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Fladgate & Symington Vintage Port 2015 declarations

I returned to London from the Douro/Oporto yesterday.  But I’m far from done with Portugal.  This week, I’m chairing the judging of Portuguese wines at Decanter World Wine Awards with more entries than ever – great!  Then it’s back to Oporto for three days of tasting 2015 ‘New Douro’ reds and Ports, which promises to be pretty special.

It was an excellent vintage (and for Douro whites, which I’ve much enjoyed on this last week’s Arblaster & Clarke tour).  Still, word on the street is that 2016 is even better for Port.  A view which is supported by a flurry of press releases about Single Quinta Vintage Port declarations.  Fladgate has only declared Single Quinta Vintage Ports (and Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port) in 2015.  Save for Cockburns- a ‘classic declaration’ – so have the Symingtons.

My tour group was puzzled by the Port trade’s tradition of not declaring back-to-back vintages.  Why not declare 2015 & 2016 if both are excellent?  Was it to do with marketing?  As readers of these pages know, Quinta do Noval have no problem with back-to-back vintages. For Noval’s Christian Seely “[T]he fundamental principle is that if we have a wine that we believe is of the quality and personality required to be bottled as a Quinta do Noval Vintage, then we should bottle it and declare it, whether or not we declared a Vintage the year before, and even if the quantity of wine involved is very small.”

Given there has been a hike in the overall quality of Port owing to substantial investment in vineyards/viticulture, robotic lagares and better quality spirit, is it time to ditch the old rule of thumb about back-to-back vintages and, in turn, the one about three classic vintages in a decade?  Maybe.  Let’s see if Cockburns’ declare in 2016 as well as in 2015, their bicentenary year.

I’ll put it to the producers I’m meeting with next week and let you know.  When I chatted with Quinta do Portal’s Paulo Coutinho last week, the winemaker offered reinforcement for Seely’s take.  Coutinho reckons it’s perfectly possible to make Port most years (i.e. declare it more often) albeit, he says, quantities might be super low to keep the quality bar at the highest level.  Which is as it should be for Vintage Port, the so-called ‘King of Ports.’

Here is a precis of the press releases for the Fladgate and Symington 2015 Vintage Port declarations.

The Fladgate Partnership 2015 Vintage Ports

Fladgate will bottle 2015 Vintage Ports from Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas and Croft’s Quinta da Roêda as well as a commemorative Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage marking the bicentenary of the company’s foundation in 1815.

Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of The Fladgate Partnership, noted “The 2015 harvest has produced excellent, but distinctly different wines from our individual properties. Quinta de Vargellas displays all the balance and elegance that are the hallmarks of the property and has the structure and completeness which will allow it to hold up extremely well in the bottle. As we celebrated Fonseca’s bicentenary in 2015, I am delighted that the year has produced Vintage Port of such excellent quality. The Guimaraens 2015 will make superb early drinking, but will not disappoint those who wish to cellar it until a later date. At Quinta da Roêda, our investment in the vineyards continues to reap benefits in terms of consistently first class wines, with the 2015 wines displaying all the grace and refinement of this property.”

Commenting on the 2015 viticultural year, David Guimaraens, Head Winemaker of The Fladgate Partnership, says; “The months leading up to the 2015 harvest were unusually dry, with rainfall well below average, but across the board the grapes were extremely healthy, and the resulting wines very fine. The condition of the 2015 crop at Quinta de Vargellas will be remembered as one of the best of recent years; perfectly formed, disease-free bunches and very little raisin. The Fonseca properties in the Pinhão area recorded rainfall about a third less than the ten year average. Despite this, ripening was well-balanced and at harvest time the crop was in excellent condition. The first grapes were ready to pick by the end of the first week of September and first-rate wines were made right through to the end of the harvest in early October. Quinta da Roêda in 2015 saw perfectly healthy grapes picked from both the extensive area of old vineyards, to the more recent plantations. Dry conditions in the early summer brought forward the start to the ripening season and as expected the Roêda harvest got off to a relatively early start on 7th September, with winemakers at Croft recording excellent extraction.”

