2009 Vintage Ports

Two thousand nine will be remembered in the Douro Valley as a year of low yields due mainly to the dry, dusty ripening season, the third consecutive dry year for the region.  It will also be recalled as a controversial vintage that resulted in a split decision among port shippers.

The important Fladgate Partnership, owner of Taylor's, Fonseca and Croft, felt that their wines had the color intensity, tannic grip and balancing acidity for a long life in bottle, along with the purity of fruit and aromatic interest to give early pleasure--thus their decision to declare the vintage. The Symington group (Graham's, Dow's, Cockburn's), on the other hand, chose not to declare 2009, although they did declare a small amount of a Warre's commemorative bottling as well as single-quinta ports from their most important properties.  Nor did Quinta do Noval declare 2009:  director Christian Seely noted that the wines from 2009 (Noval and Romaneira) were "elegant, fine and aromatic, but we did not feel when we came to the blending that they had exactly the profile of the kind of vintage ports we want to make."

The vintage promised a small crop from the time of flowering and the dry ripening season put an additional cap on vine yields.  Following a relatively cool but dry July, the weather continued to be very dry, and much warmer, in August and September (with major heat spikes in the middle of each of those months), further reducing potential yields.  Vines in some low-lying, south-facing vineyards suffered from dehydration, while richer soils in the Lower Douro tended to withstand the heat and drought more successfully.

The harvest took place a good week earlier than average.  In my tastings of 2009s this past spring, I was impressed by the vintage's intensity and strong structure--as well as its consistency.  The wines are deeply colored and dense, with firm acidity, thick tannins, and very good flavor definition and grip.  Some wines show a toughness, or even a greenness, to their tannins that suggest the fruit was harvested prior to adequate phenolic ripeness, but, on the whole, quality is surprisingly consistent.  And the vintage's best examples are well worth buying and laying down.