2018 Vintage Ports from the Symington Family Estates
The 2018 vintage started out a continuation of the long drought of 2017. That is, up until March when heavy rains fell off and on through May. Coming on the heels of the drought, these heavy rains caused significant topsoil runoff and damage to many vineyards. The Douro River lived up to its name, River of Gold, when all the run off caused it to turn a golden hue. All this water also caused issues with mildew and extra treatments to the vines were needed.
It wasn’t until July and August that Mother Nature looked favorably on the growers and more normal weather emerged. September then saw quite high temperatures as the rains stayed away. However, much like 2017, the yields for this vintage were exceedingly low. There was also a lot of uneven ripening. This was to be a vintage with a lot of variables depending on ones location and micro-climate.
As if Mother Nature wasn’t hard enough on producers, so was “Father Labor” and his massive labor shortage during harvest. Having been in the Douro during part of the harvest, every producer I spoke to had significant issues finding people to work in the fields. Some producers had less than half as many workers than normal.
But those living in these remote and beautiful hills aren’t quitters, far from it. They are hard working and resilient. They certainly wouldn’t let all these challenges stop them. After all, there was Port to be made!
But there was one more challenge to face and no one could have predicted it, what would become known as the Covid-19 Pandemic. This caused every company to completely rethink how to market and present their new wares to journalists and the public alike. The Symington Family had an ace up their sleeve, the young 5th generation of family members who’ve recently stepped into the company. Their energy and knowledge of social media, coupled with guidance from the current generation, successfully propelled the Symington Family Estates into a digital launch of their 2018 Vintage Ports, along with other changes.
Normally, a new Vintage Port launch takes place in various cities around the globe. Given the Pandemic, that was not to be. So instead bottles were sent out by mail and an online digital release was conducted. The Symington’s sent out cask samples of their 2018’s and also 1998 bottles of the same Ports, pulled from their cellars, to compare and contrast against each other. 1998 Vintage Ports aren’t often seen and they are talked about even less. So it was a real treat to be able to check in on them two decades later along side their younger siblings.
A historic side note to add; Due to economic issues in Europe, in 1954 the Symington Family had to sell Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira. Though they did continue to make the wines for the then owner as well as buying them in many years to use themselves. In 1998 they were finally able to reacquire this remarkable vineyard.
The following four Ports were all tasted over three days, non-blind. My notes are a combination of those days. Being cask samples, it’s much harder to nail down one specific score so there’s a range to them. Full disclosure; The Symington’s were gracious enough to send this Port lover samples so I could let you all know what I thought of them.
2018 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port (Cask Sample)
This was the first time that Touriga Franca was co-fermented with Alicante Bouschet. Touriga Nacional and Sousao being added later. A dark inky color. Powerful scents of violets, esteva, and plums emanated from the glass. The palate was a touch sweeter than I recall for a young Vesuvio, though that could have just been it’s youthful fruit playing tricks. A silky body with black fruit, menthol, minerality, black pepper and moderate tannins. Then out of nowhere, chocolate dominated the fruit on day three. A bit softer on the palate than some recent VP’s from this Estate but still retaining plenty of grip. The finish is where this picked up steam and did linger for quite some time and really helped the overall experience. This showed best on the first two days opened, then wasn’t as expressive on day three; not uncommon for a cask sample. A lovely Port which I look forward to seeing develop in the coming decades.
1998 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port
The color is very dark but now showing some bricking in-line with its age. A nose of old wood and licorice. I was taken aback by how youthful the fruit was on the palate. At 20 years old there are some secondary characteristics creeping in, yet this was still mostly retaining the dark fruit side. Still possessing that menthol and, later, eucalyptus. Big bold tannins and searing acidity and a seamless transition to a finish that seems to go on forever. It does seem to be a touch drier than the 2018, but that could just be the perception due to its age. I can’t recall when I last had this, it’s been that long, but what a treat indeed. This is a remarkable Vintage Port from a year rarely talked about.
2018 Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port (Cask Sample)
Similar to the Vesuvio this marked the first year that Sousao was co-fermented with another grape, Alicante Bouschet. The aromas of this Port were less brash than the Vesuvio and more of a flowery perfume. Given that soft nose I was not prepared for what would come next. In the mouth this just exploded with chocolate, plums, eucalyptus, dense chewy tannins, black stone fruit and lots of acidity. There was no slowing this down on the very long finish, it just kept going and going. It was noticeably drier than the Vesuvio. By day three the minerality starting peeking out and the finish tightened up. This is a beast of Port and should last many decades in the cellar as a testament that even in harsh conditions fantastic Vintage Port can me made.
1998 Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port
The color is still opaque with visible bricking. I initially thought this may have been corked as the nose was rather woody, thankfully that turned out not to be the case. Showing a bit more advanced than its sibling, the Vesuvio, this was still a remarkable Port. The palate was full of licorice and pine resin mixed with youthful berries, fantastic acidity and noticeably more tannic and drier than the Vesuvio. The finish was a touch short at first but lengthened by the second day. Despite the tannins, possessing more elegantly aging fruit than the Vesuvio. Tasting these two made me realize I haven’t had many Ribeira VP’s, especially with age, and I need to change that. A real treat to be able to taste this rarely seen Vintage Port. One I will keep my eye out for to purchase should I run across it.
Anything to do with Port.
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