2016 was an exceptional year for Port and a year in which all the great Port houses declared, or released, a vintage port.
Vintage Port is the most prestigious and rarest style of all Port wines. Produced from the best vineyards of a single year in which the producer feels represents the highest quality capable of aging gracefully for decades, vintages in which all the major Port houses agree produce what is commonly known as a “General Declaration,” implying that the vintage was truly exceptional. General declarations are a rare occurrence and may only happen two or three times every decade. The last time this happened was with the 2011 vintage.
I was quite excited to try the 2016 ports because I am a huge fan of the 2015 ports, which was also a great vintage, but only a couple of the port houses declared a vintage and most port houses only produced a single quinta, or single estate, port. I was a little puzzled as to why 2015 wasn’t a generally declared vintage because those ports are quite spectacular to me. I was eager to compare the 2016 ports with my memories of the 2015 ports and see why the producers felt 2016 was a better vintage.
Back in May, Randy Kemner and I were lucky enough to be invited to a preview tasting of the 2016 Vintage Ports in San Francisco. That afternoon we got to taste samples of 2016 Ports from all the major port houses including Graham’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, Quinta do Noval and Quinta do Vesuvio while some of the most important players in Port wine described the vintage characteristics and their respective ports. It was such an honor to be part of this event for one of the world’s greatest wines.
I can declare that 2016 is going to be a legendary vintage for ports and a must buy for any wine collector! All the wines we tasted that day were truly remarkable. Overall the vintage produced beautifully balanced and complex ports with elegance, finesse, power and structure. The wines showed great purity of fruit and great depth of flavor with a sense of freshness at the same time. The main difference I noticed from the 2015 vintage was the firm tannic structure of the 2016 ports. The tannins of the 2016 ports are integrated well but definitely grab your attention and make you take notice that these are serious wines built for aging gracefully for decades, while the 2015 ports are charming and plush and ready for drinking now or in the next 20 years.
One downside to the 2016 vintage was that yields were very low with most of the port houses producing 20-50% less bottles than average which makes these wines rarer than they already are.
Both Randy and I fell in love the 2016 Ports that afternoon and chose our top picks to bring in the store.
2016 Smith-Woodhouse Vintage Porto
Smith-Woodhouse, owned by the Symington family (Graham's, Dow's, Vesuvio, etc.), has been producing beautiful, elegant, age-worthy ports that perform way above their price tags. The 2016 Vintage Port has already received rave reviews, and we think it may be this estate's finest since 1977, which beat out all others in the Decanter 20 year retrospective tasting. Made entirely of fruit harvested from its Madalena vineyard, the sweet rich flavors of blackberries and licorice are opulent now, but will prove to be excellent twenty or thirty years down the road.
$64.99 per bottle
2016 Graham’s Vintage Porto
Graham’s ports are known for their opulence and concentrated ripe black fruits and boy does their 2016 port deliver just that. Graham’s was one of the boldest ports we tasted, bursting with ripe fruit. Hints of spice and chocolate and ripe tannins gave a preview to where this generous and complex port is headed.
$111.99 per bottle
2016 Dow's Vintage Porto
Dow’s 2016 Port is one of my favorites of the vintage staying true to their traditional style of muscular and slightly drier ports. I love the contrast between the seductive, flowery aromas of this port and how deep, rich and powerful it is on the palate with hints of chocolate, orange peel and spice. Dow’s port is impressively structured yet still approachable at this early age.
98 pts Neil Martin, Vinous
2016 Quinta do Noval Vintage Porto
The Quinta do Noval port is firing on all cylinders. While most of the other ports seemed to have one quality that stood out, Quinta do Noval’s port delivers every good quality that you’d expect in a great vintage port. Delicate aromas of flowers and ripe berries were followed by an elegant balance of intense dark fruit, chocolate and coffee and polished tannins. I love the finessed quality of this refined yet powerful port.
$104.99 per bottle
2016 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto
Taylor Fladgate is considered the Rolls Royce of Port producers, consistently producing top quality port wines year after year. What struck me first with the 2016 Taylor’s port were the enticing floral and herbal aromas. On the palate, the Taylor’s port was slightly lighter and less sweet than many of the others we tried and offered complex flavors of licorice, spice and forest underbrush to balance the sweet dark berry fruit. I particularly loved the firm tannic structure giving this port backbone and texture.
$99.99 per bottle
2016 Fonseca Vintage Porto
Fonseca’s port was the most reserved or quiet of all the ports we tasted, preferring to show its stony minerality and spicy qualities over its primary, sweet fruit. Don’t get me wrong though, you could feel the energy and warmth of the dense powerful fruit lurking in the background waiting for its day to shine. All the elements are here for long term aging and this port is destined for greatness.
$99.99 per bottle
2016 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Porto
Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the last estates to still use the traditional method of foot treading the grapes in granite lagares. Ports from Vesuvio always have a purity of fresh, ripe berry fruits which I always really enjoy. Their 2016 port is deep and rich with dark berry fruits with layers of spice and licorice yet retains that signature freshness. This is a powerful and firmly structured port also destined for greatness.
$86.99 per bottle
2016 Capela do Vesuvio Vintage Porto
This rare (only 3,000 bottles produced) and exceptional wine is only the third vintage to be released since its 2007 debut. Named after the small chapel at the 19th century estate, the 90 year old vines from the Vinha da Capela vineyard produced tiny yields of intense fruit. Perfumed and seductive aromas of lavender and eucalyptus give way to substantial flavors that are amazingly fresh-tasting. Just 60 bottles for California.
$174.99 per bottle