Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Anything to do with Port.
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jdaw1
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Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by jdaw1 »

Is 30-year-old Vintage Port darker than it used to be?

At yesterday’s Vesuvio tasting, the early 1990s VPs were dark. As best I can recall, 1963s were definitely paler than that in the early 1990s, and near the turn of the millennium 1970s were definitely paler than that.

This observation is not specific to particular brands, nor to particular vintages. It is a general observation: 30yo Port seems to be darker than it used to be.

1. Do people agree?

2. Why? (Varietal selection? Brandy? Vinification? Other?)
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by M.Charlton »

jdaw1 wrote: 19:42 Wed 07 Feb 2024 Is 30-year-old Vintage Port darker than it used to be?

At yesterday’s Vesuvio tasting, the early 1990s VPs were dark. As best I can recall, 1963s were definitely paler than that in the early 1990s, and near the turn of the millennium 1970s were definitely paler than that.

This observation is not specific to particular brands, nor to particular vintages. It is a general observation: 30yo Port seems to be darker than it used to be.

1. Do people agree?

2. Why? (Varietal selection? Brandy? Vinification? Other?)
1. Yes.

2. An immediate, but somewhat simplistic, suspicion for me was that the quality of corks being driven into bottles has increased over time, so the extent to which wines can be oxidised once bottled has decreased over time - hence greater colour retention (on average) for current vintages at age 30 compared to older vintages when they aged 30. This suspicion was kicked into the long grass by others during discussion at the tasting.

Alternative rationale was then considered on the way home.

My understanding (which is quite likely dubious: input from others will be much appreciated) is that the thickness of a grape’s skin will, amongst other things, have a pronounced contributory factor in the wine’s colour once that wine ends up being bottled - where thickly-skinned grapes produce wines having a greater colour depth relative to thinly-skinned grapes. More thickly-skinned grapes result from grapes which develop more slowly on vine, which could correlate to improvements in farming methods used in the Douro (such improvements over time would seem to represent a fair assumption, in my humble opinion). Global warming may well kick this hypothesis into the long grass, too, so I look forward to trying a variety of the most recent vintages, 30 years from now, to carry out this most important of tests.

Of course, I look forward to hearing what others think in re point 2.!
Last edited by M.Charlton on 10:15 Thu 08 Feb 2024, edited 2 times in total.
winesecretary
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by winesecretary »

Most of the colour of red wine comes from the skins.

Wine made from

- destemmed grapes
- that have been sorted to exclude unripe grapes
- where the juice has spent longer in contact with the skins

will be darker.
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mcoulson
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by mcoulson »

Can we not just buy a spectrophotometer and spend the next 30 years obtaining the definitive answer ??

I'm up for this as a plan !
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by Andy Velebil »

A guess, to which I am probably wrong and if so please say so.

I'd theorize it is due to block planting and the reduced use of the old field blends. The latter of which contained white grapes and all sorts of different types of red grapes not necessarily picked at their peak of ripeness. With block planting the use of just a handful of specific grape types has allowed far better control of the end product and better color, as well as other, management.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by Glenn E. »

Andy Velebil wrote: 16:05 Thu 08 Feb 2024 A guess, to which I am probably wrong and if so please say so.

I'd theorize it is due to block planting and the reduced use of the old field blends. The latter of which contained white grapes and all sorts of different types of red grapes not necessarily picked at their peak of ripeness. With block planting the use of just a handful of specific grape types has allowed far better control of the end product and better color, as well as other, management.
This is my guess also, along with other changes in winemaking. I know that Port has been being made for hundreds of years, but there were a lot of pretty significant improvements made over the last 30-40 years. Could some of those changes like block planting, either accidentally or per the point, have made Port darker and more intense in color?

I don't have the depth of experience to have personally experienced the difference in color, so can't say whether or not it seems true to me, but it does sound true based on discussions and pictures.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by MigSU »

All things mentioned here are plausible, and could have, to more or less extent, affected the colour of VP over the years. It is, of course, impossible to say for sure.

Something which might affect the extraction and colour for years to come is the use of robotic treaders. They don't tire, and work all day (and sometimes night as well). Humans might tread for 3 hours per day, robots do it for 8/10/12 hours. It's bound to make a difference.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by PhilW »

Tricky question. It seems to me that the 80's and early 90's ports are taking longer to mature than those of the 60's and 70's, though this might just be an erroneous perception, I am not sure. If true, then it might be that the ports are not any darker at the same stage of maturity, but are aging more slowly (and hence are darker at 30yr because they are at a less mature stage). It might also be that this trend reverses once we enter the 2000's...
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by MigSU »

PhilW wrote: 17:53 Sat 10 Feb 2024 It might also be that this trend reverses once we enter the 2000's...
That worries me. I sincerely hope that, in the quest to make VPs more approachable at a younger age, producers haven't stunted their long term longevity.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by jdaw1 »

