It has been a few vintages since we had a widely declared vintage in Oporto. But the 2016s are coming to market by the end of the year and we had the opportunity to taste a good cross-section of top labels. As to the vintage profile, every vintage is unique and doesn’t necessarily directly compare to other vintages. In the case of 2016, there is one similarity to 2011 in that the crop was very small, even a little smaller than ’11.
Our first question was what vintages does 2016 compare to, specifically to our modern benchmarks in 2011 and 1994? The answer from , the , was that 1994 was bigger and more powerful and 2011 was softer and more overtly fruit-driven. The 2016s have plenty of punch, by all measures. But they have uncommon purity and more lift than either of the aforementioned vintages. Penetrating without being cumbersome, we don’t recall a vintage where the personalities of the various vineyards were more on display and where the stylistic differences between them were so easily discerned.
A little more restrained out of the gate than most of the modern vintages we can recall, the wines have a certain freshness and bounce on the palate and we don’t recall making the comment about any of them being too ‘spirity’. It is definitely a vintage for Port aficionados to pay attention to as they are not only distinctive but definitely different from anything you have. We will be making prearrival offers as they become available but this is a vintage to pay attention too. Below are some quick notes on what we tasted.
QUINTA DO RORIZ 2016: This one demonstrated that Port doesn’t have to be ponderous or super sweet to make an impression. We’ll guess the media reviews from the usual Port ‘scrum’ tasting will not favor the more delicate style, but one-on-one it is a delightful, elegant, very precise rendition of the genre. Blueberries, notes of spice, this can be best described as the prettier side of Oporto, full of true fruit flavors but also sleek and elegant.
SMITH WOODHOUSE 2016: This often gets overlooked because the name doesn’t carry the same weight as some of the other houses in the marketplace. There is plenty of stuffing here in a more compact style that accents black raspberry and lifted spice notes. Neal Martin in the review of the 2011 called Smith Woodhouse ‘perpetually underrated’ which helps keep it as one of the better values in top-tier vintage Port.
GRAHAM’S 2016: This is Graham’s. Expressive, crowd pleasing, on the plusher end of the spectrum and overtly fruit driven and suppler on the palate among the usual suspects. Arguably the easiest to drink among this outstanding group, that is merely the Graham profile. It will likely be among the declared stars of the vintage for its gushing display of blackberry, clove, spice and dark cherry.
COCKBURN’S 2016: The 1983 Cockburn was a benchmark among the greatest Ports we sold over the last three decades, after which you didn’t really hear much about them. While we didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore the highly reviewed 2011, our first impression of this one was, “wow, this calls to mind that 1983.” People remarked with the 2011 that ‘Cockburn is back’, and it certainly seems to be. This has size but also elegance and sits nicely on the palate with loads of pleasing berry, date and spice character remaining light on its feet at all times.
DOW’S 2016: We would not be surprised if this one was once again the ‘critics choice’ among this admirable assortment. The 2011 was Spectator wine of the year and, stylistically, probably is closest to what most people’s ideal Port is supposed to taste like. Big dark fruits, perhaps more exotic spice notes in the profile, maybe even a little blood, this is impressive for both its power and harmony. Like Cockburn, Dow seems at the top of their game.
QUINTA DO VESUVIO 2016: This has been a house favorite since the beginning and, even though it didn’t necessarily get the biggest reviews, the 1994 was a legend in our minds. This single vineyard bottling has a different program that your more famous labels because it is a single quinta. So they bottle something in most vintages rather than 2-3 times per decade like a typical vintage Port. Moderately weighty, super pure, penetrating blueberry fruit with flecks of minerality and a whiff of pepper, this isn’t the biggest or the ripest port on the list but it is one of the most distinctive.
GRAHAM’S THE STONE TERRACES 2016: Given our experience in Chateauneuf where many of the ‘reserve’ bottling were created at the expense of the ‘traditional’ cuvees. Doesn’t seem to be the case here as the regular Graham’s is quite good. The Stone Terraces was started in 2011 as a specific cuvee sourced from two hillside terraced plots that dated to the 18th Century. A bit more reticent than the ‘regular’ cuvee with deep, polished fruit tones, lovely texture and an almost haunting purity, you’ve got black fruits, mineral, and a violet component that bring the drama. Very limited.
QUINTA DO VESUVIO CAPELA 2016: Same idea as the ‘Terraces’, Capela is a special cuvee created primarily from a single parcel in the ‘Vale de Escola’ part of the Vesuvio holdings. This cuvee dates all the way back to 2007, making this one the third installment of this Touriga Nacional dominated wine. They only make this in top vintages. There is plenty of authority to the intense blackberry fruit and a finishing kick of citrus and mineral, and we suspect the press will hurl a lot of superlatives at this one, particularly since the production is so miniscule.