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. Our wine of choice during lockdown has been a good, dry refreshing but uncomplicated rosé, with plenty of variety from Provence, Corsica, Italy and Portugal.
So it was with some trepidation, but subsequent delight, that I shared a flight of recently declared 2018s with Johnny and Harry Symington in an online tasting this week. They were sitting at Quinta do Vesúvio in the Douro where the temperature was over 30oC and I was in my office in the Derbyshire Peak District, looking over the River Wye where the temperature was not far off from being the same.
Those who have been following things in the Douro will be aware that 2018 is the fourth good year in a row. Following partial or complete declarations in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the shippers have been faced by an embarras de richesse with another successful harvest in 2018. Taylor’s who declared outright in 2016 and 2017 have declared again in 2018 but have not followed this with a full declaration from either Fonseca or Croft, both houses in the same group. Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of the Fladgate Partnership said that ‘exceptional conditions’ in the Douro Superior with ‘outstanding wines’ from Quinta de Vargellas provided the impetus do declare Taylor alone. David Guimareans, Head Wine Maker for the Fladgate partnership said that ‘the Douro Superior enjoyed the combination of abundant ground water and hot summer weather which often produces great Vintage Port.’ Speaking for Cockburn, Dow, Graham and Warre, Harry Symington said that they had ‘small quantities of excellent wine but that this was not consistent throughout the region, so we decided against a full declaration’. Of course before this Cockburn’s (also a house based on the Douro Superior) had declared an unprecedented three years in a row in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
From the grower’s point of view 2018 was certainly ‘a roller coaster of a year’. Ana Rosas of Ramos Pinto said that it was ‘one of the most challenging years for viticulture, however the wines produced very pure with exceptional fruit’. The year began with an unprecedented 22 months of drought, followed by a wet spring then summer heat waves temperatures rising to 45oC in parts of the Douro Superior. It was the soil moisture from the wet spring that saved the year and the late ripening Touriga Franca grape gave the wines acidity lending them freshness and definition. It is interesting to observe how many vintage Ports are now made up from a precise varietal mix rather than from the interplanted field blend of old vines that has historically been at the core of the finest wines. There is no rule on when a vine becomes ‘old’ but it is worth emphasising that some of the early varietal vineyards in the Douro are now between thirty and forty years of age.
For the Symington family 2018 is a single quinta vintage year but for Taylor, Sandeman, Ferreira, Offley, Barros, Kopke and Noval this is a year for a classic declaration. Luís Sottomayor, head winemaker for Sogrape was very positive about 2018 calling it ‘one of the best, if not the best, vintage years I have witnessed.’ However I have learnt Dirk Niepoort has opted not to declare any 2018 adding, 'since we picked, as usual the grapes quite early in 2018 we think that the 2018´s don't have the concentration, richness and particularly not the the complexity for us to declare. it seems that 2018 might be “great” when picked late...'
The Symingtons are launching Quinta do Vesúvio and Dow’s Senhora da Ribeira en primeur but keeping back their other wines back for later release. Taylor’s will only be released early in 2021 and no samples are forthcoming as yet. It is too early talk in general terms about prices but the in bond price for Vesúvio will be around £240 for 6 bottles and Sra da Riberia £108 for 3 bottles. With this not being a fully declared year, expect some well-priced wines for drinking over the longer term.
The following wines are listed in the order that they were tasted and re-tasted over two days. They make an impressive line up with the best wines characterised by ripeness, freshness and thereby wonderful balance. One or two wines display the heat of the vintage. I have only remarked on the colour in these wines where it is particularly notable and included limited background information where relevant.
