The Successful Collector; 2011 Vintage Port and Classics Collection

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

For this month’s column, I am delighted to provide unmatched coverage of the widely declared 2011 vintage ports. At 8:30 a.m. on 1 November 2013, Ontario’s LCBO (Vintages) rolled out the proverbial red carpet for these stunning fortifieds, via telephone ordering (1-800-266-4764). See vintages.com for further details.

So what of this fabulous vintage? Perhaps its most admirable feature is the unusual combination of finesse and breed of the wines, particularly in the face of abundant ripeness and extract. Indeed these are elegant, richly endowed ports capable of aging for up to a century. Just as important, most are remarkably approachable now, a common theme for many recently declared vintages. My notes on the ‘09s and ‘07s will attest to this thoroughly.

But today the 2011s are our focus, and those fortunate enough to lay their hands on them are in for one spellbinding treat. With this mind, the selection of a port house (example Warre’s) is a very personal affair, much akin to champagne or scotch preferences. My own recommendations from 2011 very much mimic this, though there is almost certainly something matching everyone’s taste. Taking this into account, below are a lucky seven set of selections.

First, for those who need a little background on port, check out my WineAlign column published last spring that comprised a full-length piece on the unparalleled supremacy of vintage port.

The Magnificent Seven; 2011 Vintage Ports:

Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port ($90.00) is as close to perfection as the genre of vintage port gets. Examined with unobstructed enthusiasm, the depth and pedigree of this wine is remarkable and may be enjoyed now (after a thorough decanting) or saved for one’s grandchildren. Along with Warre’s and Smith Woodhouse, this is my top choice of the vintage.

Smith Woodhouse 2011 Vintage Port ($65.00) is my top recommendation when taking into account the reciprocal nature of value and price. Perennially underrated year after year, port lovers should always be on the lookout for wines from this house, though the ’11 is definitely the best vintage yet. Decanting is mandatory.

Warre’s 2011 Vintage Port ($80.00) is one of several wines flirting with perfection and may be rightly considered a legend in the making. From one of the most lauded port houses of them all, a wine like this is practically ageless. More tannic than many of its peers (especially at this toddler-stage of development), decanting is beyond compulsory.

Taylor Fladgate 2011 Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port ($250.00) merits a perfect score in my humble opinion (though the ‘regular’ 2011 Taylor Fladgate is almost as good). Considerably more expensive than its peers, this hails from one of the most esteemed vineyards on the planet. Decanting must be carried out.

Fonseca 2011 Vintage Port ($130.00) is a near-perfect gem. Along with Taylor Fladgate and Croft (to name but a few), this is priced higher than the bulk of its peers, which may seem strange when considering the quality of wines likes Dow’s and Warre’s. If it helps, the ’11 Fonseca is easily one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted from this house. Decanting is essential.

Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port ($95.00) is an absolute darling of a wine. As any port lover will tell you, the style of this house is generally sweeter than many others (I tend to prefer the greater solidity of Warre’s or Dow’s). But quality is irrefutably the same, and the 2011 Graham’s is probably the most youthfully approachable of its graduating class. Decanting is obligatory.

Cockburn’s 2011 Vintage Port ($80.00) is unquestionably the greatest wine this house has ever produced. This is no mean achievement, especially considering how long the place has underperformed (though the new owners are quickly making amends). My honest opinion: if you have a little money left in the kitty, buy Cockburn’s! Decanting is critical.

VINTAGES Classics Collection:

For those unfamiliar with the VINTAGES Classics Collection, every four months the LCBO releases a catalogue of super-premium wines for consumers to purchase. The choices are oftentimes mesmerizing, from top-end Bordeaux and Burgundy (not to mention Rhône and Champagne) to some of the best wines of Italy, Spain, California, Australia, and everything else in between. The price range is vast, though the least expensive wines usually begin at around $35.00 and may represent some of the best values on offer. For the most part, however, wines worth purchasing typically range from $45-$300 and beyond.

VINTAGES Classics Collection Oct 2013The ordering process is simple enough: visit the VINTAGES website and click on the “Classics” link to view the entire collection. Once you’ve made your choices, you have the option of telephoning the LCBO and placing your order, or you can create a VSO account and order your wines online. The latter method (usually made available several weeks before telephone ordering) is strongly recommended for wines that sell out quickly.

