Why is the 2009 Vintage special?
In a sense, all Vintage Port declarations are special as they only occur when the vintage is deemed to be of exceptional quality.
The top Port Houses, such as Croft, Fonseca or Taylor, will not declare a year unless they are convinced of the wine’s quality and capacity to age. Also, because of the effect of climate on the vineyards and on each of the many individual grape varieties used to make Port, no two years produce Vintage Ports which are exactly alike. Although it is possible to identify common characteristics in the wines of different declared years – such as similarities in depth, weight or structure – these comparisons are not always very useful.
2009 will be remembered in the Douro Valley as a year of very low yields.
The viticultural year started early, with the first buds appearing within the first days of March. The young shoots were vigorous and the vines produced very healthy leaf canopies. However, from the outset, the amount of fruit borne by all varieties was well below average. The appearance of colour in the grapes (véraison) also occurred earlier than usual. The ripening season started in relatively cool conditions which lasted for most of July but in August the weather turned hot. Almost no rain fell during the summer and the dry conditions continued right up to harvest time in September. The combination of the arid conditions and the small amount of fruit meant that yields were low. The must (grape juice) was deeply coloured, with high levels of tannin and sugar.
As a result 2009 has produced wines of massive scale and density, with tannin levels and an intensity of colour that has not been seen for at least two decades. Mario Araújo, an experienced taster and blender who has worked in the Fonseca tasting room for fifty years, describes the ‘09s as among the most impressive that he can remember. However, in spite of their inky colour and thick muscular tannins, the 2009’s also display a magnificent quality of fruit, crisp acidity and a magical complexity.
In many ways these powerful inky wines represent a return to the vigour and stamina of the iconic vintages of the early 20th century. Although, like all vintage ports they will deliver immense pleasure when drunk young, they are wines built for the long haul. Anyone born in 2009 may count themselves very lucky if some Vintage Port from their birth year is laid down for them as this is a wine that will last for decades.
On a side note, the 2009 vintage does enjoy one unusual distinction. It happens to be the first year ending in a 9 to be declared by Taylor, Fonseca or Croft since the 19th century.