Colheitas: The Greatest Ports We Don’t Talk Much About

This long article was originally published in 2013. It is republished here with only minor changes and without new tasting notes.

Here is my thesis, the key reason for this article: Colheitas are too often underrated and undervalued (perhaps more so in the USA than in other places like, say, Portugal itself), whereas I believe that the great Colheitas are fully the equal of the great vintage Ports, whose reputation typically overshadows them.  Colheitas deserve more attention. Sometimes it seems like they get almost none here.

What’s a Colheita? To some extent, that’s a trick question. Colheita is simply Portuguese for harvest, or more colloquially, vintage. It is often used by producers in reference to their regular (usually, non-reserve) table wines, too. I see and hear that usage all the time. But ask a sommelier in Lisboa for a Colheita and they won’t think you mean a table wine. You’ll get Port—and in the Port context, a Colheita is simply a tawny with a vintage date, aged in cask for a minimum of 7 years. If that’s the simple answer, it is hardly a complete one.

Long (sometimes VERY long) barrel aging gives them a special character. Let’s put it this way—a table wine may seem long in cask if aged there for 24 months. The young, usually inexpensive Colheitas must be there at least 7 years. Still others might be there for 50 years, and so on. There is not much like pulling the cork on an old tawny, especially it seems to me a recently bottled one, and getting that first, thrilling, powerfully aromatic rush on the nose. I find myself smelling the emptied glass of the better ones from several feet away as I enter a room. They are also typically versatile and hold well, both before and after opening. Using the word "delicious" in tasting notes to refer to these wines often seems redundant. When aren't they? But they also have the acidity to balance the concentrated fruit and they acquire complexity as they age. They are something other than just sweet and sexy. With that combination of wonderful flavors, rich aromatics, fine acidity and long, deliciously sweet finishes that sometimes seem endless, tawny ports are increasingly my favorites and Colheitas my favorites of the tawnies.

Yet, it seems to me that many consumers happily grant more enthusiastic accolades to great vintage Port while a great tawny (the generic category to which Colheitas belong) gets, in effect, “very nice” and less enthusiasm.  The Colheitas are not, of course, typical tawnies—not that there is anything wrong with typical tawnies--but most certainly they are not merely the weak step sisters of vintage Port, either. 

I sometimes think that they are underappreciated because tawnies are largely non-vintage wines. That “NV” tag robs tawnies of some cachet and distinctiveness. On a certain level, there isn’t much excitement in chasing after a non-vintage wine that is released regularly and intended to be more or less the same each time. The Colheita, of course, is the tawny that specifically addresses that issue (if indeed it is an issue). They are not only different from year to year—but sometimes from bottling to bottling (as explained below in the section on bottling dates).You can say they are "just" tawnies with a vintage indication, but that only begins the story. The great Colheitas are typically to me the best of the tawnies, special and distinctive.

To be sure, there are exceptions to everything. There are most certainly run of the mill Colheitas and great non-vintage, age-indicated tawnies (like a 40 Year Old). A vintage indicator is hardly a guarantee of quality. That’s life in the wine world. Indeed, I recently tasted at Quinta do Noval some newly bottled (June, 2012) and quite fine NV 10, 20 and 40 year old tawnies for comparison and they seemed quite worthy of Colheita cachet in general terms. But many regular tawnies aren’t. Many producers intend to make a statement more with their Colheitas than their age-indicated tawnies. More importantly, age-indicated tawnies have less individuality than Colheitas. The goal in a NV blend is consistency in style and quality, which has its pros and cons depending on whether you are a “glass half full” or “half empty” type.

All that said, it is a mistake to treat top Colheitas as just another tawny port. Cristiano van Zeller (now the owner of Quinta Vale d. Maria, CV and other table wines, his family once owned Quinta do Noval), agreed, telling me that these are typically from the best juice the winery has, comparable to vintage port with enough distinctive character to be distinguished by a vintage. You can certainly see that from the tasting notes here. Vintages affect style within a house’s lineup.

There is one fly in the ointment. Isn’t there always? Perhaps this is the key reason we don’t see as much talk about the great Colheitas. While vintage Ports can be reasonably priced and are often great bargains--but you are expected to cellar them for decades--the Colheitas are aged for you by the winery and as a result they sometimes come with hefty price tags when long aged, putting the magnificent older ones largely out of the reach of most consumers. I am among the first to rant these days about absurd pricing on new release table wine trophies, but in fairness it is a little different when wines are held and aged by the winery for you and then late released by, oh, 45 years or so. As time goes on those vintages are also increasingly rare as well. When they’re gone, they are gone.

