Tried & tasted: Sandeman, Ferreira & Offley 2011 Vintage Ports

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Chief Winemaker Luís Sottomayor with Sandeman Vintage Ports from 2011 & 1955

It’s judging week at Decanter World Wine Awards and, once again, I’ll be chairing the regional panel for Portuguese table wines.  An about turn having spent the last week focused on Port, especially the 2011 Vintage Port releases – the subject of my next few blogs, starting with Sogrape’s releases.

Here is Sogrape’s report on the 2011 vintage “[T]the growth cycle started in perfect conditions.  Bud break took place at an ideal temperature with adequate light and soil humidity.  Due to the periods of rainfall and the marked heat spikes before flowering, vine growth was vigorous.  Lowering temperatures in May resulted in consistent fruit set.  Thorughout July and August, the lower than average temperatures contributed to a slower, steadier period of grape maturation that benefited the fruit character, structure and acidity of all grape varieties.  The Douro region’s main varieties – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz, all produced excellent fruit.”

Chief Winemaker Luís Sottomayor says he cannot recall a vintage in which the port wines have revealed “such enormous structure and robustness.” According to Sottomayer, “2011 has allowed us to create vintage wines with never-before-seen levels of colour, structure and complexity, for which we anticipate enormous bottle-ageing potential, thanks to the combination of robust structure, fruit and excellent acidity.”   I couldn’t agree more with Sottomayer (although my personal experience of tasting hot off the press vintage ports only dates back to 2000).

Equally striking is the fruit purity and ripeness of this powerful vintage’s tannins.  A quality which Sottomayer attributes primarily to improved vineyards – “much better than 15 years ago” –  because, he says, we now know how to manage each vineyard, each vine even, so that taking into account water reserves in any given year, we can assess the correct quantity of leaves and bunches/vine.  Moreover in the winery extraction (over the 3-4 days the wines spent in robotic and human foot treading in lagares) is much gentler and the quality of spirit is better (though Sottomayer favours neutral over aromatic spirits – a matter of house style he says).

Here are my notes on the Sogrape releases (the Sandeman tasted twice, first at a meeting with Sottomayer, then at the BFT in a line up of some 25 Ports, including the Offley and Ferreira):

Offley Vintage Port 2011

Produced from Quinta da Boavista and other vineyards in the Pinhão area (Cima Corgo), the sweet intensity of this wine is evident from the get go in its parma violet perfume and profusion of ripe, plush plum and red berry fruit, all of which follow through in the mouth.  The structure – a firm clasp of tannin – asserts itself towards the finish, which exhibits just a hint of stewy overripeness.  Good.

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.

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.

Sandeman Vintage Port 1955

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To mark the occasion of the London launch of the 2011 vintage, Sottomayer and George Sandeman also opened a tregnum (no longer authorised 3 bottle format) of the 1955 vintage.

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A photo of The Don’s cellars in former times – Sandeman Port was bottled here until 1969

The 1955 Sandeman Vintage Port was the last vintage Port to be bottled at 20 St Swithin’s Lane where we met, which is the original London home of Port House, now The Don restaurant (click here for details).  Still vigorous, if a touch dusty of tannin and spirity, this deep spice-accented amber Port shows liquorice, tamarind, carraway seed and gum cistus notes to its rich, soft dried fig and raisin fruit, some earthier turmeric too.  Good.

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