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2003 Vintage Ports: a review

Vintage report
2003 started out unusually wet in the Douro, with abundant winter rain. Budburst was in March, followed by an unusually damp April, which caused some problems. flowering was at the end of May and weather remained fine during this period. Veraison spread over July and early August. Then came the famous European 2003 August heatwave, although th Symingtons emphasize that it usually gets pretty hot in the Douro during summer. Maximum temperatures in the early 40s centigrade which were experienced aren’t an awful lot higher than normal; such high temperatures result in the vines shutting down photosynthesis: thus, paradoxically, very high temperatures can actually retard development. The last two weeks of August were a bit cooler and there was a little (much needed) rain towards the end of the month. Harvesting started in mid-September and continued through October. Conditions at this critical time were warm and dry, with a bit of rain early in October. So the big question: did the protracted warm-to-hot conditions result in an excellent Port vintage, or was it an atypically hot vintage, with the resulting wines out of the ‘normal’ range for vintage Port? Did the hot 2003 conditions result in wines that will have upfront appeal but a reduced lifespan?

The Fladgate Partnership
Interesting to note the family resemblence between these Ports, although the first three are made in a more immediate, fruit-dominated style than the big guns Fonseca and Taylor.

Delaforce 2003
Very sweet blackberry and raspberry fruit nose. Vivid, intense and very pure: it’s almost all fruit. The palate shows more of this pure, clear, luscious ripe fruit. Sweet and open with a spicy finish. Very good/excellent 92/100

Croft 2003
Very sweet, intense blackcurranty fruit with a liqueur-like character. Pure and beguiling. The palate is smooth and sweet; very luscious and enticing. Very good/excellent 93/100

Skeffington 2003
Slight savoury spicy edge to the sweet red and black fruits. Pure and intense. Smooth, supple sweet fruit on the palate: accessible and open. Very good/excellent 91/100

Fonseca 2003
Savoury, spicy structure underneath the fruit on the nose. Quite concentrated on the palate. Nice balance between the smooth sweet fruit, the fine-grained tannins and the spiciness on the finish. There are some subtle ‘old wood’ notes, too. A tasty wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

Taylor’s 2003
Lovely purity of fruit on the nose, which displays smooth, sweet red berry and blackcurrant characters. There’s some spicy savouriness, and a bit of old wood character. The palate is structured and spicy, but still dominated by the sweet pure fruit. Very good/excellent 93/100

The Symingtons are like the Corleones of the Port world (this isn’t meant to have any sinister implications, by the way!)—it’s as if they own almost everything (well, at least many of the well known English Port houses). 17 Quintas and 1216 hectares of vineyards – theirs, all theirs.

‘These are as good as any wines we’ve made in the last 20 years’, says Paul Symington. He thinks they’ll drink well earlier, something he’s keen on encouraging. ‘We’ve got to get people drinking Vintage Port earlier’, he told me, expressing a fear that unless the perception of Port changes it will go the same way as Sherry. But the way to change the perception of the product isn’t by tampering with its intrinsic nature, for example deliberately altering the style to make it more forward and immediately accessible. ‘We aren’t making wines for earlier drinking, though’, he emphasized.

Symington expressed a frustration that Vintage Ports aren’t given the same sort of respect as the very top red wines, such as the Burgundies of Domaine de la Romanée Conti. ‘I’d like to get people to taste these wines young, assessing them against young great red wines around the world’, he said, the unspoken assumption being that they would compare favourably in terms of absolute quality. Comparitively speaking, top Vintage Port is cheap. ‘We’re not asking a lot of money for these wines.’

Johnny Symington describes the 2003s as ‘extremely opulent, pungent, floral, fruity wines.’ He’s particularly impressed by the aromatics. ‘They’ll last a long time, but they’ll drink well when young: they are the new drinkers’ type of wine’.

Graham’s 2003
Vivid sweet fruit on the nose – quite pretty with violetty, dark fruits and some spicy structure, too. The palate is quite sweet and dense with a nice concentration of dark fruits. Finishes very sweet. Very good/excellent 93/100

Dow’s 2003
Smooth, sweet dark fruits nose. Ripe and sweet. The palate is concentrated, smooth and sweet – quite lush and supple with some spicy structure hiding deep beneath the sweet fruit. Very good/excellent 92/100

Warre’s 2003
Sweet, dark intense nose with hints of chocolate and fine spicy structure on the nose. The palate is sweet and supple with good concentration of very ripe sweet fruit. There’s some nice structure, but the overall impression is one of sweet fruit. Very good/excellent 94/100

Quinta do Vesuvio 2003
Lovely vivid, intense fruit on the nose with some nice spiciness, too. Quite structured. The palate is supple and sweetly fruited with a lovely intense raspberry and blackcurrant character. Good structure and acidity make this a beautifully balanced wine. Very good/excellent 94/100

Quinta de Roriz 2003
Lovely rich vividly fruited spicy nose. Quite enticing. The palate is concentrated, sweet and spicy: wonderful fruit quality and structure here: I like this a lot. Very good/excellent 94/100

