Taylor’s + Fonseca + Croft Vintages 2018

Fladgate Vintage Port 2018 launch: updated notes, prices & commentary

I reviewed Fladgate’s 2018 Vintage Port releases last September here.  Launched on the market this month, I take a second look at Taylor’s Vintage Port 2018, Croft’s Quinta da Roeda Single Quinta Vintage Port 2018 and Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 2018. 

My notes are accompanied by pricing details and insights from Head Winemaker David Guimaraens and MD Adrian Bridge, who spoke to the vintage and wines during the Zoom launch.

I have interspersed the comments from the Zoom launch with earlier quotes from the initial press release.

Atypical: a single classic Vintage Port, two Single Quinta Vintage Ports

Commenting on the unusual decision to declare a single classic Vintage Port, Taylor’s managing director, Adrian Bridge said, “This is a year in which overall conditions were excellent but exceptional in the Douro Superior. As Taylor’s is the only one of our companies with extensive land holdings in this part of the Douro, it has been able to make a Classic. All our properties are always farmed so that every grape has the potential of being made into Vintage Port.”

Head winemaker, David Guimaraens, added: “The Douro Superior enjoyed the combination of abundant ground water and hot summer weather which often produces great Vintage Port. It has given us the excellent phenolic maturity typical of a hot ripening season but the fine multi-layered fruit, fresh acidity we normally see in cooler years.”

On a hat trick of classic Taylor’s Vintage Ports

Quoted in the initial press release, Bridge said, “Although a Classic declaration normally only happens about three times a decade, the exceptional run of years has meant that Taylor’s is able to make a third in a row. This is very unusual but our principle is that we only declare a Classic Vintage when the quality is there and this is dictated by the year, not by any other consideration. Indeed, in view of the economic situation in which we find ourselves, we will bottle in July as usual but will not offer the wines until early 2021.”

During the Zoom launch, Bridge provided an insight into the declaration deliberations.  We never declare easily, he said, describing declarations as “a difficult decision.”  Having been earmarked for Vintage Port during the year after harvest, he explained the decision is taken the following year after tasting through all the reserves.  A tasting panel of 11 then taste  blends and make the final call “only if the quality is there.”  We “agonised lots over 2016 and 2017,” he added,  “then 2018 came along.”

Bridge remarked on a tendency to releasing smaller quantities (by Fladgate and others).

Bridge and Guimaraens were plainly both delighted about the rare opportunity to compare and contrast three back-to-back vintages of Taylor’s Vintage Port side by side.  For Bridge, they are “uniquely different.” Nailing those differences, Guimaraens described each vintage in turn:

  • 2016 – a very cool damp growing season produced Vintage Ports renowned for freshness and purity of fruit and very fine tannins.
  • 2017 – the total opposite, being a very very dry year, very arid, very hot. Vintage Ports had the enormous concentration which comes from shrivel and heat.  Characterising a very hot year, he said, the aromas and fruit are more concentrated, riper and the tannins are very firm.
  • 2018 – the weather was a mixed bag (see above), so 2018 produced the freshness of berry fruit characteristic of 2016, with the structure and firmness of 2017 on account of the hot August (the mercury hIt 44 degrees centigrade at Vargellas) and hot early September.

Guimaraens and Bridge agreed that 2018 sits almost in the middle of 2016 and 2017.

The market

Asked about the market during the Zoom tasting, Bridge reported that the key markets for Vintage Port – UK, USA and Canada – are very strong, Tawny Port sales are also strong and, overall, Port is in growth.

Referring to the Nielsen’s 2020 report on the fortified category (not just Port), he added all fortifieds in the UK had enjoyed double digit growth – Port was up 11%.

Inevitably, domestic sales (down 40%) had suffered because of the pandemic’s impact on tourism.

Stockists

The Ports are now available en primeur.  Duty is currently £17.85 per six-bottle case, with 20% VAT payable on both wine and duty.

Stockists include:

Tanners – whose offer includes large formats – orders must be placed before the end of February for large formats, with availability still for Taylor’s 150cl, 300cl, 600cl

The Wine Society  (members only) –  orders must be placed by midnight, Thursday 4th March.  The offer includes a mixed case of six bottles – two of each – at £94.00 for six half bottles, £179.00 for six 75cl bottles in bond, ex VAT.

Fladgate Partnership 2018 Vintage Port Report

In the original press release, Guimaraens was quoted as follows:

“The 2018 harvest has produced outstanding Vintage Ports, although the year was not without its challenges. These included the severe hailstorm which devastated many Pinhão Valley vineyards on 28th May including those of Taylor’s Quinta do Junco.”

“It is important to note that the 2018 wines have the highest colour intensity of recent vintages, always a sign of good extraction and longevity.”

As you will see from the individual vintage reports below, producers are facing challenges with climate change.  However, the impact across estates is different.

