a vintage tainted with mildew although oidium only made its presence felt a year later: still deep and amazingly youthful in the centre of the glass, browning on the rim; subdued, a touch high-toned and slightly soily but still fine and focused; dusty cherry fruit still evident, a touch of coffee, firm and focused, bitter-sweet cherries with some sweetness coming through again on the finish. Still retaining its youthful grip, amazingly fresh if quite dry in style. Astonishing wine, almost impossible to mark without putting it into context but it deserves top marks just for surviving the way it has. 19
Location: Rowley's, Baslow, Derbyshire
This selection of wines from the Fladgate Partnership was presented by David Guimaraens and Natasha Bridge in the tasting room at the Fonseca lodge during a recent visit to Porto.
It includes a re-taste of the recently declared 2009 vintage as well as a number of single estate wines from the three houses that make up the Fladgate Partnership.
The wines are presented in the order they were tasted.
Quinta de Terra Feita 1999 ***
Very deep youthful colour, purple rim; dense initially, surprisingly closed but some fragrance eventually opening up in the glass; something slightly earthy / minerally, soft, sweet and fleshy, just about ready with a firm grippy finish, perhaps a touch lean. Now – 2020 15.
Quinta de Terra Feita 2001 ****
Again, deep and youthful, purple rim; again not very expresive initially, hint of floral perfume and a touch of dark chocolate underlying; full, fleshy, broad and sweet, ripe broad tannins keep rising in the mouth. Chunky finish. Now – 2025 17
Quinta de Vargellas 2001 ****
Very deep, closed and dense, solid and foursqaure; full and fleshy initially with lovely pure berry fruit mid-palate, solid tannin structure rising towards an explosive finish. A keeper 18.
Taylor 2007 ****
Very deep, opaque and closed, sullen with underlying density; rich, lovely weight and texture, fine-grained tannins with lovely pure berry fruit showing through mid-palate and rapier-like tannins on the finish. 17
Vargellas Vinha Velha 2007 ****
Not quite as deep in colour as the Taylor 07, a trait that I have noticed previously; very elegant, pure and refined on the nose, berry fruit; same on the palate, fine, pure, elegant with firm tannins, not big but already refined and beautiful. 17.5
Quinta de Terra Feita 2008 *** / ****
Deep black, opaque, youthful, still raw and peppery, spirit not yet married, lovely sweet fleshy fruit, ripe tannic structure, dense with peppery tannins on the finsh with something minerally about it. 16.5
Quinta de Vargellas 2008 ****
Not quite as deep in colour as the Terra Feita; lovely aromas, rich, ripe and minty, bigger than the Terra Feita, rich and structured, broad shouldered wine, big broad tannins, dense. Very promising. 17.5
Taylor 2009 (cask sample) ****
Very deep inky, opaque colour; youthful opulence on the nose, full, big; very ripe, opulent fleshy fruit, soft and broad, muscular, solid yet broad tannic finish. 18
Vargellas Vinha Velha 2009 *****
Again, not quite as deep as the Taylor (above), closed, a touch green with some hedgerow character on the nose, aromatic rather than opulent; dense, tight knit with lovely ripe yet pure berry fruit and forceful rapier-like tannins on the finish. A long term wine with a brilliant future ahead. 19
Fonseca Guimaraens 1996 *
Mid-deep colour, broad, purple rim; not showing well on the nose, hollow, oxidised?, soft but similarly hollow and flat, broad and ripe but lacking dimension and fruit. A poor sample? 12
Quinta do Panascal 1998 ***
Mid-deep, youthful purple rim; open, fragrant and floral, lovely, just as it should be; soft, supple, sweet not big but elegant, quite loose-knit, firm tannic length, nicely balanced mid-term wine. Drink over the next ten years. 16
Quinta do Panascal 1999 *** / ****
Slightly deeper in colour; rich and ripe on the nose, fleshy, full, more tight knit than the 98 with broad ripe tannins and sweet plum-like fruit. More of a keeper. Now – 2025 + 16.5
Quinta do Panascal 2008 ****
Very deep in colour; big and spirity on the nose, still raw, needing time to marry and meld together; heady and rich, suave and fleshy, big, ripe dusty tannins rising in the mouth leading to a chewy, meaty finish. 17
