A number of leading Port houses, including Graham, Dow, Warre and Quinta do Noval, declared 1997 a vintage year, saying in late March that their young fortified wines are some of the best in years. However, several others, such as Taylor-Fladgate, Fonseca, Cockburn and Croft, were still unsure of the quality of their wines and were waiting until later this month to make a decision.
"The 1997s are looking very good indeed," said Rupert Symington, a director of family-run Symington Port Shippers, which controls such esteemed Port houses as Graham, Dow and Warre. "The quantity of our '97 vintage Port is very much smaller than for the 1994, but we have excellent wines."
Christian Seely, the managing director of Quinta do Noval, concurred. "We are very happy with the quality of our 1997," he said. "I don't know if it will live up to the greatness of 1994, but it is very, very good nonetheless."
When a Port house makes a vintage declaration, it essentially announces its intention to bottle a certain amount of Port from a particular vintage. Traditionally, declarations are made the second spring after the harvest. The last declaration was 1994, one of the greatest-quality vintages ever. All of the Port shippers made a 1994. Recent declared vintages prior to that include 1992 (principally Taylor-Fladgate and Fonseca), 1991 (most other houses), 1985, 1983, 1982 (a few) and 1980.
The 1997 prices were still under discussion in Oporto, Portugal, the base for most Port houses. Many expected the young Ports to sell for more than the opening price of the 1994s, placing them in the range of $45 to $100 per bottle. These prices are for futures, meaning the wines are sold before they are bottled, usually at a price lower than when they are released. Many '97 Ports will be on the market before Christmas.
"I guess that the market will judge the wine against the 1994s," said Symington. "So, it will be a rerun of the '66 after the '63 and the '80 after the '77. In other words, although the wines are great, they will probably not get the recognition they deserve until a few years down the road, when people will realize how good they are. We do not mind, as they will prove to be great and will lie very well in our cellars -- which are rather empty at present!"
For more on other vintage Port declarations:
For recent vintage Port reviews by James Suckling:
To learn more about Port:
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