When British wine merchants invented port wine as we know it, at the beginning of the 18th century, they possibly could not have imagined how their invention would change the consumption habits of connoisseurs.
Portuguese have been making wine for millennia, and the Douro valley was on of the regions, but the product had no semblance to a fortified sweet red wine.
British wine merchants, knowing how long voyages affect wine, decided to fortify before shipping pipes (500 litre capacity barrels) to Britain, and made it sweet to please sweet-loving British palates.
From England, port wines were shipped all over the world, but the British were the most devoted to this extraordinary, deeply flavoured, dark, sweet wine.
Although today America imports more vintage port than any other nation, the best selection is still in Britain.
Port wines come in two categories – white and red.
White port production represents a small fraction of the total, and is particularly popular in France.
Red port comes in a range of quality levels, from ruby, tawny, LBV (Late Bottled Vintage), Vintage and many shades in between.
Of all, vintage port is recognized as the most distinguished and flavourful.
In the port wine trade, vintages are declared, and only wines of the best years worthy of such a declaration are submitted to the Port Wine Authority in the city of Oporto, for approval.
The super hot European summer of 2003 may have been troublesome for many wine regions around the continent, but for growers and winemakers of the Douro Valley, it was a blessing. Some famous winemakers (Dirk Niepoort, David Guimaraens) are already comparing 2003 to legendary vintages of 1945 and 1970.
In this rugged valley, the abnormally high rainfall during the previous winter helped the soil, since vines endure the extraordinary heat in June and July. Rains arrived just before the hot, dry August, and late August and September were blessed with moderate rains that ripened grapes perfectly. The heat reduces yields dramatically and produced thick-skinned, deeply flavoured fruit with ripe tannins.
Vintage port in general requires a decade or a decade-and-a-half of cellaring; the 2003 vintage needs a little longer. Although young vintage ports can be enjoyed when available, connoisseurs patiently wait until they reach their peak of perfection.
The Vintages division of the L.C.B.O. has imported a wide range of 2003 port for your enjoyment.
Here are some I recommend:
Taylor Fladgate, 2003 – inky dark, packed with aromas of ripe blackberries, sweet, full-bodied, harmonious, well-balanced, and with an excellent finish
Quinta Do Noval, 2003 – excellent vibrant dark red, fruity. Full-bodied and lush. Owned and managed by AXA, a French insurance company, this estate is considered by many as one of the best in the valley.
Fonseca Vintage Port, 2003 – a massive wine, smells of blackberries and passion fruit. An excellent port with long aging potential
Warre’s Vintage Port, 2003 – black pepper, spices and toast aromas dominate this exceptional port. Concentrated, silky, and fully integrated flavours finish with a long and pleasant echo.
NOTE: Decant vintage ports, and enjoy at 18 – 20 C and always finish the bottle once opened.
If you wait for another day, pour the remainder into a small bottle and seal well.