2011 Vintage Port

There has been a rush to evaluate the recently declared 2011 Ports, caused partly by the excitement of a new and undoubtedly fine vintage but also by the use of the internet both for selling and evaluating the wines. Most UK merchants have already sold their allocations although a few are holding back their offers until later in the year. 

I have been slow to post these notes, partly because I have been busy writing up the vintage for a number of magazines but also due to the fact that I wanted to taste the wines a few of times before rating them. I have now tasted most of the wines at least three times, once blind, and the notes that follow are a synthesis of a number of tastings. 

Tasting and re-tasting the wines with different people has allowed me to make an informed opinion on the vintage. There can be no doubt that, in the main, 2011 is an excellent and possibly outstanding year. All the main shippers have produced top class wines, made for the long term. I think it is fair to say that anyone born in 2011 has a wine for life. Of course everyone wants to know how 2011 compares with previous years. Is it another 1963, 1945 or 1927? The answer is that it is still too early to say.  Most people alive today cannot recall tasting the 1963 vintage at this stage  (I was aged 2 at the time) so you would have to be at least in your 70s to have an opinion. But vintage Port has changed and for the better. Making a fine, long lasting Port is a much more certain business than it was 40, 30 or even 20 years ago when so much more was in the lap of the gods.  In the past the was no certainty that good grapes would turn into great wine when winemaking conditions fell well short of ideal. 

Another more recent change that has an impact on the 2011s is the improvement in quality of the grape spirit used to fortify the wine.  Until as recently as 1991 the supply of sprit was a government monopoly in Portugal and the Port shippers had to use what they were given. This was frequently fairly poor stuff and, given that it makes up around a fifth of the finished wine, it obviously has an impact. The word ‘spirity’ is a common tasting term when it comes to vintage Port and in some of the more attenuated wines from the 1970s and 1980s, the spirit really shows through.  Over the past twenty years the leading Port shippers have been working in closely with distillers in France to produce a more neutral, vinous spirit that interferes much less with the fruit in a young Vintage Port. This really manifested itself in 2007, the last major vintage to be declared, when I remember being wowed by the beauty and purity of the fruit. Admittedly this was a relatively cool year whereas the growing season in 2011 was a much warmer year.  For a comparison with pervious years the 11’s have the purity of 2007 with some of the ripeness of 2009, a year which some shippers declared but others thought was overripe. There is no evidence of overripeness  in 2011 and there are few if any raisiny – pruney wines.            

The growing season in 2011 was very challenging for growers but turned into a dream for wine makers.  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 fungal disease 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 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. This was perfectly timed and helped to swell the grapes prior to a generally early harvest starting as early as 10th September at Croft’s Quinta da Roeda and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas. This is 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 normal at the start of vintage so must cooling proved essential for the lagares to take some work. The aromas in 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. 

The following notes are the result of numerous tastings in both London and Vila Nova de Gaia  between 24th April and 28th May.  I present them with background information on the wines: 

Quinta do Noval Nacional  *****

This famous, ungrafted vineyard lies at the heart of the Noval estate with a relatively high percentage of the now fashionable Sousão grape.  The ultimate site-specific wine: sullen and brooding on the nose, underlying floral scent but by no means as showy as some at this stage, ripe plummy fruit, rich and powerful with profound depth. A true classic. 2030 – 50+ 19.5    

Fonseca    *****

Wine from three quintas:  Panascal, Cruzeiro and Sto António, the latter two in the prime Pinhão Valley: dense and minty, graceful minerally fruit, seemingly soft and voluptuous initially but firm gravelly tannins build in the mouth leading to a long linear finish. Very fine., for the long term. Drink 2030 – 2050 + 19

Graham  *****

A blend from all five Graham quintas: Malvedos and Tua, Vila Velha (just downstream), Lages in the Rio Torto and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior: the last sample I tasted had just been bottled and smelt a bit raw and reduced on the nose, big rich and intense, with a lot more to give; opulent, succulent fruit, fleshy in characteristic Graham’s style, very rich with liquorice concentration and full ripe tannins all the way through to the finish.  2030 – 50 + 19

Graham’s  The Stone Terraces  *****

Debut wine originating from two plots of vines on traditional stone terraces within Quinta dos Malvedos. Mostly Touriga Nacional, Charles Symington describes this wine as a ‘prototype’. Just 250 cases produced selling at a substantial premium to Grahams: still raw with tar-like concentration,  incredibly dense with lovely, rich fleshy fruit, minty ripeness with a touch of eucalypt. Very powerful. Would Graham’s have been even better if this was included in the blend? 2030 – 2050  19

