June Wines of the Month: my pick of the 2011 Vintage Ports

Before you become giddy with the thought of rosé wines and the like now suddenly it’s summer, I’m taking the opportunity to shout out about the quality of 2011 Vintage Ports.

Just think how comforting a glass of fine Port would have been in the hitherto extended winter of this year. So my recommendation is make provision for the years ahead, because this is a must buy vintage. Suffice to say, the Ahmed coffers will be raided!

You will find vintage reports for each of the Port houses in the linked blog posts below. I have also listed prices from those stockists who emailed me about their campaigns. For the indecisive among you, The Wine Society’s campaign is scheduled for September and, as usual, they will offer a mixed case.

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2011

A very deeply coloured blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Francesa and 10% Tinto Cão, which is 100% sourced from the Quinta do Noval vineyard. Though initially quite mineral (schistous) on the nose, a swirl of the glass swiftly unlocks its heady violet perfume. This is an energetic yet very finely wrought, elegant Port with wonderfully fresh, pure, seemingly just picked and crushed sweet black berry and cherry fruits which positively saturate the palate so juicy are they. With slinky tannins, it’s very long in the mouth (unlike me – this is a joyous Port!) – really fluid. Great poise and finesse. Terrific. 19% abv. Vintage report here. £245/6 bottles in bond/£265 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman; £245/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2011

The Nacional, harvested on the 10th October, hails from a small area at the heart of the Quinta do Noval vineyard which is planted with ungrafted vines (including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Sousão and Mourisco Tinto) and untouched by phylloxera. As Noval put it “Nacional refers to the fact that the vines are Portuguese vines growing in Portuguese soil with no foreign root stock, and are therefore ‘attached to the soil of the Nation’” and my oh my, how it shows in this super-intense, savoury, sinewy wine. It is a dense black hue – really opaque. Where the Noval is mercurial, the weightier Nacional exudes authority. Almost impenetrable on the nose, it implodes in the mouth, pulling you along with its rip tide of dark glistening fruit, minerals and spice. With a firm, sinewy anchor of tannins this drier, cooler, very characterful customer is in no hurry. Magnificent with decades ahead of it (Noval reckon best 5-50 years after bottling, compared with 4-40 years for the straight Quinta do Noval). 19% abv. Vintage report here.

Niepoort Vintage Port 2011

This blend of several Cima Corgo vineyards & (old field blend) varieties including, among others, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão and Touriga Nacional was 100% foot trodden in granite lagares with 100% stems. The wine was aged for 2 years in “toneis” and some pipes.  A vibrant Port in colour and on the palate with lovely florality – violets – and black pepper lift to its well defined sweet, ripe, juicy and intense swathes of berry and plum fruit.  Long and persistent with a ripe but palpable chassis of tannins.  Already so charming and elegant such is its exquisite balance – built for the long haul.  Residual sugar 104g/l, abv 19.5%. Vintage report here. £210/6 bottles in bond/£230 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman

Niepoort Bioma Vintage Port 2011

Bioma “Vinha Velha”, is a single vineyard Vintage Port from aged vines at Vinha da Pisca (mostly + 80 years old), which is cultivated organically.  A hot site, which produces impressive tannins, it formed the backbone of Niepoort  Vintage Ports for many years.  However,the best parcels were set aside for this wine in 2011, 2009, 2008 and (known then as Pisca) in 2007.  Like Niepoort Vintage Port, Bioma was 100% foot trodden with 100% stems. It was then aged in pipes (550 litre)and will be bottled in the third year after the harvest (2014) which, says Niepoort, is what happened in the “old days” when wines were shipped to England in pipes, and bottled later.  Though tight on the nose, Bioma is headily perfumed in the mouth with violets running through it like Blackpool through a stick of rock.  It’s darker and spicier too, the tannins grainy – more textural – the fruit concentrated and tightly coiled but an animated (fresh) presence.  Though the alcohol is a little more pronounced, Bioma is relatively inwardly focused as yet – it has much more to give.  A very intense, singular wine.  Residual sugar 110g/l, abv 21%. Vintage report here. £130/3 bottles in bond/£140 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011

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From c. 30 year old block planted vines at Quinta do Vau and Quinta do Seixo (Cima Corgo) this blend comprises 40% Touriga Franca (according to Sottomayer, “the strongest, most structured variety”), 40% Touriga Nacional (“elegance and harmony”), 10% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tinta Cão (“for good acidity”) and 5% Sousão (“to increase colour”).  It is a marvellously mineral Port with deep, dark reserves of inky fruit well supported by a charge of sootily fine, schistous tannins.  A tightly focused laser beam of blackcurrant and glossier cassis fruit is laced with notes of liquorice and cedar and, as it opens up in the glass, tremendous lift of eucalypt and violets.  With terrific acid and tannin structure, this long, persistent, imposing wine is built for the long haul. Outstanding.  21% abv, 106g/l residual sugar. Vintage report here. £198/6 bottles in bond/£218 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman

Ferreira Vintage Port 2011

Also sourced from the Pinhão region – essentially Quinta do Porto and Quinta do Caedo – this is a wonderfully spicy Port, with soaring gum cistus, black pepper and sandalwood notes to its ripe, concentrated but beautifully balanced succulent black cherry and plum palate. Firm but ripe tannins promise a long life ahead.  Very good. Vintage report here.

