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. Quantities are small - which may also account for the unseemly rush - and demand for these wines is likely to be strong. This is the first widely declared vintage since 2011, which was very well received by the trade when it was declared five years ago. Before I pronounce on a new vintage I usually like to taste the wines three or four times but this year I am offering this as a ‘first taste’ based on two tastings in London; the Big Fortified Tasting on 9th May 2018 and the joint launch by the Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta do Noval on 17th May. Where no mark or star rating is given it is because I reserve judgement for a later tasting. A fuller write up on the vintage as a whole will appear in due course.
Tasted at the busy BFT, a bit stalky on the nose, hedgerow fruit with a touch of liquorice, nice definition, mid-weight and seemingly all there; a very promising wine for mid-term drinking.
Tasted alongside Barros, a very cold sample, attractive aromas and fresh sappy-spicy fruit backed by peppery tannins, quite soft in style but nicely defined.
Fresh, pure berry fruit aromas, light-to-mid-weight berry fruit on the palate, over all my impression was that this wine was rather one dimensional with a linear finish.
Cockburn 2016 **** +?
A Douro Superior blend based mostly on the south-facing Quinta dos Canais (Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca) with support from Quinta do Vale Coelho upstream (Sousão) and Cachão do Arnozelo (Alicante Bouschet): relatively closed on the nose but with ripeness and dusty tannins underlying; intense dark fruit, cassis backed by powerful tannins. Big and broad. All there and all together: Cockburn truly back on form. 2,450 cases produced. 18 +?
Croft 2016 ****
Based on Quinta da Roeda at Pinhão: open, rich plummy aromas with minty ripeness evident, a touch of hedgerow too; very much in the recent Croft mold, which they describe as ‘rubenesque’, i.e. soft, plump and fleshy with voluptuous fruit backed by ripe tannins that blossom on the finish. 17
Dow 2016 *****
Based on Touriga Franca, followed by Touriga Nacional and Sousão from Quinta do Bomfim at Pinhão and Quinta Senhora da Ribeira in the Douro Superior: fine and focused on the nose, leaner and more restrained in style than either Graham or Quinta do Vesuvio (below) with underlying dusty tannins; rapier like tannins on the palate, ram rod, all the way through with the opulence and flesh of the fruit coming through on the finish. Great purity and expression, the drier style of Dow works well in ripe years like 2016. Outstanding wine for the long term. 5480 cases in total. 19
Fonseca 2016 **** +?
The cornerstone of this wine is Quinta de Panascal in the lower reaches of the Tavora Valley alongside quintas Cruzeiro and Santo António in the Pinhão Valley: closed and rather withdrawn on the nose with an underlying dusting of tannin evident; firm, sweet cassis and berry fruit, dark chocolate intensity at the core, backed by broad yet tight-knit peppery tannins which grip on the finish. All there and very fine. 18 +?
This historic name in the Port trade, established in 1815, now belongs to Baron de Vilar and represents a new partnership between the Barros and Van Zellar families: my first impression on tasting at the BFT was that this is rather hollow on the nose with dusty tannins and rather astringent and austere on the finish.
Graham 2016 *****
A blend from four quintas: Malvedos (41%), nearby Tua (25%) as well as Vila Velha and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and old, mixed vines: very deep, inky colour; super-ripe, floral but still quite raw on the nose, needing time to knit together; rich plummy opulence backed by dark chocolate intensity and spicy tannic grip, big and bold on the finish. Voluptuous. Fabulous richness. This is one for the long haul and is already very, very impressive. 6,325 cases. 19
Graham, The Stone Terraces 2016 *****
Mostly Touriga Nacional from traditional stone-walled terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos, Graham’s flagship estate. The vineyards mostly face north and east:
inky blue-black colour; closed, intense with a hint of liquorice and dark chocolate, big and dense with bitter-sweet dark chocolate intensity and broad tannins rising in the mouth to a massive peacock’s tail of a finish. A ‘wow’ of a wine. 19.5
Open, fragrant but a bit stalky and green on the nose, fresh fruit, gritty tannins but my impression is that this wine is linear and rather one dimensional.
Niepoort Bioma 2016
Niepoort decided not to declare in 2016 (having declared outright in 2015) but they have made Bioma, an organic Port wine from a single estate (Quinta da Pisca) on the north side of the river midway between Régua and Pinhão: still a bit disjointed on the nose, needing time to knit together but very charming, soft and fleshy initially, spicy, herbal fruit backed by firm tannins.