During the Zoom launch, Guimaraens observed that only one in the last 12 years has not been impacted by a hail storm, but fortunately they tend to be localised.  Taylor’s was unlucky in 2018 at Junco, but Terra Feita – also in in Pinhão Valley – was not affected.  Nor was Vargellas, 20km to the east and on the opposite bank.  It fared particularly well in 2018, reinforcing the benefits of mountain viticulture.

Bridge pointed out that sizable properties like Roeda (90ha of vines over 130ha) can also have varied terroir, giving a better ‘hedge’ than smaller, single aspect estates.

Summing up, Guinaraens said, “we set out to make Vintage Port every year from every grape, because not every vineyard every year makes Vintage Port.” 

Tasting notes

On both occasions, the Vintage Ports were sampled from half bottles.   Below I have kept the original September note, adding this month’s note afterwards for ease of reference.  As you can see, the Vintage Ports were extremely consistent on both tastings.

All Fladgate’s Vintage Ports are made in the same way (foot trodden in granite lagares) and fortified with the same spirit.  Guimaraens remarked that, because of the pandemic, Fladgate did not foot tread in 2020.  Mechanised lagares were used instead.

According to Bridge, treading by foot produces a 1-1.5% dividend in volume and dimension.

Croft Quinta da Roeda Vintage Port 2018

The Fladgate Partnership Vintage Report – Croft

The weather pattern in 2018 was somewhat erratic and sometimes challenging but in the end the conditions required to make excellent Vintage Port all fell into place.  The year started extremely dry, as there had been very little rain the previous year, and in January about two thirds of Portugal’s land area was suffering from drought.  The stress on the vines from the arid conditions was relieved in March by heavy rainfall.   The weather station at Croft’s Quinta da Roêda recorded 223 mm of precipitation during the month. This replenished the ground water reserves depleted the previous year and this ground moisture was to prove decisive during the ripening season.  The weather remained cold and wet until the end of June and the vineyard cycle was about three weeks behind the previous year’s calendar.

A dry and relatively mild July was followed by a baking hot month of August, temperatures well above 40°C being recorded early in the month in the eastern districts of the Douro Valley.  The intense heat allowed the cycle to accelerate.  The abundant reserves of water in the ground, built up in the spring, meant that the grapes matured evenly and gradually in spite of the hot conditions.  Picking at Quinta da Roêda began on 17th September, in hot, dry weather.  Yields were low but the wines were recorded as have excellent colour intensity, very good acid balance and elegance and freshness of fruit.

My tasting notes

September 2020 note: Deep purple, exceptionally, beguilingly, aromatic – so pretty and perfumed – with bergamot and orange blossom lift to its intense berry fruits.  I thought initially black (berry and cherry), but opening up, the emphasis is on velvety red fruits, especially raspberry, deliciously inter-twined with lively dried sage, pine needle, esteva, sandalwood, liquorice and black pepper top notes. Milk and bitter chocolate nuances bring richness.  The prominent yet fine fretwork of tannins put me in mind of whole bunch wines –  animated, spicy  and (ripe/dried) herbaceous, with light grip.  On day four, it was still singing, with zesty bergamot and orange blossom, a lush core of raspberry and chocolate, the tannins and acidity persistent.  Just lovely and very accessible.  2,000 cases.

February 2021 note: Still very aromatic and beguiling, with velvety fruit, lots of raspberry and bergamot.  The tannins seem a little more prominent, bringing a bit more ‘oomph,’ as if to remind you this is a Port, not wine.  Bridge observed the Single Quinta Vintage Ports are built to reach maturity in 10-15 years and last 35 years (the classics much longer).  Still, compared with the Fonseca, the tannins are relatively pliant.  £85.00/6 bottles or 12 half bottles for £90 – in bond, ex VAT price

Remarking on the very good collection of very old first generation post-phylloxera vineyards as well as vineyards from the 1970s and 1980 at Roeda, Guimaraens observed that the Ports from this estate tend to have a “very exotic, fragrant character – rich, with silky mouthfeel at the beginning of the palate.”  In 2018, he observed, very firm tannins balance the silkiness.  In the last two decades, he added “the spirit [ neutral spirit from the Bernard family in Bordeaux] is so clean and fine that the fruit expresses itself so much better.”

Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 2018

The Fladgate Partnership Vintage Report – Fonseca

The character of the 2018 wines was influenced by an unusual and occasionally challenging viticultural year. This followed a very hot and dry 2017 and, by mid-January, 56% of Portugal, in particular the northeast, had been declared to be in severe drought. Fortunately, March was very wet and the heavy rainfall, totalling 223 mm at Pinhão, built up the reserves of ground water which would prove vital during the ripening season. Until the end of June, the weather remained cold and wet, causing mildew in some vineyards, and hailstorms on 28th May caused extensive damage to some properties in the Pinhão area.

The vineyard cycle was about three weeks behind that of the previous year, with véraison only occurring in late July. The weather in July was dry and relatively mild but August saw the arrival of intensely hot weather with temperatures well over 40°C being recorded in the Douro Superior area in the first days of August. The heat allowed the cycle to catch up and, although the hot weather continued, the large amount of moisture in the soil resulted in an even and balanced ripening of the grapes.

