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Some of the best Vintage Ports in memory now available through Vintages

By Rick VanSickle

Ordering has begun for one of the best Port vintages in memory.

If you love Port and have the time to wait for it to age to optimum tasting, this 2017 vintage is the one to buy. I tasted both the Croft and Taylor-Fladgate regular Vintage Ports and the much rare special Ports. I was blown away. You can order them here, but don’t wait too long, they won’t last.

Few Port houses declare back-to-back vintages. Many have not done so in decades, and some, such as Symington, not since the 1800s.

Vintage Port

While the theme of the 2016 vintage Ports is elegance and finesse, 2017 is about structure and hedonistic intensity, with rich dark fruit and power offset by a dynamic freshness.

The growing season in 2017 was the driest since 1945, and many vineyards were harvested as much as a month earlier than usual. Yet the 2017s possess none of the baked fruit one might expect from such a year.

These are wines of exquisite character and definition that will carry the banner of the 2017 vintage for decades to come.

2017 a classic vintage

Following a wet 2016, the year started with cold and dry winter conditions, with a fifth less rainfall than the thirty-year average. Bud burst occurred relatively early, around March 10. The dry conditions continued into spring and the warm weather in April and May encouraged the rapid growth of the vines. The first three weeks of June were extremely hot, causing damage to the new bunches in some areas of the Douro. The early cycle continued with véraison around June 18, one month earlier than the previous year. Apart from some thunderstorms and rainfall early in July, conditions remained dry until the end of September although temperatures for much of the ripening season were moderate.

As expected, the crop ripened very early, showing high sugar levels, which led to longer fermentations and very effective colour extraction. Picking at Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta de Vargellas was the earliest in a generation. The last time picking was recorded as having started this early was in 1945 – one of the greatest of the 20th century vintages — when the first fruit was picked on Sept. 3. Temperatures at harvest time were mild, with cool nights, leading to balanced fermentations and excellent extraction. The musts were dense and marked by exceptional depth of colour and impressive phenolics.

Here’s what I can recommend from what’s available in the online offer (and, I apologize for the lateness of this report … we’ve been preoccupied with keeping readers informed on the impact of the coronavirus on local wineries. I want to thank both Tony Aspler, for sharing his samples, and Lindsay Groves, Ontario Ambassador for Taylor and Croft Ports, for providing the samples to Tony):

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2017 ($160 for 750 mL, 97 points) — Don’t be shocked by these scores, these are some of the finest Ports I have ever tasted. Even though the scores are extremely high, unprecedented for me, they really are as close to perfect as they come, and the difference between 96 and 100, is well, silly. Suffice to say, if you have the time, at least 20 years and beyond, to watch them develop, you will be richly rewarded. It’s nearly opaque in the glass with an enthralling nose of thick black currants, violets, plum pudding, lovely herbs, forest berries, graphite, and elegant oak spices. It’s ethereal on the palate and gobsmackingly good with a complex array of super-ripe dark fruits that are dense and juicy, grippy tannins, firm texture, kirsch, lovely spice notes, highly structured and a long, long finish.

Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velna Vintage Port 2017 ($420 for 750 mL, 100 points) — The wines of Quinta de Vargellas traditionally form the ‘backbone’ of the Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port blend. This outstanding estate, recognized as one of the world’s finest vineyards, was acquired by Taylor Fladgate in 1893, although its reputation as a source of the finest Ports dates back to the 1820s. Vargellas Vinha Velha may well be the most elusive and collectible of all Vintage Ports. Only six Vinha Velha vintage Ports have been released to date. How to express a perfect wine? It is such a thriller on the nose, even at this early stage, with rich, thick notes of black currants, blackberries, forest berries, cassis, kirsch, mocha and beautiful spice notes and then saline minerality, graphite and herbs kick in with cigar box cedar notes. Such an explosion of heady dark berries on the palate with compoted cherries, purity of fruits, power, grace and structure that all builds to a crescendo that echos for minutes on the finish. Lingering elegant spice, flinty minerality and forest herbs complete this majestic wine. If you were ever going to fork out $400+ for a bottle of wine, this just might be the one. Cellar 20-30 years. Have a child born in 2017? This is for them.

Croft Vintage Port 2017 ($128 for 750 mL, 96 points) — Another dense Port in the glass with thick, rich black currants, black berries, kirsch, crunchy raspberry notes, sweet herbs, fine oak spices and subtle eucalyptus. It’s shows luxurious, velvety texture on the palate with a complex array of dark and red berries, sage, eucalypt, minerals and elegant oak spice on a long and finessed finish. It’s tight right now with plenty of room to really open up into something special. Cellar 15-20 years.

Croft Quinta da Roeda Serikos Vintage Port 2017 ($340 for 750 mL, 98 points) — This is the first Vintage Port made from the fruit of the old, historic vineyard plots on the company’s flagship property, Quinta da Roeda. The name Serikos is a historical reference to the property’s involvement in the production of silk following the destruction of its vineyards by phylloxera and to the silken quality of its wines. Of the four Ports reviewed here, this is the tightest, most youthful wine that needed nearly three days of decanting to really start showing itself. The nose displays succulent dark berries, floral notes, wild and minty herbs, forest berries, stony minerality, restrained, elegant oak spices and roasted vanilla bean. It bursts through on the palate with ripe, sweet dark berries, plums, jammy red fruits, ripe tannic structure, a velvety texture, complexity and a range of oak spices that all come together harmoniously on a long, plush finish. Such beauty and power and a wine that will cellar well for 20-30 years.