A vintage Port declaration is a decisive moment in the wine world. Vintages are declared when Port producers get together and agree that a particular year was outstanding, great and worthy of what is called a “general declaration.” It normally happens only a couple of times a decade.
So, when 2016 and 2017 were declared vintages back-to-back, it was big news and an extremely rare event. The last time two consecutive vintages were declared was in the 19th century.
Following the two generally declared years, 2018 arrived. Due to quality variations throughout the region, it did not receive the same general vintage declaration as 2016 and 2017, and most producers released a lower level of vintage Port from individual vineyards. Very fine wines, yes, but surely not as great as the two preceding years.
And yet, in a line-up of 2018 vintages tasted blind as usual this last summer, there was one wine that stood out.
It had everything a great vintage Port should. It was unbelievably, almost impossibly, impressive. This Port sang, it purred, but with great gusto and certainty. Could this be a 100-point wine? Should it enter a space occupied by so few selections?
Looked at objectively, the layers of fruit spoke to great concentration, as did the richness of the structure. But the clincher were tannins that went so deep that it was impossible to taste the end or feel the bottom. The tannins in a vintage Port tell you the wine will last for decades, and beneficially so when in harmony with the wine’s other elements.
This was the real thing. This was a 100-point wine. It was time to unbag the bottle: Ferreira 2018 Vintage Port. And then it all made sense.
The winemaker for Sogrape, owner of Ferreira among many other great Douro houses, is Luis Sottomayor. He had 2018 already in barrels when he broke ranks and made headlines by not declaring a 2017 Vintage Port from Ferreira.
“It was a very good year, but the wines had a different profile, and they had a different style from what we want in our classical vintages,” he wrote in an email.
On the other hand, Sottomayor notes that 2018 “produced elegant and harmonious wines that at the same time have great structure and amazing tannins that gave rise to a wine of rare completeness.” That was what I had found when I tasted the wine.
He declared Ferreira 2018 as a Vintage Port. He was right.
The provenance of a Ferreira Vintage Port has great pedigree. It is always the same, a blend of grapes from two great estates: Quinta de Caêdo and Quinta do Porto.
Both quintas are in the heartland of the great Port vineyards of the Douro, situated close to Pinhão. Caêdo has belonged to Ferreira since 1990, while Quinta do Porto has been part of the Ferreira heritage since the 1800s.
Quinta do Porto is one of the great Douro estates created by Dona Antonia Ferreira. Dona Antonia is noted as one of the famed “wine widows” of the 19th century, much like Louise Pommery and Madame Clicquot, who took their business over themselves when their husbands died.
Today, on its magnificent hilltop situation, complete with chapel, a house and massive winery (Dona Antonia did nothing by halves and had a liking for granite), it is a showpiece of the Douro and a favorite place for the Guedes family, owners of Ferreira.
The facts were right, the origins were right, and the winemaking decisions were controversial but impeccable. The result, though, is more than the sum of those parts. An aura hangs over this Port, one that sets it apart, and one that makes it a 100-point wine.