2011 Vintage Port - “Almost Unprecedented” It really was the worst kept secret in the history of Vintage Port Declarations and, as it turned out, several of the Houses could not contain their excitement and launched their wines before the traditional St George’s Day release. At the time of writing the Declaration has been virtually universal with one or two laggards expected to make it a ‘full house’ when they have achieved the necessary authorisations from the relevant vinous authorities in Portugal.
The reason for the enthusiasm was clear from the late summer conditions of the 2011 harvest, all the way through the ensuing months as the wines have been patiently maturing in Gaia, and the plethora of blend (and blind!) tastings over the last couple of months to ensure that those early favourable impressions were not misplaced. Unsurprisingly, they were not, and we have on our hands one of the greatest years, the like of which we only see, if we are really honest, every twenty or twenty-five years. Charles Symington is not, as a rule, given to hyperbole, so I think we can believe him when he writes, “the conditions for ripening and harvesting wines were as good as perfect and almost unprecedented…”
The demarcation line between a good vintage and a great vintage is sometimes hard to identify and often, recalling Thomas Hardy, requires a touch of imperfection to coax its full enigmatic complexity. Too many days of uninterrupted sunshine are unlikely to disappoint, as with 2003, but they may not engender the complexity that marked out 1963 and 1994, for example. 2011 has been lauded from the very beginning because the inherent meteorological tension throughout the growing season proved perfect for a very happy ripening and ideal sugar levels, achieved, as is so often not the case, with a backdrop of phenological ripeness.
The beginning and end of the process are always vital; it was the combination of a high water table bequeathed from the late autumn of 2010 and an uninterrupted Indian summer from 3rd September eight-and-a-half months later that have underwritten the process, and top and tailed 2011 with such aplomb. The tension manifested itself with dramatic hail in early June, a mini heat-wave at the end of that month, then a pleasingly (at least relatively) mild August.
Finally, after near drought conditions, extremely welcome rain arrived in the third week of August and on the first two days of September, all in all a timely temperate sequence and one that has ensured that the musts were highly coloured and beautifully perfumed. The precocity of the early season resulted in minor mildew (oidium) problems, to be ironed out later but significant in that they resulted in a smaller crop than usual: 15% below average across the piece. Add to that the minute selection processes currently practiced by the best Houses and it becomes clear just how much some of the volumes have been reduced.
After the mild summer and perfect autumn there were, however, very few instances of raisined grapes or the antithetical phenomenon of stalkiness. Good concentration and, what Paul Symington describes as a “marked minerality from the schistous Douro soils”, is matched by impressive levels of acidity. David Guimaraens the Winemaker at Taylor Fladgate concurs, “the 2011s stand out for the purity of the fruit and the quality of the tannins, which are silky and well integrated but provide plenty of structure.” In short, all is balanced and harmonious and the prospects are very good indeed, or even better… “almost unprecedented”, one may say. Simon Field MW, Port Buyer