2016 Vintage Port


It’s not often that we get to write about vintage port. The declaration of a vintage happens only two to three times a decade. The last one was five ago in 2011, which was remarkable year, and has proven to be a hard act to follow. But the wait is over. This past April, on St. George’s Day, a majority of the Port houses agreed to declare 2016. Now, this winter, we are just starting to see the bottles hit the shelves. So far, this new vintage is proving equally as stunning, showing both power and finesse with a fresh, elegant profile and beautiful aromatics. 

When it comes to Port, the declaration process can seem rather ambiguous and confusing, especially since there are no specific rules or requirements. Each year, Port producers grow, harvest and make their finest, classified wines. In spring, after the wines have been in barrel for two years, the quality of the wine is evaluated. The larger houses will then meet and decide if that quality is consistent enough across wineries to declare the vintage. Although there is no way of knowing ahead of time, there are some early indicators such as ripeness and yield per vine. Once the wine is made, they look for concentration and balance that will allow the Port to age gracefully over time. If all these factors come together, they will make the decision to bottle the best of their wines as vintage Port. 

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 At first, 2016 did not look like it would shape into a good vintage. The season began wet and cold, with a snowy winter followed by a rainy spring. Warm spells in February and March encouraged early bud break, but months of rain followed and delayed flowering, ultimately reducing yields. All this moisture turned out to be a good thing, however, raising the water table and supporting the vines through a very warm summer. A short September rain refreshed the grapes, then temperatures held steady late into fall, allowing the moisture to dry and the fruit to linger on the vine. At harvest, the lower yields and long hang times yielded rich, concentrated flavors, which ultimately translated to wines with beautiful balance.

Currently, we have several of these vintage Ports in and we’re expecting more in the next few months. “The Graham is one of my favorite Ports from the group,” Joe Manekin, our Port Buyer, explained. “It has really pretty blue fruit notes and a subtle minty quality in the background. There is a lively freshness that balances the sweetness of the wine.” The Warres is getting a lot of attention from the critics as being the most elegant, with lively, floral quality and pretty red fruit notes. But the hidden gem, according to Manekin, is the Cockburn. “Although it is lesser known here in the U.S., this Port has all the style and panache to compete with Taylor and Graham and it is very attractively priced. It displays a lovely, drier style and purity of fruit, accented by subtle hints of spice.” 

Taylor and Fonesca should arrive later this month. Both of these wines are powerhouses, displaying bold flavors, weight and structure. Taylor, which got a 100-point score from James Suckling has big, dark fruit and slightly drier nature that lends elegance. The Fonesca is equally as impressive, with deeply pitched fruit, exotic spices and dense structure. 

Commonly, vintage ports require great patience, often taking 20 to 30 years before they’re ready to be fully enjoyed, which can be challenging for our modern attention span. It’s like being invited to a party and then told to wait outside - for years. Lucky for us, the 2016 once again over delivers and the wines are as approachable as they are age-able. With incredible balance, luscious fruit and elegant tannins, they are delicious now and will only get better with time. 

- Megan Greene

Megan Greene