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.





Visit to Porto and Douro: Day 2 Tasting at Ramos Pinto

One of my objectives in visiting the Douro is to define the style of each Port House. Some are more distinct than others, of course. At Taylor Fladgate yesterday morning, Croft seemed to have the most overt style, Fonseca was generous as always, and Taylor was the most refined and precise. Then in the afternoon, Churchill showed a characteristic thread of acidity, sometimes verging on minerality, always precise, through both tawnies and rubies. Today I spent the morning at Ramos Pinto with Ana Rosas, the fifth generation of the family to be involved in winemaking, who has recently taken over as their master blender.

Ramos Pinto has long been known for the quality of their tawny ports. “Tawny really is the soul of Port, it’s what the house is about, it’s how we have learned to age the wines, it’s the style of the house,” says Ana.

Defining style was a challenge as the ten year aged tawny comes from their vineyard in Douro Superior, Quinta de Ervamoira (near Foz Coa), while the twenty year tawny comes from Bom Retiro in Cima Corgo. The ten year shows all the power of the Douro Superior, the hottest and driest part of the region; in fact, the average age is between 12 and 13 years because the wines are initially so intensely colored that they take longer then ten years for the color to attenuate to the point at which the wine can be approved for tawny port. It’s still quite dark for a tawny.

The twenty year was my favorite in the tasting, expressing the full delicacy and nuance of the aged tawny style. We are also tasted some of the wines that are blended into it, some very old and concentrated (like the 1924 and 1964) so that only very small amounts are used. How many different lots are blended, I asked Ana. “I really don’t know,” she said, “it’s too many to count and the amounts that are used vary widely.” In the tasting room, there’s a large array of small bottles with samples of wines for blending. Ana calls this her piano.

RamosPinto1The “piano” of samples for blending

The 30-year tawny shows more concentration and intensity than the 10-year or 20-year, with a style that’s between them in terms of the balance between power and elegance, as it’s a blend from both Ervamoira and Bom Retiro and other vineyards (all owned by Ramos Pinto, who use only estate grapes). Ramos Pinto do not usually produce a 40-year tawny (you might certainly feel that the 30-year takes the style as far as it can go) but exceptionally there is presently a 40-year tawny, made in tiny amounts as a celebration, which shows the style of the 20-year taken to an even higher level of concentration.

So I may have failed in my basic objective of defining style, but I’m happy to say that in effect there’s a style for everyone here: 10-year or perhaps 30-year if you like some forcefulness, and 20-year if you prize delicacy.

20-year Aged Tawny

Light elegant color is a marked contrast with the depth of the 10-year. Very fine elegant impression to nose in quite distinct style. Refined on the palate with a delicate nutty impression, with a lovely balance supported by lacy acidity. Overall an impression of beautiful delicacy.

30-year Aged Tawny

Fine impression to nose, with more intensity but less delicacy than the 20-year. Lots of concentration and flavor, but maintains freshness, with a lingering, sweet, nutty aftertaste.

We also tasted some old vintage Ports, going back from 2000 to 1924. My favorite was the 1963.

Vintage 1963

Very soft on palate, lightening in color and aroma, you might say the spectrum is part way to tawny. Very fine and just a touch spirity as it develops.


RP2The Ramos Pinto Lodge on the waterfront at Gaia.