Port to the Past: A Vintage Journey with DOW’s Port.
One of the windiest evenings of the year brought us to a mysterious place in the center of Amsterdam: The Soho House Amsterdam, a member only hotel and club for a special Port night, organized by DOW’s Port.
The private member’s club brings certain privileges with itself and apparent restrictions, like a no photo policy. So, we will ask you to close your eyes and use your imagination and let me take you on DOW’s Journey.
DOW, Date with Old Wines
The night was devoted celebrating DOW in a ‘vintage vibe’. DOW is the most awarded brand in terms of vintage ports. For over two centuries DOW has been associated with quality and enormous ageing potential. The hallmark of ‘guarantee’. Guarantee for what you buy currently, what you taste now or what you will relish over the years. DOW’s recognizable feature, which differentiates it from other port houses is their distinctive drier finish.
The journey in the world of vintage port has commenced with a choice of an aperitif which has offered a different approach and style of port drink. The recent innovation in mixology or cocktail making, with Port as its main ingredient, is winning the hearts of bartenders, sommeliers and most importantly re-introducing port to consumers. Upon arrival the guests were offered white port with tonic or ‘Negroni Port’ based on Tawny Port: delicious, approachable and something new.
Subsequently we have dived into a vintage port collection chaperoned by DJ music on vinyl from that era. The music was a connecting link between the period when this Port was produced and what is in our glass.
Late bottled Vintage 2018
The first glass introduced a ‘Late bottled Vintage 2018’. Normally vintage port is aged for two years and then it is bottled without filtration and aging continues in the bottle. When selection of batches takes place to create vintage port, some batches lack the concentration to become vintage port, so they make Late bottled vintage port. However, it is not being bottled immediately as is the case with vintage port. DOW waits slightly longer, namely 2-4 years to bottle it. The wine ages longer in the cask prior to bottling. You can see its ‘every day’ vintage, you can enjoy it any time and price wise it is also more affordable in comparison to vintage port. It offers a vintage character but lacks the intricacy of a singular vintage.
What you need to keep in mind, LBV is not the Port intended for extended ageing in your cellar. A suggestion from DOW is to drink it roughly within 3-5 years after purchase.
On the nose delicate aromatics of cherry, black berries, dark chocolate and hints of fresh raisins. The palate offers refreshing high acidity and medium tannins. Finale is carried by spiking high acidity and leaves the feeling of freshness.
DWA score: 91/100 (JE)
Quinta do Bonfim 2013
The second glass was the beginning of the serious tasting: the moment where you start having hedonistic pleasure. The first vintage port in our glass came from the most important flagship estate of DOW, that creates the style of the house.
Quinta do Bonfim in the heart of the Douro Valley, mostly exposed to the south, which creates muscular and a concentrated style. This is the true classic from DOW’s collection. The Quinta is famous for its peppery structure, peppery tannins, loads of concentration and intensity. This is DOW’s DNA.
Olfactory senses are blanketed with tremendous freshness of menthol and the edge of black pepper. The air reveals the basket of mixed black fruit, from fresh to dried. Amarena cherry with bramble, black plum with prune. A dash of dried herbs reminds you that you drink a decennia old Port. The palate is balanced by high acidity yet supple with medium soft tannins. Finale is long with mouth coating roundness and milk chocolate flavors.
DWA score: 95/100 (JE)
Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2019
The third glass was somewhat of a surprise, as we have not taken the path by descending towards older vintages but climbed the ladder up.
We have moved to another property Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira. This is the second most important estate in DOW. This property is more inland compared to Quinta do Bonfim. The weather is slightly warmer, drier. The wines bring more concentration, power due to its geographic location. Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2019 was bottled just recently in 2021 and subsequently 2 years bottle ageing. 2019 is one of the cooler vintages where Touriga Franca has played a major role, it has lent a floral character to the blend.
You could say it is nearly a crime to serve it so young but it was a great learning experience to appreciate a younger vintage and envision its ageing potential over the years to come.
On the nose fragrant odors of wild red fruit, red Lambert cherry and sensual scents of violets, wild flowers. Tones of blueberries are freshened by hints of menthol and eucalyptus.