Fonseca Guimaraens 2008 ****
Deep, closed and dense, giving very little away on the nose as yet; rich, ripe and quite powerful like Panascal (above), broad and fleshy with big spicy, peppery tannins and a big finish. Very impressive. 17
Fonseca 2007 **** / *****
Deep colour, tight knit, closed, restrained with very pure fruit underlying; quite full, fleshy initially, dense, restrained and focused, beautifully so, long linear tannins on the finish. This has settled down very well in bottle.18.5
Fonseca 2009 (cask sample) ****
Deep, ripe and opulent, a touch of hedgerow character on the nose, more restrained than Taylor 2009; full, rich and big, sweet and quite hefty (more so than the 2007), ripe, raw tannins, big, bold and peppery, long and supple. 18
Quinta da Roêda 1997 **
Very good, deep colour, just browning on the rim; slightly jammy fruit on the nose, a touch stewed but open mature and rich, soft, ripe and jammy in style, blowsy and full, not much grip. Not much of a keeper: drink now – 2016. 13.5
Quinta da Roêda 2008 ****
Very good youthful colour; lovely fresh aromatic aromas, still a little raw; soft, sweet and plumy, quite big and round with good, broad tannic grip. A good mid-term wine. 2018 – 2030 17
Croft 2007 ****
Very deep, opaque; lovely plum and cherry fruit aromas, quite rich, a touch of dark chocolate, full, dense bitter-sweet character with firm peppery tannins. Developing well in bottle with the purity of the vintage showing on the finish. 17.5
Croft 2009 (cask sample) *** / ****
Very deep, opaque; plummy, big, ripe and heady on the nose; big broad, fleshy sweet plummy style, broad and flattering. Undemanding wine for the medium term. Made entirely from fruit grown at Quinta da Roêda. 16.5
Location: Fonseca, Vila Nova de Gaia
As soon as I stepped from Piccadilly into the lobby of the RAF Club I smelt the quality of the Port. This tasting of 26 wines spanning over a century was put together by members of the Port Forum (www.theportforum.com/) who had been decanting the wines all afternoon. The most striking aspect of the tasting is the strong family resemblance of the wines through most of the twentieth century, at least up to 1970. George Sandeman, who attended the tasting, attributes this to the company buying in wines from the same farmers in the Rio Torto up until the end of the 1960s when they dismissed a large number of long-term growers. These wines impress with their restraint, elegance, gentleness and purity (words that appear regularly in my tasting notes) rather than their size and power. From 1970 onwards there is a sea-change in the style and character of the wines in common with a number of Port shippers belonging to multi-national companies at the time. It certainly illustrates the power of the accountant who took control of so many Port houses in the 1970s and 1980s. Sandeman, like Croft, Cockburn and Delaforce, lost their reputation for Vintage Port during this period and from this tasting it is easy to see why. Thereafter Sandeman had a quirky declaration policy with a wine called Vau vintage. Named after their principal estate (but not all from it) this was a vintage Port made to drink young and up to ten years in age. Sandeman’s vintage Ports have really only come back to classic form with the 2007 vintage (see relevant notes on this website).
I am very grateful to the members of the Port Forum, especially to Axel Probst and Alex Bridgeman, for inviting me to this outstanding tasting of Sandeman Vintage Ports. The Ports are presented in the order they were tasted as follows:
Sandeman 1873 *****
Lovely pale amber tawny colour; gentle, scented, still fresh, with more fruit coming out with time in the glass, still quite rich and aromatic, caramelised oranges; creamy intensity, sweet, soft rich and smooth with the merest vestige of tannin remaining. Lovely length, in no way dry, with a tawny marmalade character on the finish. An amazing wine made at the height of phylloxera when yields must have been very low. Difficult to score but it deserves 19
Pinkish brick-red colour, still looking quite fresh but badly corked. Not tasted. No mark.
