Vintage Port Notes - Recent
The 1994 vintage represents a generational change for Port. It wasn’t so much the people in charge that changed as the wines themselves. For a number of leading shippers the 1960s represented the end of an era when founding families were replaced by multinational owners.
Following their purchase of Wise and Krohn, Taylor's have a huge range of old, cask aged Ports. Now comes the release of a series of Single Harvest Ports (Colheitas in all but name) of which the 1964 is the first to be offered, just in time for next year's 50th birthdays.
With the 2011 Vintage Port tasting season coming to an end, I have received four bottled wines (as opposed to cask samples) from Sogevinus, the Spanish group that own Barros, Calem, Kopke and Burmester.
Kopke, the oldest Port shipper in continuous trading, celebrates its 375th anniversary this year. At a time when colheitas are in fashion (even among the British houses who used to quietly eschew the style), Kopke has no need to scour the Douro in search of old wine.
Quinta do Noval is celebrating a significant anniversary in 2013. Twenty years ago, in the wake of the truly dreadful 1993 harvest, Christian Seely was appointed to manage the Portuguese estate following its high profile acquisition by AXA Millésimes earlier that year.
I attended the most fabulous dinner tonight at the The Banqueting House in Whitehall to celebrate 60 Years of the Institute of Master's of Wine. We began by drinking Bollinger from magnums in the undercroft (the drinking den of James I) then climbed the stairs to dine below a ceiling painted by Rubens.
It is not very often that any of us get to taste, let alone drink, Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port. The wine comes from 2ha of ungrafted vines at the heart of the quinta and is so named because the vines are Portuguese, without foreign rootstock, growing in Portuguese soil and therefore ‘attached to the soil of the nation’.
These are two wines to which I didn't give very fair coverage when I first tasted them earlier in the year so I received new samples and have now had the chance to re-taste them at leisure (and in cooler weather).
There has been a rush to evaluate the recently declared 2011 Ports, caused partly by the excitement of a new and undoubtedly fine vintage but also by the use of the internet both for selling and evaluating the wines. Most UK merchants have already sold their allocations although a few are holding back their offers until later in the year.
This was a challenging year for growers and a dream for wine makers. The major shippers, all with substantial vineyard holdings of their own, experienced a few nightmares during the growing season followed by euphoria at vintage.
I tasted this pair of old colheitas at the end of last year for the launch of the House of Tantalus Port Library. Since then the producer, Wise & Krohn, has been sold to the Fladgate Partnership who own Taylor, Fonseca and Croft, so it is likely that we will be seeing more of these beautifully kept old wines in future.
There is currently a fashion for dated tawnies with Taylor, Warre and now Quinta do Vallado all releasing old colheitas over the past year. This wine from Vallado has a better pedigree than most. It has been bottled to commemorate Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira´s 200th Anniversary which fell last year.
There is a saying in the Port trade that whereas ‘vintage Port is made in the vineyard, tawny is made in the tasting room’. This tasting led by Paul and Johnny Symington marks a subtle change in direction for Graham’s as a producer of tawny Port. The change is in the tasting room where Charles Symington is now in charge.
Cockburn, one of the great names in Port, has long held a rather idiosyncratic approach to declaring vintages. They missed out on some classic years in the last century: 1945, 1966 (preferring 1967) and 1977 (preferring 1978).
In the course of updating my book, Port and the Douro, I asked a number of leading shippers to submit single quinta vintage Ports from the decade 2000 – 2010 for tasting. The first part of the tasting includes a very impressive set of Ports from the 2004 vintage.
Fonseca, Quinta do Panascal 2005 ****
Deep, youthful colour; big, mint and cherry fruit on the nose, ripe and heady, very expressive in a ripe sort of way; hugely sweet, ripe cherry-berry fruit, powerful tannins, a bit disjointed, still needs time to come together. Sweet cherry fruit finish. 17
The silence on my website has been deafening over the past few weeks, at least to me. I have been busy finishing the third edition of my book Port and the Douro which is due to be published in the autumn. With nearly all the i's dotted and t's crossed I can go back to posting tasting notes on my website.
For some reason it has taken me over a year to post these notes form a tasting that I undertook at the end of the day after the Big Fortified Tasting in London. The wines were tasted blind and my palate was more than a bit jaded at the time so make allowance for this in the notes I am posting here.
I have a strange soft spot for the 1982 vintage. It was the summer that I was properly introduced to the Douro, spending a month in the region researching my undergraduate dissertation on vineyard micro-climate.
I tasted the following Ports at the Wine Society’s London tasting and thought my albeit rather brief notes were worth recording:
Once again I am very grateful to the Port Forum, especially Rob Coombes, for inviting me to this triple vertical tasting of three second tier houses belonging to the Symington family.
