Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Portugal’s Port Producers and the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, their trade association, “declare” exceptional years indicating that the wines are considered as a classic, very high quality product. Usually there are three or rarely four vintages declared in a decade, and, extremely rarely, two vintages are declared in a row. In the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, each top producer only declared a maximum of two vintage years.
Well… both 2016 and 2017 vintages have been “declared” by Portugal’s top producers’ groups. The weather conditions for both vintages have been very different allowing for strong harvests, and each year’s Ports are very distinctive. Thanks to global warming the 2017 vintage was the earliest one ever declared with harvest starting in late August, where the Douro valley vines produced extremely low quantity but extremely high quality grapes; compact bunches of perfectly mature grapes. The canopies were smaller as well, which further limited the water demands of the plants during a very dry summer. The Douro valley extends from the Oporto estuary in Portugal well into Spain, where it is known as Ribera del Duero. In both countries, the vineyards growing along the river are considered as producing exceptional wines.
Grapevines in the Douro valley have been there since the Roman times; and we still see stone terraces initially built by Roman soldiers and Roman viticulturists lining the hillsides.
The Symington Family Estate group consists of long-lived quality port producers with delimited vineyards dating to the 1600s. The names are world known, Symington, Warre’s, Cockburn, Dow, W. & J. Graham’s, Quinta do Vesuvio and Capela do Quinta do Vesuvio.
At the recent tasting of both 2016 and 2017 vintages, we were lucky enough to have samples from the Symington Estates, plus Fonseca - another world class producer, Krohn, Quinta do Noval, Quinta da Romaneira and Taylor Fladgate. The 2017s were powerful, muscular – but with supple and silky tannins. The pure, elegant 2016s are more opulent and more intense and had an additional year to develop in cellar. Both vintages will be remembered for years to come, if no declarations are made in the years following; but it all really depends as much on the weather as the skill of the agronomist and the winemaker. The vintage Ports of all the tasted houses were stylistically distinct but all displayed elegance, a wonderful purity of fruit and tannins of great quality.
The producers I spoke with were delighted of having back-to-back declared years. The Symington family say that 1872 and 1873 was the last time this happened for them; Taylor's quotes 1880 and 1881; and for Fonseca it was 1933 and 1934.
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