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2003 Port: a modern' classic

Published:  23 July, 2008

Three leading Port shippers came together at Chandos House in London on 3 May to present the recently declared 2003 vintage.

The three speakers - Adrian Bridge of The Fladgate Partnership, Christian Seely of Quinta do Noval and Paul Symington of The Symington Family Port Companies - avoided the best of the old and best of the new' cliche, but the message was of modern companies producing modern wines - some of the most exciting in the world' - from a new vintage and for a new market, but without sacrificing traditional values.

The fact that the event, organised by Spear Communications, took place at all, was proof positive of mature, strategic thinking. The two leading British firms compete fiercely at the top end of the market, which they dominate (even though, as Symington emphasised, they and the other British players represent less than 30% of the trade). But they are clearly capable of seeing beyond their rivalry and uniting in the interest of the category. Seely, insisting that this was not just another vintage declaration', thanked the two grown-ups' for having included Axa-renovated Noval.

Anxious to dispel any lingering image of the Douro as stuck in a time warp', Symington protested that if it were, it wouldn't have survived. There has been more change in the last 20 years than in the past 200. Where else in the world can you find robotic treading - as advanced as anything at Davis or Roseworthy - alongside foot-treading in lagares which has been going on for thousands of years?'

Symington avowed: We're not making the wines in a different way, to drink young - we're making better wines which will age fabulously too.' At the same time, he and Seely both stressed that the wines were, in the latter's words, thrilling to drink young'. Seely said that the huge sensation' of Port was appreciated especially by new consumers who are not bound by traditional rules and want to have their minds blown away.'

The rich, ripe style of the 2003 vintage, described by Symington as among the best of recent decades, with complexity, concentration and elegance', is certainly conducive to the pulling of corks' that he urged. The climatic conditions that had given rise to such seductive wines were reviewed by Bridge - a wet winter, dry flowering, long, hot (but not exceptionally hot) summer, and dry harvest. Singling out the Croft, made exclusively from Quinta do Roda fruit for the first time since the great 1963, he explained: The exciting thing for us is to show the range of the 2003s, and the individual house styles'. The impressive quality, but varying styles, not only of the Croft and Delaforce, but also of the Fonseca and Taylor, Dow and Graham, Warre and Vesuvio, Noval and Nacional, amply demonstrated the conviction of all three speakers that these are indeed among the most exciting wines in the world.