Sandeman 1911 ***
Very pale amber colour, quite brown on the rim; lifted, high-toned with an unusual autumnal scent of decaying flowers (jasmine), not without charm; very sweet, almost unctuous, intense sweetness and not much else, showing a dusting of tannin on the finish. Unbalanced. 16
Sandeman 1927 ****
Mid amber-tawny; not all that attractive on the nose, slightly dusty (not a bad sign) but stewed (unusual for a 1927) but still quite rich, sweet with some stuffing and a hint of dark chocolate concentration, lovely firm spicy length, not the finest 1927 but still very good. 17.5
Sandeman 1934 ****
Mid-deep centre, browning rim; not giving away a great deal on the nose, slightly dusty (a good sign) with a touch of rancio; firm, quite tight knit with lovely rich spicy-peppery focus and some fine pure berry fruit on the finish. 18
Sandeman 1935 *****
Lovely colour, still very youthful in appearance, garnet centre, thin browning rim; beautiful aroma, tight-knit scented fruit, still amazingly youthful, lovely, probably with more to give; rich, dark chocolate and liquorice flavours, good purity of fruit, fine, ripe broad tannins and a long broad finish Very fine indeed. My second favourite wine of the tasting. 19
Sandeman 1943 *** / ****
Pale amber-tawny; dry, dusty nose; slightly hollow after the 35, touch of burnt sugar; again quite rich in style, perhaps more so on the palate than on the nose, lovely bitter-sweet depth and concentration, well developed wine from an unusual declaration. 16.5
Sandeman 1945 **** / *****
Quite light in colour retaining a youthful hue with a broad, browning rim; ripe yet restrained and gentle on the nose, touch of dark chocolate; rich, ripe, tight-knit, bitter-sweet fruit, very fine, firm and still very fresh with lovely length and depth. To drink now but with some way still to go. 18.5
Sandeman 1947 ****
Very good colour, deeper than the ’45; attractive restrained aromas with lovely berry fruit underlying; rich, sweet and quite full, bitter-sweet berry fruit, still fresh and youthful with purity on the finish 17.5
Sandeman 1948 *****
Another wine with a good youthful hue; lovely pure, tight-knit fruit on the nose and palate, firm bitter-sweet flavours, still quite powerful, more so than the ’47 with grip and a long fresh, firm finish. Very impressive. This was voted the favourite wine of the evening by members of the Port Forum although I put it n third place after the 1935 and 1955. 19
Sandeman 1950 **** / *****
Still very youthful in appearance, mid-deep garnet with a thin pink-brown rim; lovely, fresh scented aromas, seemingly with more still to give, bitter chocolate fruit underlying; rich, bitter-sweet, youthful cherry fruit, fine and intense, long and lovely. 18.5
Sandeman 1955 *****
Still very youthful, amazingly so, mid-deep ruby just turning on the rim; lovely pure, fresh berry fruit aromas, elegant, quite restrained but intense; rich and focused on the palate, quite big for Sandeman, tight knit with dark chocolate depth, long full and very fine, amazingly fresh for a wine that is 56 years old! This was my favourite wine in the entire tasting and was voted number two by members of the Port Forum. 19.5
Sandeman 1958 ** / ***
Mid-deep colour, browning on the rim; rather flat and oxidised on the now, showing its age; soft, sweet and rather lacking in freshness with some grip and depth underlying but lacking in vivacity and focus with a slightly soupy finish. Possibly a poor example. 14.5
Sandeman 1960 ***
Still youthful in hue but rather cloudy; soft, loose-knit and rather soupy on the nose; still quite fresh but lacking focus, some minty fruit remaining with tannic grip rising on the finish which redeems it. 15.5
Sandeman 1963 ****
Not very deep but with a good bright, youthful colour; not giving away all that much on the nose, still young and restrained with underlying dark chocolate fruit; firm, quite dry in style and tight-knit on the palate, bitter sweet with now characteristic purity of fruit, long and fresh with plenty of life remaining. This was voted the third favourite wine of the tasting. 18
Sandeman 1965 ****
Still quite youthful in colour, browning on the rim, lovely rich, open aromas soft and fleshy initially, full still quite youthful with firm tannic grip rising in the mouth, well defined, with firm, fresh, grippy finish. A rare example of a 1965. 17
Sandeman 1966 **** / *****
Good youthful ruby-pink hue; still closed, underlying tight-knit fruit, firm, foursquare but developing very well, lovely gentle, firm berry fruit, still amazingly young and fresh, very elegant, long and lovely. This wine will last for a lifetime or more. 18.5
Sandeman 1967 ****
Even deeper and more youthful in appearance than the ’66; still closed on the nose with more to give; lovely richness and depth, quite fleshy and mouth-filling, big and broad, a lovely wine and almost certainly the best 1967 that I have tasted. 18
Sandeman 1970 ***
Quite pale for a 1970, broad browning rim; hollow on the nose, not very expressive and lacking underlying power; sweet, quite soft but lacking the power and depth characteristic of the 1970s, some lovely pure berry fruit, elegant mid-palate but lean and pinched on the finish. Just a three star wine in the context of this great vintage. 15.5
Sandeman 1975 ***
Pale pink-red, just turning on the rim; hollow on the nose, correct but attenuated; soft, fully mature, retaining fresh fruit and grip, dryish quite good for the vintage so deserves some credit. 15
Mid-pale colour, slightly muddy with a thin pink rim; musty on the nose, corky?, some fresh fruit underlying, corked on the palate but some grip evident. Huge declaration: 10,000 cases. No mark for this wine but it has shown much better in the past..
