do Infantado Ruby
de Ventezelo Reserva Ruby
do Noval LBV 1998
Port may not be a traditional
summer drink, but this summer might be a good time to invest in
some. All of the major port houses have declared 2003 to be a vintage
year, and the wines promise to be remarkable.
Isn’t there a vintage every year? There’s
a harvest, yes, but not necessarily a vintage. With Port, a “declared
vintage” means the producers have found the quality of the
wine that year to be so outstanding that they intend to bottle it
on its own instead of blending it with wines from other years to
balance and round it out – the more usual practice for Port.
About three harvests in each decade receive the honor. They generally
all but demand aging; if you had an addition to the family in 2003,
buy a bottle or case to present to them for their 21st birthday.
Port is also hardier than most table wines, and therefore a good
choice if your storage conditions are less than ideal.
Wines with such ageability often hit you hard
in the wallet, but Port is a value in this regard. Wines from the
2000 vintage are still available in the $30 to $70 range, and because
demand for Port has been suffering of late, 2003’s prices
are not expected to go up much from there. 1997 was also a vintage
year, and shares the rich tannic structure of 2003. Of the three,
the 2000s are the most open at the moment, but don’t be afraid
to seek out older vintages. They’ll cost a bit more, but prices
still don’t skyrocket for aged Port the way they do for Bordeaux
or other trophy wines. 1985, 1986, and 1992 are all drinking very
well right now.
On the other hand, if you’d like to drink
your Port right away there are several choices aside from the vintage
stuff. Ruby Ports are the most precocious of the lot, and generally
the most affordable. Made from a blend of wines from several vintages,
they receive little or no wood-aging; the focus is on lip-smacking
fruity flavors. The Quinta
do Infantado Ruby and the Quinta
de Ventezelo Reserva Ruby are both notable for the
value they offer.
The terraced slopes of the Douro, where Port’s
grapes grow, are divided into innumerable “quintas;”
the word’s meaning seems to fall somewhere between farm, estate,
and vineyard. When you’re shopping for Port, though, there’s
two things to know about Quintas. Some, such as Infantado, Ventezelo,
and Noval, are self-sufficient Port producers; in many cases these
Quintas used to supply grapes to the more established Port houses
downriver, but later decided to strike out on their own. The other
“Quintas” you find on a bottle are like vineyard designate
wines from a larger producer. Grahams
Quinta dos Malvedos Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canias,
and the Ramos
Pinto Quinta do Ervamoira are all strong
in this category. These “Quinta” wines are made in decent
vintages that don’t make the cut for a declared vintage; the
individual terroir of the Quinta makes it worth bottling separately
even in lesser years. Consequently, the harvest year does appear
on the bottle, and the wines will age well, if not as well as a
true vintage Port.
Port style that includes the harvest year on the bottle is Late
Bottled Vintage. Ports of this type enjoy four to six years of aging
before bottling, but not in an oxidative environment that would
encourage nutty, oxidative (see tawny, below) characteristics. Many
are then bottled and released as ready-to-drink, while some merit
2-3 years of further bottle-aging after release to really express
themselves. “Unfiltered” LBVs are typically a bit fuller
and richer than their filtered brethren. Osborne’s
1997 LBV stands out for its complexity, as does
do Noval LBV 1998 despite a bit
of burn on the finish.
Ports are a horse of a different color – almost literally.
Aged extensively in wood and racked often to give oxygen a chance
at the wine, these Ports take on brown and mahogany colors, and
fruit aromas give way to caramel and nuts. Like Rubies, Tawny Ports
are made by blending aged wines from a mix of vintages to maintain
a house style; the given age – generally 10, 20, 30, or 40
years – is the minimum age of the wines used for that bottle.
Many critics find 20-year-old Tawny to be the peak of the style;
the first Port I ever tried was a Grahams
20-year Tawny, and I can still remember the impression
it made. Quinta
do Noval makes a superb 10 year old, and the Warre’s
Otima is a great value in this category. Quinta
do Noval and Cockburn
also make strong 20-year Tawnies. These may be the best Ports for
summer, with a lower intensity that suits hot weather.
back to top