Vintage Port Tips
Here are some useful tips for those who are thinking about buying Vintage Port but are not particularly familiar with how to describe, store and serve this wonderful product. As mentioned before, the label ‘Vintage Port’ (with a small subsection of crusted port), covers all ports that are aged in the bottle, and so these tips do not refer to Tawny Port which is aged in Oak Casks.
The Life Of Vintage Port
This can be viewed on a parallel with the life cycle of humans: an engaging childhood is followed possibly by some awkward adolescence and then years of maturity, when the wine becomes more interesting, complex, rewarding and sophisticated.
So how will this pan out with your wine?
As a rule your young vintage port will be robust and very full flavoured, dominated by red and black berry fruits. Obviously, this is a generalisation, and the vintage year, the growing conditions and the particular brand or ‘Quinta’ (literally the particular vineyard) will also influence the wine. The young wines maybe very fresh or more jammy and on the nose may present spice, flowers and herbs.
As with children adolescence can happen at any time, typically between 8-10 years old lasting until 15-16 years old. During this period the wine is neither one thing nor another. It tends to lose a lot of the youthful fruit and robustness but has not had the time to develop depth of character. There may be little or no nose. Again this is only a rough guide and I know some adolescent wines which are drinking very well now, you just need to know which to choose. The Croft Quinta da Roeda 2002 Vintage Port is one which we have in stock.
By the late teens, the wines will have started to sort themselves out. The fruit flavours will still be there but they have stepped back to allow other, more complex flavours of dried fig and cherry to come forward. On the nose, hints of marzipan, pepper and spices will be developing.
From this point on, until the port is 30-40 years old, the complexity builds; the wine will develop additional aromas of honey and caramel, the marzipan will become more pronounced and you may even catch a note of tea or cigar box.
Beyond this, between 40-50 years old, the flavours will not change greatly but the length of the finish becomes much more persistent. The port will also become even more complex, elegant and delicate. There is no real benefit in keeping wine beyond this age and only the finest vintages will have the character to make really good drinking over 50. Unlike the drinkers!
Most vintage ports come with a white mark on the bottle – literally a white blob. When storing your bottle make sure that this spot is facing up. The bottling plant or vineyard mark bottles this way to ensure that the sediment which naturally comes out of the wine as it is maturing settles in one place on the bottle- very kind of them to be so helpful! If it is missing you could make your own mark with Tippex or store it with the label uppermost.
The general rule for vintage port is to store it in a dark area, on its side to ensure the cork remains covered and at a temperature between 10C -14C to allow the wine to mature properly. A closed cupboard away from radiators, windows or doors will generally be fine.
Decanting is important to avoid getting sediment in your glass, which tastes grainy and detracts from the taste and feel of the port in your mouth. Decanting also allows the wine, which has been sealed in a small container for potentially decades, to breathe and release all the fine aromas and flavours to further enhance your experience. There is also the theatrical side of the process of decanting which can only make things more entertaining and impressive!
Before decanting, it is important to stand the bottle of vintage port upright for a minimum of an hour, ideally 2-3 hrs. For the younger wines which haven’t had time to develop as much sediment this time can be reduced. Then decant into a clean decanter ideally using a funnel.
The following youtube clip offers excellent advice on decanting, presented by Rupert Symington, joint managing director of Symington Family Estates, one of the major port wine houses in Portugal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxT-x4gl0C4&feature=share
If you don’t have time to stand the bottle to allow the sediment to settle, and just want to get on and drink, a muslin lining the funnel will catch the majority of the sediment but you still need to be a bit careful when drinking.