Vintage Port Notes - Recent
I had the very real pleasure of lining up a series of aged tawnies from Reserve up to Twenty Years Old. The flight included one of the great names of Tawny Port, namely Ramos Pinto, as well as recently launched single quinta wines, one with a hidden pedigree for fine tawny.
It was good to receive three more 2018 Vintage Ports, a year that I am finding offers ripeness, concentration and freshness in almost equal measure. Luís Sottomayor who is responsible for Ferreira and Offley below is even more effusive: “2018 is one of the best, not the best Vintage I have witnessed.
It is the time of year when the Port shippers make their pre-Christmas releases. Often these are Single Quinta Vintage Ports, released with the benefit of some bottle age in their cellars. Coming from good years in between so-called ‘classic’ declarations these wines are often great value, particularly when the UK supermarkets are involved.
I wrote up my first impressions of the 2018 Port Vintage in June when the first samples were sent out during lockdown. Due partly to the Covid pandemic and to the fact that this is not a universal declaration there has not been much momentum behind the 2018s.
I had forgotten just how much I enjoy Port until I started tasting the recently released 2018s. With Covid-19, lockdown and the recent warm weather in the UK I have not been opening bottles of vintage Port. My wife is not a fortified fan (despite hailing from Madeira) and I have had no one to share a bottle of Port with. Sad but true.
Every year the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club (home of one of the few Real Tennis courts in the UK) ask me to host a Port dinner to which members bring their own wines and the club contributes a bottle or two from their own cellar.
Don Schliff began collecting Port in 1969, inspired by a restaurant named the Studio Grill in Hollywood where Vintage Port was served by the glass. For many years the restaurant’s owner Ardison Philips organized vertical Port tastings on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year.
Not since 1846 / 1847 have two generally declared Port vintages fallen back-to-back. As Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of the Fladgate Partnership, pointed out to the assembled wine trade and wine writers at the recent launch of the widely declared 2017 Port vintage in London, seven has a habit of being a lucky number for the Port trade.
Taylor's 1969 Very Old Single Harvest Port ****/*****
It has been a tawny Christmas and New Year for me, with samples lined up from earlier in 2018 for the new edition of my book, Port and the Douro. Tawny port is now gloriously fashionable in its own quiet way, with global sales up by €21.3 billion over the past seven years.
Staged at New Armouries in the Tower of London in November 2018, this was Paul Symington’s last UK tasting and presentation before his retirement as Chairman at the end of the year. The wines shown were, I think, Paul’s choice.
António Agrellos, Technical Director of Quinta do Noval, retired at the end of 2017 after working quietly in the background for 24 years. He is rightly credited with a revival in Noval’s fortunes, the estate having underperformed (sometimes woefully) in the 1970s and 1980s.
The following samples of 2016 vintage Port have been sent to me since the early summer months and I have held on to them for tasting in the cooler weather. I have tasted most of the wine on previous occasions but not always in the best or easiest of circumstances.
Five years have lapsed since the last generally declared Port vintage: the well-received 2011s which were universally declared in the spring of 2013. The custom of waiting until the second year after the harvest before declaring gives the Port shippers time to be certain about the overall quality of the wines as well as a bit of useful foresigh
The following vintage Ports were shown at the joint launch of the 2016 vintage by the Symingtons, the Fladgate Partnership and Quinta do Noval. The wines were predominantly in their adolescence, the period between their full bloom of youth and adulthood which sometimes distorts results in comparative tastings .
There seems to be a race in the UK this year to get the first vintage Port offers off the ground. This may be due to the weakness of the 2017 Bordeaux campaign but also because of the glorious quality of the now widely declared 2016 Ports. Among the major houses only Niepoort and Ramos Pinto so far decided not to declare the vintage outright.
The Last Drop specialise in finding small quantities of old Whiskies to bottle and sell to collectors. This, as far as I am aware is their first foray in to Port and they have landed on two aged tawnies a century apart.
The annual portfolio tasting held by UK wine importer Fells is one not to be missed. Firstly they represent a broad range of exceptional producers from all over the world, secondly the tasting is beautifully and expertly organized and lastly they always show a good range of fortified wines.
The following wines were served at the Third Form Dinner at White’s in London having been donated by members of the club. At the dinner we raised a glass to the late and much missed fellow club member Tim Stanley-Clark.
Graham 1985 ****
Every year the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club ask me to host a Port dinner to which members bring their own wines and the club contributes a bottle or two from their own cellar.
For anyone nearing a fiftieth birthday, I have the sad news that 1968 was no great shakes as a vintage. According to Michael Broadbent, Bordeaux was ‘atrocious’, Burgundy and the Rhone were ‘poor’ (the Hospices de Beaune auction was cancelled) and Champagne doesn’t even get a mention.
This tasting, held in the splendid dining room at Christie’s King Street, St James’s, is the prelude to an extensive sale of old wines from Ramos Pinto’s own cellars to be held in December 2017.
The first opportunity for a comprehensive tasting of a newly declared Port vintage usually falls in mid-summer. This year, in the week that I assembled samples from the major shippers, the thermometer in the North Derbyshire Peak District (where I live) rose to 30 degrees C.
After 23 years (21 in bottle) the 1994 vintage should be starting to drink well. For the Port trade this was something of a watershed year, following on from the rather patchy 1985s and an interesting split declaration in 1991-92. By 1994 we were all in need of a serious vintage.
Though challenging, the 2014 harvest in the north of Portugal was not the damp squib that it proved to be in the south. After a wet winter, spring was mild and budburst was early. But the weather remained unsettled through the early part of the summer, with some vineyards suffering localized hail damage.
