2011 sparked a flurry of renewed interest in port as this truly great vintage grabbed headlines in the wine press. While vintages and colheitas get the attention of the press, there is a great need to speak of other port styles. Ruby and Ruby Reserve ports are the beginning of a consumers’ port journey. The best have profound weight/ fruit /structure i.e. they should not just be sweet but the sweetness should be balanced with acidity and tannin and a very clean finish. Packaging and presentation are important in this starter category e.g. Niepoort Ruby Dum and Junior, Noval Black, 6 Grapes all attempt to do something more interesting or eyecatching with packaging. Purists might not like it but ruby port is a contender in the cocktail scene.
At this time of year consumers often ask whether LBV is better than Ruby? An LBV will typically have more fruit concentration and a finer structure. It is worth remembering the origins of the LBV category. Commercially developed in the 1970s by Adrian Robinson at Taylors it filled a market need to offer wines from a single vintage that could be drunk earlier and unlike vintage port may not need to be decanted, a critical selling point for the restaurant trade. Half of all LBV production goes to the UK and a quarter to Canada. As such it is appreciated by some markets more than others. Arguably LBV has the best price/quality ratio of all ports.
Tawnies are also appreciated in some markets more than others; France, Asia, USA are key. From an economic point of view tawnies pose greater challenges for port producers as they must hold stocks of older vintages for blending and lose up to 2% each year through evaporation and rackings. Costly to maintain (casks can be over 100 years old) and expensive to make, they are nevertheless a critical part of the future of port. They offer an alternative style, lighter in colour and different in taste to bottle aged ports. There is potential for growth from a small base, 10 year old tawny represents just 3.5% of all port sales. 20 year old tawnies and colheitas (vintage dated) are up to twice the price of 10 year olds but have added complexity and intensity. 40 year old tawny can be stunning, refined, smoky and volatile with a richness that surpasses all other tawnies. Niepoort is renowned for its tawnies and while we have sold out of current stocks of 20 year old we have five Niepoort tawnies at several quality levels Tawny Dee, Senior, 10 year old, Colheita 1999 and Colheita 2005. Apropos of tawny my favourite quote is from PG Woodhouse the World of Blandings on Bleach the Butler “his voice like tawny port made audible”.
The question has been raised whether the port industry are making Vintage port to be drunk younger. It is so much more accessible now in youth than ever before. Indeed Sandeman marketed a vintage port Vau Vintage that deliberately required you drink it young. The longevity of great Vintage port is not in doubt. The reasons given for earlier drinkability include ; access to better spirit for fortification since 1992, viticultural improvements and understanding of the potential of different varieties, better control of temperature and new technology in the wineries. We have several vintages of port including Niepoort 1982, 1987, 2000, 2003, 2005, Fonseca 2003 and Croft 2003.
Technically port should have a marketing advantage. There is a defined consumption moment that consumers understand. However there is a need to simplify the message, pull corks on bottles and engage with consumers. With so much choice there is surely a port for everyone.