Considering how many young Colheitas are released, one wonders even more about remaining stocks of older ones as time goes on. Rupert Symington said to me that was not the problem per se, but there were indeed problems leading to scarcity: “What I think may be a disincentive to hold a lot of stock is the bureaucracy of maintain[ing] the registration of older Colheitas and getting samples approved which is difficult and wasteful in terms of wine…[T]his has led us to declassify a lot of Colheitas. Also shipping rights are tied up for years making it difficult to be efficient in the rotation of younger wines. There’s another factor…looking after the barrels over a long period, which is getting to be costly and even more so when talking about lots of three or four barrels only which can’t be topped up with equivalent wine. I think we are the last shipper to have its own team of specialist coopers. I have no idea what others do to make sure their barrels don’t warp or leak.” So, take it as a given that older Colheitas will most certainly not be inexpensive wines.  Keep in mind, though, that prices listed here are merely “suggested” retail prices given to me by importers. They can often be pure fictions and far less on a shelf. The suggested retail price (“SRP”) on the 1961 Krohn, for instance, is $200. But I’ve seen it for $125.00 or so.

I tried also to include affordable values for this article, not just magnificent beasts to admire from afar with a wistful glance. To be sure, they tend to be the younger ones. As they get older, the values certainly become hard to find and price tags can soar, but that still leaves some lovely and affordable young-ish ones (e.g., 1995 Noval, 1994 Smith Woodhouse, 1997 Warre’s, 2001 Niepoort, 1994 Portal, 1994 Poças, to name just a few quick examples). Every now and then there is a value that begins to get somewhat older as well, like the ’87 Krohn or even the ’77 Royal Oporto, but without question as they get older the prices usually start to climb, especially for the heralded wines, sometimes becoming rather scary. The good news, if you are one of them, is that some people prefer them on the younger side anyway—substituting an easier, lighter, fresher (and often) sweeter presentation for the changes and complexity that come with long barrel aging.

While I love the younger ones, too, I don’t really think it is much of a contest most of the time, granting exceptions to every rule. There are certainly no “automatics” in wine. There can well be mid-80s wines that I will prefer over wines 15 or 20 years older and so on. Try some of the better younger tawnies from top producers and you’ll think they are pretty fine, perfect examples of why you (and I) cannot justify focusing solely on the older ones. As with all wines, there are overachievers and underachievers, vintage differences and style differences. That said, my scores do tend to rise with age. That is neither an accident, nor snob appeal nor affectation.

The long aged Colheitas are the pinnacle of the category to me. The Niepoort house, one of those particularly regarded for its Colheitas, notes some conventional wisdom even in its routine brochures, namely, that wines can gain “in concentration from long aging in small old oak casks (550L).” I think they also are aromatically more complex and interesting, frequently with the most amazingly powerful and lingering finishes, too—some of the very, very best in the wine world. 

The best Colheitas maintain balance and surprising freshness (it is often simply amazing how fresh some of the really old ones can be, relatively speaking, of course), yet they have solidity in the mid-palate and powerful aromatics. That’s what the maximum expression of the category is all about to me.

[2018 addition to article] Freshness is a relative thing with very old tawnies. In my 2018 Wine Advocate article on 30 Year Old Tawnies, former Ramos Pinto Managing Director João Nicolau de Almeida said that the 10 has as its "dominant flavors" some "red fruit flavors and some dry fruit flavors," while the 20 has dry fruit flavors, with some notes of red fruit flavors. Then, the "30 years old changes again and goes to another world. No more influence of red fruit and few dry fruits. But  the big difference is the esterification of the alcohols and the old Port wood influence ... if I could say, more to the Cognac side. Then the 40 ... gives more or less the same type of wine of the 30." 

As they keep getting old, don't expect "fresh" to mean "fruity." But there is a very real difference between "mature" and "cracked up."  I don't want the old ones to taste young--that's very much not the point--and I like complexity most of all. But the combination of vigor, complexity and concentration is special when it all works out, making the older ones pretty special. [End of 2018 addition to article] My scores will reflect that—although, again, not in any “automatic” fashion. Your mileage may differ. But try a ’34 Niepoort next to a 1999. These are not even the same species.

Sometimes, in fact, I think it would be best to just judge each type for what they are rather than putting them all on the same scale and judging them in the same relative universe, which tends inevitably to depreciate some very fine younger ones. They have their own virtues—just different ones, many young ones often seeming like “luncheon Colheitas,” to borrow an old British phrase that was used for Claret to signify a relatively understated wine that was fine for a casual lunch but did not represent the pinnacle of the category. In other words, it is something to drink, not to obsess over. While somewhat of a pejorative, that’s exactly what you want sometimes and it’s really not an insult at all. It is just a different type of wine. In their own contexts, in short, they can often be terrific. Plus, many achieve far more than that, too. It’s a shame to compare them to the greats, in other words, but if judged only on their own merits—where could you possibly draw the line? Few things in wine are black and white. Every problem solved creates another sometimes.