This is the second time I have been invited to the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club to lead a Vintage Port tasting.
This tasting of single Quinta vintage Ports was organised by the Symingtons to showcase wines from their family estates back to the 1950s. It includes wines from the ex-Cockburn properties bought by the Symingtons in 2006, many of which were on show for the first time.
I celebrated a significant birthday this year and with the help of some enthusiastic members of the Port Forum (click on ‘links’ for more information) we uncorked some splendid wines including the oldest Vintage Port that I have ever tasted:
This selection of wines from the Fladgate Partnership was presented by David Guimaraens and Natasha Bridge in the tasting room at the Fonseca lodge during a recent visit to Porto.
As soon as I stepped from Piccadilly into the lobby of the RAF Club I smelt the quality of the Port. This tasting of 26 wines spanning over a century was put together by members of the Port Forum who had been decanting the wines all afternoon.
It came as quite a surprise to hear that the Fladgate Partnership had declared 2009 across the board. Although 2009 was a very good year in the vineyard, it comes very soon after 2007 and it is the fourth fully declared vintage for Taylor, Fonseca and Croft this decade.
I was asked to lead a tutored a tasting of Vintage Ports in aid of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. All the wines were generously donated by William Harrison and Michael Hurdle from their own cellars. Forty guests supped on the wines, followed by lunch and a blind tasting.
It has been eight years since Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of the Fladgate Partnership (including Taylor) and Paul Symington, Managing Director of Symington Family Estates (including Graham) last presented a tasting together.
Quinta do Noval is perhaps the most emblematic estate in the Douro. Since the property changed hands in 1993, Christian Seely has been, in his own words, ‘putting things right’. He is candid about the past.
I have never tasted a wine from this vintage before - at least I don't think that I have, 1896 being the closet that I can find in my notes.
It’s been quite a week for tasting Port with two 19th century wines that I hadn’t tasted before (see below and next posting). This tawny port ‘masterclass’ led by the Fladgate Partnership’s MD Adrian Bridge was a useful vehicle to demystify the origin and blending of an aged tawny Port.
I was very grateful to be invited to an improptu meeting of the Port Forum held near my home in North Derbyshire. Everyone brought two wines and presented them blind with cryptic clues.
The first pai of wines were served blind in black glasses so as not to reveal the colour of the wine - a fascinating experiment:
I tasted these in the order they are listed at the London International Wine Trade Fair. The conditions for tasting are far from ideal at this event so my notes are scribbled first impressions.
Adrian Bridge, the Managing Director of the Fladgate Partnership which includes Taylor, Fonseca and Croft, came to the annual portfolio tasting of their distributors, Mentzendorff to present a selection of Vintage Ports.
Smith Woodhouse 1966 ****
Niepoort Ten Year Old Dry White ****
Deep straw in colour; pleasing, savoury, old fashioned, lanolin, musky-casky aromas with honey too, on the way to tawny in style; savoury-sweet flavours, honey and brazil nuts. Top notch, the best in a very small class of cask-aged white Ports. 18
Warre 1970 **** / *****
Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas 1961 **
This tasting includes all the wines missing from earlier tastings in London. For some reason none of the 2007s from Sogevinus appeared in the UK. I was surprised to find the wines from Cálem, Burmester, Barros and Kopke bottled with short corks. I have included Niepoort in this tasting again as a point of reference.
The 2007 Port Vintage is not comparable to any other that I have tasted in my career (I go back to the 1983 vintage, not that far but still far enough). The wines have a wonderful purity. The vibrant fruit that is so expressive of the Douro shines through clearly on the nose and palate.
Quinta do Noval, Colheita 1974 ****/*****
These wines were tasted at the joint launch of the 2007 vintage in London by the Symington family, the Fladgate Partnership and Quinta do Noval.
Niepoort Garrafeira 1977 ****
Quinta do Noval Colheita 1964 ****
Still quite deep, amber-red; closed initially, served very cold, milk chocolate, rich, still quite firm with a touch of peppery spice, rich and structured, very youthful for its age. 16
The Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club is one of the few places where you can play the game of Real Tennis in the UK. Not that I play, although I have tried. I am a member though and the club does have a very decent cellar, ably stocked and maintained by member Arnold Smith.
This is the tasting that spurred me into setting up my own website, a once in a lifetime event that wasn’t taken up widely by the UK press. Held at the Factory House in Oporto, we tasted a century of Vintage Port from two great houses, Taylor and Croft.
Croft, one of the oldest and most distinguished names in the Port trade, has had a chequered history in recent years. In 1911 the company was taken over by Gilbey Vintners which in turn became part of International Distillers and Vintners (IDV) then Diageo.
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