Oenophiles must have something fashionable to talk about. So in port, there has developed some discrepancy about “Quinta Wine.” What is it? Who started it? When did it begin? And why does it matter? Quinta, meaning farm or estate, indicates a port made from a very particular terroir and leads to the “Quinta Wine concept.” some claim this concept began in the 1970s and has resulted in the modernization of Portuguese winemaking, including the raising of quality standards by producing ports of the highest distinction and personality because of their place of origin. Bunk.
First off, though producers who want to differentiate themselves often use their specific terroir and history to do so, producing and bottling top quality wines from single quintas has been going on for a very long time. Bartholomew Broadbent, one of the world’s experts on fortified wine, said recently that “single quinta were bottled by numerous shippers prior to the 70s. Quinta do Noval was one of the first houses to label a wine in this way, but I know that a single Quinta Port was bottled by Ferreira, the 1815 Vesuvio single Quinta, which was owned by them at the time, and now sits in my father’s cellar.” His father is Michael Broadbent, former chairman and now senior consultant to Christies Wine Department, master of wine and one of the most respected wine critics and writers in the world.
Secondly, stop leading with the ace; stop focusing indiscriminately on terroir or the geographic effect. It’s not enough and it puts the cart before the horse. The traditionalist approach to understanding, selling, and branding wines rests on the artifice that a delimited area of production, an appelletion, is by definition a proxy for superior quality.
I don’t take this contrarian position without reason. It is true, appellations are built on science, art, and generations of experience, and when it comes to signaling that there is something unique and special about the place from which a wine hails, there may be no greater tool than terroir.
Also, of course, terroir as appellation is highly effective for marketing, but I liken the trend of leaning on it wholesale to a three-year-old that hasn’t been weaned. However, used as a brand, it is very helpful. at the same time, the trend can also weaken. By marginalizing the characteristics that actually make up the appellation and creating a kind of standardization, or by diffusing the idea that smaller elite areas always mean higher quality, makers undercut the very concept.
Diversity – the range of types, styles, and methods – and terroir – the aspect, the soil, the way a field is planted and the slope of the hills – taken together really do make of difference, and it is in experiencing these aspects and in digging in to the nuances, the flavors and the peculiarities that make certain wines worthwhile.
Below we list 10 ports that are non-standardized and are selected to match your mood and your evolution as a Port devotee:
> Ferreira Ruby Porto: Inside Portugal, Ferreira is the number one selling port and famed as the producer of the 20 Year Tawny ‘Duque de Bragança’ – which is considered by many to be one of the finest ports. Originally sourcing from some of the oldest family vineyards and pioneers in producing single quintas, this is a benchmark house – one of, if not the reference for the history of quality port.
> Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Porto: This reserve is drawn from the same vineyards as Graham’s Vintage ports, a noble pedigree. With reserve being a finer quality of ruby, the port is luscious, full-bodied, but fruit forward and accessible. A giver not a taker. A lover not a fighter.
> Warre’s Warrior Special Reserve Porto: The oldest brand of Port in the world. Warrior is drawn sourced from two of Warre’s finest estates, Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro Antigo. Well known as a touchstone for Reserve port. Classic, dense, spicy, and ready to go.
> Broadbent Auction Reserve Porto: The ’94 vintage was astounding and this was the first year Bartholomew decided to release his vintage port. He is both lucky and clever like that. The wine is very complex and a custom blend from Bartholomew that combines 12 different vintages for a very unique house style. A port that colors outside the lines.
> Taylor Fladgate Tawny Porto 20 year: In a game of word association with the average wine hound if you say “20 Year tawny” they’ll immediately answer “Taylor Fladgate.” I have to admit that I favor 20 and 30 year Tawnys most of the time for their café colored oxidized goodness; when a port throws me a curve ball like these do, simultaneously tasting of honey, nuts, toasted bread, caramel, dates, toffee and spices, I get wound up. I recently opened a bottle, poured the amber goodness in my glass and went to the fridge for a potential cheese pairing, but I decided against that and sat back down to drink it by itself. It was more than enough and a little Mephistophelian.
> 2001 Quinta do Crasto lBV Porto: This seminal producer has a very unique history – the first-known references to Quinta do Crasto date back to 1615, but until the end of the 20th century, due to legislation, they were selling their grapes to Ferreira. The Roquette family is known for meticulous attention to detail in the vineyards and for outstanding still wine production (earning the accolade of Red Wine of the Year at the 1997 lnternational Wine Challenge). I remember meeting Miquel Roquette and learning first hand how the LBVs were selected, tasted, judged and aged. If you don’t know these ports, I personally recommend that you get acquainted. P.S. Drink LBVs now unless they are unfiltered; they are about as good as they are going to get.
> 2004 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Porto: Only 1,100 cases of this incredible vintage were produced from the renowned quinta that is said by some to be the most stunning in the Duoro. The rich history of the property dating back to the 16th century continues as each small batch is made from hand selected, hand-picked clusters. Powerful, concentrated, long-lasting. This wine can be a point of reference for other vintages of Vesuvio, which are remarkably consistent in personality.
> 1991 Graham’s Vintage Porto: The year 1991 was one long in coming in port – it was the first general declaration for vintage in 6 years – a very long dry spell in the world of port, something likened to the Great Depression for fortified wines. My first significant memory of a vintage port was a 1991 that threw plenty of sediment. Grahams has a unique reputation for being what we call a “velvet hammer.” It’s a port with rich, prodigious amounts of powerful dark fruit flavor and tannin, and at the same time silky elegance, a very complex juxtaposition. Sometimes you will find in a Grahams Vintage or in select quintas that feed the vintage ports, a sneaky little perfume of violet. It’s a fantastic thing to wonder about as you take another sip.
> 1994 Dow’s Vintage Porto: Dow’s, the venerable 13th generation dynasty founded in 1798, was originally owned by the Warre’s family before being taken over by the Symingtons who also now own Graham’s, Warre’s, Smith Woodhouse, and Quinta do Vesuvio, among others. Dow’s is the only great historic Port house still in the control of one family. Most people recognize 1994 as one of the best vintages of the 19th Century and Dow is known for their tremendous vintage ports. (I remember well the ’77 I drank with friends on my 34th birthday at Asti – momentous with chocolate genache – thank you Lisa Foxx.) Captivating flavors of plum, complex evolving dried spices, and shaved cacao. This wine would be an amazing 20th anniversary gift in 2014 – but this port will be also be unbelievable on my 60th birthday. Ephemeral and aesthetic. This one is a ringer.
> 2005 Fonseca Panascal Vintage Porto: A large and well-known producer renowned for intense dark blue and black fruit style, Fonseca is a sixth-generation family house dating back to 1822. Most people get to know Fonseca through its ruby reserve, Bin 27, and tawny ports, more entry-level offerings because of the volume they produce. Since Panascal is used for Fonseca’s vintage ports, it is only made in years without a general declaration-so this quinta shows many of the characteristics you will find in the vintage ports. The vineyard itself wasn’t purchased until a few decades ago; before it had been under long-term contract.