Welcome to this latest chapter of MWH Wines’ guide to the finest vintage Port shipper. In this blog we turn our attention to that most traditional of shippers, Fonseca.
At MWH Wine vintage Port isn’t just our business, it’s also 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 1997 through to venerable old wines including the 1963s by way of fabled idiosyncrasies like that rarest of 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?
Ultimately this is a question of personal taste. That said, of the dozens of shippers and houses there are perhaps only a half a dozen or so whose consistent excellence makes them true contenders for 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 Taylor’s and Quinta do Noval and turn our attention to one of our favourites, Fonseca.
Fonseca: A Little History
Fonseca are Port royalty. While their name may not have the ring of familiarity to more casual Port drinkers as, say, Dow or Taylor’s, its distinctively ornate late bottled vintage wine labels on Bin No. 27 - are instantly recognisable to supermarket and wine merchant’ customers throughout the world.
A relative new kid on the block – the house was founded in 1840 by which time Taylor’s were doubtless already planning their 150th anniversary bottlings – they have managed to carve a niche by offering wines of simply breath-taking quality.
In terms of style the wines share traits with the other greats. The wines have a power and a tannic structure that isn’t a million miles away from Taylor’s. They also have some of the refinement and charm of that other Port luminary, Graham. What really marks them out as unique, however, is their wines combination of opulence and their ability to retain that level of youthful exuberance right the way through their, often long, lives. I remember my first encounter with them when, at a tasting in London in 1993, I tried the 1966 from magnum. To this day I can recall the deep colour, the ripe sweetness and the extraordinary freshness.
The other noteworthy trait of this shipper is their quite remarkable levels of consistency. As we noted in our Taylor’s Port blog, the industry as a whole is quite fanatical about quality. In years gone by the balance between supply and demand was a delicate one – especially for the best wines – so producers had to take extraordinary care to ensure a viable business.
While those troubled times are now in the past, their legacy remains and at Fonseca they have elevated the pursuit of quality to a whole new level. Nothing but the best is good enough. In the wine world this is an oft-used mantra, but here it is a truth that shines through their wines. We suspect that having members of the founding family still involved in the business helps here.
‘Green’ used to be a term of criticism when it came to wine. Suggesting under ripeness it was something that you wouldn’t want to see in tasting notes. Since the turn of the millennium though the term has taken on a quite different meaning, of course, and sustainability and environmental sensitivity are of increasing importance for winemakers around the globe.
In Fonseca’s case, this has manifested itself in a real push for environmentally-friendly viticulture. They were the first house to offer a wholly organic Port and respect for the planet influences all their wines. Such a drive for green wines is made somewhat easier by the fact that its vintage wines – in common with Taylor’s – are based on their own three estates. Cruzeiro, Panascal and Santo António are the heart of the distinctive character of Fonseca's vintage Ports and are key to that fabled consistency.
Which Vintages To Go For?
Given their legendary consistency and commitment to producing nothing but the best, picking a great vintage of Fonseca is easy: If it has the word ‘Fonseca’ embossed in the capsule and a vintage statement, then you’re good to go. There are, of course, vintages in which Mother Nature was more generous and these have produced wines that, even by their standards, are exceptional. These, in no particular order, include:
In common with most shippers, Fonsceca craft a single quinta wine, the Guimaraens. As you might expect this is exceptionally good. While many would argue – and with good cause – that Taylor’s Quinta do Vargellas wears the single quinta crown, we’d have to state the case for Guimaraens. Their exuberance, longevity and depth is just a delight and this wine can run many a lesser shipper’s vintage wines close in terms of quality while the prices are extremely keen.
Fonseca: A One-Off
Foneca’s wines often put me in mind of Krug. Not in terms of taste – vintage Port and vintage Champagne have subtle differences as you may know – but there are parallels. Both were relative latecomers – Krug was founded in 1843 – both are quality-obsessed, both produce wines of extraordinary exuberance and weight and both can age forever. Like Krug they are not wines for the faint of heart; they are bold, dramatic wines that have a style that is uncompromisingly all their own, yet uncompromisingly brilliant. Fonseca therefore deserve their claim to the vintage Port crown.
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.