Port - Tawny or Ruby? - 2016 Port Vintage reviewed
As mentioned in my previous article Portugal is famous for Port, however, it is producing some phenomenal dry red wines. If you have not already done so, I would highly recommend enjoying still wines as well as Port wines from Portugal.
My trip to Portugal would not be complete without a tasting of the best 2016 Vintage Port's. These Ports are now being released to the International market. So the question everyone is asking. Should I buy the 2016 vintage Port?
The 2016 growing season did not start out as it was meant to. A warm and wet winter, followed by a cool and damp spring, meant flowering occurred later than normal. Luckily a hot summer was around the corner which helped to ripen the grapes quicker than normal. The wet winter and spring meant the soil had more than enough water, to provide sufficient relief from the hot heat spikes. Without this water being present, the vines would have struggled and the 2016 Vintage would not have been declared. September brought additional sunshine but rain as well and so the winemakers had to choose exactly when to pick, ensuring not to pick too early. Timing is everything, picking too early means you do not get the residual sugar and the acids might be too high. Picking too late means over ripen grapes. The harvest started in the second half of September, due to the slopes in the Douro, most picking is done both during the day and by hand. This is a labor-intensive process. The treading of grapes still occurs in the majority of Port houses, as this is seen as the best way to slowly extract the best color, tannins, and flavors out of the wine. Machines will never be able to produce the same quality of the wine, I was told by many winemakers. Once pressed and fermented the Port is then aged in cask for around 2 years prior to bottling.
What many do not realize is that Vintage Port is not produced every year, some producers do, however, the top producers will only produce it when the conditions are perfect. This can be around twice a decade! When all of the top Port houses produce a Vintage Port, a 'Declared Vintage' is announced. The previous 'declared vintage' was in 2011, and so there was a lot of excitement around the declared 2016 vintage. Was it as good as 2011? My impressions, and having spoken to many winemakers, is that 2016 is similar to 2007 with a little more freshness, not quite as elegant as 2011 though. This is definitely though a vintage to get excited about, and there is a purity in fruit and freshness which allows these wines to be enjoyed young. However, care should be made, since these wines will go through a dormant period between 4-8 years after the vintage. The wines will close up, so try to not open than during these years! If wines are opened, make sure to properly decant. This will allow the wines to properly open.
The other style of Port I tried were Tawny Ports. These Port's were aged in cask for 10,20 even up to 50+ years. These styles of Port will taste more oxidized with more nutty, caramel and butterscotch notes. The year on the bottle will state the minimum time that these wines would have been aged in cask for, however, most producers will age them a lot longer. One of the Tawny's I tried at Quinta do Vallado which stated 40 years, actually had an average of over 60!
My tasting took me to Quinta do Vallado, Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Graham's Port Lodge and Quinta do Noval. The recipe for the Tawny Ports had changed very little, however, I felt a smoother, round and more complex style of Tawny than what I remember. The producers seem to be aging the Tawnys for longer than the minimum requirement, as well as the care during the aging process, really showed a better final product. As for the 2016's as I mentioned above, I was impressed to see at the quality of these vintage port's at this age, I will also be following these Vintage Port's through their lives to see how they evolve.
At Quinta do Vallado, the 40-year-old Tawny(95 points), showed wonderful age and texture with notes of tobacco, coffee, caramel, and salted butter. The requirement here was 40 years, however, the average age was much higher. Their Vintage Adelaide 2015 (95 points), Port was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed the purity of fruit, the length, and finesse.This wine saw no oak.
Tawny Port's were also tasted and rated
At Quinta Vale Dona Maria, I experienced a very smooth and refined 30-year-old tawny (94 points), which was less on the toffee and more white chocolate and vanilla, this showed wonderful balance. The 2016 Quinta Vale Dona Maria Vintage Port (96 points) was just sublime, with lush fruit and fresh herbs along with velvety tannins, this Vintage Port is just beginning its life. Try not to pop the cork too early on this one!
Quinta do Vallado Adelaide 2015, 95 points. The purity of the fruit was just sensational!
Cristiano van Zellar proudly presenting his 2016 Vintage Port
Back in Porto, and I went straight to one of the most Famous families in the Port business. The Symington family owns a number of Port houses, and I tried 3 of their most famous Vintage Port's. Dow's, Warre's and Graham's 2016 Vintage Ports. The three vintage Port's showed completely different characteristics. The Dow 2016 Vintage Port (91 points) showed leather and dried flowers along with the classic red fruit profile, this had very grippy tannins which were very much present. This is one for the cellar and needs time to settle out. Graham's 2016 Vintage Port (94 points) showed notes of lush sweet red fruits along with candied cherries and ripe tannins. This had more of a sweeter profile than the other Vintage Port's tried, again very different and very unique. I enjoyed this a lot.
Port of the 2016 Vintage: Quinta do Noval - 97 Points
The final Vintage Port tried was the Warre's 2016 Vintage Port (95 points), this was very approachable, and showed notes of nutmeg, black fruit and was powerful yet refined. This was rich, layered and delicious. I also was lucky enough to experience the 1994 Single harvest Tawny (95 points). This showed incredible balance and a wonderful display of dried fruit, caramel, nutmeg, and a smooth finish.
At Quinta do Noval, I tried their range of both Port and dry still wines. The dry wines have been covered in the previous report. The highlight of the Port range was the Quinta do Noval 2016 Vintage Port (97 points), this was my Port of the Vintage. It had everything you could want from a Vintage Port. Notes of lush fresh fruit, raspberry, strawberry and nutmeg, the tannins were refined and smooth and even though. a little shy at this age, there was enough acidity to show there was a long life ahead for this wonderfully rich and balanced Vintage Port.
Port has been made for centuries, and even though the traditions of foot stomping and hand harvesting have not changed, the quality has improved vintage after vintage. I cannot point my finger on it, but the Port producers have found a way to mix the modern winemaking techniques with the traditional methods to produce wines which are truly sublime and improve year after year. The 2016 Port vintage was hugely anticipated, and with the quality available on the market this is definitely a vintage Port enthusiast will embrace. My Port of the Vintage goes to Quinta do Noval 2016 Vintage Port (97 points). This has all of the qualities of a legendary Port, which will be enjoyed for decades to come.