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha *****

From five plots of old vines between 80 and 120 years old including some of the first varietal planting in the Douro by Frank Yeatman in 1927: not as deep in colour or expressive as some on the nose, tight knit, pure silky fruit, long, linear and beautifully focused.  This has all the best characteristics of old-fashioned Vintage Port.  2030 – 50+ 19

Warre  ***** 

Mostly from Cavadinha and Retiro in the Pinhão valley and Rio Torto, 40% old mixed vines: closed, dense with plenty of floral fruit underneath; ripe, pure cherry-stone fruit, sweet and gentle, very beautiful at this stage, firm but ripe tannic core extending all the way through to the finish.  Stunningly good.  2030 – 50+ 19

Taylor   **** / *****

Based on Taylor’s flagship quintas, Vargellas in the Douro Superior and Terra Feita in the Pinhão Valley: closed and sullen on the nose, rich berry fruit underlying; wonderful multi-dimensional wine, ripe cherry fruit backed by big, bold tannins and a peacock’s tail of a finish. Very well structured.   2030 – 2050 + 18.5

Quinta do Noval **** / *****

Noval has been extended and replanted over the last twenty years, this is   60% Touriga Nacional: big, ripe  plummy aromas with minty ripeness; full and fleshy, combining freshness and depth, firm, fine-grained tannins with a long sweet, ripe finish. A certain keeper.  2030 – 50 +  18.5  

Quinta do Vesúvio, Capela  **** / *****

The second vintage of this wine made from Touriga Nacional co-fermented with Alicante Bouschet with late picked Touriga Franca and Sousão. Just 200 cases: dark, dense, ripe and tight-knit on the nose; pure berry fruit and spicy-peppery tannins, combines elegance and depth with beautiful definition and poise. Drink 2030 – 50 + 18.5

Dow  ****

Made to a slightly drier style, Dow usually does well in a ripe year.  A blend based on Quinta do Bomfim in the Cima Corgo and Senhora da Ribeira in the hotter Douro Superior: closed  on the nose with ripe cassis fruit underlying; firm and a bit boney at this stage (cp the flesh on Grahams) not especially big but fine and  sinewy.   2030 – 2050. 18

Niepoort Bioma ****

From the tiny Quinta da Pisca near Ferrão that formed the heart of Niepoort vintage in 1970 and 1977:  restrained, elegant and minerally with firm tannic superstructure. A beautiful expression of Douro terroir.  2030 – 50+ 18

Croft **** 

Based on Quinta da Rôeda in the heart of the Cima Corgo, Croft is gathering a new house style of its own: lovely ripe, open plummy fruit both on the nose and palate, suave and impressive, backed by firm, gravelly tannins. The best Croft since 1963.  2025 – 40 +  17.5

Cockburn  ****

This is the first Cockburn vintage under Symington ownership, a blend mostly from Quinta dos Canais and Vale Coelho in the Douro Superior, 55% Touriga Nacional: ripe, sumptuous warm country fruit on the nose and palate with full, ripe tannins to back it up, stoney, minerally finish.  Good value too. 17.5  2025 – 40+  

Niepoort  ****

Foot trodden in circular stone lagares at Vale de Mendiz in the Pinhão Valley: ripe and suave, lovely purity of fruit with classic foursquare tannic structure, big yet refined.  2030 – 50  17.5  

Poças  ****

This small Portuguese family-owned shipper has put a lot into their vintage Port in recent years:  deep and dense, classic, dark chocolate concentration and ripe tannins.  2030 – 50  17.

Quinta de Roriz ****

Historic estate, this is the first vintage under the ownership of Bruno Prats and the Symington family, just 350 cases produced: super-ripe warm country fruit, slightly raisiny on the nose, liquorice concentration with a good tannic superstructure lasting on to the finish.  Complete.  2030 - 2050    17.5

Quinta da Romaneira ****

This impressive estate is well located over the hill and upriver from Noval and shares the same wine maker, 80% Touriga Nacional: opulent floral fruit on the nose, ripe and plummy, sumptuous, full and voluminous with a big finish.  Flattering perhaps but this wine has substance.  2025 – 40+  17

Quinta de la Rosa  ****

Beautiful family-owned estate just down river from Pinhão, my note is based on just one tasting: big and dense with lovely ripe, spicy depth and richness. Solid finish.  2025 – 50  17 

