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 foresight as to the wines from the following year. It is fair to say that over the past three years the Port shippers have faced something of a dilemma. Some shippers declared 2015 outright, (notably Cockburn, Niepoort, Ramos Pinto and Quinta do Noval) and 2017, although distinctly unusual, has produced some promising wines. As Johnny Symington remarked at the joint launch of the 2016s in London, ‘we have been spoilt for choice’.
There is no knowing as to what 2017 will bring in terms of a declaration but it is fair to say that the majority of shippers, with the notable exception of Niepoort and Ramos Pinto, have nailed their colours to the 2016 vintage. So what is it that makes 2016 so special and a cut above the rest? The year began with a warm, wet winter and at the start of the growing season the vines looked very advanced. Then followed a cold, wet spring which cut yields and made for concentration in the wines. The summer months were hot and dry with a heat wave in August lasting into early September. The hottest day of the year in Pinhão was 6th September when a temperature of 43oC was recorded with 9% humidity. Sugar readings in August were low due to photosynthesis having been slowed by the extreme heat but rain in on 25th and 26th August helped put things back on track, especially in the Douro Superior. More welcome rain came on 12th and 13th September and this proved to be the saving grace. Anyone who picked too early was unlikely to get the balance and freshness that came from harvesting evenly ripened grapes and there are one or two wines from this vintage that taste both green and raisiny at the same time. The growers that delayed picking to allow the rain to soak in and the grapes to swell took a significant risk as the equinox often brings more unstable weather. But when quality conscious growers and producers resumed picking around 22nd September the sun was shining and continued to shine brightly into October. Crucially the nights were cool. Rain only returned on 13th October by which time the last of the grapes had been picked.
This was certainly a year when it was important to know your vineyards, which varieties to pick and when. The days of pick and mix from old mixed vineyards when the overripe and under ripe where thrown together in the hope of something great are mostly gone. Many of the best wines in 2016 are based on varietal plantings made in the 1980s and 1990s which are now in peak production. As you will see from my notes below, a lot more is known about the varietal composition of the wines. This is also the first year when Sousão and Alicante Bouschet have made a significant contribution to blends, two varieties that fall outside the so called ‘top cinco’ but have been revived by some Port shippers. The best wines are based on the Tourigas, Franca and Nacional. Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), one of the most planted grapes in the Douro, doesn’t get much of a mention and has fallen back to the status of an ‘also ran’.
As a result of these changes, plus of course the use of much better quality fortifying spirit which forms 20% of any wine, it is hard to compare 2016 with previous declared vintages. Suffice to say that many of the wines are both charming and flattering now! This is an easy vintage to taste at this stage with wonderful upfront fruit evident both on the nose and on the palate, but the best wines also have the solidity and structure to last. ‘Poise’ is a word I used on a few occasions to describe wines that combine finesse and structure in equal measure and will run the course. I will hazard a bit more than a guess to say that these wines will be good to drink relatively early but the best will keep for decades. Quantities are small (in some cases half that declared in 2011) and sterling prices are up by around 20- 25% on 2011 (but that includes a 15% devaluation over the interim).
Most of the notes below and the marks that follow are from three separate tastings, one of them blind. I am still awaiting samples from some shippers so there are omissions which I will follow up on in due course.
Churchill 2016 *** +?
Tasted twice, once blind: ripe and plummy but a touch lifted on the nose, especially on re-tastng with a green, hedgerow character showing through; quite extractive and a bit disjointed in style at this stage, needs time to knit together, fresh, mid-weight berry fruit backed by firm tannins. 16+?
