Port wine - produced in Portugal's Douro Valley - is typically a blend of several vintages of wine. When exceptional vintages are identified, a vintage port is declared. Winemakers usually make this determination about two years after the vintage. Vintage port makes up only about two percent of total port production, so the wines are rather rare and usually rather expensive.
You may have seen wines made in America bearing the name "port," and that's because the US does not recognize port as a protected style. The European Union does, however, so any European wines made in the style of port may not carry the name unless they come from the Douro Valley.
The Douro is the world's oldest official wine region, having attained that status in 1756. It predates Bordeaux as a recognized appellation by nearly a hundred years.
Port wine is made by adding a grape spirit to the wine during fermentation. That stops the fermentation and provides a good deal of residual sugar along with a higher alcohol content than is usually seen in wine. Port generally registers about 20 percent alcohol.
There are over a hundred grapes permitted in the making of port, but it usually boils down to five grapes: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz - known across the border in Spain as Tempranillo, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.
One of three stops across America for the five major port houses, the Los Angeles event showcasing the 2011 vintage ports was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in early June 2013. The hotel is a pretty swanky joint, known for its Polo Lounge - as in, "I'll take my calls at the Polo Lounge." Although it's not such a necessity since the advent of cellular technology, it must have been quite a bit of social bling to have a waiter bring the phone to your table there, back in the day. Now, you're just another cellular idiot ruining everyone's restaurant experience.
We gathered in the hotel's Sunset Room to feast on the recently declared - and widely hailed - 2011 vintage ports. As an added attraction, there were vertical tastings of the other declared vintages of the past decade. Represented were The Fladgate Partnership - Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft - Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira. Quinta, I learned, is the Portuguese word for "estate."
The 2011 Vintage Ports
The elegant booklet provided at the tasting contained a paragraph on what makes the 2011 vintage so special that it was declared. "The 2011 harvest was preceded by a cold, wet winter, providing ground water reserves which allowed a balanced ripening of the grapes during the hot, dry summer." The description goes on to call 2011 a "textbook viticultural year."
Croft 2011 - Five thousand cases of this wine were produced, which is down from eight thousand cases produced of the Croft 2009 Vintage Port. Croft is known for its opulent ports, and this one follows suit, with beautiful, ripe fruit and a satiny texture.
Fonseca 2011 - The big, bold nose is quite complex. There is massive fruit here, tinged with a savory aspect. The black currant flavor is colored with notes of chocolate and anise. It's wine has great tannic structure.
Quinta do Noval 2011 - Dark aromas mix with floral notes, giving a delicate feel to a powerful wine. It's a great wine to ruminate on, if one is so disposed.
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2011 - The Touriga Nacional grapes used in the making of this rare wine - only 125 cases were made - grow on Portuguese rootstock. Ungrafted and never affected by phylloxera, the vines are considered national treasures. 2011 is this vineyard's first declaration since 2003. The wine has extremely dark color and an explosive nose full of dark fruit. The tannins really reach out and grab me.
Quinta da Romaneira 2011 - This wine shows a brambly edge on the nose and dark fruit on the palate is so concentrated it can be called bright. It feels very fresh in the mouth.
Taylor Fladgate 2011 - Here is another very dark wine - dark in color, aroma and taste. The winemaker calls it "textbook Taylor Fladgate." It's an elegant quaff which finishes warm and vibrant.
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2011 - A big and very focused wine, there is a surplus of dark fruit in the forefront and a nice, mellow finish. It is exceptional.
At the Croft table I was told that not everyone declared in 2009. The Fladgate Partnership felt it was notable, though, and the Croft 2009 shows why. Pungent herbal notes, leather and cedar mark the nose, while the tannins provide great structure. The 2007 vintage has a great nose and a delicious blueberry finish, while 2003 shows a savory side to the currant flavor.
The Fonseca 2009 is almost black and displays huge fruit on the nose and palate. A eucalyptus note shows through in the 2007 while 2003 delivers minty cherry flavors.
Taylor Fladgate's 2009 is drinking extremely well now. It's big and powerful, with cherries and blackberries notable. In their 2007 vintage, forest floor underlies the black currant. Wonderful fruit defines the 2003 as well. The Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2004 is a showboat of black cherry, cassis and chocolate, with a particularly strong finish.
Quinta do Noval 2008 shows lots of spice in its bold, savory fruit. Their 2007 gives lovely aromas and bright, fresh fruit flavors. The 2004 vintage really has the spicy notes coming forward. The Quinta do Noval 2003 also shows the spice, while giving a really nice, soft feel to the fruit. Their Nacional 2003 has big fruit and even bigger minerals.
Quinta da Romaneira 2008 has a deep floral nose and a dark, sweet show of fruit. Winemaker Christian Seely told me he is "an eccentric declarer," explaining why only his two houses declared in 2008. Their 2007 is loaded with expressive dark fruit aromas and flavors tinted with a savory edge. Great finish. The 2004 vintage is mineral-laden and delicious.
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