by Patrick Sandeman

The 2009 vintage has caused some controversy in the Douro insofar that although some great wines have been made, not all the Shippers are in agreement that it should be declared as a ‘Vintage’.

On the one hand Adrian Bridge, heading up the formidable ‘Fladgate Partnership’, together with head winemaker Bruce Guimaraens, are convinced that the quality of 2009 is so good that they have declared Taylor, Fonseca, Croft and even a small amount of the legendary Taylor Vargellas ‘Vinha Velha’.

‘2009 will be remembered as a year of very low yields. This was partly due to the small amount of fruit and also to the effect of the very dry ripening season. Dormancy ended early, with bud burst occurring at Pinhão in the first week of March. All vine varieties showed low fertility although the vegetation was healthy and vigorous. Véraison also occurred earlier than usual. The ripening season started with relatively cool weather, which continued throughout July, but in August this turned to intense heat. There was almost no rain from July right through to the harvest. By early September the grapes had reached phenolic maturity and picking on most of The Fladgate Partnership quintas began early, Roêda being first to start on 9 September. The low yields resulted in dense and concentrated musts, rich in colour, tannins and sugar.‘ Bruce Guimaraens

On the other hand there is James Seeley, heading up AXA’s jewel in the Douro that is Quinta do Noval, as adamant about not declaring a vintage in 2009 as is tightly knotted his trade mark bow-tie. (He did, however, declare in both 2007 and, somewhat controversially, in 2008).

In the middle is the current head of the Symington dynasty, the charming Paul Symington who has elected to make a number of single quinta ports in the vintage, but no Vintages with the exception of Warre, for ‘commemorative’ reasons, as he explains here:

The harvest report that I wrote at the time gives the full background to this year. My family, with more than five generations here in the Douro (13 if you count my great-grandmother), declare a vintage when we have a truly outstanding wine that will earn the respect of the wine trade and consumers around the world. We will not declare for any other reason. We are bottling a Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, a Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, a Dow’s Senhora de Ribeira and a Quinta do Vesúvio 2009 but we are “declaring” 500 cases of Warre’s 2009 vintage port as a special bottling to commemorate 200 years since the Anglo-Portuguese army, under the Duke of Wellington, liberated my home city of Oporto (each bottle is numbered). This great wine is in very short supply and many of the cases are already spoken for. Quinta da Cavadinha is a higher and cooler vineyard, so produced lovely wines in 2009. The Warre’s 2009 vintage port is exceptional in my view.’

And of course there is Dirk Niepoort, maverick winemaker of the Douro, who sits on neither one side or the other, and definitely never in the middle. We now list almost all of his ports through the quaintly named Tawny Dee and Ruby Dum, LBV and single quinta, to his vintage Niepoort which is definitely now up there in terms of quality with the big boys.

For our part, we were very impressed by the 2009s that we tasted and are offering. They are not perhaps quite the norm in 2009, in that they are not the massively brooding and backward wines that one expects to taste at this stage. They are full of rich, sweet and quite seductive fruit, but undoubtedly underpinned by firm tannins and crunchy minerality that will give them great potential for ageing and developing. They will certainly find a place in my cellar.

In addition to offering these 2009 Vintage Ports, we are offering a new release from Noval in the form of perhaps the greatest Late Bottled Vintage we have tasted, and certainly the first LBV that truly deserves to carry ‘Vintage’ in its name. This is a fabulous, inexpensive alternative to full blown vintage port for the cellar. A port that you can afford to open for drinking over a winter week-end and perfect for shooting lunches (why do they serve cheap port at all?). Definitely worth sticking in the cellar for a few years.

VINTAGE PORT the real deal.

2009 TAYLOR£220 per case of 6 bottles excluding Vat (£200 In Bond)
Blackish purple. This, unusually, had the headiness of Fonseca 2009 on the nose and seemed more luscious and velvety than the Quinta da Vargellas Vinha Velha on the palate. Very rich, round and thrilling. Dense and pure. A bit of a schoolmaster in terms of straight back and firm structure. Very long, firm and thrilling – surely a long term bet with additional early charm, presumably from the exceptionally hot, dry vintage. 18 Drink 2035-70. Jancis Robinson MW OBE (www.jancisrobinson.com)

Going back and forth, the Taylor’s 2009 has a lighter nose than the 2007 with precise dark cherry, Seville orange, fresh fig and a hint of scorched soil. The palate is full-bodied packed with ripe black cherries, fresh fig and white pepper; very harmonious and focused although I feel that the 2007 has a little more depth and persistency. Very pretty and very pure, this Taylor’s may well put on weight with a couple of years in bottle and merit a higher mark. Tasted May 2011. 95 points. Neal Martin’s Wine Journal, erobertparker.com

