Welcome to this latest chapter of MWH Wine’s guide to the finest vintage Port shippers. In this blog we turn our attention to that most classical of shippers, Warre.
At MWH Wine, Vintage Port isn’t just our business, it’s our passion. Over the decades we have been fortunate enough to taste thousands of wines from dozens of shippers. We’ve enjoyed everything from cask samples of young glories such as the 1997s through to venerable old wines including the 1963s by way of fabled idiosyncrasies like that rarest of Port gems, Quinta do Noval’s Nacional.
Such a breadth of tasting experience, coupled with more than a little research into these fascinating fortified fine wines, has left us well-placed to answer the one of the most frequently asked questions regarding Port: Which is the best shipper?
While this ultimately this is a question of personal taste – are you seeking power of finesse? Elegance or flamboyance? Immediacy or longevity? – there some producers that have over the years placed themselves above their peers by producing wines that have something extra special about them.
In total these uber producers number around half a dozen or so and their consistent excellence makes them the only true pretenders to the best shipper crown. In this latest MWH Wine blog as to which is the best vintage Port producer, we’ll follow on from posts on Graham, Dow, Taylor’s, Fonseca and Quinta do Noval and turn our attention to one of the region’s most highly regarded shippers, Warre.
Warre Vintage Port: 350 Years In The Making
Like numerous other wine shippers, Warre’s wasn’t founded as a Port shipper, indeed it wasn’t until 1729, over fifty years after its establishment, when the Indian-born William Warre joined the company that it was even called Warre. Warre’s was founded as a general trading company by William Burgoyne and John Jackson. Over time as the business grew, they admitted more and more partners and began focusing on the wines that had grown so popular in the UK. Such was their success that, according to Warre’s own data, by 1791 they were shipping nearly 3,000 ‘pipes’ - a derivative of the Portuguese word ‘pipa’ meaning barrel – which equated to almost 10% of wines shipped that year. Given there were 21 active shippers at the time, Warre was already a major player.
Warre’s have always had a reputation for innovation. In the 18th century they were one of the first companies to build a lodge in Villa Nova de Gaia where their finished wines reside to this day until bottled. In 1998 they developed the world’s first automated ‘lagar’ – the low, concrete vats that are used in the traditional practise of treading grapes under foot. While this method of pressing has been proven to produce finer results than the more efficient autovinifiers, it’s not without its drawbacks. Its labour intensive and takes intensive labour to do it as any visitor to a Port lodge will attest and controlling temperatures can be difficult. Warre’s innovative automated lagars use machines to mimic the pressing process while allowing for effective temperature control. Since 2003 they have been used in the production of their vintage wines and the results have garnered much critical acclaim.
They have also set aside precious land for an experimental vineyard. While much of their production adheres to what one might call modernised tradition, like all truly great producers they are always seeking new ways to take their wines to new heights. Setting aside land like this means they can test verities, rootsocks and vegetative cycles, insights that can then be applied to their mainstream winemaking.
To reprise an analogy we’ve used in some of our other Port blogs, if Warre were a claret it would undoubtedly be Lafite. Whereas Taylor’s is Latour with its immense power, Warre have always aimed for wines that are nuanced, subtle and elegant. While they still boast richness and immense depth of flavour, they also offer real subtlety which makes them wines as much for the mind as the mouth.
That they are clearly obsessional in their pursuit of perfection is evident when you taste their wines. Even at the lower end of the scale they are excellent. If you’re looking for an everyday drinking Port then their ‘Warrior’ is hard to beat and their inventive, modern-style wood port, ‘Otima’ is simply delicious; the 10-year-old carefully balancing fruit and sweetness while the 20-year-old is all nuts, dried berries and marzipan.
Like all the great shippers they offer single quinta versions of their full vintage wine. Warre’s is from Quinta da Cavadinha which is located in the Pinhão Valley. The main vineyard rises to 440m above sea level on extremely steep, terraced slopes. In common with other great single quinta wines, these are increasingly of near-vintage quality but mature a little earlier and reflect the unique characteristics of their terroir.
As to Warre’s vintage Ports, these are often show-stopping wines. In youth they can seem backward, slightly awkward and reserved as they don’t offer the explosive power of some others. With time in bottle – typically a decade or more – they gradually reveal their secrets and offer wines of delicacy and charm which often produce notes of rose petals, blueberries, minerals and damsons. Despite their (relative) lack of power, these are wines that can age for decades and which become more graceful as time passes.
Which Vintages To Go For?
In common with the other contenders to the vintage Port throne, Warre’s unerring approach to quality means that if a vintage is declared then you are assured a spectacular bottle. Given their style there are some vintages that favour them more than others; 1955, 1960, 1966 and 1970 are drinking wonderfully now while other years – notably the legendary 1945 and the delectable 1985 – will probably go on improving forever! In terms of our favourites, we’d have to say:
Warre: Port Royalty
Warre’s make wines like no other shipper. In a world where so many wineries – and even more critics – worship at the altar of power, their dedication to producing these refined, elegant wines that seek to charm rather than overwhelm is welcome. These are wines not to be approached in extreme youth but to be kept and opened on special occasions. They are a rare treat and every Port lover should try to experience these captivating creations.
Like Some Vintage Port Help?
If you are looking for a specific wine then please get in touch by calling Mike on 0118 984 4654 or by emailing MWH Wines here. A recognised authority on these wines, he’ll be happy to advise you on which wine is right for you.