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The Fladgate Partnership Vintage Port 2017 releases

David Guimaraens & Adrian Bridge of The Fladgate Partnership

Head Winemaker, David Guimaraens (r) & Managing Director, Adrian Bridge (l), look pleased as punch with new baby Croft Roêda Serikos Vintage Port 2017

In my second post on this topic, I report on The Fladgate Partnership 2017 Vintage Port releases, including an exciting new addition to the range, Croft Serikos Vintage Port 2017 from Quinta da Roêda’s oldest vines.  Well might Head Winemaker, David Guimaraens and Managing Director, Adrian Bridge, look pleased as punch with this new baby!

The Fladgate Partnership Vintage Port 2017 – the year

The Fladgate Partnership’s Vintage Port 2017 declaration follows hot on the heels of the 2016 general declaration (my review here).  Bridge pointed out that, in the past, back-to-back declarations have not been unknown at Port houses now owned by The Fladgate Partnership (TFP) – for example Croft in 1784, 1785 and 1786, Taylor’s in 1880 & 1881 and Fonseca in 1933 and 1934.  But it has been a while!  Here’s what TFP’s press release had to say about the quality of the 2017 Vintage Ports:

“The Port houses of The Fladgate Partnership – Taylor’s, Fonseca, Croft and Krohn – have all announced their decision to declare the 2017 vintage. 

In addition to classic Vintage Ports from each of the four houses, there will also be two ‘old vines’ bottlings.  

Taylor’s will release a 2017 Vargellas Vinha Velha, the rare Vintage Port from the oldest vines at Quinta de Vargellas.  This will be only the eighth Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port ever made.  Further exciting news for rare wine enthusiasts is that, for the first time, Croft will release a rare Vintage Port from the oldest vines of its magnificent estate of Quinta da Roêda.  Called Serikos, a reference to Roêda’s post-Phylloxera involvement in the production of silk, the wine captures the essence of the property’s historic vineyards.  Quantities of both of these ‘old vines’ bottlings will be very limited and subject to tight allocation.

The Fladgate Partnership’s Managing Director, Adrian Bridge, commented: “After the long interval that followed the 2011 Vintage release, we are delighted that the highly acclaimed 2016s are now followed by the superb 2017s.  All our houses and their properties have produced exceptional wines, with impressive density, depth and aromatic potential.”  He added: “It is clear that 2017 was a stunning year for the old vineyards.  In addition to a Vargellas Vinha Velha release, we are very excited to be launching Serikos, a Vintage Port from the oldest vines of Croft’s Quinta da Roêda.”

The group’s Technical Director and Head Winemaker, David Guimaraens, commented:  “We will remember 2017 for the very dry conditions throughout the growing and ripening seasons and the very early harvest.  August was not excessively hot and, although the wines were concentrated by the dry conditions and low yields, they were also beautifully balanced.  The start of the harvest was the earliest in a generation.  The last time picking started this early was in the legendary vintage of 1945.”   Commenting on the wines, he noted: “The thick skinned, perfectly ripened grapes have produced dense, firmly structured wines, with impressive depth and reserves of aroma.  Many of the wines display an attractive minerality which brings a touch of elegance and restraint to the powerful fruit.”

Co-presenting a 2017 Vintage Port launch panel tasting with Charles Symington and Christian Seely, Bridge elaborated that grapes were harvested some three weeks earlier than normal, so harvesting started in August/the beginning of September and finished at the end of the third week in September. Comparing it with 2016’s much slower maturation, he observed that the 2016 harvest started around the same time as the 2017 Vintage Port harvest finished.

Bridge was especially impressed with old vine parcels which, “with much greater root structures, performed incredibly well in 2017.”  He added that the very concentrated, thick-skinned small berries resulted in an attractive balance between the ripe fruit and tannins/astringency.  I really enjoyed the tension – a palpable charge – between the two in TFP’s 2017 Vintage Ports.

