We can all look forward to a great vintage of Port--or Porto, as it is officially called now--reaching the United States in September or October of this year; that would be the 2017. It is good timing for us and for the Porto business, because as of late there has been a revival in the U.S. for Porto, especially Vintage Porto, following a quite long period of lower interest here for this remarkable wine. The name “Porto” comes from the city of Oporto, from which all Porto is shipped abroad. It also distinguishes Porto from all the imitation “ports” around the world that have borrowed the name. The only true Port, now Porto, comes from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal.
The 2017 vintage resembles the great 1945 vintage in many ways; it had the same very low rainfall as the 1945, with the same hot, dry, temperature patterns as the 1945 vintage. The grapes were ripe extremely early, being picked in August--very unusual in the Port region.
I recently attended a tasting of 16 Vintage Portos from 2017 including all of the great Porto firms, and I was remarkably impressed. A group of owners and managers of the leading Port houses paid a visit to the U.S., as they are wont to do in great vintages, and presented their wines. Something very unusual has occurred in the Porto region: Two great vintages in a row, the 2016 and 2017--were declared by almost all producers. According to Johnny Symington, head of the Symington group of Port houses (Graham, Dow, Warre, Cockburn, Quinta do Vesuvio, and Smith Woodhouse), this is the first time in the Symington brand’s history that two great vintages in a row have been declared.
Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, the other large group of Portos at the tasting (Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, Croft, and Krohn), a man who is not prone to exaggeration, has also declared 2017 as “a very exceptional vintage” for Porto. Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes, which includes Quinta do Noval Porto, was also present at the tasting. Qunta do Noval is the house that made the 1931 Nacional (its premium Porto), that has been called the greatest Porto of all time by the critics who tasted it. I was fortunate enough to taste it many years ago; it was astounding. The few bottles of this Porto that are left in the world can be purchased for about $6,OOO each--not that crazy a price when compared to a Bordeaux or Burgundy of that quality.
Interestingly, the British invented Porto. As the story goes, in the 1600s the Brits were involved in one of their many wars with France, and thus were deprived of getting wine from their usual source, France. The Brits turned to Portugal, but the Portuguese wines couldn’t withstand the long sea voyage at that time. And so the Brits added a small amount of brandy to Portugal’s finished dry red wines, and the first “Ports” were the result. The Brits established the first Port house, Warre, in the city of Oporto in 1670. Porto is still a stronghold wine in the UK, and the Brits still run much of the Port business in Portugal. Ironically, the French, who drove the Brits to go to Portugal, drink three times as much Porto as the British today. But of course France has the highest per capita consumption of wine of any major country in the world.
Porto can legally be made from over 80 major grape varieties! The five most important varieties are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Tinto Câo, and Touriga Franca; the first two are the most commonly used varieties. Vintage Portos in great years can last up to 100 years. Good vintages often need up to 20 years or more to fully mature. The 2017 vintage is quite forward, apparently a current trend in the Douro; many can even be enjoyed in a few years. Normally, I wait at least 8 to 10 years after the vintage to try them. Many Vintage Portos are also available in half-bottles, for me an ideal size.
I list the 16 Portos I tried in the order I tasted them, with a brief comment and a rating of each wine; 2017 prices have not been established yet, but I will list the average cost of the 2016 equivalent in the U.S., as a guide:
Cockburn’s Vintage Porto 2017 ($82): Intense aromas on the palate jumping out at you, primarily ripe blueberries and blackberries; quite sweet, elegant, and surprisingly soft. The Cockburn style emphasizes finesse rather than power. 89
Croft Vintage Porto 2017 ($95): Croft is the oldest active winery in Portugal; it was founded in 1588. A very traditional house; its 2017 is intensely flavored, with black cherry aromas. It is lovely even now, but it should be very fine in 10 to 15 years. 93
Croft “Quinta da Roeda” Vintage Porto 2017 (price not available): Quinta da Roeda is one of the greatest vineyards in the region, with grapevines that are over 100 years old. But its vineyards have not been used for a single-vintage Porto until now. The wine has rich, ripe, black fruits and silky tannins; it will need many years to reach is peak. 95
