Vintage Port is one of the world’s most extreme styles. It’s only made in the best years when the ‘Vintage is Declared’. Taylor’s and Fronseca are two of the very best houses.
Take an array of red varieties with different personalities, throw them in a lagare, grab a couple dozen stompers and get them to tread the grapes, ferment it for a bit then pour in some brandy spirit leaving you with high sugar, tannin, acid, and, alcohol backed by rich fruit.
On face value how could it work? Like all the great wine styles in the world the top echelon, the best houses of Portugal have found a way.
The searing acidity of the best vintage ports and exceptional tannins balances the sweetness of the sugar, alcohol and of course fruit. Despite the strength of these superb wines they have amazing finesse, elegance, and, restraint.
The complexity of these wines offers such intrigue!
The Importance of Blending
At Yarra Yering we made a VP style, the Port Sorts, renamed Pot Sorts for export after naming rights for the use of Port were granted solely to the Portuguese.
Made from the traditional Port varieties, Touriga Nacional provides structural tannin backbone, earthiness, and a core of fruit. Tinta Cão fruit richness. Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Tinta Amarela the acid component.
In addition to the above the best known red varieties for Port production include the Touriga Francesa, and, Tinta Barroca but in total there are around thirty types of Port grape. Most of these varieties have relatively small thick-skinned berries which produce the dense concentrated must (grape juice) needed to make Port.
Although they may be planted separately, the varieties are normally harvested and fermented together. Each grape variety contributes its own particular character – such as the intense flavours of woodland fruit, delicate floral scents, exotic spicy notes or the wild resiny aromas of gumcistus – to the nose of the wine. The grape varieties work together like instruments in an orchestra to create a subtle, complex and multi-dimensional harmony.
Port is a fortified wine. Fortified wines are made by adding a proportion of grape spirit, or brandy, to the wine at some point during the production process. Port is arguably the greatest of all fortified wines and its paramount expression, Vintage Port, ranks alongside the finest produce of Bordeaux or Burgundy as one of the great iconic wines of the world.
In the case of Port, the addition of the brandy takes place before the wine has finished fermenting. This means that the wine retains some of the natural sweetness of the grape, making it rich, round and smooth on the palate.
One of the fascinating aspects of Port wine is its variety of different styles, each with its own characteristic flavours, from the intense berry fruit flavours of a Reserve or a Late Bottled Vintage to the rich mellowness of an Aged Tawny or the sublime complexity of a Vintage Port.
About Taylor’s & Fronseca
Both owned and made by the Guimarens family under the guidance of David. These are two of the great Port estates.
In 1692, an important chapter in the history of Port began. Job Bearsley, an English merchant, travelled to Portugal to venture into the wine business, founding the company we now know as Taylor’s. Today, it is one of the oldest and most renowned Port producers, and its Ports are considered amongst the finest in the world.
After each harvest, the tasting panel selects the finest Port wines from the three properties and these are then left to age for two winters in oak vats.
In their second Spring, they are tasted again. If they are judged to be of exceptional quality, the Port wines of the three estates are blended together, Vargellas bringing structure, elegance and complexity to the wine and Terra Feita and Junco body, depth and powerful, concentrated fruit.
At this stage it must be decided whether a Vintage Port is to be ‘declared’. For a declaration to be made, the Vintage Port blend must be of outstanding quality: austere in its youth, with tremendous depth of flavour and massive structure, capable of evolving over years, or decades into that quintessence of great Port, a mature Taylor’s Vintage.
Historically Taylor’s has only declared about three Vintage years per decade.
Throughout the 20th century, the making of Fonseca Vintage Ports was overseen by only four family members, Frank, Dorothy, Bruce and David Guimaraens and this has helped to make Fonseca one of the most stylistically consistent of Vintage Port producers.
The firm’s Vintage Ports are drawn from its own quintas or estates: Cruzeiro and Santo António in the Pinhão Valley, which have contributed to the firm’s Vintage Port blend for 100 years, as well the Távora Valley property of Panascal. Fonseca is unique among Port houses in making three different types of Vintage Port.
Fonseca Vintage Ports are released only when a year produces outstanding wines with long term ageing potential. These classic Vintage Ports are a blend of wines from Cruzeiro, Santo António and Panascal. Cruzeiro contributes concentrated black fruit flavours and firm tannic ‘grip’. Panascal adds an opulent luscious fruitiness and a dense velvety texture. Finally, Santo António brings complexity and vibrancy with its fine scented character and fresh acidity.
Where in the World is the Duoro Valley?
The 2016 Vintage
The weather pattern during the growing and ripening seasons had a decisive effect on the character of the 2016 wines, with their elegance, refinement, crisp acidity and magnificent tannins. Spring was unusually wet, with heavy rain and relatively cool conditions throughout April and May. This had the benefit of restoring ground water levels, depleted by the previous year’s drought, and creating reserves for the hot summer that was to follow. However, the wet spring conditions also resulted in loss of fruit in some areas and a significant reduction in yields. They also delayed the start of the ripening cycle.
Véraison started late, with the first signs visible around the second week of July. From early July, hot dry conditions prevailed until well into September. In spite of the heat, maturation was even and gradual. Together with the late start to the cycle, this meant that, at the end of August, the crop was still far from ripe. Some rainfall in mid-September helped to round off the maturation.
Producers that delayed picking until after the rains were rewarded with perfect harvesting conditions, with cool nights helping to extend fermentation times and allow for gentle extraction.
The first grapes were picked at Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas on 17th September, with the Pinhão Valley estates following on the 23rd and 26th respectively.
Picking at Fonseca’s Panascal estate began on 21st September and at Quinta do Cruzeiro in the Pinhão Valley on the 28th. Fonseca’s third property, Quinta do Santo António, only started harvesting on 6th October.
Drinking Vintage Port
🍷DECANTING – Vintage Port forms a natural deposit in the bottle and should be decanted. Stand the bottle upright a few hours before decanting to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle.
🌡SERVING TEMPERATURE – Serve at 16ºC to 18ºC. Vintage Port is best drunk one to two days after opening.
🍑🧀PAIRING SUGGESTIONS – Walnuts, blue veined and other richly flavoured cheeses are excellent accompaniments to Vintage Port; so too are dried fruits such as apricots or figs.