The 2020 Port vintage was the smallest harvest this century and produced incredibly concentrated, well-structured, dark wines in very low quantities – with the most outstanding wines originating from the Cima Corgo sub-region of the Douro. Accordingly, the Symington family have chosen to do an exceptional limited release bottling of two special edition Vintage Ports from Graham’s and Warre’s – drawn exclusively from a few of the best performing parcels from their estates in the Cima Corgo.
These special Vintage Ports mark the historic milestones in 2020 of Graham’s 200th anniversary and Warre’s 350th anniversary, celebrations for both of which were cancelled by the onset of the Covid pandemic. The fact that the Douro’s terroir provides such a variety of microclimates is a huge advantage in a year like 2020.
It takes a rare constellation of events for quality to be consistently exceptional throughout the region (as in 2011, 2016 and 2017). In 2020, the Symingtons believe the extraordinary conditions of the year gave rise to some truly outstanding wines and were in London recently to preview the new releases with the Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
“2020 was a real Cima Corgo vintage” ~ Charles Symington
Warre’s 2020 Vintage Port, 20% Abv.
A wonderfully luscious vintage port with a profound textural depth and aromatic complexity. Beautifully lifted and perfumed, the nose is at once compact, intense and packed full of black and blue berry fruits but also super pure and precise with hints of violets, cherry blossom, melted liquorice, black cherry and mulberry jam. The palate shows a fabulous balance of freshness, power and precision with a dense creamy textural intensity enlivened by the most vibrant integrated acidity together with plush creamy ripe sweet tannins. This Warre’s connects all the dots and delivers one of the most profound and invigorating young Port experiences possible.
(Wine Safari Score: 99/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Graham’s 2020 Vintage Port, 20% Abv.
Another colossal wine, the Graham’s Port displays all the 2020 vintage muscle, power and density with lovely earthy black berry notes, hints of black plum confit, black liquorice, freshly cut hedgerow sappy spice and subtle graphite nuances. The palate is crisp and precise with a magnificently polished marble texture, massive brooding density and a long, profound finish showing saline black currant confit with little fruit spikes of pristine red berry fruits. Impressively compact and complex, this should age incredibly well owing to its seamless harmony and sheer density. Really quite profound.
Equilibrium, harmony, finesse and elegance characterise the great Vintage Ports of Noval, which are declared only when they are certain that the year has produced a blend, however small, that is worthy of bearing the name of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port.
Noval always follows its own path in its approach to declaring Vintage Ports. If they believe that they have the wines of the right quality and personality to join the ranks of the Quinta do Noval Vintage Ports of previous years, they will bottle it and declare it, even if this means declaring several years in a row, and even if it means, as is often the case, bottling only a few hundred cases of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, representing a tiny percentage of the total production of the Quinta. In the case of 2019, the selection of 2,780 cases represents just 14% of their production.
2019 was marked by a mild winter and generally dry conditions, with almost no rain from May to the end of August. While in many parts of Europe producers faced heat waves, and although the Douro Valley enjoyed prolonged sunny weather, summer temperatures were fortunately lower than usual this year, making the absence of rain easier to bear for the vines. Moreover, low humidity led to low disease pressure in the vineyards and beautifully healthy grapes. Harvest started on September 9th for the red varieties. Harvesting conditions were ideal, with moderate temperatures and overall dry weather. A small amount of helpful rain fell on September 21st-22nd and later between October 14th and 17th. Yields were slightly higher than their 10-year average and musts showed great natural acidity and freshness.
Quinta do Noval 2019 Vintage Port, 19.5% Abv.
