2009 has been a split Declaration for Vintage Port wines, with a fault-line evidenced primarily, although not exclusively between the two great dynasties which increasingly control the port trade at the top end.
The reasons for the schism were not commercial, although some may question the decision to declare for a fourth time in a decade, and not necessarily because of the perceived quality of the 2010, hitherto unclear……..it was more an issue of the weather conditions and how it affected the famous Quintas.
The magisterial Douro Valley extends over 100 kilometres, so it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the metrological conditions will be differ from say, the eastern vineyards of the Baixo Corgo to a site such as the magnificent Quinta do Vesuvio, far upstream in the Douro Superior.
Be that as it may, it is not unfair to generalise that 2009 was a year of drought and heat. For the third year running there were only modest water reserves in place when the summer kicked in, and in 2009 the high temperatures ( 40 degrees and over) were present for over a month from August 12th.
Therefore, the vines which fared the best were those on higher ground and from heat-resistant varieties such as Touriga Nacional and the late-ripening Touriga Franca.
Here a coincidence of sugar and phenolic ripeness could be achieved without the former threatening to overwhelm the nascent balance in the musts. Paradoxically therefore, the key, despite the hot year, was to ensure that stalks were not green and tannins not unripe.
The best wines are sourced from exceptionally low-yielding vines, and share an amazing concentration of colour and flavour alike. Sugar and tannin levels are, as one would expect, high, but natural acidity has been preserved and with it structural integrity to ensure a long cellaring potential.
Indeed, it was very instructive to taste the 2009 Taylor Fladgate releases next to their forebears from 2007, 2003 and 2000. The 2009, it seems, has most in common with the 2003 and promises to deliver wines of similar power, concentration and elegance.