Sandeman 1980 **
Good colour, slightly youthful, mid-deep with a pink rim; ugly nose, woolly, touch of wet dog, unlikely at this stage to be just a phase in its development; sweet, still sappy and quite fresh on the palate, firm but rather lean and one dimensional on the finish. Weak. Drink soon. 13.5
Sandeman 1982 * / **
Quite pale, brick red, broad, browning rim; Hollow on the nose, soft sweet and simple, now smooth, one dimensional, some dry tannic grip towards the finish but flat and drying out. Drink soon. 12.5
Sandeman 1985 *
Mid-deep ruby colour, browning rim; again hollow but lifted (VA), slightly roasted; light on the palate, distinctly edgy, some fruit evident but disjointed and short. Going nowhere. 11
Sandeman 1994 ***?
Good, deep opaque colour, thin purple rim; rich, ripe, quite hot on the nose, stewed fruit, soft, broad but in an ungainly phase. Gritty tannins. May come round. 15
Sandeman 1997 *** +?
Very deep opaque colour, crimson rim; closed, tight-knit with lovely pure fruit underlying, soft, ripe and minty, still raw but has potential. Jammy finish. 16
Location: RAF Club, London SW1
It came as quite a surprise to hear that the Fladgate Partnership had declared 2009 across the board. Although 2009 was a very good year in the vineyard, it comes very soon after 2007 and it is the fourth fully declared vintage for Taylor, Fonseca and Croft this decade. The Symington family have decided not to declare 2009 (apart from a very small quantity of Warre) and the only other declaree that I am aware of so far is Niepoort. Not for the first time, Dirk Niepoort has stated that his 2009 ‘is the best vintage I have ever made’.
The 2009 growing season began early with budburst in Pinhão in the first week of March. Yields were low from the start and the early part of the summer was cool and dry. A hot August accelerated ripening and picking began as early as 9th September at Croft’s Quinta da Roêda. With no rain from July onwards, the grapes were small producing dense, concentrated musts, rich in colour, tannins and sugar. The declaration is smaller than 2007 (see quantities below). Taylor’s 2009 is based on a blend of Ports from Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta de Terra Feita. Quinta do Junco (ex-Borges) has made a small contribution since 2000 and does so again in 2009. Fonseca 2009 is drawn from Quinta do Panascal and Quinta do Cruzeiro with a small proportion of wine from Quinta do Santo António, recently converted to organic viticulture. Croft 2009 is drawn entirely from Quinta da Roêda.
The following wines were put on show by Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of the Fladgate Partnership, in London on 6th May closely following their traditional declaration date, St George’s Day.
Taylor 2009 ****
Deep, dark opaque; lovely opulent aromas, refined, scented and very pretty (not often I say this about a wine), in its first bloom of youth; broad, sweet and rich with fine peppery tannins, quite powerful yet gentle at the same time with a lovely sinewy, firm finish. Complete. (9,000 cases declared) 18
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2009 **** +
Deep in colour, but not especially dark and not as Taylor (above); still raw, touch of tobacco and hedgerow, not nearly as showy as Taylor; lovely ripe fleshy fruit backed by firm, fine-grained, tight knit tannins, rising in the mouth, long firm, powerful finish, quite big and structured but elegant too. 18.5
Fonseca 2009 **** +?