The Fladgate Partnership Vintage Port 2017 tasting

My tasting notes are preceded by TFP’s vintage reports for each wine.  The ports were tasted at TFP’s London release tasting on 23 May and at a tasting on 25th June organised by the Port Forum with the support of Vintage Wine & Port in Hampshire, who keenly champion smaller houses in addition to the big players.  (N.B. The Krohn was not shown at either tasting).

Taylor’s Vintage Port 2017

Vintage report:  Following a wet 2016, the year started with cold and dry winter conditions, with a fifth less rainfall than the thirty-year average. Bud burst occurred relatively early, around 10th March.  The dry conditions continued into Spring and the warm weather in April and May encouraged the rapid growth of the vines. The first three weeks of June were extremely hot, causing damage to the new bunches in some areas of the Douro. The early cycle continued with véraison around 18th June, one month earlier than the previous year. Apart from some thunderstorms and rainfall early in July, conditions remained dry until the end of September although temperatures for much of the ripening season were moderate. As expected, the crop ripened very early, showing high sugar levels which led to longer fermentations and very effective colour extraction. Picking started at Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas on 1st September, the earliest in a generation. The last time picking was recorded as having started this early was in 1945 – one of the greatest of the 20th century vintages – when the first fruit was picked on 3rd September. Temperatures at harvest time were mild, with cool nights, leading to balanced fermentations and excellent extraction. The musts were dense and marked by exceptional depth of colour and impressive phenolics.

My tasting note:  the tannins define this wine.  Spicy (liquorice, cassia bark), mineral (schistous, salty, iron filings, graphite) and plentiful, indeed omnipresent. I found them broader than usual going through, initially occluding the fruit, but firming up and tapering going through.  Taylor’s classic polished blackcurrant fruit, with a touch of blackcurrant leaf, and succulent black cherry is very much inter-mingled with the tannins, creating the dynamic quality which I remarked on in my report on the Symington Family Estate’s 2017 Vintage Ports.  There’s a wild, pungent character, a touch vegetal (rosemary, esteva and tightly wound florals?) which is more pronounced going back.  A very powerful, rugged even, expression of this house, especially compared with the elegant, juicier, very pure-fruited Taylor’s 2016 Vintage Port (my review here).  On the second showing, it seemed more contained, but the impressively layered tannins were a stand out.   All in all, very impressive, with a drier, more tannic profile than the 2016.  11,500 cases compared with an average of 16,500 cases since 1955.

Taylor’s Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port 2017

My tasting note: Opulent, very exuberant fruit to nose and palate, with plush, headily perfumed cassis, blackberry and cherry, with pungent, homeopathic herbal riffs of rosemary and sage, liquorice spice and lifted violets and striking crushed rock minerality.  This single estate old vine selection’s tannins have the self-same graphite softness as Taylor’s classic Vintage Port 2017, but the bottomless pit of fruit soaks them up more readily, making for a more immersive tannin profile.  Still, they are plentiful and contribute to the spicy, mouthcoating back palate.  With outstanding length and resonance, the flavours seem to ‘echo’ for an age.  Gorgeous.

Fonseca Vintage Port 2017

Vintage report:  In spite of a cold and dry start to the year, the first buds appeared earlier than usual, around 10th March. Spring remained unusually dry throughout, with only about 7mm of rain falling in Pinhão in the usually wet month of April. These conditions accelerated vine growth, bringing on an early flowering at the beginning of May. The first three weeks of June saw very high temperatures and véraison started much earlier than usual around the 18th. Drought conditions continued until the end of September but temperatures eased somewhat in August, bringing relatively cool nights. Predictably, the crop reached maturity very early. Quinta do Panascal was the first Fonseca property to start picking on 6th September. The two Pinhão Valley estates, Cruzeiro and Santo António, followed on 10th and 17th respectively. These were the earliest picking dates in a generation.  The thick-skinned grapes yield very dense musts, with impressive depth of colour.  Although the volume of production was low overall, a high proportion of the wines made were of exceptional quality and their promise was apparent from an early stage.