Symington 2015 Vintage Ports

Referencing “an exceptional viticultural year in 2015, which was the hottest and driest growing season of the last three decades,” the Symington Family will release 2015 Cockburn’s Vintage Port and Vintage Ports from Quinta do Vesuvio, Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and Graham’s Stome Terraces.

Quinta do Vesuvio – the 2015 growing season was simultaneously the hottest and driest for 36 years, but the Douro Superior where Vesuvio is situated, unusually benefited from more rain than the Alto Douro. Thus, Vesuvio was well placed to withstand the summer heat. By early September phenolic ripeness was not keeping pace with sugar readings, and picking started with the less mature vines.  Abundant rain fell on the 15th September, which was the turning point of the harvest and of immense benefit to the vines at Vesuvio. The finest Touriga Nacional was picked in perfect condition from the 21st, followed by Touriga Franca and other later-ripening varieties.  The fine weather continued into October, allowing the harvest to be completed under clear autumnal skies.

Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira – abundant late autumn rain in 2014 and crucial spring rain in the Douro Superior (unusually more than in the Alto Douro), produced exceptional conditions for ripening at this small 25-hectare vineyard.

Harvesting began on the 8th September at Senhora da Ribeira with the young vines but Charles Symington and his viticultural team were aware of the rain forecast for the 15th, which duly arrived and was then followed by fine weather. Picking of the finest Touriga Nacional, planted in the high east-facing Vinha Grande vineyard was started on the 23rd September and the Touriga Franca, from the lower, southerly facing Pedreira vineyard, took place from the 30th September. All were in exceptionally fine condition having benefited wonderfully from the recent rain.

The best Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca were fermented in the estates lagares together with some Sousão, producing a Port of exceptionally intense, purple-black color with complexity fine tannins and balanced acidity.  Charles Symington commented: ‘The low 0.7 kg/vine yields of the Nacional and the fortuitous rain in the final stages of the maturation, produced perfectly ripe and concentrated grapes with balanced sugar levels. The Franca, however, was the variety that most impressed and in 2015 it was exceptional.’

Cockburn’s 2015 Vintage Port –  this is the second Cockburn’s Vintage Port made by the Symington family since they acquired the  historic  name  in 2010, having bought the vineyards and cellars in 2006.  The viticultural year in 2015 was dry with 31% less rain than average, but July and August were relatively cool. The temptation was to harvest early after a prolonged period with very little rainfall, but the grapes were not ready. Rain fell on 15th and 16th September and the best grapes at Quinta dos Canais and Quinta do Vale Coelho were picked from the 21st until 4th October; these were the 13 days when the finest Ports were made in the Douro Superior.

Yields are never high in the Douro and they were even less in 2015, with just 1.01 kg/vine at Canais and an average of exactly 1.00 kg/vine at Vale Coelho. The Cockburn’s 2015 is of exceptional quality and was entirely made in lagares at the small Senhora da Ribeira winery, located very close to both the Canais and Vale Coelho vineyards.

Graham’s Stone Terraces 2015 Vintage Port – the Stone Terraces vineyard at Malvedos comprises three adjacent parcels in a narrow curving valley; one faces north and is known as ‘Cardenhos’, whilst the other two, known as ‘Port Arthur’ face each other across the Síbio brook; one facing due east, the other due west. The fact that there is no south facing terraces proved to be of great benefit during the 2015 growing and maturation cycles, which were the driest and hottest of the last three decades.

Whilst most of the Malvedos vineyards, which have a predominantly southerly aspect, were subjected to challenging conditions, the Stone Terraces vineyards in their more sheltered positions were shielded from the excesses of the heat.

In 2015, the grapes were picked by hand over the weekend of the 12th/13th of September, a couple of days before substantial rain fell across the Douro Valley, and were subsequently fermented in lagares at Quinta dos Malvedos’ own small winery. Yields were incredibly low, at just 0.82 kg per vine, and several hours of treading over the following days delivered a magnificent wine with sublime violet aromas.











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