The Douro Valley's top Port houses are declaring the 2011 vintage, making it the first generalized declaration for Vintage Port since the classic 2007 vintage.
Even though 2011 was regarded as a difficult growing season in the Douro Valley, Port producers were smiling by the end of harvest.
A rainy winter at the start of 2011 proved beneficial, providing deep water reserves for a long, dry spring and early summer. May and June, however, brought alarming hailstorms. “I was at the quinta during the hailstorms, and they brought tears to my eyes,” said António Agrellos, chief winemaker of Quinta do Noval.
The dry, hot summer threatened the crop, with vines shutting down and delaying grape maturation, but rain at the end of August and early September came to the rescue, saving the vintage, though both the hail and heat served to reduce yields.
Now, two years later, samples of most of the wines have been submitted to the Institute of Douro and Porto Wine to be tested and tasted for the highest quality rating: Vintage Port. The legal period for this process started in the third week of January, and proceeds until the end of June. Half-way through the term, the declarations are rolling in. Most of the large houses have announced the vintage for their top brands.
“The 2011s stand out for the purity of the fruit and the quality of the tannins, which are silky and well-integrated, but provide plenty of structure,” said David Guimaraens, Fladgate's chief winemaker. Fladgate will release 11,000 cases of 2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port, 6,000 cases of 2011 Fonseca, 5,000 cases of 2011 Croft and 310 cases of the flagship Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha. The release prices are expected to be close to those of 2009, but Adrian Bridge, CEO, cautioned that “this is an exceptional vintage, and relatively small, so we expect an increase of worldwide demand.”
The Symington Family Estates will release classic vintages of all their main brands, including Graham, Dow, Warre, Cockburn, Quinta do Vesúvio and Smith Woodhouse, as well as limited editions of Capela da Quinta do Vesúvio and, for the first time, Graham’s The Stone Terraces, made from two tiny fractions of the 18th century terraced vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos. There will be just 250 cases of The Stone Terraces. Prats and Symington’s Quinta de Roriz has also declared.
Winemaker Charles Symington described the 2011 Vintage Ports as “characterized by an unusual combination of elegance with power and structure.” Paul Symington, CEO, emphasized their “marked minerality” with “schist-edged tannins,” and Charles Symington cited an attractive "fragrant wet-earth scent," which could be credited to the success of the Touriga Franca grape.
In May, Sogrape will release their top brands Sandeman, Ferreira and Offley. According to Luís Sottomayor, chief winemaker for the Douro and Porto operation, the quality of these wines was obvious from the beginning. “2011 allowed us to make Vintage Port wines with levels of color, structure and intensity that I had never seen," he said. "The excellence of their acidity combined with a very robust body make us foresee an extremely long life in bottle.” Sogrape purchased Sandeman in 2001 and has been patiently rebuilding the prestige of the brand's Vintage Ports, which they declared only in 2003 and 2007.
The Sogevinus group has also declared the vintage for all of its labels, namely Kopke, Burmester, Calém and Barros. "The wines are full, with deep color and marked by irreproachable freshness and complexity," said master blender Pedro Sá. "Powerful wines that are seductive while young, but mostly present a remarkable evolution potential—they will make history.” Sogevinus' wines will be released in July.
Ramos-Pinto is a Louis Roederer-owned smaller house, known for their old tawnies, Vintage Ports and LBVs, and also for their non-fortified wines. Ramos-Pinto often releases their single-quinta from Ervamoira together with their classic Vintage. However, in 2011 only the classic will be released. João Nicolau de Almeida anticipates a life in bottle of 50 to 100 years.
Historic estate-bottling quintas such as Noval and Infantado have yet to announce the declaration of their 2011 Vintages. However, António Agrellos did confirm that they have the highest possible expectations for these wines. In the next few weeks he will assemble his administration and make collectively the final decision. According to Agrellos, both Vintage Quinta do Noval and Vintage Quinta do Noval Nacional, from the famous 6-acre ungrafted vines parcel, will most probably be declared. João Roseira, from Quinta do Infantado, confirmed they will release their classic vintage, and said, “Infantado is more and more about finesse and less about sugar and power, and we hope that our excellent 2011 Vintage Port will help prove this.”
All in all, 2011 appears to be an across-the-board Vintage Port declaration year, in the mold of the widespread declarations of classic-rated vintages 2007, 2003, 2000, 1997 and 1994.