Very good colour, deep and opaque; closed on the nose, much more restrained than Taylor, underlying tight-knit cassis-like fruit underlying, just a touch roasted perhaps; again very elegant, gentle initially, firm with peppery tannins rising in the mouth, quite dry in style, lovely suave cassis fruit showing through on the finish. More my style than Taylor. Very promising. (7,000 cases) 18.5
Croft 2009 ****
Again, very good colour; lovely plummy aromas, minty, quite showy for a young VP; very sweet, still a bit raw with some firm tannic grip rising onto the finish, soft and flattering, very much in the new Croft style. A lovely wine for the medium term. (5,000 cases) 17
Skeffington 2009 ***
Another very deep coloured wine; closed and not that expressive on the nose, perhaps a touch hollow in the assembled company; soft and fleshy, quite up front with firm, grippy tannins, but leaner than the previous wines in this line-up. Fresh finish, good integrity. A wine for drinking in 10 – 15 years. 16
The tasting provided an opportunity to look at Fladgate wines from the three earlier declarations in the noughties. Brief notes (without scores) follow:
Deep colour; hedgerow and tobacco, entered into that ugly phase; lovely fleshy fruit, firm, ripe tannins but still very disjointed.
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2007
Not quite as deep as Taylor; very pure, lovely cassis fruit, dense tannins leading to an explosive finish. Very profound.
Close, dense, sullen; lovely pure fruit on the palate, quite broad and fleshy, tight-knit, big and dense on the finish.
Graceful plumy aromas, not yet closed in; very soft, fleshy and attractive, sweet and flattering with a broad spicy finish
Closed; soft and gentle initially, firm tannins, spicy-peppery length. Balanced but a bit lean.
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2004
Again, not that deep in colour, opulent and open, minty; lovely sweet, pure succulent fruit, seemingly quite simple at this stage but with lovely spicy tannins to back it up. Very refined and pure.
Upfront, opulent, scented, open; fleshy, ripe, super-ripe, soft with big ripe hot country tannins.
Opulent, open, talks from the glass; strawberry fruit, rich big and fleshy, big, ripe tannins, very unusual wine at this stage in it development
Scented, open, plums and cherries; very soft, sweet and rich, a touch roasted and lacking definition. Some dark chocolate. Nearly ready to drink.
Restrianed, a touch jammy, soft initially with firm tannins on the finish. Drink now – 2020.
Deep, youthful colour; bit sullen but with underlying mint, esteva (gum cistus) and eucalypt; lovely focused sweet spicy fruit, tight knit and peppery, evolving very well indeed. Needs another 5-10 years.
Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha 2000
Not quite so deep in colour, still youthful; stewed and/or oxidised on the nose, not showing well; better on the palate but flat, firm ripe tannins with a bitter-sweet finish, going through an odd phase
Good youthful colour, still closed but showing underlying cassis-like purity; full, rich and dense, dark chocolate concentration, just as it should be at this stage. Georgeous wine. Needs another 10 years.
Hollow or closed? Probably the latter. Full, mid-weight with lovely firm black cherry fruit, much more traditional in style than more recent vintages. Start to drink in five years.
Location: Quo Vadis, London W1
I was asked to lead a tutored a tasting of Vintage Ports in aid of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. All the wines were generously donated by William Harrison and Michael Hurdle from their own cellars. Forty guests supped on the wines, followed by lunch and a blind tasting. We eventually rolled out of the door at Tissington at around 6pm. Thanks are due to Sir Richard Fitzherbert for his tolerance!