100 g/l RS | 5.55 TA | 3.63 pH
Made from a fine selection of grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinto Cão, Sousão and Tinta Roriz sourced from 145 hectares over three large areas of vineyards allowed for a lot of flexibility at blending time, with the 2019 representing 13 different parcels that all add a unique character to the finished wine. Elegance and balance are the hallmarks and are all present in the 2019 in abundance. In many ways, the 2019 resembles the 2018 on steroids with just more profundity. Immediately attractive, deliciously forward and fresh, there is great finesse and balance in evidence with a silky, creamy texture and a youthful approachability. Gone are the old school grippy tannins of years gone by that used to be found on most young vintage Ports. Indeed the 2019 shows no less tannins and structure, just much more precision, purity, freshness and black fruit focus. (2,780 cases produced)
The 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port was one of the fastest selling ports released by the winery… or at least it was until they released the 2019. At the release tasting of the 2019 Niepoort vintage Port, Dirk interestingly also showed us his 2000 Vintage Port because this was probably the vintage where he started to redefine how the Niepoort wines were made, with extra special attention to the little details that certainly make a very big difference to the final finished product.
In 2019, the average rainfall was low in the winter months but throughout the year, to make up for this, the Douro and in the case of Niepoort, the Cima Corgo sub-region, was lucky due to two compensating factors: firstly, the summer months were unseasonably cool and secondly the timely rainfall on the 26th-27th of August was invaluable, allowing fruit to reach complete maturity.
At Vale de Mendiz, harvesting started on the 2nd of September under fine conditions and the last grapes were received in the first week of October. All years are remembered for different and unique reasons, and 2019 will surely go down as a year with amazing natural, acids, balanced musts and very cool weather, reminiscent of the elegant year of 2008 – all in all perfect conditions in which the Niepoort house style thrives.
All the components for 2019 Vintage Port were trodden by foot in circular granite lagares with 100% of stems. The wines were racked soon after harvest, aged in “tonéis” (large oak vats) in the Douro over the winter, and then moved to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in the Spring of 2020. The average vine age is 80 to over 100 years old and the key grape varieties used in the blend were Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão, Tinta Roriz as well as a few others. At the time of tasting samples, the winery was already sold out of the 2019, so consumers will have to hunt down allocations in their individual markets from Niepoort’s importers.
Niepoort Vintage Port 2019 (Proposed Blend)
This lovely signature Niepoort 2019 vintage Port apparently has higher tannins than the famed 2017, but at this youthful stage, it is hard to comprehend this with its rich, accessible, voluptuous layers of silky, juicy soft black fruits. Benchmark certainly, a notable success – absolutely. The aromatics are so much more important than the palate flavours at this early blending phase (according to Dirk) and this enticing 2019 shows attractive notes of sweet sun ripened black berry fruits, hints of creamy molasses, savoury black stewed winter orchard fruits and a dusty, stony, smoked cigars complexity. Beautifully silky, supple and textured, there is also a fine, stony, grippy mineral tannin mouthfeel that lends a wonderful frame for the juicy blue and black berry fruit finery to be displayed. Fabulously drinkable, deliciously fresh and vibrant, but eminently bold and characterful, this is certainly another very accomplished wine from the House of Niepoort. (Residual Sugar: 88 g/l RS)
Similar to 2017, 2018 was also a brutal year of very low yields, but for different reasons. The 2017 vintage was a year of extreme drought, while 2018 was marked in the first part of the year by an unusually heavy rainfall. This meant that potential yields were naturally much reduced by the difficulties of the flowering period. Subsequently however, a long hot dry summer ensued. Water levels in the soil had been replenished, and the result of this excellent ripening period on a low yield is evident in the 2018 Vintage Noval Port, which is magnificently ripe, profoundly fleshy and expressively complex.
The Quinta do Noval Vintage Port is made exclusively from grapes from the Quinta in the heart of the Douro Valley, and the quantity bottled (1600 cases) of the 2018 Vintage Port represents just 7% of the Quinta’s production. So as usual, a very strict selection of the very best lots was made to produce the Quinta do Noval blend. Both Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa flourished in 2018, in particular the Francesa which benefited for the ideal ripening conditions, and this Vintage Port blend is, needless to say, dominated by these two premium varietals.