Harvesting began at Fonseca’s Quinta do Panascal in the Távora Valley and on its Pinhão Valley properties, Cruzeiro and Santo António, in the week of 22nd September and was carried out in hot, dry conditions. The young wines were very deeply coloured and stood out for their fresh fruit character and excellent acidity.

My tasting notes

September 2020 note: A focused nose, initially quite restrained/inward-looking, compared to the Croft. Similarly, the attack.  Plentiful and fine, the tannins cradle the fruit and, rising in a spicy, tensile, graphite arc, cloak the finish.  The dark, brooding core of blackberry, with hints of blackcurrant/blackcurrant bud fruit, powerfully intense, with terrific  juicy persistence.  Notes of esteva, liquorice and bitter chocolate bring nuance. Unleashed on day two, the dynamic tannins  – fine but firm, very tensile – cut a swathe through the wine, making for a mouth-coating, long, impressive finish with lashings of liquorice.  Concentrated, powerful, an excellent vintage for this second Vintage Port – very Fonseca in its bold fruit, structure and complexity.  4,700 cases

February 2021 note: tensile iron filing tannins underpin this concentrated Port.  It has greater breadth and length than the Croft, but the dense brooding blackcurrant and berry fruit and blackstrap liquorice make for a drier-seeming finish.  The flourish of tannin plays a hand too.  Plentiful but ripe, the tannins may have the whip hand now, but there is ample concentration of fruit here.  Impressive.   A great buy. £115.00/6 bottles or £120.00 for 12 half bottles –  in bond, ex VAT

Taylor’s Vintage Port 2018

Taylor’s Vintage Port 2018

The Fladgate Partnership Vintage Report – Taylor’s

The 2018 vineyard cycle was unusual and had a marked effect on the character of the wine. The previous year had been very dry and hot and by 15th January nearly two thirds of the country was suffering from drought, the Douro Valley being one of the worst affected areas. Luckily, heavy rainfall in March avoided damage to the vines and replenished ground water reserves. The growing season from March until the end of June was relatively cold and wet, bringing mildew in some areas. Devastating hailstorms on 28th May caused extensive damage to vineyards in the Pinhão area, including Taylor’s Quinta do Junco.

The development of the vines was about three weeks behind that of 2017, flowering occurring in late May and véraison in the last week of July.  Dry, warm conditions prevailed throughout July followed by a wave of very intense heat in August. On 3rd August, the weather station at Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. The extreme heat allowed the vines to make up some lost time and the abundant groundwater accumulated earlier in the year meant that, in spite of the hot conditions, ripening of the crop was gradual and balanced.

Picking at Quinta de Vargellas began on 17th September in hot, dry weather which continued for the duration of the harvest.  Yields were very low and winemakers’ notes report that the new wines displayed elegance, freshness of fruit, good acidity and intense colour.

My tasting notes

September 2020: A deep, inky hue, the nose exceptionally tight  – its smells of tannin and minerals.  Adopt the brace position, I thought, prior to partaking.  Sure enough, a touch velcro, the tannins are palapable.  But they are not aggressive.  Rather, tightly wound, like the blackcurrant, making for a rather inscrutable palate, the spirit savoury, a little proud on the attack and into the mid-palate.  It comes together going through.  Sluicing, fresh acidity teases out notes of crushed stones, spearmint and sage.  The fruit sweetness brings a sweet overlay to the finish, balancing the mouth-coating cocoa dust tannins.  With time in glass, violet top notes emerge.  On day two, the acidity seemingly buoys the fruit, the tannins, the guiding backbone.  Great intensity, juice and flow within the tannin structure to the polished blackcurrant, with its minerals, floral and herbaceous notes.  Bridge describes the acidity as ‘wiry,’ which captures it well.  The tannins clasp the wine on the finish, making for a classic Taylor’s dryness, austerity.  A keeper.  7,800 cases

February 2021: Vargellas, said Guimaraens, always supplies a big proportion of the fruit for classic blends.  Bridge added Terra Feita and Junco in Pinhão Valley bring dimension, although owing to the hail, Junco did not contribute in 2018.  Vargellas’ signature perfume of violets seems much more effusive second time around.  Lingering and sweet – a foil to the sinewy backbone of tannin – I was put in mind of parma violets (a childhood confectionary).  Whilst black pepper and bergamot notes mingle with the violets,  the fruit expression remains introspective, reinforcing the precise, dry house style.    With lots of dry extract, it doubtless has a very long future ahead. £325.00/6 bottles or £330.00 for 12 half bottles –  in bond, ex VAT

Previous Fladgate Vintage Port Reviews

2017 Vintage Ports

2016 Vintage Ports

2015 Vintage Ports

2011 Vintage Ports

2009 Vintage Ports

2008 Vintage Ports

2007 Vintage Ports

2003 Vintage Ports

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