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Consensus in the Douro: 2016 Vintage Port

Five years on from the stellar 2011 vintage, a new potential classic is declared
Quinta de Vesuvio is among Symington Family's stable of top Port houses.
Quinta de Vesuvio is among Symington Family's stable of top Port houses.

Posted: May 10, 2018 10:20am ET

Don't look now, but while the Bordelais are cranking out prices with the 2017 vintage en primeur season in full swing, another major player in the world of collectible wines is touting a new vintage as well—but in the case of Vintage Port, 2016 is earning the designation's first general declaration in five years.

There's no formal regulation for Vintage Port declarations—any house can declare a Vintage Port in any year. But when essentially everyone declares, it's called a general declaration, with the obvious implication that the vintage is of particularly high quality. I caught up with a handful of top producers of Vintage Port yesterday in New York as they formally introduced their 2016s. Unlike Bordeaux, where the 2017s are still in barrel and the wines won't be delivered until 2019, the 2016 Vintage Ports are bottled and formally released. Expect them to hit U.S. retail shelves within a month.

Any general declaration is worth checking out, as Port producers are known for a commitment to quality, averaging just two or three vintage declarations out every 10 harvests.

"We are very self-limiting in our approach," says Rupert Symington, joint managing director of Symington Family Estates, which includes the Port houses of Graham's, Cockburn's, Dow's, Warre's and Quinta de Vesuvio. "We realize the downside, by not offering a wine every year, is people tend to forget us. But when we do release a wine, it tends to make a splash."

The 2016s are definitely going to make a splash. The growing season got off to a late start, following a very rainy spring that would pay dividends later in the season. As Portugal's Douro Valley entered into its typically hot and dry period in June and July, the vines had enough water reserves to help them along, with only a few areas suffering from hydric stress. Then, on Sept. 13, a light rain fell, giving the vineyards a freshening, and with the vintage running a week behind, growers could take advantage of ideal weather conditions into October, picking the later-ripening varieties such as Touriga Franca at optimum quality. Yields are markedly lower—lower than 2011 and 2007, so expect demand to be high, with prices slated to be about 10 to 20 percent higher than the 2011s.

I tasted through more than a dozen 2016 Vintage Ports from the top names, including those from the Taylor Fladgate Partnership (Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, Croft) as well as individual producers such as Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira. Across the board, the 2016s are brimming with ripe, expressive fruit, inlaid with fresh acidity and backed by ripe and ample tannins.

Among the highlights are the 2016s from Noval, both the regular bottling and the Nacional, with the former capturing the sleek and focused feel of the vintage to a T, while the latter is simply a beast-mode Port, with nearly unbridled energy to its core of black currant and plum paste flavors and bristling brambly spine.

Other stars include the 2016 from Dow's, which sports an intense core of fruit backed by a tight, dry-edged finish marked by a bolt of graphite. The 2016 Fonseca is very stylish, with sage, violet and mint accents to the fruit core, while Graham's bursts with exuberant blueberry, acai berry and blackberry compote flavors.

Based on this early preview, I rate the 2016 vintage a preliminary 95-98 points, pending final review of the wines in official blind tastings.

You can follow James Molesworth on Instagram, at Instagram.com/JMolesworth1, and on Twitter, at Twitter.com/JMolesworth1.

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