Dow’s Vintage Porto 2017 ($112): Dow has always been a personal favorite of mine because I love the style. Although powerful and intense with floral aromas, this full-bodied wine is more austere and drier than other Portos, a reflection of its two riverside vineyards, including the excellent Quinta do Bomfin. 94
Fonseca Vintage Porto 2017 ($101): A classic Fonseca, rich, intense, and powerful. Everyone of Fonseca’s Portos since its founding in 1815 has been made by five generations of the Guimaraens family. Exotic and opulent, with power and complexity to spare, Fonseca Portos possess great longevity. Always one of the best. 96
Graham’s Vintage Porto 2017 ($107): One of the great, classic Portos., Graham’s always are very rich and concentrated. This 2017 shows blackberry and black plum aromas and flavors. Graham’s Portos usually need time to develop, as does this wine. 92
Graham’s “The Stone Terraces” Vintage Porto 2017 ($276): Graham’s star, this 2017 is only the fourth release of this magnificent Porto made from the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos, a superb vineyard. It has super concentration, combined with finesse and fresh acidity. Only 96,000 bottles made, a tiny quantity for vintage Porto. 97
Krohn Vintage Porto 2017 ($68): Since being acquired by The Fladgate Partnership in 2013, Krohn has been making more appearances on the international scene. Ripe, dark berry aromas and flavors, but also showing red berry and plum flavors on the palate. Somewhat austere for a 2017--which is a very ripe, rich vintage. 90
Quinta do Noval Porto 2017 ($104): Quinta do Noval is a single-vintage Porto; it produced just 3,600 cases in 2017. This Porto combines the usual characteristics of Noval, finesse and elegance. It is just lovely, harmonious and now complete. It can even be enjoyed now, but it will even be greater with maturity. 96
Quinta do Noval “Nacional” Porto 2017 ($1,095): Nacional is a small parcel (less than two hectares) in the heart of the Quinta do Noval vineyard. Its vines are ungrafted because it was mysteriously untouched by the phylloxera louse. The wine is so intense and just lovely. This incredible Porto is only made in great vintages, with never more than 250 to 275 cases. 98
Quinta Da Romaneira Porto 2017 (price not available): Owned by Christian Seely, Managing Director of Quinta do Noval. One of the largest estates in the Porto region, the wine is made from older vines of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca in the heart of the vineyard. The 2017 is very rich, intense, and lovely. 95
Taylor Fladgate Porto 2017 ($108): Founded in 1692, Taylor, Fladgate, and Yeatman has been family-owned throughout its history, and is regarded by many critics as the greatest Porto house. Elegant and austere when young, it takes on more power and complexity with ageing, and is arguably the most long-lived of all Portos. The heart of Taylor Fladgate Portos comes from the incomparable Quinta de Vargellas vineyard, perhaps the finest of all Porto vineyards. The 2017 is intense and muscular, already showing signs of its future greatness. 98
Taylor Fladgate “Vargellas Vinha Velha” Porto 2017 ($365 or more): Made in only great vintages, this is just the eighth Vinha Velha vintage porto to be released. It is produced in very small quantities, from the oldest vines in the Vargellas vineyard. The 2017 (only 408 cases) is voluptuously rich, very intense and concentrated; with time, amazing aromas develop from this magnificent Porto. The last Vargellas Vinha Velha released, the 2011, had an average price of $365. Expect the 2017 to be pricier. 99
Quinta do Vesuvio Porto 2017 ($79): The Symington family acquired this legendary estate in 1989, and have continued the 100% foot-trodden method of extraction, the ancient tradition in this estate. The 2017 is powerful, rich, and rugged, with a long, lingering after-taste on the palate; an old-style vintage Porto. 94
Capela do Vesuvio Porto 2017 (Currently unavailable): Only the third vintage produced, since its debut with the 2007 vintage. It is made from the extremely low-yielding vines of the Vinha da Capela parcel within Quinta do Vesuvio. The 2017 exhibits striking concentration and intensity, and yet it is soft and approachable. 94
Warre’s Porto 2017 ($94): Founded in 1670, Warre’s is the oldest British Port house established in Portugal. It is now owned by the Symington family. The 2017 has floral aromas; it is very intense, plummy, and concentrated, with black cherry and blackberry flavors. The 2017 Warre’s is quite dry, almost as much as Dow’s--for me an attractive quality. 95
The 2017 vintage was very dry and hot, yielding remarkably low yields, always a good sign for quality wine grapes. For the record, the greatest Porto vintages of the last 100 years have been the 2011, 1994, 1963, 1948, 1945, and 1927. It is too early to say that 2017 will join this august group of outstanding vintages, but I suggest that Porto lovers buy this vintage when it reaches our shores in the fall. My educated guess is that it will be a great vintage. Only time will tell us how great.