Quinta do Noval Single Quinta Vintage Port 2018, Douro
This 2018 wine is a wonderfully ripe expression, impressively full and exuberant with a fabulously perfumed nose of ripe blueberries and black berries, salted liquorice, crushed violets, graphite and sappy hedge row spice. With a bit of air in the glass, the wine increases its allure further to reveal notes of Christmas pudding, macerated black cherries and freshly baked blueberry crumble with seductive Asian spice nuances ever present in the background chorus. Super plump and fleshy, the palate just bursts with a rich voluminous density and opulence. The harmonious layers of creamy black and blue berry fruits roll around the palate reaching out from side to side before finally reluctantly retreating leaving a long, intense, concentrated sweet spicy finish. Another block buster from this tiny but awesome vintage. If Vintage Port is your weakness, this ones going to blow you away! Noval’s ongoing high quality vintage run continues.
With Covid-19 making a traditional tasting of the new Single Quintas Vintage Ports from the Symington Family Estates impossible in London, we fell back on the services of Zoom to listen to the facinating story of the 2018 vintage from Johnny Symington, group Chairman and Joint Managing Director and Harry Symington, the Symington group Communications Manager and also a 5th generation family member working with the Symington Family Estates. Cask samples were generously couriered from Portugal to allow a group of notable journalists to taste together including Port specialist Richard Mayson, Jancis Robinson and Neal Martin from Vinous.
So 2018 is another superb Single Quinta Vintage Port declaration for the Symington Family after doing the double with a classic Vintage Port declaration in 2016 and 2017. Like in 2015, another Single Quinta Vintage Port declaration year, the 2018s did not show quite enough consistency in quality across all the Douro Valley and across all their estates to merit another Vintage Port declaration. But as we alluded to over our Zoom tasting, the excellent quality of the 2015 Single Quinta Ports was often remarked upon by many consumers and journalists at the time and still today. But of course, this is the essence of the system that ensures which ever wines are released, Single Quintas or classic Vintage Port estate blends, the quality will be exceptional. The Single Quinta vintage wines do however represent excellent value for money with bottle quality that is certainly capable of outshining many other producers classic Vintage Ports.
With finished wines bottled in May, the Symingtons were pleased to launch their 2018 Single Quinta Vintage Ports. Only small quantities of these Ports were produced from six of their principal Quintas in 2018 and they selected two to release En-primeur this year – Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira. Both are situated in the Douro Superior on opposite sides of the river, one north-facing and the other south-facing. These estates delivered unique expressions of the vintage with lifted aromas that characterise the year. The other Single Quinta Vintage Ports produced in 2018 – Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha and Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais – will age in their cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for future release.
The 2018 Single Quinta Vintage Ports are the result of a rollercoaster growing season – with a prolonged winter drought, a deluge in spring, and heat waves through the final ripening period. Despite the challenges, the 2018 wines are characterised by a well-defined acidity and marked freshness, reflecting the characteristics of specific parcels of vineyard within each estate. The star of the year was the late-maturing Touriga Franca, which excelled in this warm harvest. Yields were extremely low with just 950g per vine – 11% below the 10-year average from their vineyards – resulting in wines with stunning concentration and piercing intensity.
Quinta do Vesuvio 2018 Vintage Port
Considered to be one of the most magnificent estates in the Douro Valley, Quinta do Vesuvio is the last major property in the region to produce its Ports exclusively using the traditional method of treading in granite lagares – an unbroken tradition since the winery was built in 1827. 2018 delivered a notably more elegant Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port with incredible concentration on the palate, beautifully balanced by the freshness from the high-lying Touriga Nacional and Sousão. I found the wine to possess a super elegant expression while showing massive concentration. Very impressive indeed. Always a dense, powerful wine, the 2018 has a hint of extra tenderness and generosity on the palate.
Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira is one of the classic riverside Douro Quintas and has belonged to Dow’s Port since 1890. Famous for being one of the two principal estates that make up the legendary Dow’s Vintage Ports, the Quinta is also renowned for producing magnificent Single Quinta Vintage Ports. The late-ripening Touriga Franca from the south-facing ‘Pedreira’ vineyards thrived in the warm harvest in 2018. The warmer conditions in 2018 are reflected in a much riper style of Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port with more muscular and generous black fruit flavours. This 2018 is true to form showing the extra palate tannin grip, endless layers of broody black and blueberry fruit concentration and a spicy liquid minerality on the long, distinguished finish. Lovely.
Other wines tasted but not being released for 2020 En-primeur:
Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais 2018 Vintage Port
Quinta dos Canais is laid out on a natural amphitheatre overlooking a pronounced bend in the Douro River. The estate has a large proportion of mature Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca which provide an essential component of Cockburn’s Vintage Ports. This 2018 Vintage Port is characterised by the estate’s signature aromas of esteva and cinnamon spice, delivered by the mature Touriga Nacional vines. With the warm final ripening period and low yields in 2018, the wine expresses a wonderful ripeness and concentration and plenty of dense meaty rich power and fragrant Touriga Nacional exoticism.
Quinta dos Malvedos has been the cornerstone of Graham’s Vintage Ports ever since it was acquired in 1890. The Quinta still contains large areas of traditional vineyard laid out on terraces supported by dry-stone walls, which face north-east, east and west, giving the estate wines a unique identity. This fabulous expression is driven by the superb Touriga Franca (50%) in the blend supported by the floral and aromatic blueberry fruited Touriga Nacional from the stone terraced vineyards which thrived in 2018, delivering the estate’s signature notes of eucalyptus and mint, a fine freshness and a lovely long and generous velvety finish with a sweet, minty, chocolately length.
(Wine Safari Score: 94-96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim 2018 Vintage Port
One of the finest Douro estates, Quinta do Bomfim is at the heart of Dow’s, providing the main structure for its legendary Vintage Ports since 1896. The estate is situated in the Upper Douro Valley with schist slopes arranged in vineyard terraces, which have yielded Dow’s most memorable wines for over a century. The sister estate of Senorha, the south-facing vineyards give fine even ripening with excellent ripeness. This wine shows plenty of muscle and power, spicy tannins and freshly cut hedgerow sapidity supported by notable freshness, sweet cassis and blackberry fruit and prominent palate texture and definition. Focused, powerful and very long. Plenty of the Dow ‘dark horse’ broody character.
Quinta da Cavadinha is the foundation of Warre’s Vintage Ports. A considerable proportion of the estate is made up of old, mixed vineyards, some of which are over half a century old. Yields are rarely above 1kg/vine and these grapes provide superb complexity and structure to the wines. The estate’s east-facing and high-lying vineyards played an important role in balancing the wines from 2018, with a well-defined acidity. The 440 metre altitude vineyards are always some of the last to be harvested with its wonderful mixed plantings of old vines. Notable elegance and freshness, purity and finesse with the most wonderful perfumed and complex ethereal aromatics of violets and lavendar. Extraordinary balance and harmony but also reveals an atypical exoticism and late season long hang time ripeness and complexity from the east facing vineyards.
After selective Port house vintage declarations in 2015 including Niepoort and Quinta do Noval, Niepoort then decided not to declare a 2016 Vintage Port when most others did, as the quality of the provisional 2017 vintage component parts were considered some of the highest quality wines Dirk had ever seen, showing similarities in style to his excellent 2015 and possibly even surpassing 2015’s exceptional final quality.
It seems to me, after tasting almost all the 2015 single Quinta Vintage Ports as well as all the 2016 Vintage Ports, that some houses got themselves into a bit of a muddle. In the end, the 2015s appear to have turned out better than most expected and then of course the pressure was automatically on to declare the ripe 2016s. The problem remained that most producers had by then already realised that 2017 was going to be a small but exceptional vintage, creating the unusual dilemma of whether or not to break the unspoken Oporto rule of never declaring two consecutive vintages in a row.