Unfortunately, wines from the Classic Collection are not available for tasting in the LCBO lab, which means us WineAlign commentators must seek them out elsewhere. For the most part, the limited number of wines we manage to taste are poured at private events, usually organized by Ontario’s many wine agencies. For my part, I usually wind up tasting around a quarter of all wines by the time any given Classics Collection is released, rising to around 50% or more a year or two later.

But what does is matter? For those who prefer the much more tangible process of physically viewing/handling the wines and placing them in a shopping cart, any wines gone unsold will wind up on LCBO shelves usually two or more months later. Case in point: the October 2013 Classics Collection. Though ordering began on the first day of the month (or last month if you prefer), many of the wines will likely appear in LCBO stores (in the Vintages section) by early-December. Plenty of choices before the Christmas rush!

Here are a few selections from the October 2013 Classics catalogue:

Whites: 

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 2010 Vieilles Vignes Riesling ($89.00) hails from the esteemed Grand Cru vineyard of Brand and is an absolutely marvellous specimen. Befitting the style of the estate, the level of concentration and finesse of this wine is superlative. Decanting is not really necessary, though it may help to bring out secondary aromas and flavours.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2009 Pessac-Léognan ($154.85) can go head-to-head with the best of white burgundy any day. Over the past ten years, premium white Bordeaux has soared in quality, and the wines of this particular state are consistently among the most prized of Pessac-Léognan (home to most of Bordeaux’s greatest white wines). Decanting isn’t exactly mandatory, though it ought to help ‘awaken’ the wine.

Reds:

Château Langoa Barton 2009 St-Julien ($99.85) is one of the best vintages ever produced at this perennially underrated estate. Admittedly costly, the good news is that it hails from a vintage with remarkable approachability, though a beauty like this will easily keep at least two decades. A perfect gift for the serious claret lover (or WineAlign columnist). Decanting is compulsory.

Groth 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($123.00) comes from one of the cooler vintages of the Napa Valley in recent years—with superlative results. Though the price is high, a wine like this will provide immediate pleasure for enthusiasts of concentrated, full-bottled bottles. It will easily keep for the next fifteen years or more. Decanting is highly recommended.

Errázuriz 2009 Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve ($80.00) is one of the most premium wines crafted at this enormous estate. Crafted with long-term cellaring in mind, to drink this now would be a deprivation of enhanced complexity and personal pleasure. But if you must (for it is a truly outstanding wine), a rigorous decanting might very well go a long way.

Domaine Faiveley 2010 Premier Cru Les Porêts St-Georges ($88.00) is by no means cheap but is certainly a remarkable red burgundy. From one of the finest vineyards in the commune of Nuits-St-Georges, this is grown entirely from estate-owned grapes and may be kept in the cellar for ten years or more. Decanting is ill-advised so as to preserve aromatics.

Tedeschi 2007 Monte Olmi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($69.00) is just about at the top of its class. Logging in at a mammoth 16% alcohol, this is the type of Amarone that simply begs a hearty meal, otherwise even a single glass may cause one to stumble. Decanting is highly advisable.

Château Lafon-Rochet 2009 St-Estèphe ($82.85) has actually already been released several times by the LCBO (Vintages) and is an incredible claret. From one of the greatest vintages ever recorded, this beauty will last at least until the end of the next decade. Decanting ought to be undertaken to enjoy this fabulous St-Estèphe to its fullest.

Domaine Bouchard & Fils 2010 Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus Premier Cru ($119.00) delivers both extraordinary pleasure and aging potential. Sourced from a specific parcel within the esteemed Grèves vineyard in the commune of Beaune, the ’10 has a very long life ahead of it but may be enjoyed now. Just be sure to serve in the correct glasses and at the correct temperature. Decanting is arguably unnecessary.

Desserts:

Château Climens 2009 Barsac ($194.95) is also sold in a half-bottle format and comes from one of the greatest dessert wine producers in France. Usually served after a meal, one would be well-advised to pair such a wine with the most decadent, most chocolate-packed ice cream available for sale to the general public. Decanting isn’t warranted.

Cheers,

Julian

Editors Note: You can find Julian Hitner’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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