Smith Woodhouse 2003
Vivid, spicy and beautifully perfumed nose. The palate is concentrated and spicy with good tannic structure. Bold and full, a lovely wine. Impressive. Very good/excellent 93/100

Quarles Harris 2003
Beautifully coloured. Pretty, aromatic, perfumed nose with nice sweet fruit – floral, even. The palate is sweet, lush and soft. Drinking well already. Very good/excellent 91/100

Gould Campbell 2003
Perfumed, open nose dominated by red fruits. Supple, soft, sweet palate with good fruit and a spicy finish. Tasty. Very good/excellent 90/100

Quinta do Noval
A superb performance here by Noval – all three wines are fantastic. Tasted blind Silval would do very well against many more illustrious Vintage Ports, I suspect.

Silval 2003
This wine is at the price equivalent of a single-quinta Port, but is actually a triple quinta – it’s a label that is used to maintain the quality of Noval. In 1994 the decision was taken to make less Noval, but better. Consequently Silval’s production expanded. In 2003 this is a very fine Port in its own right. Very ripe, forward nose is bold with a lovely spiciness. Savoury and structured. The palate si sweet, dense and rich with lovely spicy structure. Quite sweet, with firm yet fine spicy tannins. Very good/excellent 93/100

Quinta do Noval 2003
Very exciting firm, structured nose with a savoury, spicy density and bright, vivid fruit. The palate is super-concentrated with lovely forward fruit coupled with tight tannic spicy structure. Quite sweet. Bold and intense. Excellent 96/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003
An unusually deep, concentrated colour. Another thrilling nose of intense, sweet red berry fruit with lovely structure showing through. Spicy and savoury at the same time. The palate is sweet and super-concentrated with very sweet spicy fruit and lovely structure. Already a exciting wine that lives up to the Nacional reputation. Excellent 98/100

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste some of the blending components of the 2003 Niepoort Ports on a couple of occasions, and I was expecting the final wines to be very good. They are, and it is interesting to note the distinct difference in style between Secundum and the Niepoort Vintage. The latter has to be a contender for wine of the vintage, in my book.

Niepoort Secundum 2003
Quite tarry, sweet and spicy on the nose. It’s almost showy. The palate is very sweet and spicy with a tarry, spicy structure. Lots of character here: this is already quite accessible and full of interest. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Vintage 2003
Quite structured and dense. The spicy nose shows rich fruit. The palate is dense and spicy with a wonderful tannic structure. A massive wine: structured and dense with lovely purity of fruit. Very serious. Excellent 97/100  

A new name on the scene, this is the first Port from the already famous Pintas (Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares 'Wine & Soul' company). It's one of the best wines of the vintage. 

Pintas Vintage 2003
Tight dark fruits on the nose with hints of spice and chocolate. There's both sweetness and dusty, earthy tannic structure evident. The palate is hugely structured with great concentration and tight, firm spicy tannins. Although this is sweet, the tannins and acidity give this quite a savoury, winey feel. The combination of huge structure and immense concentration suggest that this could be one for the long haul. Wonderful fruit quality is evident: sweet, lush intense liqueur-like raspberry fruit, mainly. Very primary still but quite superb. Excellent 97/100

Wines tasted May 2005  

More wines tasted September 2005:

Ferriera 2003
Soft, sweet, bold and open. Pure fruit. It’s not a big structured Port, but it is nicely balanced. Very good/excellent 91/100

Sandeman 2003
Intense, bright sweet fruit. This is sweet and dense with a nice gingery, spicy structure. Good weight to this tasty wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2003
Bright dark fruit on the full spicy nose. Concentrated, sweet and intense on the palate. It’s supersweet, but with some spicy richness and structure too. A fine effort in a forward style. Very good/excellent 93/100

Quinta de la Rosa 2003
Ripe, smooth, sweet and concentrated. A little simple, but nicely structured. Very good/excellent 91/100

Quinta do Crasto 2003
Intense, spicy, open herby nose leads to a complex, rich, herby palate. The spicy/herby character of this wine is very appealing. Nice and quite winey. Very good/excellent 93/100

Whytingham’s 2003 (Quinta do Vale Meão)
Vivid, intense, smooth rich nose showing some spiciness. The palate displays a massive concentration of smooth, intense, sweet lush fruit. It’s a big softie. Amazing concentration, but is the structure there for the long haul? Very good/excellent 94/100

Ramos Pinto 2003
Fresh, open perfumed nose with a herby, spicy edge. Soft, sweet, concentrated and intense on the palate. Big and rich, but not massively structured. Very good/excellent 91/100

Churchill’s 2003
Fresh, vivid intense nose leads to a palate with lots of ripe fruit. Not super-concentrated but quite elegant. A very appealing Port. Very good/excellent 93/100

Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha 2003
Bold, structured and spicy with good concentration and nice purity of fruit. A really appealing wine. Very good/excellent 93/100  

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