This beautiful picture of the Douro Valley in northern Portugal is from the Symington Family Estates facebook page. If you want to get in that “Douro” frame of mind, I strongly suggest watching or rewatching the documentary, A Year In Port, that you can rent on Amazon Video (watch with a glass of port in hand). It is an engrossing documentary written and directed by David Kennard and starring the legendary wine importer Martine Saunier, Martine’s Wines. It does literally transport you to the steep vineyards of the region and the seaside town of Porto.
Vintage port is a very small, select production of Port, only declared in certain years like 2016. The grapes no matter who is the producer comes from their best vineyards, this is the “grand cru” of port. 2016 due to the weather produced an incredibly high quality of fruit that all 3 of these major port houses, Symington Family Estates, The Fladgate Partnership and Quinta Do Noval declared 2016 Vintage year. The producers came to Chicago this month for a 2016 Vintage Port Preview Tasting and Prior Vintage Vertical Tasting at The Tied House. This is the first general declaration of a vintage across all 3 houses since 2011.
Port is one, if not my favorite, fortified wine and after dinner drink. I don’t indulge in it very often and I should. Sipping a glass of red port, particularly, baby Vintage port like the ones below, the glass is full of green figs, plum, chocolate some of them had garrigue and mint and eucalyptus notes with lavender and violet aromas. The event felt like a Burgundy grand cru tasting as they all noted the wines character came from the soil and the schist rock in the vineyard and the incredible quality of fruit from this vintage. Port has that savory character and many personalities depending on the style of port. If you are already itching to go down the path, of types of port (ruby, tawny, colheita) and want to know more of the differences between all these brands, Roy Hersh at For The Love of Port, runs a newsletter, website, port and madeira trips, he and his team seem to be the hub for all things port. I will just focus on the vintage ports that we tried.
Present from Quinta Do Nova (Quinta Do Noval Nacional, Quinta Do Noval, Quinta Da Romaneira) Christian Seely, Managing Director and Carlos Agrellos Technical Director, The Fladgate Partnership (Taylors’, Croft and Fonseca) Nick Heath Worldwide Marketing and David Guimaraens (both in the film) head winemaker and finally, Dominic, Rupert and Charles Symington ( Graham’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Warre’s, Quinta Do Vesuvio). All 3 producers focus on preserving the heritage and quality of the vineyards and diversity of the grapes so over time as vineyards came up for sale, they acquired them.
The vineyards are very steep, terraced and mostly schist. Carlos Agrellos, from Noval talked about the schist soils and that there are many different types of schist in the Douro and this differentiates the grapes and gives personalities to the wines.
Dominic Symington noted that one of the hallmarks of the 2016 vintage is the purity of the fruit and the integration of the tannins.
The tasting notes from the day are below. My recommendations go out and purchase a bottle of this port now and then put it away with a note not to open for “x” years. Vintage port is made to be aged but you can drink it now as all these wines were quite good.
At least in Chicago, sherry seems to be leading the way of fortified wines but rather than the nutty, salted caramel of sherry I like the savory, red and black berry fruit, garrigue notes and the density in the mouth of port. Port and Stilton cheese (blue cheese) is a classic pairing but really a glass of port is good as a contemplation wine by itself. Vintage port is a delicacy that one should never turn down the opportunity to sip. The region looks absolutely beautiful and although these are big producers, they are historic, authentic houses focused on the quality of the vineyards. For The Love of Port offers trips to this gorgeous region that if I won the lottery I would sign up for in a second. So port is a perfect Traveling By The Glass beverage, sipping port is the next best thing to being in the Douro. Notes from the tasting are below:
Brief notes from the 2016 vintage tasting:
- Cockburn’s – Clove, ginger, red fruit, grip and length, amongst the driest of the ports tried
- Croft – Tropical fruit as well as ripe strawberry, black currant, silkiness on the palate, garrigue character, lavender aroma when young
- Dow’s – Very low yields in the vineyards, chocolate, green figs, plummy, green tobacco, lavender, violet aromas. Touriga Franca 48%, Touriga Nacional 28% finishes like a table wine
- Fonseca Steep hillside vineyards, warmer, riper fruit, grip, firmness, capacity to age, exhuberant, complex fruit for decades
- Graham’s – Opulence, mint, eucalyptus, mixed field blend, Touriga Franca gives the aromatics, has a purity of fruit that is the character of the vintage, chocolate and fig, tannins harmonized
- Noval – Grapes picked from 2 parcels of Douro schistous rock overlooking the river, harmonious, elegant, floral, eucalyptus, touriga nacional, touriga franca, tints caõ, sousāo
- Noval Nacional – Grapes on ungrafted vines, this had more tannins, foot trodden lagares, layers of different tannins, greatest potential for aging
- Quinta da Romaneira – Last of the great port wine quintas, go to the link to see how breathtaking the vineyards are. This is some of the best terroir in the Douro
- Taylor’s – Violet aromas, this was the most aromatic of the ports tried today, austere style, complex, firm grip, Taylor is known for a firm grip
- Quinta do Vesuvio – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, field blend for the most part, Douro is mostly planted to field blends, trodden by foot, the oldest lagare, 40 people tred for 3 hours, aroma of aniseed, licorice, one of the sweetest by balanced by acid, opulent
- Warre’s – Eastern facing vineyard, finesse, elegance rock rose, floral,
- Fonseca 2007 – Early stage, 11 years old, berry fruit, some bottle development, brown edges on rim
- Croft 2003 – Very hot summer, Croft style is rich
- Noval 2000 – Dry winter, opening up, spicy, resiny, silky
- Warre’s 1997 – 20 years old in secondary stage of development, prune, dried fruits, cooked, stewed fruits, 1997 was extreme weather, this glass had violet and very floral aromatics
- Noval Nacional 1994 – Even at 24 years old, this port was still a baby, tannic, brooding, reserved, ungrafted vines, intense concentration of fruit
- Taylor’s 1985 – 85 was a big year for vintage port, all the producers said it was an outstanding year and that some was still available to purchase in the marketplace
- Graham’s 1983 Velvet
- Dow’s 1980 Nose of express It was a hot dry year