Fortified wines may be something of a ‘hard sell’ to most consumers outside of the Christmas season, but there is always excitement around the declaration of a Port ‘vintage’. Though very good wines can be produced from every harvest in the Douro, most years are not declared as ‘vintage years’, so no vintage Port is made. The decision on whether to declare a vintage year – when maturing casks of wine are deemed good enough to be aged and bottled under the strict regulations necessary for vintage Port – is down to each individual Port producer. Some years are unanimously declared, the most recent being 2011, but in other years only some of the region’s producers decide their particular young wines make the grade.
2014 was such a year: not universally declared by any means, with only a handful of the Douro’s top names declaring. I recently received samples of two of these, from two famous houses, Churchill and Quinta do Noval. Johnny Graham, founder of Churchill commented: “The 2014 vintage promised to be exceptional until mid-way through harvest when torrential rains fell. Luckily we had decided to pick early, before the rains struck, and have been rewarded by a small but spectacular crop.” And indeed it was those rains that spoiled the party for most producers in terms of ultimate vintage quality.
Like Churchill, Quinta do Noval has declared only a “tiny quantity,” of vintage 2014, with around 1,000 cases produced. Churchill and Noval are the top Port names from the few who have chosen to release a 2014 vintage, but as Managing Director of Noval, Christian Seely, explained: “The fundamental principle for us is that if we have a wine that we believe is of the quality and personality required to be bottled as a Quinta do Noval vintage, then we should bottle it and declare it.”