“2016 was precision, 2017 is depth and freshness.”- Dominic Symington
“Years ending in seven have historically been very good for vintage port declarations,” said Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates as he recounted vintages as far back as 1897 and 1907 during his opening remarks for the preview tasting of the 2017 vintage port declaration in San Francisco. “These [wines] are the final blends although they may not yet have been bottled. They’ll be coming through to the market in August.”
The flight of 16 vintage ports produced by the Symington Family Estates, The Fladgate Partnership and Quinta do Noval were presented to the trade during the tasting hosted on May 9th at the Nikko Hotel.
Carlos Agrellos, techincal director of Quinta do Noval, offered general impressions of the 2017 vintage. “2017 is an exceptional vintage but quite different from 2016 in all aspects,” he said. “We experienced a cold, dry winter and a hot, dry spring and summer. It only rained 300 mm in the Douro in 2017 and the soils dried out which is very extraordinary. June was the hottest month on record since 1980 with extreme temperatures of 40 – 44 C. This put us 15 to 20 days early for all phases of vine growth. We began harvest on the 17th of August which meant that holidays were cut short as we rushed back from vacation to begin harvest. We finished the 2017 harvest on the date that we typically begin and although we have lower yields, we still see very fine grapes in extreme years such as this.”
The flight began with Cockburn’s 2017 presented by Charles Symington, head winemaker for Symington Family Estates:
The estate vineyards blended to produce Cockburn’s are located in the Douro Superior at Quinta dos Canais. These south facing-sites are the hottest in Douro resulting in wines that are ripe with velvety tannin, high acidity and more evolved raisined fruit with dark chocolate and some astringency on the finish. The original blend focused on Touriga National and we’ve reintroduced 50% Touriga back in to the blend of 30% Touriga Franca, 10% Souzao, 8% Alicante Bouchet and 2% other. Souzao brings the acid and gives the wine length. On the nose there’s esteva followed by cassis, kirsch, black pepper and a dryness that gives it length. The wines are made in lagares and constitute 8% of Cockburn’s production. “There’s viscosity and more tannin that I’ve ever tasted in these wines.” Score: 98
Croft 2017 by David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens, winemaker at The Fladgate Partnership:
2016 had a purity of fruit but there’s a different profile here with more wild fruit and tremendous structure. The blend is based on Cima Corgo and shows resinous herbs, eucalyptus, some passion fruit and tropical notes. It’s quite smooth on the palate, very fresh and vibrant with great potential for agebility. Score: 98
Croft Quinta da Roêda Selicos 2017 comments by Adrian Bridge, CEO, The Fladgate Partnership:
This is a new offering for us coming from some very old vines that perform well in drought conditions. There’s evidence of some red fruit and esteva on a lighter body with medium plus acidity. The Selicos bottling refers to “silken” and these vines were the first plantings in Cima after Phylloxera. The estate is very low yielding producing 200 cases in 2017. Score: 97
Dow’s 2017 by Rupert Symington:
The Symington’s acquired the estate in the early 1900s which originally came from the Warre family. Historically shippers did not own land in the Douro but they began buying after Phylloxera and this started a tradition. Dow’s also bought Bonfim in Cima Corgo (1896) and Senhora da Ribeira (1890) in the Douro Superior. Markers for Bonfim are chocolate and green figs. Aromas here are deep violet and very fresh smelling, with boysenberry and vanilla on a palate that’s quite smooth with some astringency of green tobacco on the finish. “Classic Dow’s is on the drier side and it’s a keeper. Dow’s is a personal favorite of mine for a young vintage.” Score: 98
Fonseca 2017 by David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:
The most astringent of the flight indicating a wine intended to lay down. “You’ll notice some orange zest which comes from three quintas in Pinhão that are known for their freshness and firm finish.” Score: 93
Graham’s 2017 by Dominic Symington:
Sourced from the eastern mesoclimate of Cima Corgo this is a blend from four quintas. “The wine is an opaque black purple and very floral with violets, esteva, rose water, bergamot, some mint with medium acidity and very good intensity mid palate. It’s a voluptuous wine with very good length.” Score: 100
Graham’s 2017 The Stone Terraces – Charles Symington, chief winemaker of Symington Family Estates:
This is a micro-terroir wine hailing from two sites north and east-facing parcels below the main house of Malvedos. There’s a tropical note that shows in the aromas and on the palate there’s orange blossom and some peach with medium acidity and more resolved tannins. 600 cases were produced which is about 4% of our production. Score: 100
