As harvest begins each year, so does each new vintage of wine. Winemakers around the world compare the new vintage—its weather conditions and the quality of the grapes—to previous ones, while wine drinkers taste the nuances from one vintage to another. Vintage matters, especially when it comes to the category of Port called Vintage Port, which is considered the very best.
“Vintage” has a special meaning when it comes to Port, and not every year is declared a vintage year. Of all Port produced, only a tiny amount, about two per cent, is made into vintage. Still, with the ongoing improvement in viticulture and winemaking, at least some Vintage Port can be produced every year.
Vintage Port is made from grapes grown in a single year, and the producer must feel the wines of that harvest meet the standard of excellence expected of a Vintage Port. The time to submit it for approval is the second spring following the harvest. However, to avoid saturating the market, the quality standard for declaring a Vintage year is set extremely high.
The wine spends two to three years aging in barrel. Bottling then takes place until July of the third year after samples have been submitted for final approval by the Port and Douro Wines Institute (IVDP), the regulating body that controls, approves, certifies and promotes all Ports, prior to and after release. The wine then ages for another 10 to 40 years in the bottle before it reaches what is considered a proper drinking age.
As part of its mission, the IVDP blind tastes samples and performs laboratory analysis on every new batch of Port produced. In the case of Vintage Port, the IVDP has additional controls. If the wine meets all the standards, the batch is approved for bottling. But the producer must notify the IVDP of the bottling days. IVDP inspectors then come to the winery and count every bottle that was bottled. They collect five samples of the batch that has been bottled and will test that the wine matches the wine submitted for approval. Once the samples are authorized, the bottling is approved. Labelling for all Ports is also strictly controlled by the IVDP.
On average, only three Port Vintage years are declared per decade. For example, in the second decade of the 21st century, 2011, 2016 and 2017 were declared vintage years. It’s rare to see two back-to-back general declarations, and 2016 and 2017 are both exceptional years, although very different in style.
“The difference between both vintages is that in 2017, the year was warmer, and we have more concentration and power on the wines, while some people think that 2016 has better freshness,” says Bento Amaral, head of the IVDP Quality Control Department. “Either way, these Vintage Ports are going to age very well. I would say that they are wines that can be drunk probably at the end of this century, although they are pleasurable right now and can be enjoyed in a different and powerful way.”
He added that 2016 and 2017 are both “vintages with good concentration and structure. As a result, both years were quite easy to be approved in a general way, when compared with other years.”
A list of all Vintage Port years can be found at www.ivdp.pt
Vitis is is an indispensable seasonal guide for vintners, sommeliers and weekend imbibers alike that is dedicated to British Columbia’s rapidly evolving wine culture.
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