1999 Vintage Port

The highly irregular 1999 growing season in Portugal Douro Valley began with a very dry May and June that resulted in near-drought conditions in the vineyards through the end of an unusually hot July. The flowering took place under excellent weather conditions, setting the stage for a larger-than-normal crop. August, September and October were then cooler and rainier than usual. The first rains of August were largely positive, helping to jumpstart the ripening process. But significant precipitation during the latter halves of both September and October triggered major outbreaks of rot. Harvesting times and elimination of affected fruit were crucial to making sound wines.

As a rule, the fruit in 1999 lacked the structure and grip to make outstanding vintage port. So, while the vintage was declared by a number of houses (more than in 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1998), several of the top producers, including such superstars as Taylor, Graham and Fonseca, did not declare in 1999. Virtually all of the top houses have declared their millennial 2000 vintage, which they believe is higher in quality; despite the fact that the port market is currently quiet, the year 2000 on the label should enable producers to charge a price premium for the vintage.) And many port shippers that did declare the 1999, such as Quinta do Noval, issued vintage ports under their second labels or released only single-quinta bottlings, which are made the same way as classic vintage ports but come from single favored vineyard holdings (classic vintage ports are typically blends from the house best vineyards).

The so-so 1999 crop of vintage Ports demonstrates clearly what separates the best years in the Douro region from the rest: in the greatest vintages, vintage Port has the intensity and backbone to require and repay long aging in bottle, while in the lesser years most wines show far less flavor authority and grip. On the other hand, the relatively easygoing 1999 vintage has produced a number of wines that offer good value in today market, and for wine consumers in a hurry these ports offer the added advantage of earlier accessibility.

In addition to the recommended wines noted on the following pages, I also tasted the following 1999 vintage ports (any denoted with an asterisk merited 83 or 84 points):
Quinta do Castelinho* (Castelinho-Vinhos SA), Hutcheson (Hutcheson, Feuerheerd & A.V. SA.),Casa de Sta. Eufemia (Jose Viseu Carvalho & Filhos Lda.), Quinta da Sta. Barbara (Manoel D. Pocas Junior), Martinez (Martinez Gassiot & Co.) Quinta de la Rosa (Quinta de la Rosa-Vinhos do Porto, Lda.), and Santa Eufemia and Quinta dos Eirados (both from Soc. Vitiv. Quinta Sta. Eufemia).