This is the fourth in a series of fifty year old Ports from Taylor. The wine was aged in pipe (cask) until it was bottled in 2016 for release this year. As a result it is an aged tawny in style, bottled as ‘Single Harvest’ and effectively a colheita in Portuguese parlance.
The 2001 vintage of Quinta do Noval Nacional was officially declared in 2003 but the wine was never released. According to Christian Seely, Managing Director of Noval, the 2001 ‘was very backward and quite closed up, dense and very tannic.
Quinta do Vallado celebrated its tercentenary in 2016. To commemorate this, the family have bottled a wine that has been held in cask since 1888. Three 650 litre pipes, set aside in 1888, have been reduced through years evaporation to just 700 litres.
I spent that back end of 2016 tasting tawny Ports both for an article in Decanter, (entitled 'Understanding Tawny Port' ) http://www.decanter.com/wine/wine-regions/port/understanding-tawny-port-... as well as an article for The Field o
When policemen start looking younger, it comes as sign that you are getting older. The same feeling comes when you start drinking Vintage Ports that you remember being declared, two decades earlier. So it was just before Christmas (at the end of a long lunch) when we drank two wines from classic declarations the 1990s.
The Victorian club dining room at the MTRC is the setting for an annual tasting of vintage Ports with wines from the club stock as well as from member’s own cellars. After some outstanding wines at previous dinners, this year’s selection proved to be rather a mixed bag with two promising wines turning out to be rather a disappointment.
Due to the re-construction of my new website followed by a major outage of our internet (thank you so much BT) I am rather behind at following up with some of the wines that I have tasted over the summer. In June 2016, over São João in Oporto and the EU Referendum in the UK, I visited Sogrape, Portugal’s largest wine producers.
I had lunch in London with David Guimaraens this week. David is the winemaker for the Fladgate Partnership which embraces Taylor, Fonseca, Croft and Krohn. The meal (substantial Spanish tapas) was accompanied by Port, all the way through.
Graham's 1983 was served at the Saintsbury Club Dinner in the Vintner's Hall on 18th October 2016. This is one of the best wines of the vintage, a year over-shadowed by 1985 until the latter threw up one or two rather nasty surprises.
This wine was served at the One Hundred and Sixty Eighth Meeting of the Saintsbury Club at the Vintner's Hall to the general approbation of members and their guests: not the deepest of colours but still showing a youthful pink hue; fresh, fragrant and floral, quintessential mature vintage Port aromas; s
There is a growing market for anniversary wines and, with their longevity and staying power, fortified wines have a captive market. 1966 was of course a declared Port vintage and anyone born in that year certainly has a wine for life (search for notes on Fonseca 1966 for example on this website).
This wine was produced in a hot, drought-afflicted year and is a blend of very low yielding vinha velha (75%) and late ripening Touriga Franca (a vineyard planted just four years earlier in 2001). The old vines produced an average of just 0.87kg per vine, which helps to account for the voluptuous concentration in this wine. It was mostly made in robotic lagares with 35% foot trodden in the time-honoured manner.
It was once the custom for a landed family with a large country house to ship and bottle a pipe of vintage Port, often to mark the birth of a child. A pipe is a serious quantity of wine amounting to approximately 57 dozen so you need a good, spacious cellar to store the wine for the 21 years or so it needs to reach maturity.
Every year I am invited to lead a Port dinner at Manchester’s oldest sporting club. Some of the wines come form club stock and members also generously bring their own bottles to share. My contribution was a bottle of Croft 1963 which looked good on paper but proved to be a letdown in the glass. We tasted, then drank, some outstanding wines.
After two exceptionally dry years, the winter of 2012-13 was wet with the heaviest rainfall recorded in March, all of which helped to restore ground water levels prior to the growing season.
The Port house Fonseca celebrated its bicentenary with a dinner at The Wallace Collection in London on Portugal Day, 10th June.
Cockburn, one of the greatest names in Port, are celebrating their bicentennial this year. The company was founded in 1815 by Scottish brothers; Robert and John Cockburn.
I was sent a sample of this rather special wine which I thought I would share with you before Christmas. Sandeman have long produced some excellent aged tawnies, especially at the twenty and thrity year old levels.
By Sandeman's own admission this is a wine made in the 'modern style', to be drunk now or over the next 15 years. It comes from a ripe year but the heat of the vintage is not evident in this wine which is well-made and, above all, well-balanced. As you will see from the note below I would recommend drinking this in its full bloom of youth.
I am very grateful to the The Vintage Port Club, Odense for inviting me to this comprehensive tasting of 1994 Vintage Ports and to celebrate their 25th anniversary with them. At the club’s behest the wines were scored out of 100 which may mean that I have slightly under-marked some wines or overmarked others.
Quinta do Noval have recently declared 2012. This was a challenging year and, following on from a universal declaration in 2011, the main shippers have opted for single quinta vintage Ports (SQVPS).
You wait ages for a very old tawny Port than two come along at once. First Taylor’s launch their 1863 Single Harvest, then just two weeks later Graham’s launch Ne Oublie, a wine that dates back to the arrival of Andrew James Symington in Portugal in 1882.
Very old tawny Ports are currently á moda to use the Portuguese expression. In fact, having long been the preserve of the so called ‘Portuguese shippers’, they have now migrated to the British shippers. In this case the migration is literal.
19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)
17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)
15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)
13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)
10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)
8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)
Below 8 Faulty