With the announcement of the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 by Wine Spectator as the wine of the year for 2014, fortified is back on top of the extant pop heap. The number one ranking in the magazine’s annual Top 100 list of the most exciting wines is a big financial deal and another arranged feather in the Symington family’s cap. The region’s single biggest landowner just put on some extra weight.
The Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 was the highest-scoring wine of the vintage (by WS ) at 99 points, or “classic” on their 100-point scale. It was chosen because of its “fine value for the category at $82 a bottle and for being the best of the best of an amazing vintage.”
In wine, Vintage Port is about as specific as it gets primarily because for it to exist and prosper beyond the fossilized fringes of the genre, everyone in town must be on board. For the first time since 2007, the 2011 vintage was universally declared across the Douro. If the makers and pundits were polled, would it be proclaimed the greatest vintage of the century or, perhaps one of the best ever? The 95-plus scores from the top commercial critics, including more than a handful of 99’s and 100’s would lead us to believe that were the case.
An excited Jancis Robinson wrote “could 2011 be the vintage to put vintage port back on the fine wine map? I do hope so. I have never been as excited by the launch of a clutch of vintage ports.” Dow’s was not on Robinson’s “super-stunning list,” which included Fonseca, Graham, Quinta do Vesuvio, Capela Taylor and Vargellas Vinha Velha. Jamie Goode noted that “overall, the quality is very high indeed. I found the wines quite vinous and pretty, with very direct fruit and lovely purity.” When tasted from cask, Niepoort 2011 was Goode’s top scorer (98 points). Dow’s was well down the Goode line.
WineAlign‘s Julian Hitner, a.k.a. The Successful Collector declared 2011 a stunning and fabulous vintage, “one of spellbinding treats.” Hitner also awarded the Dow’s 99-points. Wine Enthusiast rated nine 2011 VP’s 95, nine at 96 (including the Dow’s) and eight more at 97 or better. Decanter took a lower road and was the scrooge of vintage point doling, having chosen Fonseca as their top rated Port, awarding it 19/20 or 96-points. Then there are the top ten reasons to buy 2011 Vintage Port according to the Fladgate Partnership.
Vintage Port does not always find itself at the top of the wine tasting note compendium replete with descriptors like graceful and elegant. “Just too goddamn vivid,” is more like it. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Massive fruit and tannin is all well and good if that’s your cup of bomb tea but without balance, all is lost. The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?
There are some remarkable examples. The VP’s in ’11 that stress the aromatic notions of perfume and florality strike the finest balance, despite their high-octane levels of fruit and texture. Others’ heads are just too big for their bodies. I am not as high on 2011 as you might think I should be.
One of the fortunate pleasures of writing about wine and directing a wine list in Toronto is being invited to taste with Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of VINTAGES. On Monday, November 3rd they held a horizontal tasting of 2011 Vintage Port at the LCBO’s Summerhill location. The bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports. Here are the notes.
Sandeman Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362491, $70.00, WineAlign)
Acutely dry, highly aromatic and crushed to smithereens, potpourri dusty floral. As glutinous and viscous as Sandeman has ever been or Vintage Port can ever be. Also marked by roasting coffee beans, brewed house chain dark roast and drying tannins. This Sandeman ’11 has “big plans, big time, everything.” It will appeal to a consumer in search of a department store hook penned for immediate gratification and a quick fortune. In 25 years, after the camphor, campfire and the earthy musk of camel-hair have dissipated, will it still be on top of the pops? Will it be replayed again and again in the category of one hit wonder? It will be remembered fondly for being one of solid gold. Tasted November 2014 @SandemanPorto @ChartonHobbs
Fonseca Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362244, $130.00, WineAlign)
With the most brilliant ’11 VP hue and an endless posit to plumb plump plum depths of fruit, the Fonseca dances with the moonlit knight. Its genesis begins with a raw must and animal musk, but beneath the skin lurk vessels pulsating with a sanguine rush and iron rich plasma. Smells of its fortifying spirit, not yet even close to integration, in high-toned aromatics so intensely perfumed. The wet winter and the moderating effects of a mild, verdant Spring have precipitated a controlled spice on the highly tannic, arid finish. When a sip is taken young, it pleases. When opened 40 years from now, it will fit with comfort and feel so secure. “Young man says you are what you eat – eat well. Old man says you are what you wear – wear well.” Will drink best from 2050 and for decades beyond. Tasted November 2014 @FonsecaPort
Dow’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362376, $90.00, WineAlign)
Straight out I will say that the Dow’s 2011 is unique to the vintage, possessive of a natural sweetness of its own making. It’s built upon a ga, ga, ga, ga vintage port language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery. In fact the aromatics are so very pretty; violets, Bougainvillea and exotic spice. Such a perfume leaves a lasting memory, like a ghost of fortified wine that lingers. Add the heady sense of graphite and a silky spooning of blackcurrant liqueur. An underlay of brittle mineral hangs on the tip of the tongue. A spicy tang and a meatiness barrels seamlessly through the driest length to hang your Douro hat on. “Oh, would you ease my mind” Dow’s ’11? “Yeah,” but not until 30-35 of oscillation and settling have passed, in a relationship built on patience and virtue. Tasted November 2014 @Dowsportwine @winesportugalCA
Graham’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362269, $95.00, WineAlign)
Quinta dos Malvedos leads the blend (35 per cent), as it has for more than a century. Quinta do Tua (16 per cent) lends firmness and structure while Quinta da Vila Velha (18 per cent) is the giver of violets and chocolate. Quinta das Lages (12 per cent) elevates concentration and density. Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (19 per cent) is responsible for the chains of grain in tannin. The final blend is Touriga Nacional (40 per cent), Touriga Franca (31 per cent), Vinha Velha (23 per cent, old mixed vineyards), and Sousão (6 per cent). From the Symington Family Group, Graham’s is the cleanest, purest, most fruit-forward and accessible expression of the five 2011’s tasted, thanks to that generous and gregarious Malvedos fruit. Plum and black cherry are accented by orange rind. A sweet, boisterous style, it slowly and purposely descends a ladder from full fruit flavours to drying tannins, more so than any of the others. A wine of great verve, with a cool northern soul, from lush to grain. Will drink well for a new decade and many more while “the radio plays the sounds we made and everything seems to feel just right.” Tasted November 2014 @grahams_port
Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362293, $130.00, WineAlign)
A Fall of 2014 look at Taylor’s 2011, at this stupidly early point in trying to make sense of what he will become, shows him as the biggest, baddest and current king of the Porto hill. At this juncture he represents the penultimate combination of lush fruit, streaking acidity, drying, angry and crying tannins. The earthiest must oozes along with the silkiest juice which subsequently and willfully submit to those raging tannins. This is hydro-Port, a powerhouse of energy and tension. Black fruits, caked and rolled in stickum and solder, currently weighed down, are waiting to erupt. Once in a declared moon a Vintage Port takes a calculated yet unnecessary risk and thus channels its path into enlightenment. This is the Taylor 2011. Despite his tough exterior, “I can hear the sound of violins. I can hear the piper playin’.” When all is said and done, 40 plus years down the road, he will steal my heart away. Tasted November 2014 @TaylorsPortWine @Smarent
Good to go!