(Jancis Robinson MW - jancisrobinson.com – October 2004)
About this WINE
Warre's is the oldest, continuously British-owned brand, as well as one of the most distinguished. The firm that became Warre’s was established in 1670. Two Englishmen, William Burgoyne and John Jackson opened offices in northern Portugal as Burgoyne & Jackson which was initially a general trading company.
Over time, the company admitted new partners and its name changed accordingly; in 1718 it traded as John Clark, then in 1723 it was known as Clark & Thornton and finally in 1729, it became Messrs. Clark, Thornton & Warre, with the arrival of the first Warre in Portugal, William Warre.
By the end of the 18th century , Warres was already one of the leading Port companies. In 1791 they accounted for 10% of the total amount of exported Port, competing with 21 companies altogether.
It currently thrives under the ownership of the Symington family, who have furthered its quality with the purchase twenty years ago of the Quinta da Cavadinha, an estate with nearly 100 hectares of highest-quality vines in the Rio Torto valley.
The structure, style and superb quality of Warre’s Ports are defined by its vineyards. Its main and largest vineyards include Quinta da Cavadinha, Quinta de Retiro Antigo and Quinta de Telhada. Further to these, Warres also produces from a collection of other vineyards that are privately owned by members of the Symington family. These include Quinta do Alvito and Quinta das Netas.
In more recent years, the brand has caught up with Dow (they are both owned by the Symington family); and, while Dow's is a firmer-styled wine, Warre's has a distinctive character that leans towards perfectly balanced, elegant wines which often reveal astonishing qualities on the nose.
Vintage Port accounts for only a small percentage of the total Port production - which includes Tawny, Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage, Single Quinta Vintage styles, among others - but is the finest, longest-lived and most expensive style that is produced. The best are as good as any wine in existence.
With the exception of legendary vineyards like Quinta do Noval Nacional and Quinta do Vesuvio, Vintage Port is made from a blend of wines from a producer's finest plots. It is aged for around 18 months in wooden casks before bottling; from then on the watch-word is patience. At least 15 years ageing – and for the top wines it will be significantly longer – is required before the tannins, spirit and fruit are fully integrated. Indeed, the finest examples can last well over 50 years.
Vintage Port is only made in exceptional years (normally around three times per decade) with considerable stylistic variation between different years and shippers. However, they all share a sweet, warming, spicy richness, power and complexity. In other good but not great vintages, many shippers produce a Single Quinta Vintage Port from their finest vineyard. These are made in the same way and have the same style as Vintage Port but tend to mature faster and are less profound. All Vintage Port throws a sediment as it matures, and thus requires decanting.
There are around 40 different grape varieties permitted in the production of Port - however the vast majority of Ports are produced from a blend of 5 grapes - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinto Cão.
Touriga Nacional produces small, dark-skinned grapes that produce opaque black wines of great extract and high tannins - it gives grip, body, and structure to the blend.
Touriga Franca has a thinner skin and consequently produces wines lighter in colour and tannins than Touriga Nacional. It contributes fruit, aroma, suppleness and roundness.
Tinta Roriz is the Portuguese name for Tempranillo and its high sugar content and low acidity contribute colour and fruit.
Tinta Barroca which is normally grown at highish altitudes and on north-facing slopes, is prized for producing wines of delicacy, finesse and with smooth, velvety fruit. It brings elegance and sweet, ripe fruit to the final blend.
Finally Tinto Cão produces fine and complex wines, though it is probably the least important of the 5 grapes as its painfully small yields have reduced plantings to almost insignificant levels.