Quinta do Noval 2016 ****
Dense but opening up on the nose to reveal dark chocolate intensity with a delicate leafy edge; ripe and minty initially on the palate, lovely purity of fruit and great definition, sweet cassis backed by broad, ripe, grippy tannins, not as big as some wines form this vintage but showing great balance and poise from start to finish. 6,000 cases in total. 18
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2016 *****
Tiny yields from these legendary ungrafted vines in 2016 with a total production of just 170 cases from this 4.5 acre plot. The average age of the vines is around 50 years old and grapes from these mixed plantings were supplemented by 20% Tinto Cão (approx. 60 years old) from the same Nacional plot: closed and dense initially but showing liquorice-like super ripeness as the wine opened up; dark chocolate intensity on the palate with layer upon layer of ripe, fleshy fruit and broad tannins all the way through to a gripping tannic finish. This is a wonderful wine, as rare as hen’s teeth and a privilege to taste at this stage. 19.5
Tasted at the BFT, now that Offley no longer has Quinta da Boa Vista, this is a blend from the Pinhão region with wines from Quinta do Sairrão in the Torto Valley: fresh, mid-weight and fruit-driven backed by gritty, peppery tannins and leading to spicy finish. Not as serious as the Sandeman (see below) which is the flagship vintage Port from Sogrape.
Quinta de Roriz 2016 ***
The core of this wine comes from a 30 year old Touriga Nacional vineyard along with Sousão from a higher part of the estate. The grapes ripened early and were picked in the first half of September before the rain that fell mid-month: not giving much away on the nose but soft and sweet on the palate, mid-weight, nicely defined summer fruit character with peppery tannins. 390 cases produced. 16.
Taylor 2016 ****
A blend from two of Taylor’s most famous estates: Quinta de Vargellas in the Douro Superior and Quinta de Terra Feita in the Pinhão Valley. Dense and heady on the nose with an attractive green, leafy edge; sweet and plump initially with lovely bright damson fruit, nicely defined but not as big as some of the wines in this line up, Fonseca included. Firm, tight knit tannins on the finish which shows lovely purity of fruit. Still a bit sullen on re-tasting, needs time to pull together. 6,500 cases. 17.5+?
Tasted at the busy BFT: dense, closed and tight knit on the nose, ripe sweet and minty on the palate with fine grained gravelly tannins rising in the mouth leading to a firm, linear finished. Not as big or extractive to my mind as recent Sandeman vintages and the 2016 is already showing balance and finesse.
Smith Woodhouse 2016 ***/****
Entirely from Quinta da Madelena in the Torto Valley, primarily a field blend of old vines, picked late from 28th September onwards: open, fragrant, ripe cherry and floral fruit aromas; lovely firm, well defined berry fruit on the palate, some bitter chocolate intensity mid-palate, fine grained, peppery tannins leading to a long sinewy finish. Very good middle-weight, middle-distance wine, leaner in style than other wines from the Symington Estates. Just 1,500 cases in total. 16.5
Quinta do Vesuvio 2016 ****
A blend of Touriga Nacional (43%), Touriga Franca (25%), a relatively high proportion of Alicante Bouschet (17%) alongside Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão: lovely warm country aromas, ripe, open and very full in style, super-ripe cassis broad and fleshy, backed by weighty tannins, leading to a powerful, explosive finish. Very impressive. 1,220 cases in total. 18
Capella do Vesuvio 2016 ****/*****
Only the third Capela vintage to be released, from low yielding 90 year old vines as well as co-fermented Touriga Nacional/Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Franca /Sousão from neighbouring plots: rather more sullen and brooding on the nose than the Vesuvio and deliberately slightly drier in style though with similar underlying ripeness and rich, fleshy cherry and plum fruit backed by powerful, ripe, broad tannins. A tiny quantity produced: 3,000 numbered bottles. 18.5
Quinta da Romaneira 2016 ****
Situated upstream from Pinhão, Romaneira is a huge, predominatly south facing estate with 3km of river frontage on the Douro. The 2016 is a blend of older parcels of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from the heart of the property:
Open, beautifully fragrant and floral, mint, violets and a touch exotic; lovely purity of fruit backed by fine grained tannins, not especially big but well balanced with a firm, spicy finish. A lovely wine for mid-term drinking. 17 + ?
Nearly 50% from old mixed vines from Quinta da Cavadinha in the Pinhão Valley and Quinta do Retiro in the Torto supplemented by Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from Quinta da Telhada in the Douro Superior: open, pure, floral aromas (violets), totally charming at this stage, with lovely supple, seamless fruit, fresh and lithe with fine grained tannins building in the mouth. Beautiful wine with real poise and length. 4,250 cases produced. 18.5
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