Fonseca Vintage Port 2011

Very inky.  A gorgeous nose, brimming with flowers and fruit spills over into the mouth which reveals layer upon lingering layer of juicy crushed black and red berry and cherry fruit, orange blossom, rock rose, black pepper and liquorice.  Heady yes and yet it has a cool minerality and freshness about it too, a focus, which is intensified by its impressive charge of ripe, fine grained tannins.  Expansive and yet linear it both saturates and stains the palate.  Outstanding.  6,000 cases. Vintage report here. £235/6 bottles in bond/£260 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman; £235/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

Taylor’s Vintage Port 2011

Absolutely classic Taylor’s, with terrific precision & tons of gravitas.  Though buttoned down (battened is perhaps a better word) it radiates power, revealing glimpses of salt lick, minerals and concentrated black currant and berry fruit – the teasing marrow to its firm outer shell of bony, schistous tannins.  A resounding finish is long, tapered and gravelly.   Huge potential; top notch. 11, 000 cases. Vintage report here. £235/6 bottles in bond/£255 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman; £235/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port 2011

This single vineyard Port is sourced from select very old vines on the Polverinho and Renova do Armazém plots and produces an exceptionally perfumed, elegantly drawn Port, positively wreathed in violets.  Waves of well-focused, very pure and sweet, ripe fruit roll juicily over the palate.  I count pomegranate, red cherry, velvety raspberry (coulis) and blackcurrant among their number, while dark chocolate and gingerbread notes bring nuance.  Beneath lie hard pan salt lick and schistous minerals which, together with its firm if fine grained chassis of tannins, lend poise to its long, tapering finish.  There’s a touch of warmth (abv) to the finish, but there’s no denying the heady appeal and finesse of this wine. Just 310 cases produced. Vintage report here.

Ramos Pinto Vintage Port 2011

An elegant, violet-laced but very well structured Port. It shows great depth and layer to its juicy infinity of black and red cherry and berry fruits. A firm backbone of tannin lends gravitas and a touch of grip to the finish. Great proportion/balance. Very good indeed. 19.5% abv, 90g/l residual sugar. Vintage report here. £174/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

Graham’s Vintage Port 2011

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A blend of 40% Touriga, 31% Touriga Nacional, 23% very old mixed vines and 5% Sousão.  Though the nose is very tight, there’s an attractive whiff of violets and black pepper.  In the mouth, the whole is most definitely better than the sum of its parts (click here for my notes on the individual blend components).  It is already very complete, with flamboyant yet lithe sweet red cherry and berry and crushed blackberry fruit, chocolate, liquorice, flowers and hard pan minerals (an underlying tensile quality).  Powerful, velvety tannins and beautifully integrated spirit and acidity support and extend the palate, lending this wine terrific palate presence and length.  A glorious wine of which there are 8,000 cases. 20% abv. £235/6 bottles in bond/£255 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman; £235/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

Graham’s The Stone Terraces Vintage Port 2011

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This new, limited edition (250 cases) Port is sourced from two consistently high performing small stone terraced parcels at Quinta dos Malvedos which differ in aspect (Malvedos is predominantly south-facing) and, in consequence, receive less direct sunlight.  Parcel 43/Port Arthur (1.2ha) is east-facing so benefits from direct morning sun only (though its schist walls retain the morning heat and radiate it back onto the vines), while Vinha dos Cardenhos (0.6ha) is north-facing.  Though having been replanted over the years, Touriga Nacional predominates, the vineyards which were originally planted in the nineteenth century have a mix of traditional varieties.  In 2011 the parcels were picked together then co-fermented in a single lagar.  It’s a perfumed, spicy, swoonful delight on nose and palate – sweet and opulent with its glacé red cherry, kirsch and black cherry fruit on the one hand and with great juicy vinosity – an elegance –  on the other.  Notes of saddle soap, dried herbs, liquorice and sweet cinnamon leaven, layer and lengthen the palate – a real backbone of spice – like a super-charged Collioure!  But with its fine tannins, an elegant Port.  20% abv  The retail price is likely to be around £100-115/bottle. Vintage report here.

Warre’s Vintage Port 2011

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The final blend by Quinta is 53% Cavadinha (an elevated, cooler site vineyard in the Pinhão Valley), 28% Retiro Antigo (Rio Torto Valley) and 19% Telhada (Douro Superior) and, by variety, 40% very old mixed vines, 37% Touriga Nacional and 23% Touriga Franca.   An extremely supple, balanced Port with lovely depth of juicy sweet cinnamon-accented black cherry, floral lift and a charge of fine schistous/graphite tannins, which tease out a long, elegant, tapered finish – very clean and precise – seemingly drier than the Graham’s.  3000 cases. Vintage report here. £200/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011

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A blend of Touriga Franca (40%), Touriga Nacional (36%), Sousão (10%) and 14% of old mixed plantings sourced from Quinta do Bomfim (35%), Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira (42%), Quinta do Santinho (14%) and Quinta da Cerdeira (9%).  Very inky in hue, this is very tight indeed, with classic Dow dryness/austerity – firm tannins and a yet to be mined concentrated seam of minerals, black currant, berry and cherry.  At this very early stage of its life, it means you are more conscious of the spirit, but this positively unshowy Port plainly has a long life ahead given its deep reserves of fruit and imposing structure.  Impressively hewn.  20% abv.  5000 cases. Vintage report here. £220/6 bottles in bond/£240 duty paid ex-VAT Lea & Sandeman; £225/6 bottles in bond at Bibendum

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  1. Olga Cardoso

    Excelent work! You have done the best coverage of 2011 Vintage Ports. Until now, and I keep a close watch over this matters, I don’t know any coverage (in UK or Portugal) so large, clear and helpful to the consumer.

    I do hope Portuguese producers are also attentive and realize that you are the British wine writer who reports more regularly and transversaly about the whole range of our wines. And probably the most passionate too!

    • sarah

      Thanks very much Olga – really appreciate the feedback. V best Sarah

      PS Notes on all 34 2011 Vintage Ports I tasted last month out soon – watch this space!


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