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2018 Vintage Port Releases
BY NEAL MARTIN | JUNE 24, 2020
After last week’s epic en primeur report, it was something of a relief to compose a short and swift, but timely, article on another recent release of 2018 Single Quinta Ports. That year saw no general declaration after unprecedented back-to-back declarations in 2016 and 2017. Nevertheless, the Douro Valley enjoyed a benevolent, if now becoming not unusual, sizzling hot growing season that yielded a clutch of marvelous Single Quintas.
Symingtons described 2018 as a “rollercoaster” growing season: winter drought followed by a rainy spring, then heatwave after heatwave throughout the summer. This accelerated the accumulation of sugar and made picking at exactly the right time crucial, which is easier said than done. Chairman Johnny Symington, speaking via Zoom from Quinta do Vesuvio, explained the difficulty in finding pickers in this somewhat remote region where many youths are relocating to cities. It is becoming more difficult to find seasonal hands to pick the grapes in arduous conditions, sweltering under the sun on those steep terraced vineyards.
The harvesting machine currently being trialed by Symington Family Estates. I suspect we will see more of them in the future as technology makes them ever more sophisticated.
Reacting to this situation, Symingtons have spent four years trialing the “Symington-Hoffmann” harvesting machine in limited areas of Quinta do Vesuvio. There have been major advances in the sophistication of such machines that are far more accurate and delicate than those that ploughed through the vineyards in the past. Though none of the mechanically picked fruit has ended up in the bottled wine, blind tastings comparing it with handpicked fruit implies there is no tangible difference and of course, it means they can pick specific parcels at precisely the optimal moment. Why not even at night to bring in the fruit as cool as possible? Technology does not stop in the vineyard since they also use robotic lagares to crush the berries rather than under foot. It might be less romantic, though I personally have not seen any compromise in quality. Picking commenced around 4 September, pausing on 21 and 22 September for a welcome splash of rain that rehydrated the parched vines. One final aspect that Symington mentioned was how the 2018 growing season suited the Touriga Franca, though final yields were 11% under their 10-year average.
I took a break from swathes of Bordeaux barrel samples to taste through what were an impressive line up of 2018 Vintage Ports, remarkably consistent, hence the lack of wide divergence in my scores. I will let the tasting notes speak for themselves, though generally the warm growing season yielded quite opulent, ravishing, fruit-driven wines that display much finer tannins and purity than those of the past. Not to say that these are approachable. They deserve several years in bottle, although they are no longer the type that must be cellared for the next generation.
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