Top 10 iconic Port vintages of the last century20th July, 2012 by Rupert Millar
Alongside good claret, some of the more reliable Burgundies and Champagne, vintage Port is one of the staples of any self-respecting cellar.
Like most fortified wines, its high levels of alcohol, sugar and acidity make it fantastically long-lived and also relatively hardy, a 60 year-old Port is no shrinking violet.
Henry Shotton, vintage manager and winemaker at Symington Family Estates, explains: “Regarding drinkability, vintage Port has incredible longevity if it has been correctly stored.
“Last year I had the good fortune to drink a wine from 1935 and although it was delicate it was still fresh and very much alive. Therefore if correctly stored even the oldest Port on the list should be in good condition for drinking.”
The very nature of vintage Ports, like Champagne declared only in the very best years (but usually more infrequently than most Champagne houses of late), means that whittling down a list of just 10 Ports is very tricky indeed.
Naturally there will be those that disagree with some of the Ports listed here. The majority though, Symington Family Estates and The Fladgate Partnership agree, are considered to be the greatest of the past century.
There are cases to be made for a number of “great” Port vintages that have not made this list, including 1935, 1955, 1966, 1977 and 1992 but it wasn’t to be.
The list spans 100 years for convenience’s sake but of course the most recent Port vintage was the, slightly controversial, 2009. Whether 2012 will be declared a vintage to match its illustrious forbears remains to be seen.
Some of these Ports are still available but they are rare now and for some of the really old vintages probably near impossible to find unless they appear at auction.
As Shotton adds: “In terms of availability I would say that all Vintages from 1970 back are now getting very rare. For example we recently released the very last of our Graham 1970 Vintage stock held in Vila Nova de Gaia in our ‘Private Cellar’ release.”
Anthony Barne MW, Bonhams’ head of wine, adds that although Ports from 1955 onwards appear quite regularly at auction, anything older than that remains very rare.
Value too is hard to pin down. Barne reports quite regular “shifts” but notes that there “definitely seems to be more interest in old Ports now than there was 18 months ago.”
Part of the reason for this is that Port, even the very old stuff, is exceptionally well priced for what it is. At a recent sale Barne says that two “extremely rare” magnums of Quinta do Noval 1927 were sold for £900 apiece – that price would barely buy you a sniff of a first growth Bordeaux of the same age even though it’s probably not in as good a condition.