A half-bottle of vintage pleasure: Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 1998
Fortified wines are wines that have had spirit added to them in order to increase the alcohol level. If done to a high enough level while fermentation is occurring, that fermentation will stop and the remaining sugars of the grape must will remain in the finished wine, adding sweetness. Such is the case with port, among some others.
Within the category of port, there are several styles…including, but not limited to, Tawny, which, theoretically, has been aged long enough in wood to incur a change in the colour from deep red to, well, the more brownish-red that the name implies, and Ruby, which are all the port styles that undergo either no aging in wood at all (cheaper Ruby ports) or a briefer one, followed by bottle-aging (such as Late-Bottled Vintage ports and all Vintage ports). Vintage ports account for a mere 1% of port production but command the highest prices by far, and are subject to the most journalistic examination – and adulation. The reasons for this have to do with the long history of this style of wine, the quality of the wines themselves, and that these wines are some of the most age-worthy of all styles of wine produced anywhere in the world, offering drinking pleasure both in their youth and after decades of careful cellaring.
Not every year produces a vintage port. There is a long approval process involved and many factors that play into the declaration of a vintage port, including market demand, volumes produced and the overall quality of the harvest – which is never less than excellent in “vintage” years in the Douro. Even then, however, there are cases where most port shippers decide not to make a vintage port. On average, three years in ten are declared for vintage port. All port shippers have at least one brand that produces a vintage port wine for declared years.
Single-Quinta vintage ports are generally produced in years where a port shipper chooses not to release a vintage port under their major brand names (such as Dow’s, Graham’s, Niepoort, Fonseca etc.) This port is not an exception, being from a not-spectacular, overall cold and wet year with a markedly smaller harvest. Most Port shippers did not produce a vintage in 1998, but this does not mean it was a bad year. Most Port shippers produce single-Quinta vintage ports in years of good quality, but where the vintage quality is insufficient to produce their big wines.
The Portuguese word Quinta means something closer to “farm”. In wine it can best be understood as “estate”, much like a Bordeaux Château. Quinta da Cavadinha is a vintage port produced from a single estate belonging to Warre. Warre’s, in turn, is a brand that has been part of the Symington Family’s portfolio (whose famous Port brands also include Dow’s and Graham’s) for a good long while. The Quinta da Cavadinha itself is found entirely in the Pinhão River area of the Cima Corgo, which is the middle section of the Douro and where the best vintage ports draw most of their raw materials. In the case of Cavadinha, many of the vineyards themselves have a south-east or east aspect and are of a higher altitude – ranging up 440 metres, resulting in wines with more elegance, lighter weight and enhanced freshness, as the heat intensity is less than with the zone generally.
Quinta da Cavadinha
This Quinta is the heartwood of the Warre’s tree; it forms the backbone of the brand’s vintage bottling. Like all Port shippers, normally a single Quinta would be anonymous in the house’s vintage bottling – where all their best parcels will be used, more or less. So, a single-Quinta offering provides an opportunity to discover the character of those individual estates. And it is worth remembering: most Port shippers are large organisations with sizable vineyard and estate holdings, or access to them. They also generally have the resources to be both careful and selective with what they produce. This means that, even in less-spectacular vintages, the wines produced are generally going to be of very good quality.
A beautiful, deep mahogany colour….still red in the core. As with any vintage port, decanting is highly recommended. There is plenty of deposit to be seen.
The first scent that jumped out after opening this half-bottle was very reminiscent of glue! That might sound bad, but it made for a slightly medicinal note that was actually quite appetising. Plenty of dark fruit followed on the heels of that first impression – ripe blackberries and currants – with a firm underpinning of sweet spices and chocolate, even dried cranberry emerged.
On the palate, that medicinal quality steps back, yielding to ripe dark fruits and the sweet spices announced in the nose. The tannin remains firm, but is clearly beginning to subside – but the freshness of this wine! Unexpected in a port, generally, this Cavadinha has delightful freshness coupled with quite understated sweetness, resulting in a wine that is almost surprisingly light on the tongue despite having excellent concentration of flavours and really good length.
This wine is very much what some tasters describe as “British” in style, which is to say that it is most certainly NOT overly sweet and, with age, exhibits a real medicinal quality. It is a flavour profile that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many drinkers outside the UK….but it is a thing of beauty and elegance, not relying on sweetness and primary fruit to capture interest. Elegant and refined, with more than enough fruit even after nearly twenty years, on the fourth day of sampling the HALF BOTTLE the tannin is just starting to regress. Sure, there is sweetness – but the wine has a freshness that is not common in port, the sweetness is barely noticeable as such. What fun!
The one-line takeaway
Fine, fruity, firm and fabulous moderately-aged vintage port offering excellent value!