Quinta do Vesúvio 2018 *****
A blend of 54% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca / Alicante Bouschet (co-fermented) and 6% Sousão (for freshness), predominantly from cooler north / north-west facing vineyards: beautifully lifted, scented floral aromas (rose petals), vinous and overt; sweet and suave initially, ripe but gentle blackberry fruit backed by velvety tannins leading to a finish that is both powerful and elegant at the same time. Wonderful freshness and vitality. A magnificent wine for drinking over the medium to long term. Just 965 cases produced representing 3% of the quinta’s total production. 19
Dow, Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, 2018 ****
Wines from this small south-facing quinta that have formed part of Dow’s vintage Port since 1890: 45% Touriga Franca, 40% Touriga Nacional, 15% Alicante Bouschet / Sousão co-fermented. Deep, dark, ripe with a touch of roasted coffee bean on the nose, showing the heat of the vintage more than Vesúvio; rich and voluptuous initially on the palate, powerful mouth-filling tannic grip, rising on to the finish. Sweet plum jam and liquorice. Big and foursquare. Just 510 cases, representing 8% of the quinta’s total production. 17.5
Cockburn, Quinta dos Canais 2018 ***/****
Made up of 80% Touriga Nacional (with 15% Sousão and 5% Alicante Bouschet) and it shows with the TN bursting out on the nose in the form of super-ripe floral fruit, with tea leaf and gum cistus; immediately big, dense and powerful in the mouth with wonderful mouth-filling tannins, brawny richness and ripe marmalade fruit, gritty tannic finish. More brawn that beauty at this stage perhaps, impressive nonetheless. 17
Graham, Quinta dos Malvedos 2018 ****/*****
A blend of 50% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 10% Sousão and 10% Alicante Bouschet: dense and rather sullen on the nose, opening up after a day or two in bottle; similarly dense on the palate, stony tannins and cherry stone fruit quite solid and not as opulent initially as I would have expected from Graham’s. The sweetness emerges on the finish with ripe berry fruit that hangs on in there accompanied by wonderful tannic grip and there’s freshness too. A thrilling wine with a long future ahead. 18.5
Dow, Quinta do Bomfim 2018 ****
Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca combined make up 70% of this wine with
20% Sousão and 10% vinha velha (old vines): deep, opaque ‘black’; quite reserved on the nose initially with dark chocolate and liquorice concentration underlying; ripe, vibrant blackberry fruit, seemingly quite fleshy in style for Dow (a reflection of the ripeness in 2018 from this mostly south-facing vineyard), dark chocolate concentration with muscular tannins rising on to an explosive, ‘wow’ of a finish. I love it! 18
Warre, Quinta da Cavadinha ****
There is a significant 27% of old vine (vinha velha) fruit in this wine alongside Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca: lighter and more floral on the nose, a suggestion of lavender perhaps, yet quite restrained compared to the wines above; ripe minty fruit and fine grained gripping tannins, fine and linear (but not lean) in style, just not as opulent as some 2018 Ports. This has a very different flavour profile, accounted for by the altitude and exposure of the property (E. facing) and the amount of vinha velha in the blend. Wonderful freshness and finesse on the finish. A wine to ponder and cherish. 18
Barros 2018 ***
A blend of 35% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca and 30% Tinta Roriz, with 5% Sousão from the Cima Corgo: mid-deep, youthful crimson colour; open juicy berry fruit on the nose; soft initially on the palate, ripe raspberryish fruit backed by chalky tannins with a lovely juicy – spicy finish, mid-weight for drinking over the medium term. 3734 bottles produced. 16
Kopke, Quinta de São Luíz, 2018 ***
From vines with north / north-west exposure, the blend includes 50% Touriga Nacional, and 50% old vines (80 years old or more): mid-deep in colour; lithe berry fruit on the nose; fresh raspberry and blackberry flavours, firm angular tannins, lovely freshness but a little hollow on the finish. 15
Calém 2018 ***
From grapes grown in the Douro Superior, the blend is from different plots of Touriga Nacional (15%), Touriga Franca (45%), Tinta Roriz (30%) and Sousão (10%): mid-deep in colour with rather sullen, sultry aromas at this stage; ripe and voluptuous initially with sweet, plummy mouth-filling fruit mid palate, firm tannins which tail off on the linear finish. 16
Burmester, Quinta do Arnozelo 2018 ***
Arnozelo is a quinta in the Douro Superior and this wine is a blend of equal parts of Touriga Franca (from east facing vineyards) and Touriga Nacional (facing north-east): mid-deep youthful colour; ripe berry fruit on the nose with a touch of hedgerow and palate, quite voluptuous and overtly sweet initially backed by firm, slightly green angular tannins. Long and linear. 15
A blend of 50% Touriga Franca, 40% Touriga Nacional, 5% Sousão and 5% ‘other native red varietals’ from Quinta do Seixo and Quinta do Vau, both properties on the south side of the Douro in the Cima Corgo: very deep inky ‘black’ colour; demure and brooding on the nose, distinctly ripe, hot country fruit (kirsh) with a touch of liquorice and tar; big, ripe dark chocolate flavours, layered spicy depth, impressively structured with ripe tannins giving plenty of grip and leading to a big, expressive finish, perhaps lacking a little in freshness but very, very good. A definite keeper. 18.5
Quinta do Noval 2018 *****
No percentages here but a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinto Cão and Sousão, picked over a long period from 5th September to 13th October: lovely deep, dark colour; dense, ripe, bold fruit (a touch hot country) on the nose; lovely super-ripe blackberry / cassis fruit initially, wonderful freshness, vitality and verve, backed by broad, ripe tannins and a long powerful finish. This has it all! 1600 cases in total, representing 7% of Noval’s production. 19
Ramos Pinto, Quinta do Bom Retiro 2018 ****
From Ramos Pinto’s flagship estate deep in the Rio Torto: ripe black cherry nose, overtly so, never have I tasted a wine so redolent of cherries; lovely soft, ripe fleshy fruit, sweet black cherries again, lovely purity of fruit backed by ripe, soft fine grained tannins with lovely gravely tannic length. Not the biggest of the bunch but very much all there. 17.5
Quinta da Romaneira 2018 ****
For years this quinta upstream from Pinhão was a sleeping giant which is now reawakening under the direction of Christian Seely, managing director of Noval. Predominantly south facing which explains the dense, dark chocolate character on the nose, scented too; rich an opulent with ripe, dark cherry fruit backed by full ripe tannins and a muscular finish, verging on jammy and lacking the freshness of nearby Noval, there is real integrity here. 550 cases produced. 18
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