I Do Declare

In the world of wine it’s a known fact that some vintages are just better than others. Whether it was because of more favorable weather conditions, the winemaker trying something a little different, or one of the other countless factors in creating a wine, it just flat-out tastes better. But one of the few varietals that actually go through a lengthy process of accrediting its outstanding vintages is port.
To give you an idea of how this process works, we’re going to focus on W & J Graham’s Port who recently had their 2011 declared Vintage Port by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (IVDP), the governing body of the port trade. Only roughly 2% of all port made is declared vintage and even as one of the titans of the port industry with a history dating back to 1820, Graham’s 2011 is just the 16th declared Vintage Port they’ve had since 1955.
As you would imagine for a wine that has received such a rare accolade, the reviews of the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port have been simply outstanding. Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast both gave it a score of 96 while the prestigious Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave it 95-97 points. One taste of it and you’ll see why. Purple-black to the rim, this profound and complex wine gives fine aromas of blue violets, black China tea, and ripe red fruit. The palate is full of powerful and vigorous fruit, merging into black chocolate with a finish that is clean and perfectly defined.

2011 Graham's Vintage Port
"Graham's is simply the best!"

Robert Parker 95-97 points
Wine Spectator 96 points
Wine Enthusiast 96 points

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But tasting good is only one of the qualifications for being declared a Vintage Port. First and foremost, for the wine to even be considered port, let alone a Vintage Port, it must be produced in the Demarcated Region of the Douro Valley in Portugal and must follow a very strict winemaking procedure. This procedure is similar to the standard red wine making process but neutral grape brand is added to the process after only a portion of the grapes’ sugar has been converted to alcohol. After two years of aging in huge barrels (typically around 150 gallons), port houses like Graham’s determine whether or not its quality rises to the level of Vintage Port. Typically only two or three years out of ten will be deemed worthy of sending before the IVDP to be declared.
Each January, hopeful port houses submit their potential Vintage Ports before the IVDP who spend the next four to five months deliberating over each port’s merits. Their final decision is based on the tannic structure of the wine, its potential for aging, and, naturally, the overall taste. Come late April or early May, the IVDP publically declares those wines worthy of carrying the title Vintage Port on their labels.
This 2011 vintage is particularly noteworthy because in addition to Graham’s, all of the other major port houses have been declared vintage as well. This is what is known as a “general declaration” which hasn’t happened since the 2007 vintage.
The fact that 2011 produced any Vintage Port, let alone a general declaration, is somewhat surprising. While the growing season started out well with a rainy winter, unseasonable hailstorms in May and June followed by a dry, hot summer had many of the port houses sweating it out. Fortunately, late August and early September brought rain that paved the way for an ideal final ripening stage. Clear skies and fine, warm weather continued throughout the harvest leading to port that some in the wine industry are saying is one of the very best vintages in recent memory.
For more information about W & J Graham’s
Visit their website: grahams-port.com
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