What a busy Spring into Summer it’s been for wine tastings! One of our most interesting tastings was the 2016 Vintage Port Preview Tasting at the Evanti Hotel in New York, featuring the launch of the 2016 Vintage Ports from ten leading Port houses, and some historic vintages.
Port wine is produced in the Douro River Valley in northern Portugal. The river flows from east to west across the Iberian Peninsula ending in the city of Porto. The main wine producing regions are located in the upper Douro in the Douro DOC.
This area produces both fortified and non-fortified wines from a range of vinifera and local varietals including among others: Bastardo, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. These grapes are planted on steep terraces in well-drained rocky soils.
What is Port?
Port wine is generally a sweet, red, fortified wine most commonly enjoyed as a dessert or after dinner beverage. There are several types of Port including whites and Rose’s however, the vintage ports are all reds. In the Douro, vintage wines are not produced every year. Rather the Port producers (or Quintas) declare vintages only during the best years. The 2016 vintage declaration was the first since 2011.
Vintage Port is of the highest quality. It is barrel aged for 2 to 3 years and is designed to be held for many years following bottling. Only 1 or 2 percent of all production is deemed as Vintage and all of these wines must be from that year’s harvest. The producer must submit samples to the Instituto do Vinho do Porto, which will determine if a vintage should be declared. It will then assign production quotas to each of the Quintas that decide to be part of the declaration.
Unlike other aged or Tawny ports, vintage ports are meant to be drunk only after a long period of aging – at least 15 years. The wines change significantly over this time. During the first 10-12 years, fruit flavors dominate the wine, after which bottle maturity begins to take hold and the wines begin to show more spicy and earthy notes. The older the port, the more these notes begin to show.
The 2016 vintage declaration came about due to an excellent growing season. The result are wines with an exceptional balance, and a crisp acidity underpinned by sturdy tannin. Yields however, were low, and volumes are below those of the last (2011) declared vintage.
The tastings at the preview were all taken directly from casks, as none of these wines will not be bottled or released until early Fall.
We tasted 11 vintage ports. In addition to tasting the 2016 vintage we were given a sample of eight earlier vintage wines ranging from those just maturing to a 37 year old Dow’s. This tasting displayed how these vintage ports age over time with the style of the year and the style of the house beginning to come together. The ports included:
- Taylor Fladgate 2016: Light and lively with violet and sweet tobacco notes on the nose. On the palate, floral up front, some distinct tea rose, and somewhat peppery on the finish. Taylor Fladgate (1985: $120): A nose just like an Old Fashioned cocktail. On the front of the palate it is an old fashioned, but this follows with a licorice, tobacco and spicy finish.
- Fonesca 2016: Current, blackberries and violet on the nose, with a very structured palate featuring black fruits and some dusty notes. In addition Fonseca (2007: $96): Still showing a lot of fruit. Distinct clove and pepper notes
- Croft 2016: Strawberry and some eucalyptus or mint on the nose. Monster fruit up front, strawberry and blueberry, with a spicy finish. Very well balanced and structured wine. Croft (2003: $65): A lot of ripe fruit and a lot of distinct tannin. Some spiciness on the finish.
- Graham’s 2016: Laundry room nose, with paper-white and other florals. Very structured on the palate, black fruits, coffee notes and a minty finish. Graham’s (1983: $123): Nose like a campfire. Still a lot of stewed fruit on the palate with some tobacco notes.
- Dow’s 2016: Lavender, coffee and spices on the nose. Super fruit up front on the palate, long linger but not a huge amount of structure. Dow’s (1980: $122): Now this is an old port. Cocoa and coffee notes on the nose. Almost no tannins left. Woody, rock rose, resins. Considered to be the last of the breed of old style ports.
- Warre’s 2016: Strawberry, violet and florals on nose. Very fruity up front with cherry black current and some tropical notes. The finish was like lemony iced tea. Warre’s (1997: $70): Laundry room nose, a lot of strawberry on the front of the palate with a sweet tobacco finish
- Quinta do Noval 2016: A single vineyard wine. Cassis and raisin (like a Sauternes) on the nose. Lots of fruit on the palate. Cherry, blueberry and strawberry. Not a lot of structure and not as powerful as its cousins. Quinta do Noval (2000: $136): Coffee and licorice on the nose. Huge cherry up front with leathery notes on the finish
- Quinta do Noval Nacional 2016: Dusty nose, with some cassis. Nice structure with plum and cherry up front and cocoa on the finish. Qunita do Doval Nacional (1994: $875): Really spicy nose with a stewed fruit palate – much like a strawberry rhubarb pie
We also sampled 2016 ports from Qunita Da Romeneira, Cockburn’s and Quinta Do Vesuvio .
Tawny Port goes with more than you might think – before, during or after dinner. Try a strong cheese such as Stilton with Tawny port or with a spicy cheese, or salty appetizers such as olives, pretzels or Marcona almonds.
We also suggest it with lamb or roasted meats, duck breast and rich game meats.
Instead of reaching for the same-old same-old why not try Port at your next dinner party?
For more on vintage ports, visit the Instituto do Vinho do Porto
Thank you to our wine and spirits columnist, John Dunham for this report