Today, in early April, the declarations for 2017 Vintage Port started and later this week, I will taste the final completed bottled expression of the Niepoort Vintage 2017 Port with Dirk Niepoort. According to Dirk, 2017 was a great year in all aspects, with the harvest promising perfection and the weather during the harvest helping to achieve this. Up until this point, 2015 was considered the best Vintage Port he’d made. 2017 follows in the same vein as the 2015, but with a touch more perfection according to Dirk …
“It is possibly our finest Vintage Port since 1945. This is a Port that is concentrated and intense with beauty and perfection shining through. Perfect tannins with a fruit component that is austere, precise and alive. The spirit is perfectly integrated, and the resulting finish is long, seductive and persistent. All its components are wonderfully balanced, a veritable orchestra in harmony. A fatal attraction with an insane potential for ageing, yet unbelievably perfect in its youth. This 2017 Vintage Port is unquestionably a King of Ports.”
The 2017 Vintage
2017 will be remembered for the intense heat and record low levels of rainfall. In-spite of the dry weather, flowering and bud burst developed under good conditions and in August and September the high temperatures during the day and cold nights allowed an even and gradual ripening. The decision to start harvesting early, at the perfect moment of ripeness, allowed grapes to be received in ideal conditions with fantastic natural acidity. Harvest at the Vale de Mendiz winery, began on 24th of August under perfect weather conditions, with musts displaying an intense colour and a powerful character. The last grapes were harvested on 26th of September. The yields were approximately 30% down on a normal year essentially due to dehydration.
I look forward to seeing Dirk Niepoort again soon when he launches his newest creation. But as the perfect entrée, I have typed up my tasting notes from the fascinating masterclass he presented in London in May 2018, where he presented eight individual 2017 Vintage Port blend components taken from barrel, alongside a his final “indicative blend”.
A Snapshot of the 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port In Component Parts: 1 to 8
Component parts 1 all came from very old vines, the majority over 100 years old, with component parts 2 also coming from very old vines from between 80 and 100 years old. Both wines deliver incredible intensity and concentration adding real gravitas and length to the blend. Blend component 3 showed fine harmony and balance while component 4 came from the Pisca vineyard and was fortified with organic spirit. As is often the case with the Pisca wines, there was a youthful aroma of bananas before melting away into sweet black berry fruits. Ripe and very concentrated, “it tastes like where it comes from so you need to use it in moderation” according to Dirk. This cuvee also showed a very fine tannin structure indeed. Component 5 was a little more vinous in weight, lighter and shorter as a wine acting to help lift the concentration of all the other component parts coming from 100% Souzao fruit. A superb blending component at 2-3% normally. Component 6 was cooler and earlier picked from the Charmes vineyard, with some of the juice going into the Niepoort Charmes unfortified red wine with the remainder being worked harder and going into the Port blend. Component 7 was rich, opulent, grippy and gravelly with savoury tannins that added a whole extra dimension to the wine. Component 8 was from a small parcel made by a small grower producing fruit and wines in a very individual style, allowing 10% to make the final preliminary blend.
Preliminary Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 Indicative Blend – (Barrel sample taken in May 2018)
Dense, long and profound with great precision, tannins and fruit power that you can savour and chew with an incredibly long finish. So many aromatic layers of graphite, sweet black berry, mulberry and nuances of blueberry preserve. Suave and elegant yet utterly imposing, powerful and masculine, very well honed and chiselled. Creamy, powerful, with powdery mineral grippy tannins, showing such fresh vibrant acid perfection, textural seamlessness and sublime harmony. Pronounced classical bramble berry fruit profile loaded with hedgerow spice, incredible intensity and precision and a very long, block-buster finish that goes on and on and on! Classy benchmark Port, this really is an inspired creation.