The Fladgate Partnership (Taylor, Fonseca and Croft) presented their 2018s in mid-February having delayed the launch of the wines due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However you will see that I also tasted samples of these wines in September last year.
For Taylor, 2018 is an unprecedented third declaration in a row whereas Fonseca and Croft both declared second-string wines. Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of the Fladgate Partnership explained the context of the 2018 vintage. In 2016 there was a relatively cool, damp growing season producing wines with freshness and purity. For 2017 after a hot, dry year it was the opposite: firm, ripe wines with big concentration from the heat. 2018 lies somewhere in the middle. To expand on this, the drought of 2017 continued through the winter until March 2018 when 220mm of rain fell at Pinhão. Budburst was three weeks late and the cool damp weather continued through the spring and into early summer with problems caused by the threat of both powdery and downy mildew. Hail almost wiped out Taylor’s Quinta do Junco in May. July was a mild with the pintor (veraison) arriving in the last week of the month. By contrast August was extremely hot (44oC registered at Quinta de Vargellas) and this accelerated ripening, especially in the Douro Superior. Harvest took place at a relatively normal time (17th September at Vargellas and 22nd September at Roêda) under perfect conditions: warm, dry days and cool nights.
The three wines below are very representative of the vintage showing freshness of fruit as well as firm structure. I thought that the Fonseca Guimareans justified a full (i.e. ‘classic’) declaration until I tasted the Taylor which is utterly superb and has that extra dimension. David Guimareans says that the August - September ripening in the Douro Superior made all the difference and it really shows. Taylor has now declared four times in the last two decades (cp 3 times in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s) and there hasn’t been a dud year in the Douro since 2002. The 2018 vintage for Taylor will go down in history not just as the third declaration in a row but as a magnificent wine in its own right.
Croft, Quinta da Roêda 2018 ****
Entirely foot trodden in lagar (a big change at Roêda after it was reintroduced in 2002): lovely deep, bright crimson colour; fine, fragrant aromas showing ripe cherry and wild mint on the nose; lovely fresh wild berry and plum fruit showing plump ripeness mid-palate, backed by firm gravelly tannins on the finish. Long and well defined with good balance. Lovely now but approach from 2026. 2,000 cases produced. Priced around £85/6 bottles ibd 17.5
Fonseca Guimareans 2018 ****
Very deep dark centre, thin crimson rim; well-knit and rather less expressive on the nose than the Croft initially, dusty – minerally and peppery with much more to give, opened up after a day or so to reveal ripe blackcurrant fruit; cassis, mint and wild herbs on the palate with firm, grippy-spicy tannins, big ripe and quite complex with a firm, structured linear finish. This will be a keeper: approach in 2030. 4,700 cases. Good value when priced at around £115/6 bottles ibd 18.5
Taylor 2018 *****
A time-honoured blend from Vargellas (Douro Superior), Terra Feita in the Cima Corgo but not much from Junco which was hit by hail in May: deep blue-black centre, thin crimson rim; tight-knit initially on the nose opening up to reveal floral purity of fruit (those violets!) showing both dimension and definition; big, firm structured fruit on the palate, wonderful freshness, sweet berry fruit with a touch of bitter-sweet chocolate mid-palate followed by a long, sold tannic finish retaining definition and balance. Gorgeous. This has it all! Drink from 2035 if you can wait that long - this is a wine that should last a lifetime. 7,800 cases. Priced around £325 bottles ibd. 19.5
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