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):dark and inky in colour; each time that I have tasted this it has been relatively closed and restrained on the nose but with ripeness and brooding tannins underlying; intense dark fruit, cassis backed by powerful yet fine grained tannins. Big and broad on the finish. This is a wine for the long haul. Cockburn‘s are truly back on form. 2,450 cases produced. 18.5
Croft 2016 ***
Based on Quinta da Roeda at Pinhão: lighter is style, open aromas with minty fruit and more than a touch of green leaf and hedgerow on the nose; very much in the recent Croft mold, which they describe as ‘rubenesque’, i.e. soft and plump, but also quite loose-knit and rather one dimensional when placed against its peers in 2016. Recent vintages of Croft seem to be maturing quite early (see my notes on 2007 and 2003). A wine for drinking over the medium term. 16
Dalva 2016 **/***
Mid-deep in colour; open and rather loose-knit, soft, mid-weight with firm peppery tannins but rather lean on the finish. Rather simple and a touch rustic in this context. 14.5
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 much more restrained in style than either Graham or Quinta do Vesuvio (below), tight knit; firm, 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. Fine-gained with great purity and expression: the drier style of Dow works really well in ripe years like 2016 (as it did in 2011). 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 withdrawn on the nose with an underlying dusting of ripe tannin evident; firm, sweet cassis and berry fruit, dark chocolate intensity at the core, backed by broad yet tight-knit peppery tannins which lead to a big gripping finish. All there and very fine. 18.5
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 andold, mixed vines: very deep, inky colour; super-ripe expressive, plums and dark chocolate; 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. 19.5
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. Made in tiny quantities but fabulous every time I have tasted it: this has to be the wine of the vintage if you can get hold of bottle. 19.5
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 old vines grown on a single estate (Quinta da Pisca) on the north side of the river midway between Régua and Pinhão: only tasted twice so far and rather disappointing on the second showing (blind): weedy, rather green and still a bit disjointed on the nose; charming, a hint of liquorice but quite light with rather green tannins, herbal, with a rather lean, one dimensional finish. 15
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 with broad, ripe, grippy tannins rising in the mouth, not as big or immediately impressive as some wines from this vintage but showing great balance and poise from start to finish. A wine for the long term. 6,000 cases in total. 18.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2016 *****
Tiny yields from these legendary ungrafted vines with a total production in 2016 of just 170 cases from this 4.5 acre plot. The average age of the vines is around 50 years old (they are notpre-phylloxera) and grapes from these mixed plantings were supplemented by 20% Tinto Cão (approx. 60 years old) from the same plot: closed and dense initially but showing liquorice-like super ripeness as the wine opened up; a hint of dark chocolate intensity on the palate with layer upon layer of ripe fruit and broad fine grained tannins all the way through to a fine, linear tannic finish. This is a wonderful wine, as rare as hen’s teeth and a privilege to taste at this stage. 19.5
Offley 2016 ****
Now that Offley no longer has Quinta da Boa Vista, this is a blend from Ferreira’s Quinta do Porto near Pinhão with wines from Quinta do Sairrão in the Torto Valley: deep in colour, closed on the nose, tight knit but with really expressive fresh berry fruit and minty ripenes backed by firm, peppery tannins and leading to spicy-dusty tannic finish. Quite powerful. A lovely wine which could well be the bargain of the vintage. 17.5
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 a touch of dark chocolate concentration and refined, peppery tannins. This wine bats well above its weight and is a good option for anyone looking for a good vintage Port for drinking over the medium term at a reasonable price. Just 390 cases produced. 17.
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 cherry and damson fruit, nicely defined but not as big as some of the wines in this line up. Firm, tight knit tannins on a long, linear finish which shows off the lovely purity of fruit.. 6,500 cases. 18.5
Sandeman 2016 ***/****
From Quinta do Seixo and Quinta do Vau in the Cima Corgo dense, closed and tight knit on the nose, very full and ripe, sweet minty fruit on the palate with powerful tannins rising in the mouth leading to a big, broad finish. Not quite so big or extractive to my mind as recent Sandeman vintages but I did question in my notes if this wine had sufficient definition and finesse. 16.5
Smith Woodhouse 2016 ****
Entirely from Quinta da Madelena in the Torto Valley, primarily a field blend of old vines, picked late from 28thSeptember onwards: open, fragrant, ripe cherry and floral fruit aromas with a touch or tar-like intensity; 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-to-long distance wine, leaner in style than other wines from the Symington Estates. Just 1,500 cases in total. 17
Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2016 ***
From a well-placed single estate in the Torto valley; ripe, balanced berry fruit, soft cassis character backed by firm tannins which rise in the mouth, mid-weight overall with a green edge and on the finish. Well balanced 16
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 character, broad and fleshy, backed by weighty tannins yet combining lovely definition. Finishes with a powerful flourish. Very impressive. 1,220 cases in total. 18
Capela do Vesúvio 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 straight Vesuvio and deliberately slightly drier in style though with similar underlying ripeness and rich, fleshy cherry and plum fruit with dark chocolate intensity and backed by powerful, ripe, broad tannins. A tiny quantity produced: just 3,000 individually 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. 16.5
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: very pure floral fruit aromas (violets), already utterly charming with lovely supple, seamless fruit, fresh and lithe with fine grained tannins building in the mouth leading to a peacock’s tail of a finish. A beautiful wine with real poise, definition and great finesse. Don’t be deceived by the early charm, this is a wine that will last and last. 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