Feeling ‘Port’ly post Christmas?

The first week of the New Year tends to bring with it aspirations of health, wealth and success for the coming months. For most of us having consumed our own weight in turkey, cranberry sauce and Christmas pudding the prospect of a healthier diet comes as a slight relief! This year through, let’s try to extend the purposes of a certain drink beyond the festive period.

That 'Christmas' feeling!

That ‘Christmas’ feeling!

In 1693 when William III placed enormous taxes on products from France, the British drinkers allied with the Portugese and Port became a popular drink. The addition of spirit, at first to preserve the wine on it’s long seaward voyage, was cemented as the style expected from these wines of the Douro. Recent times have seen Port fall out of favour. Fortified styles with high levels of residual sugar don’t suit modern lifestyles where meals are more rushed and the cheese course is relegated to special occasions or tables of older relatives.

Pickers at Quinta do Bomfim in 1900

Pickers at Quinta do Bomfim in 1900

Paul Symington co-chairman of Symington Family Estates recognises that “Port has to move with the times, we need to catch up with things or we’re in danger of being left in the dining room.” Emphasis is being placed on the more premium styles of port such as Single Quinta styles and aged Tawnys in an effort to gather the enthusiasm of younger wine enthusiasts.

The Symington Family

The Symington Family

The Port trade is regulated by the Consejo Regulador, a body which sets maximum yields annually in a bid to control the quality and quantity of production. For the last couple of years demand has been outstripping supply and, although we have not seen people clambering over each other to gain access to these quality wines, the continued growth of emerging markets such as China and a line of good vintages does mean that the premium side of these wines, especially vintage styles are once again seeing greater acknowledgement and interest around the world.

  • The 2013 port harvest was 70.3million litres. Estimated sales for this year are forecast at 80.9million litres, leaving a shortfall of just under 10million litres of Port for the market. 2013 was the fifth consecutive harvest where production was significantly below sales.

While recognition is on the rise, so is the price of the brandy used for the fortification process. 2012 saw the withdrawal of the EU subsidy for distillation of excess wine stocks which has up till now supplied a steady quantity of quality brandy to the European wine market. The port trade alone needs 16 million L of brandy each harvest. In 2012 the cost of brandy was €2.60 per litre, 2013 saw it jump to €3.50 a cost increase of 15 cents per bottle! Sadly this means we will see a rise in the price of Port. Considering the input, overall quality and costs involved in production and storage, not to mention the ageing potential of these wines the value per bottle is far better than some of the classed growth Bordeaux or Cru Burgundy on the market.

2011 has been heralded as one of the best vintages seen in decades. Here is an in depth account of the vintage from the Symington family.

2011 Vintage

The 2011 Vintage Ports are of an exceptional quality and are expected to age superbly over the coming decades. The weather is the decisive factor in creating outstanding wines in the Douro and the strong winter rains in late 2010 were crucial. April and May 2011 were unusually warm and, combined with some rainfall, resulted in a reduction in the overall production of the region.

The warm spring encouraged early budburst, flowering and veraison. Similar conditions occurred across most of Europe, leading to predictions of a harvest several weeks before normal. It was clear in the Douro, however, that although the sugars were rising in the berries, the tannins were unripe as there was insufficient humidity in the soil to allow the grapes to fully mature. Only 25 mm of rain fell in May, June and July 2011 compared to the average of 97 mm, so by mid-August the vines were showing signs of stress. On August 21st rain swept in from the west and over the Serra do Marão, and again on the 1st and 2nd September. This beautifully timed rain was perfect for those producers who had the courage to avoid the early rush, and was followed by a succession of fine sunny weeks well into October. The scene was set for the making of superb Ports.

 The 2011 Vintage Ports have an exceptional depth of colour and concentration, rarely seen in the Douro and with marked minerality from the schistous Douro soil. The palate has superb balance, with a powerful and rich bitter-chocolate taste, in hand with wild berry fruit, supported by well-structured and schist-edged tannins that will give these wines the traditional longevity for which the great Vintage Ports are so famous.

As sole importers of Dow’s, we have an allocation of this Vintage which is available for a short time at en primeur prices.  Click here – 2013 11 Vintage Port Offer to download the offer sheet.

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