Friday, July 12, 2013

2011 Ports … Land of the Giants!

By: Dan Rhodes

As many wine collectors and aficionados already know, the 2011 vintage has been “declared” in Portugal by many, if not most, of this Iberian nation’s top houses including Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate, Croft and Quinta do Noval. In conjunction with the celebration and promotion of this spectacular Port scenario, I was able to attend a special “sneak –preview” tasting recently in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

This gala event, co-sponsored by the Fladgate Partnership and Quinta do Noval in conjunction with Kobrand and Young’s Market, was a tour de force tasting of the “best-of-the-best” and afforded me the opportunity to not only confirm all of the hype associated with this superlative harvest but also take a small trip down memory lane and explore any number of recent releases and library selections from these renowned estates.

The scene was literally a “who’s-who” of the southern California wine world and trade with well-known critics in attendance  tasting alongside representatives and buyers from many of the Southland’s most prestigious retail shops, restaurants and hotels. Several luminaries from the world of Port were in attendance including David Guimaraens, winemaker for the venerable house of Fonseca.

For Port lovers, the 2011 vintage is both magical and historical. The wines are rich, concentrated and full-bodied with long-lived potential. Yet they are incredibly focused and complex with balanced components capable of providing a refined and elegant port experience for years to come. To use an old expression, they are the quintessential “iron fist in the velvet glove” combining power and finesse.

Most retailers should be offering these high-scoring gems on a pre-arrival basis and I would urge all wine collectors who are serious about a compiling a well-rounded cellar to look into procuring an assorted case or two for future consumption. And while you’re at it, don’t neglect purchasing Ports at auction. They are usually available for a very reasonable bid and offer the sophisticated and wise collector the opportunity to procure one of the wine-auction world’s most under-valued and enjoyable treasures.
Here are some of my notes and highlights from this “once-in-a-lifetime” event:

As described by Adrian Bridge (Fladgate Partnership) and Christian Seely (Quinta do Noval), the 2011 harvest was preceded by a cold, wet winter providing ground water reserves which allowed a balanced ripening of the grapes during the hot, dry summer. This textbook viticultural year, which culminated in perfect picking conditions at harvest time, produced wines which combine wonderful purity and complexity of aroma and flavor underpinned by firm, well-integrated tannins.

This could, quite possibly, be the best vintage Croft ever! It’s just that good! Soft red and black fruits for the palate redolent of cherry/black cherry with hints of espresso and coffee bean, the 2011 Croft is even-keeled and pleasant with well-integrated components and strong depth of flavor.

Powerful cherry/black cherry fruit for the palate is in keeping with the Fonseca style. Generous streams of plum and loganberry provide additional complexity in conjunction with sublime nuances of red licorice, allspice, coriander and white chocolate. This very sexy port should not to be missed by any self-respecting Port aficionado.

Quinta do Noval
The 2011 Quinta do Noval possesses a bright cherry/berry, maraschino cherry identity for both nose and palate along with an exotic, tropical red fruit, passion fruit character which is most unusual. Hints of brown spice and graham cracker round out the flavor profile for this enjoyable gem which is actually drinking quite well right now.

Quinta do Noval Nacional
This is a very serious effort. Layered, vinous and inordinately complex, the wine displays, even at this embryonic stage, all the characteristics of a classic. Deep, dark flavors of black cherry, plum and blackberry display sundry nuance of fig, anisette and bitter chocolate. It is, using the Bordeaux analogy, a wine of First Growth quality. Think Pauillac/Château Latour.

Quinta da Romaneiro
This is a lighter-styled, fairly forward production that is showing precociously well. Mixed red and black fruits abound nuanced nicely with hints of spice, clove and lavender. This should be available in the market place for a very reasonable price.

Taylor Fladgate
The 2011 Taylor Fladgate is an instant classic! It approaches perfection! Full-on, creamy vectors of dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate cherry fruit assault the palate in conjunction with scintillating hints of toffee, milk chocolate and candied truffles. As if that weren’t enough there are even more subtle nuances of fennel, anisette, espresso and black licorice that provide additional complexity to this tour de force. A must buy!

Taylor Fladgate Vargellas
In terms of quality, the Taylor Fladgate’s Vargellas is sort of a miniature version of the above-noted wine. It combines both a red and black fruit identity. Very even-keeled with a plush pleasing texture, the wine brings a mélange of red cherry, red raspberry and bright plum fruits to bear in conjunction with subtle hints of coriander, red licorice, nutmeg and allspice.

Library Selections and other Current Releases
Where does one start? While the 2011 releases were definitely the stars of the show, each participating estate provided additional bottlings representing library stock or other current release bottlings. Too many wines and so many highlights but here are a few faves that really caught my eye. Many of these are still available in the market.

Croft 2009 
sweet red raspberry, pomegranate and cherry compote fruit, drinks well now.

Fonseca 2009 
Superb wine that still needs time. Powerful blackberry, black cherry fruit abound with 
hints of chocolate fudge brownie, allspice and graham cracker. Complexity galore!

Fonseca 2007 
Another larger than life effort from Fonseca, it’s a bit softer than the 2009 with a more velvety, plush texture. Creamy with nice swirls of red raspberry, boysenberry and crème de cassis fruit.

Quinta do Noval 2007
On the whole, the 2007 vintage showed very well at this event and here’s another example. Drinking quite well, the wine showcased such flambéed fruits as plum and cherry in conjunction with pleasing streams of warm brown spices, nutmeg and pomegranate.

Taylor Fladgate 2007 
Ripe blueberry/blackberry fruit, this powerful Port is classic Taylor Fladgate with its nuanced mélange of  nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, candied cherry, lavender and herbs de Provence. Look for this in the market place! It’s worth the effort!

Quinta da Romaneira 2004
Very successful for the vintage. Robust, harder-styled texture that combines any number of black fruit flavors. Perfect for that late night bit of chocolate while watching TV.

Fonseca 2003 
Very ripe, very 2003! Very seductive texture that unites luxurious flavors of blackberry, plum, loganberry and black cherry along with regal swirls of brown sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Drinking wonderfully right now!

Quinta do Noval 2003 
Another very ripe 2003 that’s quite appealing in the moment, the wine combines seductive dollops of ripe plum and sweet cherry fruit with hints of baker’s/bitter chocolate. Wonderful juxtaposition of flavor and texture that’s quite attractive.

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003 
Just has that little bit of extra flavor complexity and dimension for which Nacional is known. This is a sublime effort, one of the top wines of the show and while purists may perhaps find the fruit a bit too ripe, there’s no denying the attraction of its layered red and black fruit identity which highlights plum, black cherry and wild berry fruit along with pleasing hints of truffles and terroir.

Taylor Fladgate 2003 
Filled to the brim with ripe fruit richness, the 2003 Taylor Fladgate still retains a nice backbone of well-honed acidity which functions as the spine of this fruit cornucopia that combines red fruits galore in conjunction with hints of brown sugar, maple and cinnamon. The wine’s finish is seemingly endless which bodes well for additional cellaring. This deceivingly complex effort defined one of the show’s top wines and, while drinking well now, it has a nice long life ahead of it for those so inclined.