On the palate crisp high acidity and medium astringent tannins as a separate element. Finale is long yet brutally grippy.
DWA score: 94/100 (JE)
A fourth glass was the leap into a more serious Port game. The previous glasses were single estate, single Quinta Vintage Ports. DOW’s 2003 is the Douro’s best expression in a bottle. One of the best years of the decade. Normally it means all is perfect. The weather is perfect, perfect grape maturity and healthy grapes. This happens in the entire region, consistent throughout all the Douro Valley. Pretty much all the big players craft Vintage Port in such year. You call it a full classic vintage.
2003 needs time, and here is where patience pays off. Only after 20 years it starts to showcase its enormous potential: Fruitiness, concentration and the immense power is being complimented by tertiary notes.
Scents that please the nose were grouped in clusters from fresh cherry and plum to dried berries like raisin, prune. Layer of the mixture of dried violets with dried herbs. The patience gifts your senses with second round of aromas. Perfumed musky berries sprinkled by Muscat and bergamot. The palate is delicately balanced by high acidity and medium + fine grained tannins. Finale brings opulent elegance and lingers with aromas of dark chocolate.
DWA score: 96/100 (JE)
Now is the time to open the era of 90s.
Symington, the owner of DOW, has shared just 30 cases of this spectacular vintage. Meaning, if you want some, you need to take your spot on the waiting list, rather sooner than later. Keep in mind, that the allocated cases for the Dutch market have been kept in the cellars of DOW for all these years. The wine has been checked and recorked for this so-called re-release. Undoubtfully the best insurance for quality is guaranteed.
1994 is one of the highest scored vintages. Another widespread declaration of a classic Vintage. You could see it as the seminal year. The start of the modern era for Vintage Port. The first producers started to release their vintages in 1996. This is the vintage when the US has become particularly receptive to vintage port, so a new ‘buying power’ and new market potential for the Vintage Port industry. The year when more Vintage port was shipped over the Atlantic than to the UK is thus historically now the most important market to industry. The prices have risen, overtaking the significant vintages from 1970s.
Olfactory senses are captivated in myriad of aromas. Initial scents of dried cherry, prune, raisin and dried orange peel are blanketed by sweet spices. Hints of clove and black tea leaves. The palate offers plush and velvety sensation delicately elevated by high acidity and structured by medium+ polished tannins. Finale is long with sensational aftertaste of dried tobacco leaves in the sheer of smoke.
After the smoking gun, vintage 1994, the fairytale came to an end. We finalized the night with something of a Cinderella vintage. DOW’s 1980.
DWA score: 97/100 (JE)
One could say it is an underrated vintage and overlooked by the trade. Perhaps deterred by steep opening prices. Coming behind classic 1977, which was a big muscular wine. The industry has made a lot of it and launched in 1979. Tremendous patience was expected for its drinkability, as it offered a brutal power. Its successor is 1980, which is not quite as punchy or powerful as 1977. So, the trade was skeptical. The industry was left with enormous stock of it. As Paul Symington noted: ‘for a very long time it was a Wednesday afternoon drink, for around 30 years, until eventually we ran out of it”.
On the nose stewed even slightly jammy fruit. Raisin, prune spiced by cinnamon and pumpkin spice cookie. Medicinal freshness and hints of menthol. On the palate velvety sensation structured by high acidity and medium tannins. Finale leaves alcoholic power with burnt orange peel.
DWA score: 90/100 (JE)
Vintage Port: A Time Capsule in a Bottle
For the majority of people ‘Vintage’ is just a word, for Port is a whole category. It is the only style of Port that ages in the bottle. It always marks a singular year. A moment in time which transports as back in time to special moments with unique emotions.
Vintage Port is the best expression of its vineyards in the bottle. So next time when you see a Vintage Port take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the craftsmanship.
This article was written by our own Jelena van Eerdenburg. DOW’s Port, part of Symington Family Estates, is imported in the Netherlands by DGS Wijn (Delta Wines) and available through selected partners in retail and hospitality.