One of Portugal's best and most historic Port houses is having a birthday—and is celebrating in style. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of its founding by João dos Santos Fonseca, Fonseca is digging into its cellars to rerelease limited quantities of its 1994 vintage, a wine that earned a perfect 100-point rating from Wine Spectator (Cigar Aficionado's sister publication). For anyone who has longed to drink a Port in its prime without having to wait the decades that it sometimes takes for these richly fruity and voluptuous, sweet and seductive wines to come into maturity, now is the perfect opportunity. Furthermore, because of a relatively stagnant demand for Port, these are some of the best wine bargains. The '94 is offered for $425 a bottle.
The Fonseca story began in 1815 with the purchase of 32 pipes of Port, but by 1822 the company would be sold to Manoel Pedro Guimaraens with the understanding that it keep the Fonseca name. The Guimareans family owned Fonseca until being bought out by the Yeatman family, which folded it into Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman in 1949. However, David Guimareans, a direct descendant of Manoel, still manages the wine today and created the 1994 vintage. Fonseca has been a source of great Vintage Ports throughout its history. Most recently Wine Spectator awarded the 2011 Fonseca a 98-point rating.
The wines that Fonseca designates vintage come from quintas (Port estates) in the Douro River Valley in north central Portugal. For the '94, the grapes came primarily from Quinta do Cruzeiro and Quinta do Santo Antonio. At the start of fermentation, a blend of native Portuguese varieties were initially foot-trodden in granite stone basins known as lagares. Shortly thereafter, as in all Vintage Ports, neutral grapes spirits were added to fortify the nascent wine to about 20 percent alcohol, preserving the natural sweetness that makes these bottlings so long-lived.
In addition to the release of the '94, which will hit American shores in time for the holiday season, The Fladgate Partnership is now releasing two single quinta Ports from the 2012 vintage: Croft Quinta da Roeda ($48) and Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas ($53). Single quinta bottlings are produced in exceptional years in which a general vintage is not declared and thus offer rare tastes of distinctive terroirs of the Douro.