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Vintage Port 2003

James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006

If a great cigar takes patience because it must be savored over a period of time, think of what can be said about great young vintage Port. It requires the patience of Job as you buy the fortified wine only to leave it in your cellar for a decade or two before enjoying it—preferably with a fine cigar.

The best of the most recently available vintage Port in the market—2003—has all the fruit and structure you expect for long-term aging. Justifiable comparisons were made from the very beginning of the harvest to the opulent and exciting 1994 vintage, and while I still have a slight preference for 1994, 2003 is assuredly a classic vintage for Port.

"Our Quinta do Noval may be our finest yet," says Christian Seely, a keen cigar smoker and the managing director of the Port house as well as a number of chateaux in Bordeaux, including Pichon-Baron.

Seely made two of my favorite 2003 Ports—his Noval Nacional (99 points in Wine Spectator magazine) and his estate-produced Noval (96). My other top scorers were Quinta de Roriz (97), Croft, Fonseca and Niepoort—the latter three all received 96 points. Their seamless tannins and the almost endless fruit they brought to the palate are what impressed me the most about these young Ports. Though powerful and rich, they also showed wonderful balance.

Yet, the 2003 harvest was a small one for most Port producers. Accordingly their designation of wines as vintage Port was also down—by some 20 to 30 percent. This was primarily because of a bad flowering in the spring and did not arise from the summer's dryness and heat, which affected most other European wine producing areas.

"The heat in August was not excessive," Paul Symington, a director of the family business that owns Roriz and other great Port names, wrote in a fall 2003 e-mail. He reported that the highest temperature at Quinta do Bomfim was 107 Fahrenheit for three days early in the month. "Most of Europe was like that almost all summer long. I remember days in Italy when temperatures reached close to 120 in the afternoon in August," adds Symington. "This is not much higher then normal. It did stay hot for longer, but nothing too unusual."

What is unusual is to taste such great young vintage Ports from a year like 2003. These are Ports that will be enjoyed for the rest of our lives and even our children's lives—if we have the patience.

Visit www.quintadonoval.com, www.croftport.com, www.niepoort-vinhos.com, www.quintaderoriz.com or fonsecaport.com.

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