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2011 Vintage

Writing before the last lagar had finished fermenting in mid-October 2011, Paul Symington thought “this has been a good and very possibly a great year in the Douro.”  The finished wines have proven it a great year, and Symington Family Estates have declared Vintage Ports for seven of our Port brands, as well as two limited edition Vintage Ports:  Capela da Quinta do Vesuvio and Graham’s The Stone Terraces.

Viticultural and Weather Conditions

The last few months of 2010 saw very heavy rain across the Douro, as well as occasional snowfall, and 2010 ended with total rainfall for the year well above average.  This created the water reserves deep in the soil which were key to the progress and extraordinary success of the 2011 harvest, despite 2011 itself being a very dry year.

Meteorologically, the year was a roller coaster ride:  cooler than average through March, hotter than usual in April and May, generally cooler again in June and July, a typical hot dry August and an absolutely gloriously clear, sunny and warm harvest period in September and early October.  June did bring us an unfortunate surprise over the São João weekend, when temperatures spiked up well over 40ºC for two days only.  Thin skinned grapes, particularly Tinta Barroca, suffered sunburn, effectively maturing and then turning the grapes into dried-out raisins within 48 hours, thus reducing the crop for affected varieties.

The average budburst date of 20 March was a few days earlier than average.  In the unusual warmth of April and May the vines matured rapidly and flowering was on the 11th May, one of the earliest in memory, almost two weeks ahead of average.  Like flowering, pintor, the change of colour in the grapes, began much earlier than usual – as early as 9 July at Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha.  In mid August, when we began our maturation studies, sugars were at good to high levels, with phenolic ripeness lagging a bit.

Every year the winemaking team hope for a little rain just before harvest to freshen the grapes and soften the skins after the hot dry summer and in 2011 we had our wish:  on 21st August we received very welcome rainfall followed by cooler and cloudy weather until 1st  September when a little further rain fell and was followed by sun and warm temperatures.  This weather pattern was ideal to finalise the ripening of the grapes with the development of the phenolics, the flavour compounds, catching up and balancing the sugar levels nicely.

Whilst the remarkably early development of the vines and grapes suggested an early harvest, in light of the rainfall and the phenolic maturation of the grapes we took the risk of giving the grapes more time, and ultimately began harvest at or near our usual dates in mid September.   Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais began picking on the 8th September, Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and Quinta do Vesuvio on the 12th,  Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos on the 15th and Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha on the 18th.

For more about the 2011 Harvest across all our Douro quintas, read the real-time coverage in the VPS Blog beginning with Charles Symington’s Outlook for the 2011 Harvest, followed by reports from each of our brands and major quintas and culminating with Paul Symington’s end of Harvest Wrap Up.  If you are interested in the details of life in a Douro winery during harvest, read the Graham’s Blog – our daily coverage of Harvest 2011 began when the first grapes arrived at the Malvedos adega on 15 September 2011.


Excellent weather throughout the harvest period and a slightly smaller than usual crop made production at our wineries quite straightforward this year, with grapes arriving in very good condition. 

Weather conditions caused the phenolic ripening to lag the development of sugars, hence our decision to delay the start of harvest until this had come into balance.  Baumés (an indication of potential alcohol and sweetness) were above average, but acidity was balanced.  The wines as they were made were dark, fresh, well-structured and showed great promise.

The meteorological events of 2011 gave the late-ripening varieties the opportunity to excel this year:  Touriga Franca particularly had a superb year – always a promising early indication of the possibility of a Vintage year – and the Symington Vintage Ports have a higher than usual proportion of the wonderfully aromatic Touriga Franca in 2011. 

Sousão is another variety which needs a long season to develop full ripeness and for this reason has not always been popular with Douro winemakers.  In recent years Charles Symington has been introducing Sousão to our blends where appropriate, and the 2011s also make more use of this grape than in previous declarations.  Sousão contributes superb acidity and freshness, and these qualites are of course very important to the longevity of Vintage Ports.

For the first time ever, Charles has used a small quantity of Alicante Bouschet in a Vintage Port.  Like Sousão, this variety is known for its balanced acidity, and brings a meaty structure to wines.

Winemaker's Overview

The Touriga Franca has ripened beautifully, with baumés of 13.5º to 14º, and the wines have fantastic colour.  Altogether it’s looking pretty promising. 

Charles Symington, 3 October 2011

The 2011 Vintage Ports are characterised by an unusual combination of elegance with power and structure.  Whereas “elegant” usually implies lighter-bodied, the 2011s have fantastic aromas and great elegance but are big wines – not an easy balance to achieve. 

Charles Symington, 15 March 2013

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