Vintage port

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

The most expensive style of port is one of the world’s simplest of wines to make. Vintage port accounts for hardly 1% of all port sold, yet it is the wine which receives the most attention. British shippers, in particular, have built vintage port into a flagship wine, ‘declared’ in an atmosphere of speculation when the quality of the wine, the quantity available, and the market are judged fit. Wines from a single year, or vintage, are blended and bottled after spending between two and three years in wood. Thereafter, most of the wine is sold and the consumer takes over the nurturing for up to 30 or more years, although an increasing proportion is being drunk much earlier, especially in the US. Vintage port is distinguished from other ports by the quality of the grapes from which the wine is made. Only grapes grown in the best, usually Cima Corgo, vineyards, picked at optimum ripeness following an outstanding summer, are made into vintage port. Even then, nothing is certain until at least a year after the harvest when shippers have had time to reflect on the characteristics of the wine and the market. The vintage may be declared only after the IVDP has approved samples and proposed quantities in the second year after the harvest. With the steady improvement in vinification methods since the mid 1980s, some wine of vintage port potential is now made at the best quintas in most years. But a shipper will declare a vintage only if there is sufficient quantity and if it is felt that the market is ready to support another vintage (1931 being a classic example of a qualitatively superb vintage undeclared by most shippers for entirely commercial reasons). Vintage declarations may be very irregular but very roughly three vintages have been declared in each decade. Because they should be bottle aged for longer than almost any other style of wine, vintage port bottles are particularly thick, dark, and sturdy. The wines, extremely high in phenolics in their youth, throw a heavy deposit and need especial care when decanting and serving.