To be sure, a little relativity almost invariably creeps in for the best of the best young ones, even if subconsciously. It is hard to avoid entirely and perhaps not such a bad thing since the heightened appreciation is closer to what might happen with a single wine as tasted in a real world context. In fact, I’d bet it would, considering how dramatic these younger wines can be in their own right.  

Additionally, the group of wines reviewed here certainly wouldn’t be best tasted in one sitting (given the sugar and the alcohol, for example) even if I didn’t want to try also to resample each over several days, which I very much wanted to do and mostly had the chance to do. As a result, for better or worse, the notes were collected from various days of tastings, not one big afternoon. Perhaps sometimes that allowed a few great youngsters to get a little extra credit by being closer together. Maybe that is a good thing, too, another slight echo of the real world.

Still, deliberately setting up a system for relativity would create its own set of problems. If it is not fair to compare a 10 year old to a 50 year old, is it fair to compare a 10 to a 20? What about a 13 to 17—which happens with Colheitas? Nothing is simple. That’s life. Call those philosophical ruminations for a later day. In short, this is a long winded way of saying---read the notes, not just the scores. Don’t think that an 89 point youngster is useless. It is most certainly not. Some are quite wonderful and more typically well priced. An 89 point score for a 1961 may send a different message, to be sure, at least relating to the price.

Wines this different and this remarkable inevitably come with lots of features, issues and debates. My take on them is set out below.

I. Temperature
I put this first, because it’s important. Drink them a bit on the cooler side. Despite the classic imagery of sipping Port on a “cold winter afternoon next to an open fireplace,” this from Niepoort’s brochures, I tend to like them around high cellar temperature, say, around 60F or so. Some drink better around 65. Some around the upper 50s.  But to me, they need a little feeling of coolness at least. Warm room temperature is a mistake. Similarly, Poças recommends 61-64F and Royal Oporto (Real Companhia Velha) routinely mentions drinking them from 59-64, roughly. I saw those recommendations after I wrote mine, by the way. The reality is that these are often powerful wines with a ton of acidity and alcohol (they’re Port! Assume, give or take, 20%) and everything else. Drink them warm and you may find some of them harsh and far less appealing. Do you want brandy or Port? This can be really important and it’s even more important I find for the older ones. Obviously—and this cannot be repeated often enough—not every wine is the same. Still, try a tawny that’s been 50 years in barrel. Experiment at 74F and then at 63F. I tend to pull them out of the cellar (around 55F) and let them evolve in the glass. Make your own decision and see what I mean.

II. Bottling Dates  
This is really important. Most wines are not quite like this! They sit in barrel for long periods, the winery gets an order and then the winery makes a new bottling. Imagine the fuss if pricey table wines like Château Latour were made like this. Symington Family, for instance, recently released a 1969 Graham’s (reviewed here). Rupert Symington told me that only about half of it was bottled at this time, the rest to be bottled when needed later. At Noval, Rute Monteiro similarly advised that many of the Colheitas are bottled on demand, with new tranches released when ordered. 

Long cask age tends to be prized–at the least, it is quite significant--and the prices reflect it. What happens after bottling is relevant (as discussed below, section III), but it tends to be less important, especially considering that these wines are not often held for very long. So, pay close attention to the bottling date (usually on the back label, sometimes in really, really tiny print; but sometimes on the front, as with Niepoorts) as it is just as important, if not more so, than the vintage date. Things may age differently in barrel, but a tasting note on a 1964 as bottled in 1993 (whether tasted today or then) may be quite different than one for a 1964 as bottled in 2012, for better or worse. I have indicated the bottling date on the tasting notes.

III. Bottle Aging 
I said that it is important to pay attention to the bottling dates to judge how long a wine was in BARREL. It is also important to ascertain how long it was in BOTTLE. Colheitas are designed to be drunk on release—a radically different context than vintage Port, obviously. They need not be aged in bottle. But can they be?  Sure. They essentially last indefinitely in bottle, van Zeller indicated to me, which is certainly my own experience. When they do fade, as Pedro Silva Reis of Real Companhia Velha pointed out, it is very slowly. They may not quite be immortal, but they hold without much problem if well made—for decades, in my experience. Hence, I have omitted drinking windows on these wines. Simply assume that, unless otherwise stated, they are ready to drink on release and will hold indefinitely. One caveat, however, as Reis candidly pointed out, is the type of closure. Some "bar top" corks, he said, meaning those corks attached to a top that just pull out without a corkscrew, are not as reliable and thus the wines may not hold as well in the bottle. Where the wines referenced in this article have only bar tops, I have accordingly indicated that.

