To declare or not: a decision no more?


The vineyards of Quinta do Noval in the Douro Valley
As a flurry of Port houses declare the 2018 vintage – following in the footsteps of 2016 and ’17 – Cellar Plan Manager Tom Cave considers whether, with quality in the region higher than ever, the distinction of declared vintages in the Douro may soon be a thing of the past

Vintage Port declarations used to be clearer cut. If the vintage was good enough and the market receptive, then the shippers generally made a unilateral decision to “declare” a vintage two or three times a decade.

This decision used most likely take place over a decanter of Port in the 18th century Factory House, that fine building in Porto which started as a meeting place for British Shippers but over the decades became more of a gentleman’s club.

It was perhaps in the last decade or two, when the journey from Porto or Vila Nova de Gaia to Pinhão took less than a day’s travel, that meeting ones’ peers and competitors at the club become less frequent. Now the scions of the Port Shippers whoosh up to their vineyards along slick autoestradas from their offices in Gaia and back in a day.

Two weeks ago, the Symington Family Estates group announced they would declare a 2018 vintage from their single quintas – Senhora da Ribeira and do Vesuvio – to be released later this year. We’ve become familiar with these two estates declaring in most years, the quality being so high. Notably, they have not declared their leading brands Graham’s, Dow and Warre.

Last week, and appropriately on St George’s Day – as is their commendable habit, the Fladgate Partnership looked to trump this by declaring a vintage of 2018 Taylor’s; the third in a row and perhaps unprecedented for a non-single quinta, along with their single quintas Fonseca Guimaraens and Quinta da Roêda.

More recently still, Quinta do Noval declare too; though we have come used to the dashing Christian Seely declaring most years as the new normal.

And why not? The quality in these wonderful wines is better than ever, yields are down and – as a delightful, youthful lockdown 1991 Quinta do Vesuvio showed – the quality of Vintage Port (universally declared or otherwise) has increased immeasurably since the huge production vintages that came out of the 1970s and ’8os.

The 2018 vintage saw winter drought, spring deluge and summer heatwaves; weather extremes that seem all too recurrent. Charles Symington believes their wines “vinified on-site in small batches… will provide fantastic drinking for many decades to come”.

We look forward to tasting all of these, and any others yet to declare, before offering them on release. One thing’s for sure, these more frequent declarations open up the post-dinner guess the vintage and shipper challenge.

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