Smith Woodhouse  ****

From the Madelena vineyard in the Rio Torto, a high % of Touriga Franca and yields averaging just 700grams per vine:  quite opulent in style with succulent berry fruit, quite powerful on the finish. Full and flattering. Drink 2025 – 40+ 17   

Quinta do Vesúvio  ****

Stately property belongng to the Symingtons in the Douro Superior making top quality Vintage Port nearly every year:  lovely ripe, minty fruit with broad ripe tannins rising in the mouth, just a touch hollow on the finish suggesting a good mid-term wine.  2025 – 40 +  17

Ramos Pinto *** / ****

50% Touriga Nacional grown both at Quinta do Bom Retiro in the Rio Torto and Ervamoira in the hotter Douro Superior: wonderful floral fruit, blossom, soft and ripe initially with fine, rapier-like tannins building in the mouth. Long and linear.  2030 – 50  16.5 

Sandeman  ***/**** ? 

Based on quintas Seixo and Vau in the Cima Corgo, it is almost as if someone has flicked a switch to make a deliberately dark, extractive style of wine, in complete contast to the other wines in the Sogrape group. 2007 was made in a very similar style: rather hot and raising on the nose, a big, dense and extractive style, full of rich, rather pruney fruit. A heavyweight at the cost of finesse? Time will tell.   2030 – 50 16.5

Churchill ***/ **** ?

Every time I have tasted this wine (x4) it has the same rather sickly, cheesy  character on the nose, some say it is the spirit that has been used but I cannot be sure; underneath is a rich, structured wine with dense, dusty tannins. This has substance and depth with a solid foursquare finish. But that nose? 16.5?

Barros  ***

Based on Quinta de São Luiz: fragrant, minty and floral on the nose; soft with good depth, firm and well-delineated. A good middle to long distance wine. 2025 – 2040  16

Calem ***

Attractive, open and forward on the nose; sweet and rich in style with good fruit and some depth, a good middle distance wine.  15.5

Ferreira ***

From grapes grown in the Pinhão area, mostly Quinta do Porto and Quinta do Caedo: slightly stewed and overripe on the nose, some violet-like scent suggests a high percentage of Touriga Nacional, rich rather jammy fruit, sweet and simple, mid-weight bitter-sweet finish. 15.5

Burmester ** /***

Raw and peppery on the nose, underlying ripeness; open with some lovely fruit but lacking substance mid-palate and onto the finish 14.5

Quinta do Vale Meão **/***

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, only tasted on one occasion playful, lighter than some, full of ripe fruit but rather one dimensional.

Presidential **/***

The best of three wines from Cruz (see below): attractive minty ripeness on the nose with some green, hedgerow character underlying; good fruit but rather soft and lightweight. Good for the mid-term.

Skeffington **/***

Effectively a ‘second wine’ rom the Fladgate Partnership: open, minty aromas; ripe fruit and tannins on the palate leading to a firm, rather extractive dry finish, attractive middle distance wine for early drinking, from 2025 or earlier. 14.5

Kopke **

From Quinta de São Luiz and Quinta do Arnozelo, only tasted once: rather raw on the nose, quite rich, sweet but loos-knit on the palate. OK for drinking over the mid-term. 14

Offley **

Based on the historic Quinta da Boavista and other nearby vineyards: sweet plum jam fruit, rather light and hollow with dusty – spicy tannins. Falls short on the finish.  Should be better than this. 14 

Quinta do Passadouro **

Well located single estate with vineyards deep in the Pinhão Valley, tasted on two occasions: open, fragrante and minty, simple attaractive but rather weedy. 13.5

Pintas **

A single vineyard Port from 80 year old vines in the Pinhão valley, a field blend of 30 indigenous varieties. Tasted twice, on both occasions it showed a green hedgerow character, some attractive fruit underlying but with a green, unripe edge. Rather simple and one dimensional overall.  13.5

Dalva **

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. From the same stable as Cruz below: big ripe and rather raw on the nose green edge, firm and sweet but falls away on the finish. Simple.  13

Cruz */ **

Raw and jammy in style with a green edge, lightweight but not unattractive. This has the weight of an LBV rather than fully fledged vintage. 12.5

Portal *

From a vineyard high above the Pinhão Valley, tasted three times and on each occasion this wine displayed a sickly aroma, was thin and lightweight with harsh, under-ripe tannins.   10  


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