2017 Vintage Ports from Symington Family Estates

by Fred Swan - Guest Blogger

Last week, we looked at the 2016 and 2017 vintages for Port. While very different, both are excellent and were declared for vintage Port by most producers. Today’s article looks in detail at the seven 2017 Vintage Ports from Symington Family Estates. Next week, I’ll cover nine more from The Fladgate Partnership, Quinto do Noval, and Quinta da Romaneira.

I’m not providing scores here, but all the wines are outstanding to excellent and there are several I think merit 100 points. The wines are listed in the order they were presented to me, which tends to move from less to more sweet. Note that these wines are not yet released and, for some, the blend may change slightly. Expect final wines to hit the market in September.

Cockburn’s Vintage Port 2017

Winemaker Charles Symington says the Cockburn’s two vineyards, both in Douro Superior, are south-facing and hot, leading to ripe wines  with velvety tannins. In 2017, the vines spontaneously adjusted to the year’s drought, limiting vigor and growth while producing small berries. He increased the percentage of Sousao relative to most years in order to boost acidity.

The wine is intense on the fruit-driven nose with aromas of candied black cherry, Luxardo Maraschino cherries, blackberry jam, and an accent of bran cereal. The palate is off-dry with medium-plus body and notable acidity. The fine, well-integrated tannins are moderate, especially for vintage Port. The flavors, which are very intense and very long, include sweet, jammy, black fruit, especially blackberry and cassis, along with cherry and plum. It’s very drinkable now.

Robert and John Cockburn, brothers from Scotland, founded Cockburn’s in 1815. It passed into international ownership in 1962. Symington Family Estates bought it in December 2010.

Dow’s Vintage Port 2017

The Dow’s is an even deeper purple than most of the 2017s and the nose is bursting with fig, violet, medium-dark chocolate, dark spice, candied plum, chai spice, and lavender. Off-dry, gently mouthwatering, and full-bodied in the mouth, the flavors come on with a creamy attack and match the nose, adding licorice, with pronounced intensity. The structure is fine and softly chewy, the finish very long. Superb.

Dow’s was established by Bruno da Siliva, a Portuguese merchant, in London in 1798. The name changed to Dow’s with a merger in 1877. The Symington’s joined in 1912 and it’s now part of Symington Family Estates. The wine is driven by two vineyards in particular, Quinta de Senhora da Ribeira and Qunta do Bonfirm. Dow’s is made in it’s own winery with one of Symington’s patented auto-lageres.

Symington Family Estates

Graham’s Vintage Port 2017

The nose is generous, wonderfully complex, and floral: bitter orange, bergamot, rose petal, carrot cake, baking spice, and vanilla. It’s sweet on the full-bodied palate and absolutely packed with black currant syrup, bitter orange, bergamot, rose petal, spice, and chocolate. All that flavors is framed by loads of soft, velvety tannins and the finish is ridiculously long.

Like Cockburn’s, Graham’s was established by two Scottish brothers, William and John. That was in 1820. James Andrew Symington worked there for a short time beginning in 1882, before starting his own company. His grandsons bought Graham’s for Symington Family Estates in 1970.

Graham’s The Stone Terraces Vintage Port 2017

Charles Symington calls The Stone Terraces “micro-terroir wine.” It’s made from north- and east-facing terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos, whereas most of that vineyard's terraces face south. The old vines and less sunny exposition contributes to a tiny yield of just 0.5 tons per acre. Symington sees these terraces' profile as “intensity, concentration, and structure… with lifted, tropical aromatics.”

This is a phenomenal wine. It’s effusively aromatic with scents of orange blossom, violets, sweet black currant, and black cherry. The palate is gently sweet with full body, and mouthwatering acidity which complements the soft, velvety tannins and compensates for their lightly grippy attack. The flavors, which match the nose, are powerful and long-lasting. Beautiful, effortless, intense, long, juicy, and balanced.

Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017

Rupert Symington says “the signature of Quinta do Vesuvio is that it’s on the sweeter end” of vintage Ports. That adds an extra level of lushness to this dazzling, full-bodied Port. Heaps of soft, grippy, cashmere tannins barely contain the volume of black cherry, milk chocolate, raisin, orange, mint, and beautiful spice flavors. Great length.

This property is located well to the east in Douro Superior, just 30 miles from Spain. Symington bought the vineyard in 1989. It now has 332 acres under vine, a mixture of old and new plantings. The wine is still made by foot-treading the fruit in granite lagares fabricated in 1827.

JJ Buckley has 2010 Qunita do Vesuvio in stock.

Capela do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017

The exuberant nose features exotic spice and flowers rising above grapey, black currant. The palate is full-bodied and powerful. It bursts with very ripe plum and black currant, sweet spice, and chocolate. Balance comes from very fine, soft-grained tannins that manage to provide grip despite the richness.

Capela do Vesuvio is made primarily from vines at Quinta do Vesuvio which date back 90 years or more. It also includes Sousao and Alicante Bouschet from the Vinha de Escola section and Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from the Vale de Teja portion. This production is just 437 cases, compared to 1,200 for the main wine.

Warre’s Vintage Port 2017

This is a very engaging vintage Port, sweet but lighter in body than most from 2017. The nose is lovely and offers orange blossom, bergamot, dried flowers, sweet spice, tea tree oil, and raw bread dough. Those notes show very boldly on the palate as well, where they are balanced by very fine, soft tannins and copious acidity. The finish is extremely long.

In 1670, Warre’s became the very first British-owned Port company to be established in Portugal itself. Andrew James Symington joined as a partner in 1905 and took responsibility for the vineyards, winemaking, and cellars in 1912. The Warre’s family maintained partial ownership until selling their share to the Symingtons in the 1950s. The wines are made from three vineyards, totaling 190 acres, in Pinhao Valley, Rio Torto Valley, and eastern Douro Superior. The vines are more than 60 years old and produce just one pound of fruit per vine.

JJ Buckley has two vintages of Warre's Vintage Port in stock.

Images courtesy of Symington Family Estates

JJ Buckley guest blogger Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator, and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing  appears in The Tasting Panel, SOMM Journal, GuildSomm.com, Daily.SevenFifty.com, PlanetGrape.com, and his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine). He teaches at the San Francisco Wine School. Fred’s certifications include WSET Diploma, Certified Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, Napa Valley Wine Educator and Level 3 WSET Educator. He's twice been awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.