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. There is some truth in this. Going back exactly a decade, 2007 was generally declared, as was 1997. The 1987 vintage was good but only declared by a few shippers (a long story), then 1977 was declared by all except Cockburn. 1967 roved to be a good year, declared by some in preference to 1966 (notably Cockburn), then you go back another twenty years to 1947, an outstanding year declared hard on the heals of 1945 at time when there was really no market for vintage Port. Then there’s 1927, perhaps the finest vintage of the Twentieth Century. I think I have made my point.
But some of the 7’s also have a habit of biting back. There is no question mark over the 2007s but in a recent tasting of wines for The World of Fine Wine Magazine, some of the 1997s looked a bit hollow and quite forward against their peers from 1994 and 2000. The 1977s, hailed as a great year along side the 1963s, have also been shown to be quite forward in and, although there are some great wines (Fonseca springs to mind), many are now looking a bit long in the tooth. Among the sevens, only 1947 and 1927 have really held their own in the line up of great twentieth century vintages.
So what of 2017? There can be no doubting it is an exceptional year and the wines are quite different in style from the 2016s declared this time last year. After a relatively wet year in 2016, the weather conditions in 2017 were the driest since 1945, a year with which the shippers are already making a direct comparison. Like 1945 it was also an abnormally early harvest, the earliest on record in fact, with picking starting on 25th August. But contrary to received opinion, 2017 was not an especially hot year. The heat came early on in the growing season and after a major storm on 5th July the weather calmed down which produced even ripening across the region. There is nothing ‘hot’ about the wines from 2017. The impression these wines give at this stage is of ripeness and concentration backed by wonderful freshness. It is not often that I use the word ‘acidity’ in association with Port but it crops up here a few times such is the mouthwatering character of many of these wines.
The following wines are part of an initial line up shown by the Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta do Noval in London on 23rd May. Over the next month I will be taking part in more extensive tastings and I make a rule never to pronounce on a Port vintage until I have tasted most of the wines at least three times. So these are my initial impressions of wines all tasted on the same day, rounded off rather pleasingly by a 1945. The wines are listed in the order they were tasted with provisional marks alongside:
Taylor’s 2017 **** +?
A blend from predominantly north-facing Quinta de Vargellas in the Douro Superior and Quintas Terras Feita and Junco in the Pinhão valley: lovely ripe mulberry fruit on the nose, floral yet also showing lovely concentration; dense and fleshy initially on the palate, damson fruit, full, ripe, round tannins, rising in the mouth, leading to a big finish: silky-velvety fruit backed by broad fine grained chalky tannins. A peacock’s tail. Already beautifully integrated. 11,500 cases produced (nearly double that of 2016). 18 +?
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 ****/*****
From the oldest vines on the estate, five plots with some vines planted over a century ago: not quite as deep in colour as most of the wines here; still demure on the nose, underlying brambly fruit, more delicate in style; lovely sweet cassis-like fruit on the palate backed by fine grained tannins, beautifully defined, not especially big but gloriously seductive with a long dusty-gravelly tannic finish. Very fine. 18.5
Fonseca 2017 ****
The last back-to-back Fonseca vintage was 1933/1934: open and in its first bloom of youth with lovely aromatic red berry fruit and floral aromas, a touch leafy too: soft and fleshy initially, seemingly not as big as Taylor’s (and not quite so deep in colour), firm, ripe linear tannins rising in the mouth, well defined with berry fruit remerging on the finish. Lovely freshness. Already beautifully integrated, showing great purity and poise. 18
Croft 2017 *****
Croft has developed its own rather ripe, voluptuous and rather jammy style in recent years, distinguishing the wine from the firmer, perhaps more challenging character of Fonseca and Taylor. Perhaps 2017 has been kind to Quinta da Roêda which provides the ‘cornerstone’ of this Port: surprisingly closed on the nose with plump juicy fruit underlying, ripe plums and cherries; similarly plump and voluptuous initially with a wonderfully ripe, broad tannic core rising in the mouth, dense and rather gorgeous all the way through to a fresh, vibrant finish. This has it all and maybe the wine of the vintage. 19
Croft Serikos 2017 ****/*****
Serikos means ‘silky’ in Greek and this is Croft’s first super-premium vintage form the oldest vines at Quinta da Roêda, planted between 1889 and 1900 in the wake of phylloxera. Made exclusively from these so called ‘heritage plots’ Serikos is deep and youthful with ripe but gentle minty fruit, a touch herbal too with a touch of rose petal, however a touch of stewed plum also came out on second tasting; so sweet and succulent that the tannins are almost hidden on the palate but they are most certainly there, broad and structured with lovely minty, herbal freshness mid-palate and on to the mouthwateringly fresh finish. Not big but supremely elegant in style. 18.5
Graham 2017 **** +?
