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The 2016 vintage of port wine is universally declared by the biggest port producers.
Although it won’t be officially confirmed by the Confraria do Vinho do Porto until September 2018, the 2016 vintage has already been universally declared by the majority of porthouses. That encompasses key producers such as the Symington Family Estates (which accounts for a third of all ports sold worldwide, including Dow’s, Graham’s, Cockburn’s and Warre’s), the Fladgate Partnership (producers of Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, and Croft), and the House of Sandeman.
A universally declared vintage—which accounts for fewer than 2 percent of all ports produced—is dictated by nature and, on average, occurs once every three years. However, it has been five years since the last vintage port—the remarkable 2011—was universally declared, and many are comparing the two for their similar power and finesse.
“The 2016 was a much more difficult vintage than the 2011,” says Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates and fourth generation of the founding family, who noted that this latest vintage was marked by a very hot growing season interspersed with an abundance of rain, which caused many growers, fearing crop loss, to pick early. But those who waited—like winemaker Charles Symington—were rewarded by a hot spell that dramatically increased the quality of the grapes.
“That was exactly what the vines needed,” said Rupert Symington, “because the moment you get rain, things shut down and you need a bit of time to get the vines up and running again, restarting the photosynthesis process that transports the sugars from the leaves to the fruit. It was a calculated risk, but it paid off.”
As a result, the 2016 vintages overall possess a depth of flavor and pronounced tannins, and like the 2011s, some are—uncharacteristically, for vintage port—ready to be enjoyed now, while others demand extended aging to bring out their maximum attributes. But beyond that, the two most recent and celebrated vintages of the 21st century are very different.
“The 2011 had some very fine, linear tannins,” says Symington, “but the 2016 is a more brooding wine; the biggest wines are bigger, and the mouthfeel is less overt. The tannins are there, but (with our wines) they are masked by a lot of fruit.”
All the 2016s will benefit from long maturation, some as much as forty years or more. Prices will generally be higher than the 2011 vintage, due to the low yield and extremely high quality of the harvest. That in itself portends rarity. Nonetheless, here are some recommendations when the 2016 vintages start appearing in the U.S. this fall.
Graham's has a reputation as a producer of outstanding Vintage Port for well over a century. These wines are renowned for their remarkable richness, concentration and firm tannic structure: a combination which yields impressive longevity. Graham's Vintage Ports consistently attain the highest ratings in tastings and invariably attract very high bids at fine wine auctions.
Vintage Ports are only made in years of exceptionally high quality harvests, which on average occur two or three times in a decade. The weather in the vineyards is the principal determining factor: conditions must be ideal throughout the growing season, as well as during the subsequent harvest.
Graham's extraordinary quality is the result of the unique characteristics of the five vineyards that contribute to the Vintage Port.
Graham's declares a Vintage Port only in exceptional years, perhaps three times in a decade, and in the intervening years may produce a Quinta Vintage Ports from Quinta dos Malvedos or Quinta do Tua. These Quinta Vintage Ports are aged in our cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for 10 years or more after harvest, before being released to the market, ready for enjoyment.
Graham’s Vintage Ports are outstanding for their consistent quality and long life. James Suckling’s series of notes for old vintages tasted in 1990 confirm this – how many wines, after 40 or more years, are rated so highly and noted as “will improve with age” ?
The Graham’s 2016 ($150) is a classic in every sense, with a smoky eucalyptus bouquet, thick and sweet on the palate, full of black cherries accented with dark chocolate and a hint of mint. Opulent now, it will become even more so in decades to come.
The 2016 harvest in the Douro brought perfectly-timed rain that turned a good year into a great one. Fortunately, despite a challenging growing season and a much adjusted and delayed picking schedule, those producers with excellent vineyard knowledge and confident decision-making, were rewarded with spectacular Vintage Ports.