The 2016 vintage ports from the Douro region in northern Portugal were designated after a five year drought. Now, the 2017 vintage, although different in style, has also been declared a classic.
Representatives from the Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta Noval, all major producers of port from the region, gathered at the Nikko Hotel recently to present updates of the 2017 vintage. In all, we tasted 16 wines from 11 different port houses.
Terroir is a combination of climate, soil and human intervention that influences the wines. The 2017 growing season in the Douro was exceptionally hot and dry, resulting in grapes that budded, ripened and were eventually harvested much earlier than normal.
Old, deeply rooted vines do well in dry years. It is these low-yield vines producing concentrated flavors that have distinguished the elegance and finesse of the 2016 vintage from the richness and intensity of the 2017 vintage.
From the Fladgate Partnership, the austere Taylor Fladgate 2017 ($100) exuded its trademark floral (violets) bouquet. The complex flavors were rich, full and lingering.
Vineyards in the Quinta de Vargellas are century-old, north facing vines with ample hours of sun. The Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 ($220), described as a “Taylor Fladgate on steroids,” is a limited production blend from the oldest vines on the estate. It is handsomely scented and there is a density to the layered flavors of dark fruit with herbal notes.
Croft, another port house under the Taylor Fladgate Partnership, presented two vintage ports including the Croft Roeda Serikos 2017 from an estate that nearly became one of the world’s finest silk farms. Vines in the Quinta da Roeda were devastated in the 1870s by phylloxera, which prompted the planting of mulberry trees. With the phylloxera problem solved, current vines were re-planted on the property around the turn of the century, and in a dry, hot year, drew from the minerals in the soil and performed exceptionally.
Estimations are that it takes four of these low yield vines to produce one bottle of port, which is the reason only 200 cases of the Roeda Serikos 2017 were produced. Floral aromas open up in the glass for a delightful introduction to deep, concentrated flavors of red berry, black fruit and herbs.
Dow’s has been among the great port houses for over 200 years and the Symington Family for the past five generations. Wine Spectator magazine named the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 their wine of the year in 2014. The Dow’s Vintage Port 2017 comes from a marriage of two powerhouse quintas (vineyards) and provides lavender on the nose, deep colors and high viscosity on the palate.
Under the Symington Family for fifty years, Graham’s was founded in the early 1800s and consists today of the Quinta dos Malvedos, one of the region’s finest vineyards and Quinta do Tua, known for its unique stone terraces.
With a dry year in normally hot climate, harvest for the Graham’s 2017 began early on August 28 and finished by September 15. Present floral aromas with complex flavors were described by Johnny Symington to include rose water, Turkish delight, mint and eucalyptus.
In only its fourth release, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2017 is a micro-terroir wine from two original, north- facing vineyards. It expressed aromas of tropical fruit and orange blossom and was flawlessly structured.
Cockburn’s, another port house under the Symington Family with south facing vineyards in the hot eastern Douro, produces the Cockburn Vintage Port 2017 ($80-90) that consists mostly of touriga nacional and delivers a luscious mouthfeel, velvety tannins and length.
Quinta Do Noval, located in the heart of the Douro, near the small town of Pinhão, consists of a 360-acre vineyard that is divided into several parcels. The grapes selected for the Quinta do Noval Vintage Port($105) represent only a small portion of their total production. Powerful and balanced, this wine has a spice and floral quality with full black fruit flavors and significant tannins.
The story of the Quinta Do Noval Nacional 2017 ($820) lies with a small parcel of ungrafted vines that were never impacted by phylloxera. They are native Portuguese vines with no foreign root stock. This wine, with grapes still crushed using the laborious process of foot treading in stone lagares, was remarkable in its complexity, balance and rich expression of fruit with a licorice component.
Tasting the vintage ports of 2017 was an extraordinary experience.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.