Vintage Port 2013: tasting notes round up

Quinta do Seixo

Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo makes its maiden Single Quinta Vintage Port in 2013

Single Quinta Vintage Ports have been the focus of 2013 declarations, though their number include a couple of quintas which are accorded the status of major Port houses – Quinta do Noval and Quinta do Vesuvio.  I’ve written up 2013 Vintage Ports as samples arrived.  For ease of reference, here’s a round up of those I’ve tasted so far.  

Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 2013

fonseca guimaraens 2013 005

Vintage report: For Head winemaker David Guimaraens “[T]here were exceptionally rich, powerful wines produced in 2013 prior to the rains of late September.  The Ports made from the Fonseca estates in the first week of the harvest were outstanding, allowing us to produce a very fine Guimaraens 2013 Vintage blend, full bodied and packed with dense berry fruit flavour.” Here’s his report on the vintage: “The preceding winter was very wet, with rainfall at Pinhão 30% above the norm.  This replenished water reserves depleted by the arid conditions of 2012.  In contrast to the intense rainfall early in the year, the growing season was dry with only 100mm of rain between April and August. As a result the vines were almost free of disease.  The early growing season was also relatively cool leading to slow growth and a late vérasion around 15 July.  July and August recorded very high temperatures which accelerated the cycle and encouraged ripening of the crop.  July was the hottest month, with an average temperature of over 26°C, and in the two months of July and August there were 11 days on which the temperature exceeded 40°C.  The hot weather extended into September but some rainfall early in the month helped to round off the ripening.  Picking started at Quinta do Panascal on 21 September and in the two Pinhão Valley estates, Cruzeiro and Santo António, on 23rd.  Harvesting conditions were excellent until 27 September when there was heavy rainfall.  Fortunately the best grapes were under cover by this time and produced deeply coloured, aromatic musts.”

Tasting note: Deep and dense in hue and on the palate.  This is a brooding Guimaraens, still a little sulky, with grippy tannins and youthful spirit which have yet fully to integrate. They give it an impression of (relative) dryness which I’m very sure it will shrug off with time given the tight knit cocoa-dusted dark berry/currant and sweeter raspberry fruit at its core.  What I like best about it, especially on day 2 (when it’s looking a little more fluid/less tannin bound) is the freshness of the fruit.  It provides a juiciness to the mid-palate before the grippy tannins assert themselves on a spicy, star anise-inflected finish.  On day 2 it has unfurled just a little, revealing orange blossom and violet notes; the mid-palate is a little fleshier and juicier too.  Promising definition and structure.  Tasted May 2015. UK RRP £30.

Sandeman Quinta do Seixo Vintage Port 2013 (cask sample)


Vintage report: For Chief Winemaker Luis Sottomayor “[A]lthough 2013 was a cold and rainy year in the Douro, the truth is that these grapes showed great maturation, and more importantly, the wine has shown a wonderful evolution, motivating us to make this second only single quinta in Sandeman’s history.”

Tasting note: First, a single cask Tawny Port, Sandeman Cask 33 Very Old Tawny Port.  Now, its first Single Quinta Vintage Port from Quinta do Seixo.  It is only the second Single Quinta Vintage Port in the company’s history (the first was Sandeman Quinta do Vau Single Quinta Vintage Port 1988).  Around 30% of the fruit is sourced from 100 year old field blend vines, the balance (29% Touriga Nacional, 24% Touriga Franca, 15% Sousão and 5% Tinta Francisca) from vines averaging 50 years old.  It was foot trodden in traditional granite lagares.   An attractive, youthfully bright, deep crimson hue it has a marked fragrance of violets and rock rose with a hint of mint and schistous/mineral undertones.  In the mouth it reveals lashings of pippy red and black raspberry fruit with fleshier plum, even a touch of kirsch and dark chocolate.  Lovely juiciness balances and extends the palate going through.  Fine grained, sucrous tannins have a touch of grip on a fresh, tapering finish. Residual sugar: 103g/l , 20.5% abv, UK RRP £30.  Tasted July 2015.

Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port 2013 (cask sample)

Vintage report: As ever, Paul Symington released a very thorough vintage report – “This year we had a real Douro winter. Good levels of rain fell throughout the last quarter of 2012 and both January and February 2013 were very wet. March had the heaviest rainfall for 12 years with 176 mm, more than three times the average, and serious damage was caused not only to the roads but also to the stone and earth terraces on which our vineyards are planted. In fact dangerous rock avalanches occurred, including one between Sabrosa and Pinhão that blocked the road for several hours, thankfully occurring when no vehicle was passing. Some of the Douro’s vineyards planted over the last twenty years have been set out without care for the natural slope of the hills and with more regard to the power of a bulldozer, so when heavy rains come these errors are fully exposed.

After two drought years with 40% less rainfall than average, this year’s winter rain was of the utmost importance, giving our vineyards an abundant supply of water. Many Douro vines are not irrigated and rely on the water retained in the schistous rock and soil. April at Bomfim was cool with an average 13.8°C compared to a mean of 15.0°C. May continued much cooler than average (16°C vs. 18.4°C), so the vine’s development was at least 10 days late by early June. A delayed cycle is not a serious problem in the Douro and we and our neighbours were very optimistic at this stage. Seldom have the vines looked so healthy, especially after two drought years.

The next three months showed us that no year in the Douro is ever quite like a previous one and that no judgement should be made until the grapes are under cover and in the wineries. In June, July and August just 4.6mm of rain fell at Pinhão. This is effectively no rain for 12 solid weeks. Although these three months were only marginally warmer than average, the lack of rain was extraordinary. One tragic result of this period was that forest fires became a daily feature on every horizon as the parched woodlands were tinder dry right across Portugal.

The ability of the Douro grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca to cope with such prolonged periods of drought and still nurture fine bunches of ripe berries is extraordinary. Their well-established root systems draw in the necessary water and nutrients from deep in the soil, unlike most other Vitis vinifera which would look very sorry in these conditions. Our vines had lovely dark green leaves and fine looking bunches in late August. The young vines had a tough summer and had to be watered, many by hand.

The crucial month of September started with the maturation still some 10 days behind recent years, measured both by the technical analysis as well as by the traditional tasting of berries in the vineyards and the feel and look of the skins between fingers. Some important rain fell on the 5th September (14mm at Malvedos and 13 mm at Bomfim) which was most welcome. This was more rain in one day than had fallen in the previous three months.

Charles Symington and our viticulture team fixed the picking for Port at Vesuvio and at Senhora da Ribeira in the Douro Superior for the 19th September and for the 23rd at our other vineyards in the Alto Douro. These dates were based on several preceding weeks of careful assessment of grape maturity and the scene was set for an exceptional year. The picking for our Douro DOC wines had started several days earlier.

By the afternoon of Monday 23rd September, with the pickers already in the vineyards picking the Barroca and some other varieties, the long-range forecast began to show Atlantic rainstorms coming into the Douro on the afternoon of Friday 27th, with wet weather predicted to persist for 6 days. By sunrise on Tuesday morning, Charles had changed the entire picking order that had been so carefully decided just a few days previously. All the pickers were asked to go immediately into the Touriga Nacional, Souzão and Vinha Velha vineyards. During the next 5 days, and in perfect sunny weather, some of the best grapes were picked and brought into the wineries. The lagares fermented during this period are really exceptional, with wonderful colour and aromas. Amongst several great looking wines, two lagares at Senhora da Ribeira made with a blend of Souzão and Touriga Nacional, have really delighted us.

Sure enough rain came in late on Friday, although sparingly in the eastern part of the valley. The unsettled weather persisted until Thursday 3rd, although on the Sunday and Monday there was no rain to speak of. We picked much of our Barroca and Roriz during these unsettled days and their tougher skins and higher Baumés did not suffer much. Some grape varieties did naturally register a drop in sugar readings at this stage, and in the lower-lying and more enclosed vineyards, careful work was needed by the pickers and on the sorting tables.

As from the 4th October, the fine dry weather returned, accompanied by a healthy wind that dried the vines and the top soil. In this phase our pickers started harvesting the Touriga Franca which gave excellent colour, with berries in very good condition. This was good news as Franca with its fragile skins, can be susceptible to excess moisture.

An advantage of our steep Douro vineyards is that the land drains very well after rain, which prevents the damp earth from creating problems in the very ripe berries. Towards the end of the harvest, we returned to our higher vineyards of Touriga Nacional (300 to 450 meters up the valley sides). These grapes came into the wineries with very healthy 13° and 14° Baumés and the fine weather continued until the 13th October by which time all our best vineyards had been picked.

