Port producers have long memories and good records. That\u2019s why they can say with confidence that the last time there were generally declared Vintage Ports in consecutive years was 1872 and 1873. Sixteen producers declared both years.\r\n\r\nThat is, until 2016 and 2017, when 63 and 71 Vintage Ports were declared, respectively. That\u2019s a big gap. For two successive Vintage Ports to be declared for the first time in 144 years is spectacular.\r\n\r\nQuality and longevity are the two criteria for a vintage declaration, according to David Guimaraens, head winemaker at The Fladgate Partnership, which produces Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft Ports.\r\n\r\n\u201cVintage 2016 had extreme elegance and finesse, while in 2017, you get the density and dimension,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nCharles Symington is head winemaker at his family\u2019s Symington Family Estates, which includes W. & J. Graham\u2019s, Dow\u2019s, Warre\u2019s, Cockburn\u2019s and Quinta do Ves\u00favio among its brands and properties. He says producers \u201cexperienced two equally excellent years,\u201d resulting in two very different high-quality vintages.\r\n\r\n\u201cOur decision was that 2017 was too good not to declare,\u201d he says. \u201cThe 2016s are defined by a wonderful freshness, elegance and balance. The 2017s are more characterized by incredible concentration, intensity and structure.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nWhat is Vintage Port?\r\nMany Ports have a date on the label. But a generally declared Vintage Port, with a major capital V, is special.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s the culmination of a selection of the best grapes from a top vintage, made only in small quantities and destined to last for decades at least, possibly a century or more. For the largest producers, a blend might come from a number of quintas (vineyards). For individual quintas owners, whose increasing number is cause for excitement, it\u2019s a selection from the best parcels.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are looking for wines with impeccable concentration, lifted aromas, well-structured tannins, balance, freshness and acidity,\u201d says Symington. \u201cCombined, they imply fantastic aging potential, as well as excellent drinking when young.\u201d\r\n\r\nA general Vintage Port declaration is a special event. Normally, it happens only three times on average in a decade. It means that the Port houses get together and agree that the year was so good everywhere in the Douro that they can all make a Vintage Port declaration.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s fun to imagine them sitting round a large table in Oporto after a good lunch with a decanter of fine being Port passed around as they discuss. In practice, prosaically, it\u2019s more likely to come from a series of phone calls and texts.\r\n\r\nThe general declaration is announced in the spring, 18 months after the harvest.\r\n\r\nAs both Guimaraens and Symington say, weather plays the crucial role in the decision to declare a Vintage Port. There\u2019s some commercial pressure if there\u2019s a large gap between declarations, as between 2011 and 2016. But no major producers want to dilute the quality of Vintage Port.\r\nWhy 2016 and 2017?\r\nBento Amaral, director of technical and certification services at the Port and Douro Wine Institute, sums up the weather differences between the two years.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn 2016, the year was wet in the winter and spring, while in 2017, the weather was extremely dry from winter onwards and hot, with several heatwaves in spring and early summer,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nThe result, he says, was 2016 had freshness because of the reserves of water in the ground, while 2017 had concentration from the small berries after the dry conditions.\r\n\r\nLuis Sottomayor, winemaking director for Sandeman, Ferreira and Offley, the three Port houses owned by the Sogrape Group, takes a practical view.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201c[The] 2016 was not easy for the viticulturalists, but great for winemakers,\u201d says Sottomayor. Water in the soil and strong temperatures in the summer brought a late harvest, \u201cwhich I like a lot.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn 2017, \u201cit was somehow the opposite,\u201d he says. \u201cA great year for the vineyard teams, but not so easy for the winemakers.\u201d He says it was difficult to preserve acidity, even if the resulting structure is amazing.\r\n\r\nSottomayor was among a small number of producers that only declared one Vintage, choosing not to declare a Vintage Port for his three houses in 2017.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn 2016, we found exactly what we prefer for a classic Vintage, whereas in 2017, two of our quintas stood out, so we decided to declare single-quinta Vintages,\u201d says Sottomayor.\r\n\r\nAt Ramos-Pinto, Port Master Blender Ana Rosas went the other way.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe only consider the quality of the wines,\u201d says Rosas. \u201cWe felt that in 2017, our different quintas complemented each other for a declared Vintage in a way they did not in 2016.\u201d\r\n\r\nDespite these differences, both winemakers echo a general belief in Vintage declaration among Port producers. The individual quintas that lend themselves to Vintage Ports need to hang together, to be of equal quality.