My tasting note: bold and curvaceous á la Fonseca but, with 2017 tannins and pungency, it’s a rip-snorter! A lifted nose reveals mint, orange blossom, spice and fruit, which follow through on the velvety palate, with concentrated bitter-chocolate edged raspberry, crystallised ginger, mocha, black tea, esteva, hard pan minerals and a savoury, almost gamy, wild note.  Spicy, liquoricy ripe but thoroughly mouthcoating, dynamic tannins entrap and extend the flavours, creating compelling tension between the fruit and tannins.  Pungent, with heft and frame, line and length, this smorgasbord of flavours is a feast in a bottle!

Croft Vintage Port 2017

Vintage report:  The vineyard cycle got off to an early start, with the first buds emerging between 8th and 10th March, in spite of the cold, dry weather. The very dry Spring stood out as a defining feature of the 2017 viticultural year. Only a few millimetres of rain fell in April, usually one of the wettest months, with May and June continuing dry. Temperatures were above average for the period.  The early development of the vines continued, with flowering starting right at the beginning of May and a very early véraison making its appearance around 18th June. The drought conditions continued throughout the summer and until the end of September. July was hot but, fortunately, the temperatures in August fell to more moderate levels, particularly at night, giving balance to the ripening crop. Picking at Quinta da Roêda began on 31st August, the earliest start date for over 70 years. Winemakers’ notes refer to the exceptional density of the musts, yielded by thick skinned grapes, and for the impressive scale and richness of the wines produced from the oldest vineyard plots.

My tasting note: On first tasting, hot on the heels of the Fonseca, this seemingly silky number shot straight through to the back palate.  But the A to B impression is misleading, the back palate reveals a fretwork of dusty, firm tannins – quite chewy on the finish.  It harnesses a compressed, slippery core of blackcurrant, plum and raspberry – a trio of raspberry according to my first note, which mentions black raspberry, raspberry mint julep and earthy raspberry.  Second time around, milk and bitter chocolate, liquorice and eucalyptus notes chimed in on the finish, when the fruit seemed even more closed. A particularly serious effort from Croft; still coming together.

Croft Roêda Serikos Vintage Port 2017

Background to Serikos (FTP text): Croft’s Quinta da Roêda is often known as the jewel of Douro vineyards.  Like most other Port estates, its vineyards were devastated in the 1870s by the vine louse, Phylloxera, and its owners turned to cultivating mulberry trees whose leaves are the preferred food of the silk worm.  Had no solution to Phylloxera been found, Roêda might today be the source of the finest silk rather than the silken-textured wines for which it is now renowned.  Between 1889 and 1900, Croft replanted Roêda with nearly 50,000 new vines, most on three plots known as Benedita, Ferradura and Galeria, constructed using a new vineyard architecture known as First Generation Post-Phylloxera Terracing. Built over a century ago, they represent some of the most beautiful examples of terraced vineyard, particularly the Galeria, a perfect amphitheatre of schist walls joined by a single stairway.  Now, for the first time, a Vintage Port has been made from grapes from these magnificent heritage plots.  The 2017 vintage was chosen for this release as it was a year in which the old vines produced exceptional results, allowing these three great vineyards to express themselves in a wine of monumental stature.

My tasting note: markedly deep in hue with tightly coiled fruit but expressive, beguiling orange blossom perfume, orange peel and a touch of eucalyptus.  Juicier and fresher than the classic Croft Vintage Port 2017, this motile, exceptionally refined port glides in the mouth, showing great intensity of succulent plum, strawberry, cherry and crushed red and black berry fruit.  Very fine-grained, long chain tannins maintain the impetus through a lingering finish, with bright, grapefruity acidity and piquant crystallised ginger and liquorice on a spicy finish.  A really thrilling new addition to the portfolio.

Other Vintage Port 2017 posts

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

Click here for my report on Quinta do Noval’s 2017 Vintage Ports.

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