Based on Touriga Franca from south facing slopes at Quinta dos Malvedos with Touriga Nacional from quintas Vila Velha and Vale de Mealhadas (both predominantly north facing) topped out with fruit from old vines at Quinta da Tua and 10% Sousão: very deep blue-black colour: super ripe on the nose, plum, mint and bergamot spring from the glass; rich, velvety and voluptuous in typical Graham’s style (3.9 Baumé), the initial richness makes the tannins which show up on the long, ripe broad, fresh, mouthwatering finish. 5,250 cases declared. 18 +?
Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2017 *****
The fourth release of this wine from these east and north-east facing traditional stone terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos: magnificent colour and an extraordinary nose, lifted and powerfully ripe with glorious floral aromas overlying; succulent berry fruit, massive concentration, magnificent, the quintessence of the finest Douro fruit, the tannins stack up to a broad and ripe finish leaving a mouthwatering almost burgundian freshness that seems to be one of the hallmarks of the best wines in this vintage. Outstanding. Just 6,360 bottles in total. 19.5
Dow 2017 ****/***** + ?
Based on Quinta do Bomfim in the Cima Corgo and Quinta Senhora da Ribeira in the Douro Superior, both predominantly south facing with Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca making up 80% of the blend: opaque, closed in but powerfully ripe fruit underlying, seemingly quite introverted compared to some wines at this stage: full, rich and opulent on the palate, this also shows the latent power of the vintage, made as it is in a slightly drier style (3.4 Baumé), lovely minty fruit and full, ripe tannins all the way through the finish. Very fine. 18.5 +?
Warre 2017 ****
Based on Quinta da Cavadinha in the Pinhão valley as well as Quinta do Retiro in the Torto and Quinta da Telhada upstream, mostly a field blend of fruit from old vines backed by Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca: lovely, open floral aromas, so fresh and aromatic, typical of the Tourigas with a touch of green tea leaf, underlying concentration; wonderfully pure, sweet plum and wild cherry fruit, backed by fine grained tannins, wonderfully fresh, not the biggest wine by any means but supremely well integrated and elegant. Near perfect poise. 18
Cockburn 2017 ****
Mostly from Quinta dos Canais with 52% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca backed by Sousão and Alicante Bouschet: this is the third full declaration in a row after 2016 and 2015 (when did this last happen?). One of very few wines from 2017 showing a touch of warmth on the nose, ripe, heady floral fruit; sweet and fleshy initially with ripe berry fruit and firm spicy tannins, classically structured with lovely concentration and a powerful finish. This is well-priced and looks to be the bargain of the vintage. 17.5 +?
Quinta do Vesúvio 2017 ****
A blend of the Tourigas with Sousão, Alicante Bouschet and Tinta Amarela: very different from the other Symington estate wines, lifted and aromatic on the nose with a touch of green leaf and ginger (Land of Green Ginger?) with a wild, herbal edge; lovely freshness on the palate, all the way through, not especially big with peppery tannins but showing near perfect purity, leading to a long linear finish. Should be approachable early but will last the course. 17.5 +?
Capela do Vesúvio 2017 ****/*****
A field blend from centenarian vines together with Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Sousão and Touriga Nacional: lovely lifted floral aromas, wild berry and green tea on the nose; similarly exotic on the palate, showing great purity of fruit once again, liquorice concentration wrapped around firm, spicy tannins with fresh acidity from the Sousão grape. 18.5
Quinta do Noval 2017 ****
Noval spills over into two valleys from Pinhão to Roncão which contribute two very different terroirs to the blend though both predominantly south facing: very unusual on the nose, heady Douro aromas with a touch of dust and eucalypt, wild and aromatic; dense, smooth and seductive on the palate with firm, dusty-minerally (schistous) tannins, beautifully integrated though still demure and lacking the freshness that characterize so many of these wines. 3,500 cases declared. 17.5? +
Quinta do Noval Nacional *****
A field blend of old, ungrafted vines yielding tiny amounts of fruit: not as deep in colour as some of the more ‘modern’ wines; demure on the nose but with Douro warmth showing through; rich and velvety initially, dense, lovely dark chocolate and liquorice concentration mid-palate wrapped around chalky tannins, broad tannic length with wonderful freshness showing through on the finish. Wonderful poise and integration. 19
Quinta da Romaneira 2017 ****
Co-owned by Christian Seely, Managing Director of Quinta do Noval and located just upstream on the north back of the Douro; lifted and aromatic on the nose with a lovely herbal, green tea character on the nose; very pure black cherry fruit, immediately appealing with lovely definition, not as big as some but makes up for this with this immediacy and beauty. One for the medium term. 17
Dow 1945 *****
Drunk with the Symington family at the end of a long day: old tawny hue; still ripe and heady on the nose, yet with delicacy underlying; soft and super-rich on the palate, glorious silk-velvet texture still showing a vestige of fresh berry fruit on a long, very beautiful finish. Magnificent after seventy-four years, proof that anyone born at the end of the World War II has a wine for life! 19
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