Following two widely declared vintages—2016, with the elegant wines of a relatively cool, wet year, and 2017, a powerfully structured vintage from a hot, dry season—producers in Douro were not anxious to release more Vintage Porto. And 2018 turned out to be a year of varied weather, with a cool, wet spring, hailstorms and a seriously hot July and August. But there were high expectations at some well-positioned sites, often north-facing. At Vargellas, Taylor’s quinta in the Douro Superior, David Guimaraens found that the first half of the season helped to moderate the second half. When they tasted the wine this spring next to the 2017, the team was confident that it warranted a historic declaration—the first time in its history, more than 300 years, that Taylor has declared three vintages in a row.
“During the growing phase of 2018, from budburst to veraison, there were cool conditions and a lot of humidity. Then, during the final ripening phase in July, August and September, it was incredibly hot,” he says. “That heat compensated for the cool growing phase. The wines have the beautiful freshness of fruit of a cooler year and the structure and dimension of a hotter year from the end of the season.”
But things were less accommodating in other parts of the Douro. Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, reports that there was no contribution from Junco, an important Taylor quinta in the Cima Corgo that was wiped out by hail, explaining that conditions in 2018 were sometimes challenging at their properties around Pinhão.
The vintage played out differently for Ramos Pinto, where Ana Rosas blended a single-quinta 2018 from Bom Retiro, the firm’s north-facing estate in the Cima Corgo. Ramos Pinto also farms a quinta far upriver, Ervamoira, in an extremely arid part of the Douro Superior. She reports that the vines at Ervamoira suffered from significant heat stress, forcing the touriga franca to shut down and never fully ripen. At the same time, the touriga franca flourished at Bom Retiro. “It’s always the first to flower, the first to start veraison and almost the last to pick,” she says; its long maturation provided a structured, aromatic component amounting to 29 percent of her blend for the 2018 Bom Retiro.
As late as June, we had this major storm, and at Quinta de Roriz, all the tracks had been washed out to the underlying boulders. You couldn’t get a car through there.
Of the Symington single-quinta releases in 2018, Rupert Symington is most excited about Quinta da Vesuvio, the family’s property on the south bank of the Douro. Like the other producers interviewed for this report, Symington described Vintage releases of limited volume—only two of the Symington wines will be offered as young wines, while the family will hold back the rest for release with about a decade of age. “The Vesuvio of ’18 is as good as ’17,” Symington asserts. “No doubt about it. But we couldn’t have made a Graham’s in 2018 at the level of 2017.” Instead, they used their top material for Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos. “The Douro is very random,” he says. “There’s an element of luck in this.”
This story appears in the print issue of August 2020.
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