Krohn 2017 – David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:
They did not show the 2016 in the U.S. because of a change in distribution of the brand which is now with Kobrand. Quinta do Retiro Novo is located in the Rio Torto river valley and the wines tend to have more savory notes and higher alcohol. 2017 shows leaner somewhat austere fruit with orange blossom, cassis, grippy tannins and black pepper on a drier finish. Score: 96
Quinta do Noval 2017 by Carlos Agrellos:
There is a lot of variety in the terroir of the estate which ranges from 130 – 250 meters in altitude. They have options beyond the best parcels and lots to choose from resulting in a wine that presents a better representative of the estate. 2017 is more complex, very spicy and floral with medium plus acidity making it very fresh on the palate. Score: 97
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017 by Carlos Agrellos:
Sourced from a small parcel of ungrafted vines of which 1.6 hectares has survived. The estate was replanted in 1924 and there have been 35 vintages from the site. The vines are quite different and express in a different manner giving wines that are fresh with less viscosity and density and somewhat gritty textures. We also find a bit of cedar, exotic wood and licorice. The wine is foot tread over three days. The site is capable of producing vintages in off years and the wines have their own rhythm. 200 cases of 2017 were made. Score: 99
Quinta de Romaneira 2017 by Carlos Agrellos:
There’s a wild aromatic expression here showing the wine is Touriga Nacional dominant. We find fresh berries, very bright, sweet cassis and not as much secondary. Score: 93
Taylor Fladgate 2017 – David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:
They lost some bunches to heat in 2017 but they found records of similar conditions in 1945 and the result was a “typical Taylor” rather austere and precise. The wines have been scored very highly thus far. Score: 96
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 – David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:
This is the essence of the property, a Taylor on steroids, and the 8th release of the wine since 1985. A field blend of century-old vines that takes four vines to produce a single bottle. This is the most easterly property they own and the north-facing amphitheater vineyard works best in warm years. The wine showed peach skin, stone fruit and more evolved fruit, star anise and cedar, tootsie roll and dark spice. Score: 99
Quinta do Vesuvio 2017 – Rupert Symington:
The quinta is only 30 kilomters from Spain in the Douro Superior with very low yielding vines of just 700 grams per vine. It was originally the crown jewel of Don Antonia Ferreira and planted to olives after being devastated by Phylloxera. Vesuvio was one of the first properties planted to mono varietal blocks and has produced vintage ports since 1989. The wines are made in lagare but destemmed and cooled. 2017 is richly fruited showing blueberries, spearmint, vanilla and dry ginger. Score: 98
Capela do Vesuvio 2017 – Dominic Symington:
The estate was replanted by massal selection from the original vines and includes Alicante Bouchet and Souzao. The result is a gorgeous blend with lovely consistency in the growing cycle. Touriga Franca needs the heat and sun and with the advanced growing cycle in 2017 the gap was narrowed so it could be co-fermented with the old vines and Touriga Nacional. Very aromatic and sublime with black tea leaf and pretty blue fruit, mocha and medium acidity on the palate. Score: 99
Warre’s 2017 – Charles Symington:
Originally Warre’s was mostly sourced from the Douro Superior and now they’ve gone back to Pinhão for a more feminine style with a high percentage (60%) of old vineyards that yield just 500 grams per vine. The wine shows forward fruit with blueberry, sweet/tart boysenberry and a touch of astringency 3600 cases were produced. Score: 96
There are numerical scores for the various wines. As these are often 96 to 99 points (apart from two “perfect” 100-scoring wines), I’d be interested to know what flaws were found in these Porto bottlings. Why didn’t these wines achieve perfection?
Dennis, Any wine I score above 95 is nearing perfection and considered excellent. The 100-point scores establish the upper limit for the group and serve to call out wines that achieve a sublime level of enjoyment when being tasted and consumed. While I score wines as objectively as professionally possible, you can attribute those additional few points to the subjective “like” factor that is reserved just for that level of distinction.
Is it possible to evaluate the same set of wines, I wonder, and replicate the numerical scores in a blind-tasting?
It would be a fascinating exercise, Dennis. However, I would move from using points to medals for a single blind tasting to allow for a range (margin of error).