Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017 and a vertical back to 1982

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017

Excited about the 2017 ports “since tasting the first run-off samples from the lagares,” said Johnny Graham, Churchill’s declared back-to-back Vintage Port in 2016 and 2017 and, like Ramos Pinto, also have a double release, declaring Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017 and Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha Single Quinta Vintage Port 2017.

In Churchill’s press release, Graham contrasted the density of the 2017 vintage with the elegant 2016 Vintage Port.  This post offers a great opportunity to include my notes on the 2016 and older vintages (back to 1982) shown at a vertical tasting in London last September.

Churchill’s was established by Graham in 1981 and it was interesting to see the improvement in the Vintage Ports from this century.   Like their peers, I think they show better quality (purity) of spirit but, most importantly, the acquisition of two estates in 1999, brought greater control over fruit quality.  These estates were Quinta da Gricha, on the south bank of the River Douro and Quinta do Rio in the Rio Torto Valley.

Whilst writing up the vertical tasting, I noticed that, until 2003, Churchill’s Vintage Ports spent two years in toneis (as opposed to six months), which would also explain why younger vintages show brighter, purer fruit (over and above just being younger…).

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017 – the year

“This marks the first back-to-back general vintage port declaration in almost a century. Although we may have hesitated at the idea of declaring two consecutive Vintages, there was no hesitation by Johnny Graham, founder and head taster of Churchill’s, in declaring the exceptional quality of the 2017 Ports.

As he says: ‘there is a raw vibrancy to Churchill’s 2017 Vintage Port, combining a purity of fruit with a vein of natural acidity, which will give this wine great ageing potential.’

Following on from 2016, we once again saw extremely low yields in the Douro. The 2016-2017 viticultural year was exceptionally hot and dry, with 30% to 46% below average rainfall in the Cima Corgo and Douro Superior sub-regions. This precipitated a faster vegetative cycle of the vines, and here at Churchill’s we had our earliest vintage ever, with the first parcels of grapes coming into our Quinta da Gricha winery in mid-August. These conditions contributed to an intense concentration of fruit and tannins.”

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017 – the winemaking

All Churchill’s ports are made in the lagares at Quinta da Gricha – the traditional granite treading tanks. The aim is for a gentler maceration of the grapes.

During the first six months, the young ports spent the winter months at Quinta da Gricha in “tonéis” and were then transferred to Churchill’s lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, where they were stored in a stainless steel tank until being bottled.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017 – my tasting notes

My notes on the 2017 Vintage Ports are based on a Port Forum tasting in June and samples tasted at home over a few days in September.  The older vintages were tasted in September 2018.  I notice that, save for 2000, Churchill’s online shop lists Vintage Port back to 1994.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2017

Deeper purple and more opaque than the Gricha, with deep-seated, perfumed violets to the nose and a firm, focused, palate, still embryonic.  It reveals liquorice and salty, mineral-edged blackberry, raspberry, with some a touch of fiery spirit.  Chalky fine tannins rise going through and, with markedly persistent acidity, the finish is long and spicy, with youthful tannic grip.  Very good.

Churchill Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2017

As you would expect, a little more expressive and open knit than the classic vintage blend, but with the same tell-tale spicy liquorice, minerality and grip (albeit less tight).  This single quinta port features dried roses, fleshy raspberry and juicy blackberry fruit with bitter chocolate.  Comports itself well going through, with balanced, mineral acidity, nice intensity to the fruit and supporting cocoa powder tannins. Finishes on a savoury note. 19.5%

Other Vintage Port 2017 reports

Click here for my report on Symington Family Estate’s 2017 Vintage Ports.

Click here for my report on The Fladgate Partnership’s 2017 Vintage Ports.

Click here for my report on Niepoort 2017 Vintage Port.

Click here for my report on Ramos Pinto 2017 Vintage Ports.

