Vintage Port…and a possible declaration!



Last month I attended a tutored tasting of Vintage Ports at our St James’s Street Cellars, kindly hosted by Johnny and Paul Symington. The wines ranged from the still very youthful (1994, 1997, 2000, 2003) to the mature and very distinguished (1945, 1955, 1963, 1966 & 1970) via those vintages in between (1977, 1983 & 1985) that represent years that generally have, perhaps, not fulfilled their early promise.

The 1994 Warre is clearly a superlative wine with awesome potential. Very much in a closed stage it still showed Warre’s elegant, harmonious style and is a vintage that looks set to rival the very best. 1997 Dow likewise showed the shipper’s typically firm dryness, but is just beginning to reveal some more mature notes. 2000 Graham more than lives up to its millennium label and while not unapproachable to taste, it is a wine of huge richness and depth that will last and last. 2003 was unnaturally hot for most of Europe, but wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary for the upper Douro where 40+ degrees is not uncommon – the vines just closed down in the heat meaning picking was late. The 2003 Warre on show revealed a typical floral style and has, reassuringly, plenty of promise ahead.

There is little doubt that these latter years have benefited from varietal planting and the subsequent picking by variety rather than plot regardless of which vine was grown there; as well as the successful introduction by the Symington group of auto-lagares for much of their Vintage Port’s production: a more reliable, more controllable, and eventually more cost-effective method.

The mid-1970s were not Portugal’s, nor the Port wine trade’s, finest years due to political unrest, but the 1977 vintage saw markets expand after a difficult few years globally. The 1977 Dow was certainly agreeable but one can’t deny it is not showing the potential first awarded the vintage. 1983 Graham revealed an aged character of coffee and even toffee notes and 1985 Warre  was integrated, soft and rounded. We didn’t have a 1980 to show, which is a pity as the Symington wines excelled in this vintage – and I haven’t seen a 1975 for ages, these were in some cases finally proving their worth but only at their last breath. Time will tell just how 1977, 1983 and 1985 fare – but I for one, with a few exceptions, go with the trend and recommend they be considered ready for drinking.

Mature Vintage Port is one of wine’s greatest achievements – it is so often the most remembered wine of a meal and this usually from those who all too frequently claim never to touch a drop. The 1945 Dow, from one of the most evocative of all years, pretty much anywhere, had a richness and power that defines all that is best in great Vintage Port – quite literally dissolving in the mouth. 1955 Graham in magnum showed a glowing sweetness of fruit and can be classed as ‘gently fading’ now; the 1963 Warre had a delicacy (house style again) yet also a punchiness from the vintage that saw the Port trade’s revival after the post-war slump. 1966 Graham  showed more evolvement than 1963, a hot vintage even for the Douro and harder to manage in those days but still developing and very satisfying. 1970 Dow  ticked all the boxes: elegant and amenable, with some energetic tannins still there to tickle the tongue – it is a delicious vintage to drink now or keep another 20 years.

It was a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable evening which will have revealed to all some more about the Douro and the sheer dedication and long-term commitment the Symingtons, and others, have for their wines. They are among the very best in the world.

It was fun too to listen to Messrs Symingtons’ coy observations on whether 2007 will be declared a vintage come April. The Port shippers are bound by the IVDP not to declare until authorised formally, but it is looking an odds-on certainty that come St George’s Day (in fact the Symingtons like to come out a day or two earlier, that is, of course, if they do declare…) a very high quality, though low quantity, 2007 vintage will be declared. We will keep you updated!