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Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003

Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003

Here is a departure from my usual drinking, a blast from the past in the shape of one of the very best examples of the Late Bottled Vintage style, from Warre’s. This is a wine that I used to buy with some regularity, having consumed numerous memorable bottles of the 1990 and 1992 vintages, and looking back at my old notes I see a few glasses of the 1994 and 1995 vintages were also once pressed to my lips. And then the wine seems to have fallen off my radar, and indeed the last time I opened a bottle was a little more than eight years ago. Suddenly finding a few bottles listed by a merchant in the UK I decided I would revisit it; what I expected was the 2002, but what arrived was the 2003. For once (bearing in mind that the 2003 vintage was an excellent one for the Douro, and a widely declared Port vintage), this was a substitution that didn’t bother me.

The last time I encountered a 2003 Port it was, if I recall correctly, when the wines were originally released, and I was generally impressed by the vintage as a whole. As with the rest of Europe the Douro saw an extreme heatwave, with temperatures in June nudging a Saharan 48ºC in some parts, and it would not have been surprising if many vines had shut down completely in the extreme heat. As it happens though, the preceding wet winter meant the vines were able to access a deep reservoir of groundwater, and so were relatively protected from hydric stress. In the end the harvest was an early one, and the wines that resulted were rich in colour and tannin, but were not necessarily brimming with freshening acidity. Even so many houses declared, and my early tastes were enough to convince me of the quality of the vintage.

Warre's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003

Why is this, in my opinion, one of the very best examples of the Late Bottled Vintage style? The reason becomes clear if we consider Port in two broad categories, wood-aged and bottle-aged. The former remain in large vats, which are traditionally wooden but these days may also be cement or even stainless steel, and when their time is up they are filtered and bottled; they will not need decanting, and can broadly be considered as ready to drink from that point. This category includes white, pink, ruby, tawny and colheita Ports, as well as the majority of the late bottled vintage wines. Meanwhile, bottle-matured Ports are bottled young, without filtering, and they generally need time in bottle to mature and soften, throwing a sediment as they do so, and they need decanting. This category includes crusted, single-quinta and traditional vintage Ports, as we as a handful of late-bottled vintage wines, a style which bridges the two categories.

Usually such wines can be distinguished from wood-aged, filtered counterparts by the use of the terms ‘traditional’ (now a term outlawed by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) or ‘unfiltered’ (the preferred term, as seen above) on the label. Another clue is the cork; a stopper cork (twist out with your hand) for filtered and a driven cork (needing a corkscrew) for unfiltered is the norm. Alternatively you could just commit to memory those houses which produce the unfiltered style, these being Warre’s (obviously), Niepoort, Quinta do Noval and Smith Woodhouse. Taking a look at the 2003 Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port, true to type this is certainly a wine with a significant sediment which benefits from decanting. In the glass it has the deep but characterful hue of black tulip with a vibrant crimson rim, with enticing aromatics reminiscent of sweetly macerated black fruits, in particular blackberry and damson, with a rose-petal lift and also some notes of black-pepper spice. In the mouth it feels pure and sweet, showing a fine fruit-skin and dried-fruit concentration. It has a full, broad, tannic, dark but pure character, and it is not difficult to see how similar the wine is in style to true vintage Port. It has a ripe and rather smoky tannin backbone, although with only moderate acidity, which is perhaps my only criticism of the wine. Delicious as it is, with its fine, peppery structure, and its long, grippy and full finish, the wine doesn’t quite have the freshness and lift I seem to recall from other vintages, and no doubt this is a reflection of the warmth of the vintage. All the same, a cracking wine which gives a taste of the vintage Port style for a fraction of the spend. 17/20 (15/12/14)

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