Click here for my report on Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2017

Churchill’s Vintage Port vertical: 2016-1982

Churchill’s Vintage Port vertical tasting

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2016

A deep, deep hue (retrospective note – I suspect not as deep as the 2017), with an expressive nose and palate of violets, bergamot, milk chocolate, sweet cherry and black berry fruit and lovely freshness and fruit purity. Long, elegant and mineral, with fine, involving tannins and a kick of spicy stem ginger in the tail.    “Looking quite open today,” said Graham. Click here for my earlier (pretty consistent) report of the 2016 vintage on release.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2014 (magnum)

From magnum, yet very expressive with pronounced red fruits and resinous esteva and menthol notes to nose and palate.  In the mouth, sweet, slightly jammy black fruits  – cherry and berry –  predominate.  Fine but firm, mineral iron filing tannins lend support.  The esteva character is marked.  Not as intense or pure as the 2016, but with oodles of character.  Graham said “we picked before the rain (best grapes first).”  He reckons its nearest comparison is the 1991 and it will last for ages.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2011

As befits this highly rated vintage, this is a dense, tightly coiled Vintage Port, firmer, more closed than the ’16 and ‘14, with subtler but present esteva notes to the nose (less evident on the palate) and a backbone – a mighty RSJ beam – of mineral tannins.  Concentrated black currant and berry fruit cleaves to the backbone – not a jot of over-ripeness here.  Poised, very balanced, with a long, long future ahead.  Super-impressive.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2007

Moving into a mellower stage, with lifted dried herbs, liquorice, esteva, gingerbread and ripe, savoury tannins to its emphatically red, but rich and sweet fruit – red cherry/cherry conserve and sweet plum.  Finishes long, with lovely spicy resonance and lift and persistent, well-integrated acidity.  “Looking fresh,” said Graham.  N.B. This is the first time the blend included a wine from the Douro Superior  – “a richer, riper style of wine to compliment the finer, more intense style of the Wine from the Quintas in the Cima Corgo.”

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2003

In an ugly phase? Showing developed raisined fruit, a touch sweet and sour, Camp Coffee and celery salt.  Not the first time I’ve felt this with 2003 Vintage Port this year [2018].  Graham confirmed that he thinks it is just going through a tricky phase, but still has a freshness.  Reminding him of the 1997, which went through a similar phase, he reckons it will come around and estimates peak drinking will be from 2038-2048. Patience!  N.B. Churchill’s website notes that after fermentation, this port and older vintages spent two years in “tonéis” (seasoned oak vats) prior to bottling versus 6 months for the younger wines.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2000 (magnum)

Looking very complete now, with super supple, glossy blackberry, red cherry and plum jam, baked orange and fennel, a hint of tapenade, bitter chocolate and Churchill’s customary esteva and liquorice spice.  The spirit has a savoury edge.  The tannins, a powerful chassis – are ripe and long and, with good freshness, this is a long, layered and lingering port.  Lots to get stuck into.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 1997

I wondered about the spirit in this port, which has an earthy, smoky ‘white noise’ charcater to nose and compressed palate.  It does remind me of the 2003 – a little sulky, with sweet and sour flavours, radicchio and Camp Coffee.  Some poky alcohol burn too.  At any rate, the fruit is not coming out to play today….

Churchill’s Vintage Port 1994

A burgundy hue, with delicious sweet, smooth red cherry, fleshy plum and plum conserve, with chocolate and a hint of eucalyptus.  Biscuity spirit doesn’t detract from the elegant delivery, which is supported by mineral, iron filing tannins and supple acidity.  Attractive intensity to its fruit.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 1991

A good colour still, with a complex nose with eucalyptus, liquorice and Fernet-Branca, which notes follow through on a palate with jammy cherry fruit, cut with pithy orange and spicy toast nuances.  It has a bit of heat on the finish, which is quite lean and spicy.  Interesting; I like the carry of the spices and complex herbal notes.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 1985

Very spicy with lashing of liquorice and firm, pithy tannins.  Somewhat inscrutable.

Churchill’s Vintage Port 1982

Now this is lean, as if reduced to its mineral (iron), spice (liquorice) and herb (lavender) elements.  Relatively pale and developed looking too.  A touch Barolo Chinato essence.  The stuff of supping.

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