Thus by the judicious use of the long-range weather forecast, quick decision making and a willingness to change the picking order, some very fine looking Ports and Douro DOC wines have been made this year.

This report is being concluded on Saturday 19th October at Provesende in the Pinhão valley under grey skies and after a night of heavy rain. The valley is quiet as all the grapes are in and peace has returned here as the countless visitors and the many pickers have all returned home. Although we still have some fermentations under way at some wineries, we and our farmers are feeling satisfied that despite 6 days of unsettled weather in the middle of the harvest, the year’s work in the vineyard has ended very well and we look forward to tasting our wines in the coming weeks and months.”

Tasting note: A blend of 40% Touriga Franca, 35% Touriga Nacional, 15% Sousão and 10% old vines.  Both nose and palate have pronounced violet and bergamot notes, with savoury undertones of rosemary, pepper, eucalypt and fresh ground coffee.  In the mouth, it is both broader and drier than the Vesuvio with velvety baked black cherry, cherry stone and a firm underpinning of tapering tannins (iron fist, velvet glove indeed).  Long, layered, meaty and dense.  Eight pipes were produced, which represented 5% of total production; it is regarded by the Symingtons as the best ever made at this estate.  Tasted July 2015.

Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2013 (cask sample)


Vintage report: see above under Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.

Tasting note: This foot-trodden blend of 65% Touriga Nacional, 12% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Touriga Barroca and 13% of (picked after the rain) Touriga Franca/Sousão is a deep inky hue, with lovely violet lift to the nose. In the mouth it’s very fresh and juicily persistent with silky, really fluid, polished and pure blackcurrant and berry fruit.    Perfume and minerals ping pong back and forth on the back palate, creating a lively tension.  A fine mesh of tannin and chiselled minerals anchor a very long, well structured finish.  Terrific intensity and line.  With rigorous selection, just 13 pipes were produced from 133 hectares.  My pick of the 2013 Vintage Ports thus far.  Tasted July 2015.


Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2013


Vintage report: “In 2013 the winter was extremely wet, and rain continued to fall heavily until April 2013. This was beneficial because it restored the soils water reserves, which were very low after 2 dry years. Then a cool and wet spring preceded a dry hot summer, with virtually no rain. These climatic conditions conditioned the evolution of the vegetative cycle, resulting into a low production year and delaying ripening in the vineyards by 10 days.  Rainfall occurred on September 5, although a little late, gave us new courage. So we decided to wait a few days. The grapes improved significantly and we started on September 10th, with grapes in perfect health and maturation that produced musts of extremely high quality. The wines that make up our 2013 Vintage Port were made from grapes harvested in this initial period.

Subsequently it rained between September 27 and October 3, which increased the moisture content to 80 or 90%, leading to favourable conditions for the emergence of botrytis, so we had to accelerate the pace of the harvest to bring the grapes in in healthy condition. Good wines were made in this latter period, but the outstanding lots were produced in the earlier part of the harvest.”

Tasting note: Quinta do Noval is based in Vale de Mendiz in Pinhão, in the Cima Corgo.  Like all Noval Vintage Ports, the 2013 was produced exclusively from selected plots on the Quinta and trodden by foot in lagares.  It was aged for 18 months in wooden barrels in the air-conditioned cellars at the Quinta before bottling.  It is a deep aubergine hue with a bright crimson rim.  On the nose it reveals lifted floral notes (peonies) and just a hint of greenness.  A greeness which, I might add, I don’t mind at all.  It’s part of the elegant style of this Vintage Port, which I found lighter than the others 2013s I tasted alongside it over three days (Sandeman Quinta de Seixo and the Symington’s more easterly Douro Superior estate Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, where picking started a week later).  In the mouth, it has the marked freshness of earlier-picked grapes from this vintage – lovely acidity/freshness to its juicy brambly, woody raspberry and succulent black cherry and plum fruit.  Very long and mineral, quite dry and elegant, with dusty schist mineral notes and powder-fine, gently mouth-coating tannins.  A highly disgestible, accessible Port of character and charm. 1,200 cases were produced, representing less than 3% of the production of this 143 hectare quinta. 19,5 % abv, Residual Sugar: 94,00 g/dm3.  Tasted July 2015.

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