What to drink in 2021: Vintage Port


As 2021 gets going, our Cellar Plan Manager, Tom Cave, provides the first instalment of our annual series on the vintages to uncork this year, starting with Vintage Port.

Most 1970 Vintage Ports remain comfortably at their pinnacle of maturity and offer, 50+ years on, fabulous drinking. Now that ’63 and ’66, are hard to find, this is the vintage to be savouring. In most cases, the ’70s will last many a year to come.

The ’75s passed their apogee some time ago if indeed they ever had one. This sometimes-derided vintage can be a noble example of Vintage Port’s amazing resilience. A ’75, well-stored, will appear very pale but still offer up a fair experience.

The ’77s are altogether burlier. This was a vintage that was distributed plentifully and widely; they are not hard to find and at reasonable prices (especially when you remember their age). Their spirit, sometimes a little raw, can now show in the lesser brands which implies they are at their best, though the grander names like Dow, Fonseca, Graham, Taylor and Warre march on resolutely.

Vintage Ports from the 1980s

The ’80 vintage, notably from Dow, Graham and Warre, remains in a good place, though I’ve not had a chance to taste any this last year.

Vintages ’83 and ’85 make up the trio of generally declared vintages that decade; ’83 mostly plays second fiddle to 85. The 83s can display a few shades of dryness that perhaps are becoming more prevalent, hinting at their drinking sooner than the more fruit-driven and confident 85s. As a generalisation, both vintages have real stars among them; while mature, some have a bright future, too.

Vintage Ports from the 1990s

The 92s continue to gallop on with self-confidence over their less successful but still worthy fellow 91s. A split declaration, ’92 being the preferred.

Vintage 94 brings more uniformity and a generally very high standard. Animated wines of excellent balance, they make wonderful drinking now for those after almost hedonistic, lush, spicy, heart-warming qualities. They have a great future ahead. It holds its banner as the go-to vintage for enthusiasts of old-style, age-worthy port and those more in tune to enjoying younger wines.

The 97 vintage has stars among it, Dow being a principal one; this was the start to this fine house’s resurgence as one of the best. The ‘97s at this level need a decade or two longer, though several hours in a decanter will afford good drinking.

Vintage Port: 2000 and beyond

The 2000s remain largely undercover. It was around this time that the Portuguese government’s monopoly on supplying the aguardente (the spirit used to stop the wines’ fermentation, the critical factor for making a Port) came to an end. Winemakers were allowed to select less ferocious examples. This, coupled with much-improved techniques, has led to Ports that are less aggressive when young. Still, 00 and 03 warrant more time, would be the consensus.

Vintages ’07, ’11, ’16, and ’17 represent an ongoing trend: producers are releasing more declared vintages, if in lesser quantities. After all, the quality is there. And the smaller volumes make for a livelier market. Both reasons combined suggest we should look out for “single quinta” wines from vintages now always generally declared (like 2018), which are rapidly becoming as strong brand names as the prime ones. Look out for Quinta do Vesuvio, Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas and Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, among others; in time, they will become as renowned as any.

Browse our complete range of Vintage Port.