MigSU wrote: 18:41 Sat 10 Feb 2024That worries me. I sincerely hope that, in the quest to make VPs more approachable at a younger age, producers haven't stunted their long term longevity.
The observation is that Port seems to age slower. That might well be the opposite of “stunted their long term longevity”.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by MigSU »

jdaw1 wrote: 18:52 Sat 10 Feb 2024
MigSU wrote: 18:41 Sat 10 Feb 2024That worries me. I sincerely hope that, in the quest to make VPs more approachable at a younger age, producers haven't stunted their long term longevity.
The observation is that Port seems to age slower. That might well be the opposite of “stunted their long term longevity”.
Well, Phil specifically mentioned wines from the 80s and 90s when he said they seemed to age slower, then commented that the situation might change when it came to wines from the 2000s - and that's what I was commenting on.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by David Guimaraens »

It has been a long time since I last posted on the Forum. The topic is a good one, and has many perspectives.

A lot has changed in the production of Vintage Port over the last half century, with significant influence on the character of Vintage Port. This can be split between Viticulture, Winemaking, Bottling and Cellaring. Of these changes, some are good, some are bad, and others just make VP different.
I am note sure I will be able to cover all these aspects in sufficient detail without becoming overly extensive in my writing.

I have no doubt that Vintage Port is darker today than it used to be in the 1960's and 1970's. It is harder to have an opinion of the VP's from the 1920's-1940's.
Starting with viticulture: This to me is probably the most significant change. Field blend vineyards have a mixture of 10 -20 grape varieties, where the choice and percentage of each variety differed significantly from one Quinta to another Quinta across the region. This approach to field blends spanned all Vintage Ports from 1900 until the 1980's. As a field blend, there is much more diversity in the caracteristic of each grape variety, and as a result the identity of the Ports from one Quinta differed significantly to another, even sometimes if they were relatively close to each other. This difference in identity was always a key part to the identity of the Vintage Ports from each Port House.
Another aspect to the field blends was the contribution of grape varieties in small quantities, many of which did not contribute with colour and tannin, but were key to giving overall balance of flavour and complexity to the Ports.

The major changes in vitculture from the post phyloxera era came from the 1970's foreward with the desire/need to mechanize the vineyards of the Douro. With this change in construction of vineyards came the desire to select a small number of grape varieties (5-6), and chosen for their contribution of colour. Additionally, the vineyards went from being planted as field blends, to be planted in large blocks where each variety is picked and fermented individually.
Today there are much fewer field blend vineyards (vinhas velhas), but many still persist, and different Port Houses have different contributions as a percentage of their VP blends. Croft VP, for example, is still made predominantely from Roeda's 1st generation post phyloxera vineyards.

There is no doubt that a classic vintage Port year coincides with a year when all grape varieties behave well. This was especially important where you work with field blend plantings, where the quality of the Ports produced differe greatly from one year to another.
The desire to select fewer grape varieties comes with today's society with the obsession of control! The result of using fewer grape varieties, and certainly when they are fermented on their own, is that Vintage Ports today have more colour when they are young than they ever had before, but they are also certainly less complex, and the difference between house styles has become less and less evident.
They also age very different, and much slower.

Modern Vintage Ports run the risk of becoming very new world in style! Fruit bombs, and all the same!

I look back to the Vintage Ports produced in Australia from the 1960's to the 1980's, made from very ripe Shiraz. They were massive, and they never lost their colour.
Is this what we want Vintage Port to taste like?
What about the wonderfull bottle age aromas and character that we all desire for in our mature VP's. Will these modern VP's have them in the future, where the leeser coloured grape varieties contributed with complexity and balance to the mix?

As winemakers, often the biggest is the best! For wine appreciators, how difficult is it to understand a young VP, so is it not easiest to go for the one with most colour? Is colour really the only guide?
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by David Guimaraens »

The influence of modern winemaking on Vintage Port!

When something works well why change it! Why do we play to the ego of modern winemakers (you can include me in that one)?

If I could, I would continue to make all my vintage Port in the same granite lagares, and the same number of people in the lagar per pipe, as my father tought me 30 years ago. This is one aspect I have never felt the desire to change. Changes in our society, and the economics of the whole process, have made change a necessity.
There are some aspects to winemaking where some modern tools can help improve and fine tune our VP's (crushers,heating/cooling), but the radical change from foot treading in granite lagares to stainless steel tanks with mechanical plungers completely changes the character of a VP from exactly the same batch of grapes.
Greater difference still than changing from granite to stainless steel, is the influence of the use of stalks. I have no doubt at all that de-stemming and taking out the stalks from a fermentation makes a fundamental change in the taste of a young vintage Port, and affect the way a VP will age in the bottle.
As we all struggle to give instant gratification in today's world, the best way to make a young VP stand out in a blind tasting is to remove all stalks from a fermentation. However, the way the VP ages, and its character changes significantly.
Additionally, stalk use will brown a a Port quicker, so a Port fermented without stalks will stay redder as it ages, but the character will aslo change.

