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Vintage vs. Quinta Vintage Port

February 15, 2012
Question by: Bob, Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Q:

What is the difference between a "Vintage Port" and a "Single Quinta Vintage Port"?

A:

Hi Bob, First of all, the words "Vintage Port" - whether brand or Quinta - tell you the wine was made according to the ageing and bottling regime defined by the regulating body, the IVDP, namely:  grapes from a single harvest are vinified as Port, aged in cask and blended and bottled between two and three years after harvest.  At Symington Family Estates we use large wooden casks of tens of thousands of litres for the cask ageing, and we bottle our Vintage Ports the second summer after harvest - e.g. the 2007 Vintage Ports were bottled in May to June of 2009. 

The only difference is in the subsequent sales process:  our declared Vintage Ports are always offered for sale en-primeur at the time of bottling, whereas most of the Quinta Vintage Ports will be laid down and begin their bottle ageing in our own cellars here in Vila Nova de Gaia, and will not be released for sale until roughly 10 years after harvest, when we think it will ready for enjoyment.  For example, the current release of Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos is the 1999 Vintage Port.  Only exceptionally is a Quinta Vintage offered en-primeur - Dow's Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira is one of those exceptions.

Traditionally - for a couple hundred years - Port Vintages were declared only in those years when the crop and the quality of the wines was truly extraordinary.  That tradition continues with the formal declaration of Vintages for our leading brand names - Graham's, Dow's and Warre's to name the most widely known three.  The conditions for making this kind of exceptional port - a port which has the structure and complexity to age magnificently over decades, even a century - occur, typically, only two or three times in a decade.  We cannot control this - it's in the hands of Mother Nature how often all the climactic conditions come together to produce grapes that give us the opportunity to make this kind of Vintage Port!  Each of our brand name Vintage Ports are blended from wines which come from several different quintas, which gives us the opportunity to balance all the flavours and structural qualities needed to produce these legendarily long-lived wines.

But the wines made in undeclared years aren't all bad either!  Of course those wines have always been aged and bottled by various regimens to produce other styles of port, such as Tawnies, Ruby or Late Bottled Vintage.  Since the mid-20th century, however, we began experimenting with making Vintage Ports from the grapes of just one quinta, typically the quinta which has always defined the style of the brand - hence Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos, Warre's Quinta da Cavadinha, and Smith Woodhouse occasionally produces a Madalena.  Dow's has two extraordinary quintas, each of which may make a Quinta Vintage - Dow's Quinta do Bomfim and Dow's Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.

These Quinta Vintage Ports are typically marketed at a more modest price point than declared Vintages, as the expectation was that they would not have the structure to last a century - they might only make it a modest thirty or forty years or so - though that is quite long enough for most modern consumers!

For more information, take a look at a couple articles here on the Vintage Port Site:  Under the Port Basics tab in the menu above, take a look at the article about Vintage Declarations and also the one about Quinta Vintage Port.

With increasing interest in terroir, the Quinta Vintage Ports have come into the limelight, and they do demonstrate the incredible diversity of the Douro terrain.  Paul Symington and his cousins Johnny and Charles took a range of our Quinta Vintage Ports on the road to London and Lisbon last autumn to show these wines.  Critics were impressed by the extraordinary quality of these wines, and by the story of terroir which they told.  They were also impressed that these supposedly "lesser" wines in fact age very very well - we showed wines from the 50s and 60s which were every bit as well structured and beautiful as declared Vintages of similar age.  You can read about the Quinta Vintage Port Tasting on the Graham's Blog.



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