Dow 1994 **** / *****
Deep, dark and still dumb. This probably needs another five years plus to open up. Opulent on the palate, characteristically sweet and succulent, fine and focused with broad, well-structured tannins on the finish. Will be very impressive to drink from 2016 onwards. 18.5
Fonseca 1992 *** / ****
Mid-deep colour, pink on the rim; awkward on the nose, not yet giving its all; some depth on the palate, rich and fleshy, not that big but not as big but this wine has balance and elegance and it has a core. Quite powerful tannins, still needs another least two years in bottle at least. 16.5
Taylor 1983 ***
Not especially deep in colour; open, quite loose knit on nose and palate, firm austere tannins, lovely pure berry fruit but overall quite austere, verging on lean with lovely purity of fruit on the finish. Ready to drink. Not a long term wine. 16 Now - 2025 1
Warre 1977 ***
Now looking quite pale, browning on the rim, perhaps a bit hollow on the nose, soft, quite sweet, elegant, fruit drying up and light dry tannic finish. Not a keeper. Now -2020 16
Graham 1970 *****
Still deep for its age, rich, classic nose, extra dark chocolate, very sweet in the Graham style with dark chocolate concentration of flavour, lovely grip, broad tannins and a rich broad finish. Outstanding wine for the long term. Drink with pleasure for the next thirty years or more! 19
Quinta do Noval 1966 ****
This corresponds to the end of an era when Noval were making outstanding wines, which only recommenced in 1994: good deep centre, browning rim; not giving than much away on the nose but showing underlying intensity; firm, tight knit with bitter chocolate intensity, this has a core, perhaps a little lean on the finish, firm bitter-sweet length. 17.5
Cockburn 1963 ****
Mid-deep garnet, thin browning rim; one stinky bottle but otherwise lovely open, floral aromas, aromatic and fine; well balanced black cherry and bitter choc flavours, quite powerful and well knit but not as opulent or showy as the last time I tasted it (2002). Still a lovely wine. 17.5
Croft 1960 ****
Still very deep and youthful in appearance, still very fresh, open, ripe, some opulence weight and depth, quite sweet in style which rather flatters the wine but there is still plenty of life left in Croft 1960. Now – 2020 + 17
Location: Tissington Hall, Nr Ashbourne, Derbyshire
Quinta do Noval is perhaps the most emblematic estate in the Douro. Since the property changed hands in 1993, Christian Seely has been, in his own words, ‘putting things right’. He is candid about the past. From 1920 until the late 1960s under the ownership of Luís Vasconcelos Porto the property was subject to ‘very good vineyard management’ but it suffered in the 1970s and 80s and this is reflected in the quality of the wines. ‘Since we took over we have changed 100s of details’ he declared, right down to relaying all the stones in the hallowed lagares, swapping schist for granite. From 1994 onwards much of the vineyard has been replanted and Noval’s domain has extended over the hill into the Roncão valley (‘roasted Roncão’ as it is known by shippers due to its meso-climate). But Noval’s Vintage Ports (including the legendary Nacional) are products of the quinta bearing the same name. There are still plenty of plots of old vines including 80 year old vines that go into making Nacional where the average age of the 2ha of ungrafted vineyeard is around 40 years. Declarations are much smaller than they were in the old days with just 900 cases of 1994 produced compared with 5,000 cases in 1985. But perhaps the most fascinating revelation to accompany this tasting is the so called ‘Secret Nacionals’. The last Nacional to be declared was 2003, prompting the question what happens to the Nacional from other vintage years (for example 2004, 2007 and 2008 which Noval also declared)? I had always assumed that the Nacional wine from these years went into the vintage blend but Christian Seeley explained that these wines have been retained, with the intention of releasing some of them in 20 years. Interestingly he suggested that there might even be a Nacional Colheita in future!
The focus of this tasting was Noval´s Vintage Ports from 2007 back to 1963 with a large gap from 1994 – 1967 which corresponds to the bad old days. I had tasted most of these wines before individually but not the Nacional 1964 which must now be as rare as hens teeth!
The wines that follow are in the order in which they were tasted, leisurely, in Berry Bros and Rudd Cellars. Never have I given so many wines a 5 star award in a single tasting as well as a theoretically impossible 5 star +!
Quinta do Noval 2007 **** +?
