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Port & Other Fortifieds

With the majority of entries in the oxidative styles, it led to some great winners, but also a slightly unbalanced part of the Gold List

The port producers of the Douro, it seems are going through a Brown Phase. While you might expect this section of the competition to be awash with well-priced reservas and rubies trying to jostle for the ‘house pouring port’ slot, LBVs muscling in on the mid-price and vintages duelling aristocratically for the white tablecloth swank-pours, in fact, this year we were awash with tawnies and colheitas. Red, it seems, is so 20th century dahling.

While the lack of big numbers of entries for Vintage was understandable – this is, after all, a niched product – the dearth of rubies, reservas and particularly LBVs was mystifying to the tasters.

‘LBV really sells well, much better than vintage, so it is an important part of the list, but it also has to cover all bases as you are not going to list more than one or two,’ said The French Table’s Sarah Guignard. In fact, this year, the LBV section topped-out at Silver.

‘With LBV I’m looking for fruit and sweeter tannins,’ said Antoine Dugand of Le Pont de la Tour. ‘This is wine we would sell By the Glass, for desserts or on their own.’

An issue for the vintage ports was drinkability. Some of those sent in were still pretty youthful, and while the tasters appreciated their potential, they tended not to give them medals. ‘We would really not want to serve a vintage port younger than 10 years old and even then it would be rather young,’ mused Dugand. Something that perhaps held back the otherwise popular Malvedos 1999 single Quinta from moving up from Silver to Gold.

For the tawnies, nothing was statemented at older than 20 years, though because of the oxidative way they are made these were wines that were already felt to have good development and complexity.

‘Tawny sells by the bottle, but it’s also great to have By the Glass and there were some good wines here, with balance and integrity that would really appeal to the customer,’ said Cubitt House’s Matthew Cocks.

If tawny has been a star at SWA a few times over the past five years, this year’s Adele was tawny’s sibling, colheita. With two Golds a Silver and a Bronze it accounted for a third of the category’s medals – not bad for one of the less well-known styles.

Lesser-known or not, our sommeliers rarely need their arms twisting when presented with genuine quality, and in the Dalva Colheita Golden White 1963 they found it.

‘The length was just outstanding,’ said Vivat Bacchus’s Laura Ward; ‘That is just essence of wine,’ added The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking;

‘It’s getting into old XO Cognac characters,’ enthused consultant Angela Reddin. XO prices, too…

It all made for a port section of our Gold List that was high on absolute quality, but rather lacking in balance – nothing under £19 and nothing non-oxidative, but that’s more a reflection of what came in than our tasters’ palates.

Generally, the Other Fortifieds section, a bit of a catch-all category that hoovers up fortified miscellany, has, nonetheless, yielded a disproportionate number of out-and-out star wines, with the sommeliers often stimulated by the weirdness of what they’re trying. But sadly not this year.

Only the Cazes Rivesaltes got to Bronze level, though The Bell’s Mark Thornhill could see a case for it working with cheese or simply on its own. ‘You’d have to push it, but the quality is good and people would come back for more,’ he said

‘The “other fortified” are wines for selling By the Glass, but you must be careful on your margins. If the last wine is over-priced, customers will leave thinking the same of the whole experience in your restaurant.’ Marco Feraldi, Galvin La Chapelle