Port Vintage 2016: One Of The Most Declared Vintages Of All Time, A Sensational Year
by Ken Gargett
Great vintage port is one of the joys of life. Sadly, in today’s fast-as-possible world, where once it was de rigueur to conclude proceedings at any decent dinner or lunch worthy of the name with a top vintage port, now it is far too rarely sighted. Bring this back, please!
For fans of this wonderful style of wine, help may be at hand: 2016 is one of the most declared port vintages of all time. And deservedly so.
What does “declared” mean?
Port houses will “declare” vintages usually three to four times a decade (the parallels with champagne are uncanny); the vast majority of their production is in other styles such as ruby and tawny ports. Vintage ports make up just a few percent of total production.
Not all houses declare the same vintages. Some like to release a few more, others will only do so when they are convinced that the quality demands it. And with the Douro region of Portugal – where port wine originates – being the largish size it is, conditions won’t be the same across the region, so one year may suit one house but not another.
Some port houses source grapes widely to guard against this. Others focus more narrowly, some just to a few quintas (vineyards). Many producers will release vintage ports from single quintas in good but not stellar years.
The year 2016 featured a wet winter and spring, which raised concerns, but the drenching – two to three times the average – made sure that there was plenty of moisture to withstand the serious heat that was to follow: 13 days over 40°C before the end of August. A little late rain was the cherry on top.
Around 70 ports have been declared, one of the highest numbers of all time. Having had the opportunity to taste around 60 of them, it is obvious that this is a vintage for the ages, one that will soon garner legendary status.
Some from the region with the requisite experience have mentioned them in the same breath as the 1963s and the 1977s – high praise indeed.
The last general declaration was the superb 2011 vintage, but there are significant differences between the two, though any fan of port will be delighted to have both in their cellar. The 2011 is a richly flavored, concentrated, muscular and very powerful vintage, while the 2016 is elegance and finesse.
This is a year defined by grace, where purity of pristine fruit and finely crafted silky tannins are the hallmark. That said, don’t for one second assume that the 2016s are lacking concentration. Both vintages, if well cellared, will age superbly for decades.
There is a move to drink vintage ports at a much younger stage than ever before (that same lack of patience and headlong rush through life that has made these wines more curious than compulsory). They will provide an absolute kaleidoscope of vibrant flavors, though the complexity and maturity so essential to a great vintage port will be years away. If you must go early, the 2016s will be more approachable than the 2011s.
It is most definitely worth noting that when one compares other wines of similar quality, vintage ports are revealed as truly astounding bargains. Many of the 2016s will have already been sold by retailers, though you should be able to find them if you search. The prices, even though they will be higher than ever before, will still be a fraction of that charged for the top Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy, great Italians, and others of that ilk.
In Australia, expect to pay between AUD $100 and $200 for almost all but those very few rarities like the Quinta do Noval Nacional. Grab as many of the top names as you can. You will never regret it.
Which 2016 ports shone?
It is very hard to go wrong with any of the releases; they all have their charms. Obviously, some have emerged ahead of the pack. For me, Taylor’s is the wine of the vintage (100 points) with incredible length and purity; it is timeless. Its stablemate, Fonseca, is almost as good (99). That 2016 purity is also evident in the dense but dancing Churchill’s (96).
This is clearly a very exciting vintage for the Symington group, which has declared the 2016 vintage across its portfolio. It was its reticence to get behind 2015, another very fine year, that has resulted in it wearing a less exulted tag.
Among the group, Dow’s was the wine of the vintage for many in 2011 and the 2016 is on a par: a scintillating wine (99). Cockburn’s, which joined the group nearly a decade ago (and was its only 2015 release) has concentrated black fruits and crunchy tannins (96). Warre’s is ideally suited to an elegant vintage and this has claims to be the best Warre’s ever made (98). Graham’s is a serious challenger to Taylor’s for the finest of the year: impeccable. (99).
Among others, Quinta Vale Dona Maria is full of silk and spice (95); Ferreira has impressive complexity (96); Quinta do Noval is extremely good; though perhaps not quite as stellar as anticipated for such a top-class producer (95), Crasto has both power and floral nuances and exhibits that lovely pristine fruit (97); Pintas is fully flavored with great length (95); Rozes has floral and blueberry notes and lingers nicely (94); Quinta das Carvalhas offers serious concentration (94). And on it goes.
This is a vintage that should warm the hearts of all fans of port wine and bring in many more new fans.