Vintage Port is as much about intention as it is about terroir. A blender at a house known for Ports with plump and ample depths of fruit, or for powerful structures, may shy away from the kind of cool, elegant vintage that another may see as a great opportunity.
Or would they? The 2019 harvest arrived after two widely declared vintages—2016 and ’17—and one with significant declarations—2018. All different, but none as cool as 2019. Dirk Niepoort, leading the charge for the elegant 2019s, made his intentions known early, on March 11, 2021. Meanwhile, the Symington Family and the Fladgate Partnership, the two most significant players in the Vintage game, both chose to release single-quinta wines from small lots of their top fruit. In fact, many of the Vintage wines approved by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto from 2019 are single-quinta bottlings. Christian Seely announced the declaration of four wines, including Quinta do Noval, Noval’s Nacional (from two rows of ancient vines), Quinta do Passadouro and Quinta da Romaneira, upriver from Noval (Seely is a partner in Romaneira). All are Cima Corgo wines. Sogrape declared two wines, Sandeman Quinta do Seixo and Ferreira Quinta do Porto. The principals at the Fladgate Partnership and the Symingtons did not describe their 2019 wines as a declaration, preferring to hold to the traditional meaning of the term—as distinct from single-quinta wines.
Words aside, the vintage was universally acknowledged to be a relief, an abundant year after a string of short harvests (followed by the disastrous 2020) that have left stocks depleted in the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia. The summer of 2019 remained relatively cool in the Douro, despite extreme heat elsewhere in Europe; the temperate season allowed the vines to coast through a dry spell that began in May, sustained by moisture reserves in the schist (or some “experimental irrigation”) until rain came on August 25th. The heat that followed challenged certain varieties, and several growers noted it was more a year for touriga franca than touriga nacional—which could be another way of saying an elegant rather than powerful year.
Rupert Symington, the CEO of Symington Family Estates, describes 2019 as “a medium-weight vintage with lovely freshness.” He says the yields were higher in 2019 than in recent years: “The average was 1.27 kilos per vine, while in 2018 and ’17, some were under a kilo per vine.” The Symingtons will release two wines now—Quinta do Vesuvio and Señora da Ribeira, both from estates in the Douro Superior. They will release the rest of their quinta wines in about ten years.
Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, had a similar take on the vintage, pointing to small quantities of top-level wines from Vargellas, Taylor’s quinta in the Douro Superior. “The game is that you make the best quality wine you can and then see what you want to do with it,” he said, and the decision was to bottle Vargellas as a quinta wine. David Guimaraens, the group’s technical director charged with making and blending the partnership’s Ports, describes the 2019 Vargellas as a wine that expresses its terroir with precision. “Being situated in the beginning of the upper Douro, which is more arid, Vargellas is predominantly a north- and northwest-facing property, so it doesn’t get as harsh a heat—we talk about the floral characters and the very distinctive, firm tannins of Vargellas.”
That sense of precision might describe Niepoort’s 2019, the only 2019 barrel sample presented for tasting as of yet. Dirk Niepoort is enthusiastic about the vintage, showing it off on a Zoom call with his son, Daniel, who joined the family firm a year ago. Niepoort declared the relatively cool 2015, the powerful 2017 and now the 2019. While Symington, Bridge and Guimaraens point to the success of small lots of wines in the Douro Superior, Niepoort asserts that his Cima Corgo vineyards, parcels of 80- to 100-year-old vines, produced ample quantities of top-flight grapes, warranting the fanfare of a Vintage declaration. His wine shows a brooding purple color and a silken texture. It makes a compelling argument for giving the 2019s some serious consideration.
This story appears in the print issue of August 2021.
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