Understanding Late Bottled Vintage Port

Finesse, structure and complexity are hallmarks of LBV, but navigating the category can be tricky. Here's how to find the best wines.


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Late bottled vintage (LBV) Port should be ever so simple. The official definition says that it is a “ruby Port from a single year, chosen for its high quality and bottled after aging for four to six years in wood.” It is a vintage Port in style, but not in price.

But Port shippers seem to have tied themselves up into knots to complicate a category of Port whose style is now all over the place. It can taste young and fruity, it can taste mature and with the character of wood aging. It can even be aged in tank instead of wood. It can be ready to drink, or it can be good for bottle aging. What is a Port lover  to do?

Among 60 current releases of LBVs are many delicious wines, rated 90 points and above. However, this range of Ports, putting aside any vintage differences, lacks a stylistic coherence. LBV, it seems, is in a mess.

I tasted at the Solar do Vinho do Porto in the city of Oporto with Bento Amaral, who heads up the Tasting Chamber of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP). At the start of the blind tasting, spread over two days, it was Amaral who commented that LBVs are “becoming less wood-aged, more fruity, because they are being bottled and released younger.”

Commercial pressures? Maybe. Or maybe it is driven by many consumers’ preference for wines that are young and fruity. It does leave one wondering what, really, is an LBV Port?

Let’s start with the definition. LBV = late, bottled, vintage.
Late means that, unlike true vintage Port (aged two years before bottling and released to be aged much longer), producers release LBV four to six years after the vintage.

Once bottled, LBV should be ready to drink, not several years down the road.
 

LBV that is true to its name should have some of the character of a vintage—balanced fruit and tannin from a single year and good depth of flavor.

Allowing bottling between the fourth and sixth year gives Port producers flexibility, but is also at the root of the stylistic confusion. LBVs are approved for release in the fourth year by the IVDP. But it stands to reason (and taste buds) that an LBV bottled in the fourth year is going to taste very different from an LBV bottled in the sixth year.

Below are some of the top-scoring wines from three very different Port vintages as well as a breakdown of these three major LBV Port styles.

The full primer on LBV is available in our March 2010 issue.

Three vintages, three styles: the best LBV Ports
 

2003
Ports that are rich and powerful, with superripe fruits that are now maturing well. Expect raisin flavors, chunky structure and sweet tannins.

91 Taylor Fladgate; $25. (Imported by Kobrand).
90 W&J Graham; $22. (Imported by Premium Port
Wines Inc).
90 Quinta do Noval; $25. (Imported by Vintus LLC).
90 Quinta do Portal; $22. (Imported by M Imports LLC).
90 Poças; $NA (Imported by HGC Imports).

2004
A delicate, perfumed vintage that is still showing good fruit. Expect bright freshness with a definite tannic structure and pronounced minerality.

91 Dow’s; $22. (Imported by Premium Port Wines Inc).
91 Wiese & Krohn; $NA. (Imported by Megawine Inc).
90 Cálem; $18. (Imported by Aidil Wines & Liquor Inc).

2005
Still too young, these LBVs are ripe and sweet, with fruit-forward character. Expect smooth, opulent wines that will really benefit from at least two years in bottle. These are the first released under the new rules.

92 Fonseca; $25. (Imported by Kobrand).
91 Niepoort; $NA. (Imported by Martine’s Wines).
90 Quarles Harris; $13. (Imported by Vineyard Brands).
90 Quinta de la Rosa; $NA. (Imported by Vinum Wine Importing & Distributing).

LBV Ports by Style
 

A stylistic breakdown of the best-selling LBV Ports

Young and fruity, ready to drink
• Cockburn’s
• Càlem
• Ramos Pinto
• Sandeman

Mature, wood aged, ready to drink
• Churchill Graham
• Dow’s
• W & J Graham
• Taylor Fladgate

Worth aging
• Ferreira
• Fonseca
• Smith Woodhouse
• Warre’s


 

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