2009 TAYLOR QUINTA DE VARGELLAS Vinha Velha£258 per case of 3 bottles excluding Vat (£268 In Bond)
Intense dark chestnut-crimson colour. Appetising, dry peppery nose. Very intense with quite a hot, alcoholic kick on the finish. Extremely dry and drying finish. Seems just very slightly skinny at the moment. 17 Drink 2025-45 Jancis Robinson MW OBE (www.jancisrobinson.com)

The Taylor Vargellas Vinha Velha 2009 has a more introverted than Taylor’s Vintage, an earthy bouquet with touches of orange essence developing in the glass. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, good backbone, quite reserved and composed at the moment. This is not a flamboyant Vinha Velha, but there is a very attractive, slightly biscuity quality towards the finish. Superb. Tasted May 2011. 94+ points. Neal Martin’s Wine Journal, erobertparker.com edit

2009 FONSECA£215 per case of 6 bottles excluding Vat (£195 In Bond)
Blackish purple. Heady, opulent nose – really very winning indeed already! But on the palate there seems to be just a slight hole in the middle, a lack of sheer fruit weight. Long and vibrato on the finish though until an extremely dry note on the very end. This reminds me of a fortified version of a 2003 right bank bordeaux. 17.5+ Drink 2030-50 Jancis Robinson MW OBE (www.jancisrobinson.com)

The Fonseca 2009 has a very ripe sweet prune and fig-tinged bouquet that is very precocious. Touches of smoke, raisin and dark plum begin to emerge with time, though it needs to evolve a little more cohesion. The palate is full-bodied with saturated tannins, luscious dark berried fruit, touches of pomegranate, fig and dates that lead to a gently grippy, persistent finish. This is a fine Fonseca, but I wanted it to give me more flamboyance and brio. Tasted May 2011. 93 points. Neal Martin’s Wine Journal, erobertparker.com edit

2009 WARRE£230 per case of 6 bottles excluding Vat (£210 In Bond)
‘2009 was a very challenging year in the Douro. Following three consecutive dry years, yields were incredibly low but of very high quality. Of the three principal Warre’s Quintas, two have cooler microclimates which enabled them to produce wines which were considered of Warre Vintage Port quality. This Vintage Port is, notwithstanding, cast in a classic mould, with the staying power for very long term ageing. 2009 marks the 200th Anniversary of the liberation of Oporto by the Anglo-Portuguese Army led by the Duke of Wellington. Captain William Warre was awarded the country’s highest military honour, the Order of São Bento d’Aviz, for his courageous efforts against the French Army. The Symington Family are only releasing 500 cases (6,000 bottles – each numbered) of this exceptional Vintage Port. Warre’s & the Symington Family are donating £48 for every case sold to the British Charity ‘Help for Heroes’, so that William Warre’s valiant efforts of 200 years ago continue to help today’s soldiers.’ Paul Symington

2009 NIEPOORT £210 per case of 6 bottles excluding Vat (£192 In Bond)
Massive in every way but so beautifully complete and integrated. More flesh than the tannic 2007 but the power and structure are all there; rich, sustained, mouthfilling and very long indeed. 18 Drink 2025-50 . Julia Harding, www.jancisrobinson.com

LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE – the Vintage alternative and immediately available.

2004 QUINTA DO NOVAL Late Bottled Vintage £213.00 per dozen bottles inclusive of Vat (£17.75 bottle)
Noval’s unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage is one of only a handful of LBVs that can justifiably carry the ‘Vintage’ title, and for the first time carries the full Quinta do Noval name (rather than just Noval). A captivating nose of sweet spice and tobacco, like a freshly opened tin of Balkan Sobrane. Youthful and delicious at this stage, packed with blackberry, elderflower and plummy fruit, and an alluring austerity on the very long and remarkably dry finish. This can undoubtedly be cellared for a good ten years or more, making it a fantastic bargain for those looking for an alternative to a vintage port.

The most recent release of Noval’s LBV, the 2004 has a primal bouquet with subtle aromas of blackberry, wild hedgerow, heather and a touch of liquorice. With further aeration it develops an engaging floral notes: more rose petal than violet. The palate is very well balanced with a seductive sense of purity with a very harmonious, dare I say, almost understated finish with touches of white pepper, dark cherry and tobacco. There is something austere that reminds me of a Claret, that dryness enhancing freshness and delineation. Wonderful. Drink 2013-2025+ Tasted October 2010. 93 points. Neal Martin’s Wine Journal, erobertparker.com

Orders can be placed by email or with your local branch.
Payment must be made in full with order.
In Bond orders are subject to £15 handling and delivery (no charge for customers of Elephant storage)
The 2009 vintage ports will not be available for delivery until late 2011 or perhaps early 2012.

— Patrick Sandeman