2017 vintage Port tasted and assessed

It's the first back-to-back vintage declaration for almost 100 years, but how stunning is the 2017 vintage?

Words by David Kermode

The fact that Port houses have declared two vintages in a row is not unprecedented, but you have to go back nearly a century to find the last time it happened.

“Incontestably a great year… again” was how Christian Seely of Quinta do Noval announced a moment in history for vintage port – the declaration of 2017 as a vintage, a year after 2016 was also announced to be so exceptional as to be worthy of bottling after two years in barrel.

The last back-to-back declaration was 1934 and 1935, and then the port houses were by no means unanimous (the major producers were split between the two vintages).

London’s Tate Modern was chosen for the launch and tasting. Port luminaries making the announcement were Seely, managing director of AXA Millesimes, the wine division of the giant insurance company (which owns Noval, along with Chateau Pichon-Baron in Bordeaux and a clutch of other properties from the south of France to Tokay), Adrian Bridge, chief executive of the Fladgate Partnership, which owns Taylor’s, Croft and Fonseca, and Charles Symington, head winemaker for the family firm behind Grahams, Dow’s, Warre’s, Cockburn’s and Quinta do Vesuvio.

Charles Symington, Christian Seely, and Adrian Bridge
Charles Symington, Christian Seely, and Adrian Bridge
David Guimaraens
David Guimaraens

“Intensity, structure and concentration are the hallmarks of 2017,” said Symington, who predicted that the vintage would be “much sought after due to the smaller volumes produced compared with 2016.”

“These are very different years,” said Bridge, “with the latest vintage expressing a fruit forward richness where the ’16 was dense and elegant.”

The 2017 growing season was notably warm and dry. The growing cycle was so advanced it let to “the earliest harvest ever recorded in our family’s 137-year history,” Symington has said.

Yields were very low: the grapes were small and intensely-flavoured, making for dense and concentrated wines.

Bottles will be in short supply: “the 2017 Vintage Ports are highly collectible, due to the exceptional quality of the vintage combined with much lower yields because of the drought throughout the entire year – producing very small berries and a high selection process,” said Gavin Smith, head of fine wine at Fine+Rare.

“This also resulted in high tannin levels, which gives the wines huge density, concentration and structure which should all amount to an exceptional ageing potential.”

“These wines are highly collectable and there is quality across the board. There is huge interest in the vintage, with almost all our allocations selling out immediately on release,” he said.