\r\n\r\nEach producer will choose from the same vineyards, or the same selection of parcels, to go into the blend. At the moment, none seems inclined to change this.\r\n\r\n\u201cEach of our principal quintas have parcels that consistently deliver for our Vintage blend,\u201d says Symington. Sometimes, it\u2019s the same parcels for over 100 years, \u201csince my great-grandfather\u2019s time.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe points out, however, that proportions may vary, and new parcels can sometimes get into the mix. The result is a \u201chouse style\u201d for each Vintage Port that comes into focus year after year.\r\nWhat Happens Next?\r\nParcel choice has led to a phenomenon among Vintage Ports. That\u2019s the increase in superpremium Vintage, small quantities from some of the finest parcels, released as separate bottlings.\r\n\r\nSince 1931, there have been releases of Quinta do Noval\u2019s Nacional from a small parcel of ungrafted vines, planted in 1925 in what looks like a kitchen garden.\r\n\r\nNow there\u2019s an explosion. Taylor Fladgate has Vargellas Vinhas Velhas, Graham\u2019s has Stone Terraces, Quinta de Ves\u00favio has Capela da Quinta do Ves\u00favio, Croft has just introduced Serikos Vintage.\r\n\r\nThese are special parcels, often old vines, that give, as Symington puts it \u201cindividually stunning and fascinating expressions of a single site.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhatever the impressive quality of these Ports, do they add to the excitement surrounding Vintage Port? Or do they dilute the general Vintage declaration?\r\n\r\n\u201cThey are different,\u201d says Guimaraens. The quantities are tiny and \u201cthey have much to teach us.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s true that Vintage declarations are Port\u2019s big moments. They grab headlines and attract collectors and wine lovers alike. They\u2019re a reminder that Port is special, from a very special place. To have two Vintages, very different in character, that follow one another is a major moment.\r\n\r\nWhich is better? Both years will age, a criteria that Symington identifies as essential for a Vintage Port. Both years have made great, memorable Ports.\r\n\r\nFor me, 2016 wins by a small sip. It\u2019s the freshness, the style and the way these Ports bring out each producer\u2019s and quinta\u2019s individuality that makes them special. Of course, only time will really tell. That\u2019s a good reason to buy both.\r\n\r\n\r\nPr\u00eate \u00e0 Port 2029 & Beyond\r\nHere\u2019s a sampling of some of the top-rated wines from the historic 2016 and 2017 vintages.\r\nVintage 2016\r\nTop wines\r\nW. & J. Graham\u2019s 2016 The Stone Terraces Vintage Port; $230, 100 points. A superbly intense wine of great concentration, this has a generous structure and abundant ripe-fruit tones. Its tannins are fully intact, promising an immensely long aging period. It's rich, but also fresh in acidity and juicy black-fruit flavors. Drink from 2029. Premium Port Wines, Inc. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\nSandeman 2016 Vintage Port; $118, 99 points. This is a ripe and generous wine, with tannins that are well integrated into the powerful black-fruit core. It is rich in a black plum flavor that's cut by fine acidity. Complex, balanced and full of long-term potential, drink this impressive wine from 2029. Evaton, Inc. Cellar Selection.\r\nGood Value\r\nBar\u00e3o de Vilar 2016 Maynard\u2019s Vintage Port; $65, 99 points. A beautifully balanced, rich wine, this has great tannins, a dense, firm texture and luscious blackberry fruits. It shows the structure of the vintage while also bringing a fresher element. Jammy but never cloying, this is an impressive wine for the long term. Drink from 2029. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nKopke 2016 Vintage Port; $80, 96 points. This is a luscious wine, with tannins that are cushioned by the ripe plum and prune fruits. That doesn't mean it is likely to develop too quickly, but is ready to take its time, bringing out the opulent character of the wine as well as its structure. Drink from 2028. Wine-in-Motion. Cellar Selection.\r\nVintage 2017\r\nTop wines\r\nTaylor Fladgate 2017 Vargellas Vinhas Velhas Vintage Port; $250, 100 points. This is a magnificent, opulent wine, with rich tannins and equally rich black fruits. While it has plenty of ripeness that gives it a generous character, it never wavers in its firm structure. It will have an immensely long, impressive life. Drink from 2030. Kobrand. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\nFonseca 2017 Vintage Port; $120, 98 points. The wine's fine perfumed black plum fruits give a wonderful jammy character while bringing out a fresh edge. These are balanced by the dry core of this beautiful wine with its rich, generous tannins. It will all come together from 2030 in a very fine, integrated wine. Kobrand. Cellar Selection.\r\nGood Value\r\nVallegre 2017 Quinta do Valle Longo Vintage Port; $70, 97 points. Finely perfumed while also massively rich, this is going to be a very fine wine. Its acidity as well as the dense, dry tannins will ensure that. They are giving the potential for a superbly structured wine, dark and dense, likely to be ready from 2032. LGL Imports LLC. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nQuinta do Vale Me\u00e3o 2017 Vintage Port; $89, 96 points. Ripe with succulent black fruits, this wine is also immensely structured by a core of solid tannins. Bright acidity gives the essential contrast to this power and contributes to its great aging potential. Enjoy from 2032. Deutsch Family Wines and Spirits. Cellar Selection.