Vintage Port Wine Gifts

Vintage Port has long been a favourite choice for people looking for vintage wine gifts.  The combination of longevity – wines from great years can be lovely even at 100 years old – affordability and availability has made them a great choice for everything from christenings and 21sts to golden wedding anniversaries.  But which wines should you choose and what are the insider’s tips to getting great wines without breaking the bank?  In this guest blog from Port aficionado and founder of MWH Wines – the home of affordable fine wines –  Mike Hall, Mike will guide you as to what vintage port is, which years are available and what to look out for when buying these wines.

What Is Vintage Port?

This may sound like an odd question, but Port’s rules are rather different to other winemaking regions.  In most places a vintage is simply a wine made from a single year’s harvest.  Vintage Port, however, differs in that it isn’t made every year.  Instead they  are ‘declared’ by shippers – typically around 3-4 times a decade – and the rest of the time wines are made into other categories such as:

  • Ruby – basic, bulk wines made for drinking on release
  • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) – wines from a single year that have been given extended ageing in barrel (typically 2+ years). They have a year on the label but they are not Vintage Ports
  • Single Quinta – these are wines from a single harvest – and often a single farm or property – that come from good years, but years which don’t quite merit full Vintage status. Wines like Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas can be exceptional and great value
  • Colheita – these are single year examples that spend extended periods of ageing in barrel. Wines that get this extended ageing in cask are collectively called ‘wood Ports’
  • Vintage – these account for around 2% of all production. They spend no more than 18 months in barrel (where wines develop much faster) and the rest in bottle.  They age slowly and can last for decades – the awesome 1963s, 1977s and 1985s are only now coming into their own.  They are bottled ‘warts and all’ so they throw a heavy sediment that means they need decanting

Which Wines To Buy?

The great thing about Port is its one of the most affordable of all fine wines.  If you know what you are looking for and which vintages to try, even wines from top shippers like Taylor, Graham, Warre and Dow can be yours for a relatively modest outlay.  Our top tip at the moment are the 1983 Vintage Ports: this was a lovely year but they’ve been somewhat overshadowed by the glorious 1985s and as such as excellent value.

As we have said, vintages aren’t declared every year so to  help you see if the year you’re looking for is available here’s our Port vintage chart dating back to 1900:

2017OutstandingWarm year, concentrated wines that offer power and refinement
2016Very GoodExciting wines that promise much.  Exuberant and full-bodied
2011OutstandingShades of ’77, ‘66, ’45.  Concentrated wines that have great futures
2007OutstandingBalanced and harmonious, well-structured and generous fruit
2003Very GoodFresher in style, yet no less serious. Good future
2000Very GoodAromatic wines that are rich and ripe with serious structure
1997OutstandingFirm, tannic wines with ripe fruit.  Future legends
1995Very GoodExtremely fruity, well-structured, with fine tannins, good length
1994OutstandingClassic vintage; superlative structure, great wines
1992OutstandingSome superb wines, high scores, some high prices
1991Very GoodLovely balance and excellent balance
1987GoodBalanced and elegant, with good finesse
1985OutstandingGlorious wines that balance sweetness with power
1983Very GoodClassically styled wines that are drinking well
1982Good-Very GoodUnderrated and undervalued, good wines to be had
1980GoodSolid and well-structured, with focused fruit
1977OutstandingVery concentrated wines built for the long-haul
1975GoodLighter style, overshadowed by the wonderful 1977s
1970OutstandingHarmonious and well-structured, with intense fruit
1967AverageMixed year, Sandeman very good
1966OutstandingBest of the decade, rich and powerful
1963OutstandingLovely wines, the best aromatic and with great charm
1960Good-Very GoodHot year, concentrated wines with long lives
1958GoodDozen shippers, wines light and tiring by now
1950GoodDecent, with a few stars such as Noval
1947Very GoodFew declared, those that did offer excellent wines
1945OutstandingLike most of Europe’s wines, a victorious joy!
1942GoodDecent wines from a handful of good shippers
1935OutstandingSuper concentrated and very long-lived wines
1934Very GoodTiny year but wines have such charm even now
1931Very GoodLovely year, some wines as good as the ‘27s
1927OutstandingRecord 30 shippers declared this wonderful year
1924GoodSmall crop of good wines that have stood up well
1922GoodSmall crop of lighter wines
1920Very GoodSmall crop, superb concentration, rather like the 1977s
1917GoodOne of those years where declaration was driven by scarcity
1911GoodOnly Sandeman declared in what was a good year
1908OutstandingGreat wines that combined powerful with balance
1904Very GoodBalanced, refined wines that have lasted well.  Now elegant
1900OutstandingWonderful wines that have stood the test of time

What To Buy And What To Look Out For

The question we get asked more than any other, especially when it comes to old bottle gifts, is, ‘Why hasn’t it got a label?’  It’s a fair point.  Most bottles of old Port – anything pre-1977 – are likely to have lost their labels.  This is in-part due to their age and the propensity for these wines to be stored in slightly damp subterranean cellars where the labels rot away and in part as shippers tended to use cheap labels and glue as they knew they weren’t destined to survive.  This is why shippers commonly emboss the vintage into the wax capsule that overlays the cork so you can still see which year it’s from.

Another question I’m often asked is which is the best shipper?  While this is a matter of personal taste, it’s fair to say that if you want power look to Taylor’s.  If you want elegance and style, Graham.  Value lies with Sandeman, Martinez and Smith Woodhouse.  And if you want something quirky, high individualistic, rare (and expensive!) then plump for Quinta do Noval Nacional.  This single vineyard wine is planted on ancient vines that still have their own, rather than American, rootstocks.  This may sound esoteric (and it is to an extent) but Nacional is akin to Bollinger’s Vielle Vignes Francaise in being simply unique.

As to vintages, if you’re buying for an anniversary, birthday or christening  – note on the latter the wines won’t be available for a couple of years after the birth – then just pick an appropriate year and have it posted.  If, however you just want something great to drink now, then look to:

  • 1955
  • 1960
  • 1963
  • 1966
  • 1970
  • 1975 – those many of these are tiring
  • 1977 – though no rush
  • 1980
  • 1983
  • 1985 – again, no rush

Others like 1991 and 1992 are lovely, but they still have a lot more to give.

Like Some More Vintage Port Help?

We hope this has proved helpful.  If you’d like to know more or would like some personalised recommendations, then please get in touch.  You can call me, Mike Hall of MWH, on 0118 984 4654 or email me here.