Very deep, opaque; ripe, raw with touch of tar and mint on the nose, coming together; very fine, powerful and concentrated, still raw and peppery, firm and focused with the purity of fruit characteristic of the 07s showing through on the finish. ‘Atypical’ according to Seely and ‘defined by its year.’ 2,000 cases declared 18
Quinta do Noval 2004 ****
If anything deeper than the ’07; not yet closed in on the nose, fine, rich, shutting down but still with youthful perfume, dark chocolate emerging, perhaps slightly burnt; big rich and fleshy initially with a powerful cast-iron fist of tannin underlying, forceful tannic finish. An ‘eccentric declaration’. 1,200 cases 17.5
Quinta do Noval 2003 **** / *****
Very deep youthful colour, crimson rim; very fine, dense, closing in on itself on the the nose, heat of the vintage just in evidence?; big, fine fleshy tannins building in the mouth, very rich dense and powerful, broad tannic structure with a wonderful peacock’s tail of a finish. This was the first vintage from the vines replanted in 1994. 6,000 cases, described by Seely as ‘extravagant’. 18.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003 *****
Very similar colour to the ’03 above, more purple on the rim and if anything more closed in on the nose, dense; lovely soft, fleshy pure fruit, fine grained peppery tannins, not so massive as above but building up layer upon layer. Very refined. ‘Great wine from a small space says Seely’. 19
Quinta do Noval 2000 ****
Very deep in colour, if anything deeper than the Nacional below; very attractive, open berry fruit character on the nose, ripe and well defined with a touch of gum cistus; lovely sweet, open black cherry flavours, very pure in character, firm peppery – spicy tannins and a long linear finish, not that big but focused and fresh. 17.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2000 *****
Colour as above but in contrast completely closed-in on the nose, underlying density and depth just about evident but giving almost nothing away at the moment; very rich and opulent, complete, dense fine-grained tannins building in the mouth with a powerful flourish to finish. Much more powerful than the Noval 2000 – a brilliant wine for the long haul. 19.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1997 *****
Still deep, youthful purple rim; lovely nose, very pure fruit evident, quite opulent for a 199, mint and herbs, herbal but not herbaceous; fine, firm,quite linear, tight-knit but not as powerful as some Nacionals, focused, very pure with lovely cassis length. In case you were wondering Noval have no ’97 Nacional left – ‘not a bottle!’ 19
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1996 **** / *****
Deep, youthful and opaque; lovely aromas, young, pure floral fruit, cassis and cherry;Fine liquorice-like intensity, very pure in flavour backed by firm tannins, fine, not big but beautifully focused with a linear finish. A very pretty wine. Something of a one-off as no Noval was declared in 1996, just the Nacional. 300 cases in total. 18.5
Quinta do Noval 1994 *****
Very deep opaque ‘blue’ colour; very fine, open opulent aromas, perfumed, floral; very fine, rich dark chocolate character, full bitter-sweet and focused, quite elegant and not at all fat like some 94s were at the start, in fact quite dry and rapier-like on the finish. 19
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 *****
Much more youthful in character than above, still raw, closed and giving very little away on the nose, sullen but with underlying depth and opulence; very rich, dense and quite fleshy initially, more characteristic of ‘94 than above, dark chocolate (the very best), lovely ripe, broad fine tannins, massive finish, very sweet and opulent too! Only 90 cases made. 19.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1967 ****
A bit of a jump back in time here to the good old days of the 1960s when Noval was performing at its best, but an unusual vintage in that this is a year that was not widely declared: still looking surprisingly youthful in colour; lovely nose, honeysuckle, sweet not especially dense but opulent with a crystallised fruit character; rich, dark milk chocolate intensity, again opulent, sweet, lovely depth and weight with peppery tannins rising in the mouth, still quite full if just a little loose-knit on the finish. 18
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1964 *** / ****
Quite pale, pinkish hue, pink rim; fine, fragrant, delicate aromas, perfumed violets, milk chocolate and icing sugar; very elegant, lovely gentle, sweet succulent fruit, still quite rich with just a vestige of tannin, still very fresh but falling away on the finish. Not powerful but elegant. 16.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 ***** +
Very deep youthful colour with a mid-deep purple/pink rim; fine, dense dark chocolate and bitter-sweet fruit quality to the nose, very concentrated and focused; lovely rich, dark chocolate concentration of flavour, reflecting the nose, very pure bitter-sweet fruit, firm tight-knit tannins, offset by fresh acidity, perfect balance. Outstanding wine which will go on and on and on… I am not often as effusive about a wine as this but Vintage Port does not get better! If I could give it 6 stars I would. 20
Location: The Cellars, Berry Bros & Rudd, London SW1