Traditional winemaking uses 100% stalks. We can reduce the percentage of stalks used in a fermentation, however we need to understand the impact over many years to trully come to a conclusion as to the real impact of this change.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by Andy Velebil »

Hi David,

Many thanks for taking time out of your busy day and chiming in with your experience and expertise. We may be pros at drinking port but we’re just arm-chair winemakers, hah! I, and I’m quite positive all the others, look forward to learning more from you.

I know this is a general question with lots of variables, so not looking for an exact answer…About how much stem inclusion is now being use for VP? Does the amount of stem inclusion change if you know a given parcel of grapes will probably be earmarked for something other than VP, such as tawnys?
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by MigSU »

Andy Velebil wrote: 22:10 Sat 10 Feb 2024 About how much stem inclusion is now being use for VP?
I can answer that: none. At least in the big producers. Smaller operations might be experimenting with that, but the big boys all use big destemmers and selectors at the winery reception.

At least this was my experience working for a couple of the big ones.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by /2alph »

Thank you David
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by David Guimaraens »

MigSU wrote: 23:51 Sat 10 Feb 2024
Andy Velebil wrote: 22:10 Sat 10 Feb 2024 About how much stem inclusion is now being use for VP?
I can answer that: none. At least in the big producers. Smaller operations might be experimenting with that, but the big boys all use big destemmers and selectors at the winery reception.

At least this was my experience working for a couple of the big ones.

At the Fladgate partnership we set out to produce Vintage Port from every grape we grow, so the approach is the same. We leave 100% of the stalks in the ferments, respecting the traditional way of making Vintage Port.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by David Guimaraens »

30 years ago when I returned from Australia I attempted to set aside some lighter, less structured Ports made with 0% stalks in an attempt to get more Tawny character (this practice is done widely in Australia with their Port styles). It was a Flop! These ports gained their Tawny character quickly, however they became sickly and cloying from not having the stalk tannins to balance the sweatness.
Our Vintage Ports use 20-30% of the Ports we make from our Quintas. The remaining Ports made in lagares, with 100% stalks, are key components for all of our aged tawnies.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by David Guimaraens »

MigSU wrote: 23:51 Sat 10 Feb 2024
Andy Velebil wrote: 22:10 Sat 10 Feb 2024 About how much stem inclusion is now being use for VP?
I can answer that: none. At least in the big producers. Smaller operations might be experimenting with that, but the big boys all use big destemmers and selectors at the winery reception.

At least this was my experience working for a couple of the big ones.
I do not understand the insinuation between big producers and small producers. Size of companies does not change their dedication to making exceptional quality Ports, and having large wineries with big destemmers does not mean we do not also have smaller wineries where we focus a lot of attention and detail to the Ports we make. I can certainly speak for myself, but I am sure Charles Symington (Symingtons), Luis Sottomayor (Sogrape) and José Manuel Sousa Soares (Granvinhos) all share the passion and dedication to making great Ports as much or more than any small producer.

For the good of Port, reference to "big" or "small" producers is sensless,
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by MigSU »

It's not an insinuation, it's just a fact that there's more flexibility to experiment and to make small and micro batches to try out different things, including (but not limited to) whole bunch fermentations. There was no offense meant, or any attempt to frame the question as "small=good, large=bad" (quite the opposite, as the best Vintage Port comes from large groups - TFP, SFE, Sogrape, etc). Some things are just easier to do when you're a smaller, nimbler operation (and some things are more difficult).

I can't speak for TFP because I've never worked for them (although I supplied grapes to them for many years), but the two large Port producers I worked for didn't do whole bunch fermentations, they always destemmed before the grapes went into the lagares (granite or stainless steel), usually with big Oscillys destemmers at the end of a conveyer belt.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by winesecretary »

So… everything has changed, sometimes several times. The following will lead to darker, but not necessarily better, ports

- viticulture - especially block planting with fewer darker varieties
- destemming
- mechanical crushers
- mechanical treading
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by jdaw1 »

Some juicy bits in this. As an answer to the original post, my favourites:
David Guimaraens wrote: 20:20 Sat 10 Feb 2024the desire to select a small number of grape varieties (5-6), and chosen for their contribution of colour.
David Guimaraens wrote: 20:37 Sat 10 Feb 2024I have no doubt at all that de-stemming and taking out the stalks from a fermentation makes a fundamental change in the taste of a young vintage Port, and affect the way a VP will age in the bottle.
David Guimaraens wrote: 20:37 Sat 10 Feb 2024stalk use will brown a a Port quicker, so a Port fermented without stalks will stay redder as it ages, but the character will aslo change.
I have my answer. Yes: mostly, stalks; also, fewer varietals.
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Re: Is 30yo VP darker than it used to be?

Post by DRT »

What a great discussion, and thank you for your excellent contributions, David.

Next question: could you please make us a new batch of Taylor 1912, Fonseca 1927 or Croft 1945? :lol:
"The first duty of Port is to be red"
Ernest H. Cockburn
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