Port 2016: a Glorious Vintage

The vintage marks a sea change from the tradition that Vintage Port is undrinkable when young. Tasted just before release, virtually all Ports of this Vintage are amazingly approachable and can be drunk even now, except for Quinta do Noval Nacional, which shows its structure more obviously, and perhaps Taylor, which is very firm. “Young Port can take a bit of getting into,” says David Guimaraens, chief winemaker at Taylor Fladgate, “what’s so remarkable about 2016 is how attractive they are now.” There’s a remarkable uniformity of purity in the fruit expression. “The character of the vintage is the purity of fruits and the linear backbone and precision,” says Charles Symington. Whether the new approachability is due to better viticulture, better control of tannins, or improvement in the quality of brandy added to stop fermentation, the result is unmistakable, a case of having your Port and drinking it, as the wines have both immediacy and longevity.

Making Port is not for the fainthearted given the mountainous nature of the vineyards

  • Cockburn comes from one of the warmest spots in the Douro and made back-to-back declarations in 2015 and 2016. Perfumed aromatics on the nose lead into a fresh palate with some almost malic impressions, and just a faint touch of raisins on the finish. It is almost ready! 93
  • Croft shows taut mountain fruit, emphasized by a strong concentration of secondary varieties. Made traditionally in granite lagares, it is silky, sweet, and refined, with a good sense of precision. 93
  • Dow’s is typically fermented a little drier than the average Port, and it’s obviously not quite as sweet as the other Ports of the 2016 vintage, giving a slightly restrained first impression. Light and elegant rather than powerful, with faint acid lift at the end, very pure on the palate with chocolaty impressions on the nose. 92
  • Fonseca has a sense of minerality and precision offsetting the richness of the fruits in this vintage. Elegant yet showing the usual weight of Fonseca, this is a great success for the vintage. 95
  • Graham’s shows a sense of precision and lightness of being, you might almost say airy, but there is a sense of iron in the backbone. “Tannins are so integrated at first impression, you ask, ‘where are the tannins?’, says Charles Symington. This is a classic demonstration of Graham’s elegant style. 95
  • Quinta do Noval opens with a fresh, complex nose, with herbal impressions. Very refined, almost tight, on the palate, with a great sense of precision and an impression that it’s a fraction less sweet than average. 95
  • Quinta do Noval Nacional made only 170 cases in 2016. The nose is sweet and tight, The palate is deeper than Noval, with more sense of tannic structure on the finish, giving very much an impression of old vines. Richness coats the palate and hides the structure, but the tannins show as dryness at the very end. This needs time but will last for ever. 96
  • Quinta da Romaneira has a very lively expression on the nose. Very sweet and rich on the palate, it is more obvious than Noval. The sweetness shows in front of the structure, and it’s weightier, but not as precise as Noval, reflecting its warmer microclimate. 92
  • Quinta do Vesuvio shows a sweet style, in fact its sweetness is perhaps the most evident among all the Vintage Ports. The palate is faintly raisined and faintly malic, with lifted aromatics. 92
  • Taylor’s has a discrete nose verging on austerity. The palate gives a firm impression of iron in the backbone, although the tannic structure is pushed into the background by the fruits. You can see the Vargellas vineyard in that austerity and structure, balanced by the voluptuous fruits from the rest of the blend. This must be one of the wines of the vintage. 95
  • Warre shows its more feminine side, without the weight of the heavy-hitters, but is typically elegant and fresh, and almost ready. 92

The wines were tasted at an event when the major Port Houses in the Taylor Fladgate and Symington groups, together with Quinta do Noval, presented their entire range of 2016 Vintage Ports in New York this week.

 

 

 

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Visit to Porto and Douro Day 3: Morning at Quinta da Noval

Quinta da Noval has always been an icon for me because of the Nacional vineyard, a tiny plot of 1.7 ha just below the winery, where the vines are all planted on their own roots. Apparently it was treated heavily against phylloxera, but as the present vineyard was planted in 1924, it’s not obvious why it wasn’t planted on rootstocks. Unfortunately I’ve never had the 1931, which some people consider the best Port of the twentieth century, but I was able to visit the vineyard and taste the latest vintage. It has a large number of different varieties, all mixed together, which is common in old vineyards in the Douro, and as vines die they are replaced by another of the same variety. It’s a mystery how the vines are able to survive on their own roots when all around it is necessary to graft to avoid being consumed by phylloxera.

NovalNacional2Quinta da Noval

Quinta da Noval is a lovely property high up above Pinhao, with about 145 ha of terraced vineyards. The Port is made in modernized lagares, modernized in the sense that they have heat exchangers to control temperature, but traditional in the sense that the grapes are still trodden by foot for the first three days, as winemaker António Agrellos considers this produces the best results. After that, a robot takes over. Since 2000, Noval has produced red table wine as well as Port. “When we took over, the vines were not in very good condition, and with 60-70 ha we didn’t have enough grapes to make table wine as well as Port, but we have planted and now we have enough,” António says. “We’ve tried foreign varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t work but Syrah is good, but mostly the wine comes from indigenous varieties.”NovalNacional4

An old vine in the Nacional vineyard

We tasted the range of red wines and Ports. Here are some highlights.

Labrador 2012 (table wine)

This is a pure Syrah. “This is not an authorized variety, but many people plant it and we’d like it to be authorized for the Douro,” says António. Aromatics and palate somewhat reminiscent of Northern Rhone, smooth somewhat along lines of Cote Rotie, just a faint touch of pepper on the finish. Still rather young, needs time.

Colheita 2000

This shows just a touch more complexity on the nose than the 20-year tawny Port, with the fruits cut by a vaguely herbal impression. Sweetness is subsumed by flavor variety and seems more subtle. Lovely combination of iron structure and elegant fruits, with lots of character.

Vintage 2013

“Our aim is to make a vintage Port every year,” says António. There wasn’t one in 2010, but since then there has been one for three years running. For me, the most recent, the 2013, is the most approachable at present. Restrained nose shows aromatic black fruits just poking out. Already wonderfully smooth with layers of flavor developing. A little spicy, a touch nutty, but not too spirity. Promises to become extremely elegant.

Nacional 2011

Silky smooth over and above the 2011 Noval. Layers and layers of structure underneath an elegant sheen of the fruits, iron fist in the velvet glove; concentration of old vines shows through, but without heaviness.Vinicide to drink now.

Noval2The lagares