A more interesting but related issue is whether they develop with age after bottling. Conventional wisdom is that they are ready to drink on release and pretty much go nowhere. Many disagree with that last, including me. For example, winemaker Jorge Moreira (of La Rosa, Real Companhia Velha and Poeira) thinks they can improve. He told me that he likes them as they become reductive under cork over time. I don’t frankly understand why this is even an issue. Of course, they can change. I personally find them most thrilling when a newly bottled one is first opened (a condition likely to influence scores—see my comments on the Niepoort ‘78), but certainly I often see evidence of them changing both under cork and after opening. I do often wonder whether, when insanely excited by a newly bottled, quite exuberant and just opened tawny, I will still feel the same way if I re-encounter the exact same bottling after that “first rush,” that is, after aging it in the cellar for 7 years or whatever, for example. It’s a good question to which there is no perfect answer. Partly, as noted, it simply depends on your personal preferences. Partly, it depends on the wine, how powerful and dense it is. Mostly, it is basically just another variation of the type of question we ask about table wines as they sit in the cellar. It just happens more slowly with tawnies. I like all the incarnations, from the harmonious to the decadent.

Most of the wines here are relatively recent in terms of bottling dates, but the Niepoort lineup in particular presents a number of wines that have been in bottle a long time—like the brilliant 1934, bottled in 1981. That long bottle age seemed to have little effect at all with that wine, although I will grant that I did not taste it in 1981. To be sure, few are that dense and powerful. Time in bottle may have had some effect by contrast with the wine’s modest evolution after the opening of Niepoort’s understated 1978, bottled in 1999.

Christian Seely of Noval summed it all up: "I think they go on for a long time in bottle, and can improve, but slowly. Sometimes people say "they don't develop in bottle" which I think is not true. However, it is true to say that when we bottle them they are ready to drink, and the idea is not that people should lay them down afterwards. If they do, however, they are likely to find that they are on a long slow rising plateau of improvement. For this reason we bottle our Colheitas with a long cork at Noval, so that if anyone wants to keep a bottle they can."

In short, these are not wines that need cellaring after bottling, but they hold just fine. In other words, there is little so versatile in the wine world. Drink them when you will.

IV. How fast do they have to be consumed after opening? 
After opening, they have the versatility to hold a long while, too. Most advise drinking within a few weeks to a month or so—noting again, of course, that these wines are not from a cookie cutter and some are denser and/or better than others. How long they were in bottle may also affect the answer, just as with table wines. In general, though, they hold well. I went away on vacation once and forgot one (left in the fridge—cold helps preserve). It was a bit different, but still fine some 6 weeks later when finally finished. Usually, they don't last that long, no doubt a serious impediment to my scientific research.  More recently I dragged an old one (40+ years, recently bottled) around for a week or so as a deliberate experiment and there was little change. Once past that magnificent rush of aromatics on opening, the wine seemed a bit disjointed on Day 2 (and perhaps it was retasted too warm), but then the bottle settled in on Day 3, smoothed out, calmed down on all fronts and happily took all the abuse I could give it for the next week without changing much more. It was no longer quite as thrilling as on opening, but once it settled in I found that it held beautifully and became quite harmonious. Despite the image of them as frozen in time, as discussed earlier, that is a scenario I have seen often. These can and do change. That first impression can sometimes be a bit deceptive, one way or the other. Where possible, I like to reevaluate them over several days and see how they settle in because these are wines that are often used that way. They are not always drunk in one sitting. Sometimes the impression on Day 4 is different. Remember again—not everything is the same or reacts the same.

There have been more interesting and better controlled experiments, though. Rupert Symington told me that his company held a simulation of a restaurant condition where a little is withdrawn periodically after opening and they lasted months without notable deterioration. 

In conclusion, even relatively minor Colheitas are often terrific and tend to be undervalued. I find it churlish to rate some of them with lower scores, but I can only say that I am forced to try to compare them to one another. Everything is relative and everything can't get 97 points. Compared to many other types of wines, they will still show great and be very fine experiences. It is rare to sample so many different types in a short time. Taken alone, they are almost always impressive, perhaps more than some of the scores might lead you to think. This exercise provided some valuable context, which is often missing.

P.S. The occasional photo is just for fun and illustration. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive record.

And now the tasting notes—about time, right?

The Symingtons own this property, of course. They are also represented here with the familiar Warre’s, Smith Woodhouse and Graham’s labels. Importer: Premium Port Wines, San Francisco, Ca.; tel: (415) 554-9920.

1997 Colheita ($35)  Bottled 2010
The 1997 Colheita is a nice value. It is a blend of the best 1997 wines from the estate, the winery says. This shows fine depth and concentration for its young age, although the brandy is a little obvious early on and fights with the chocolate, mingling together and providing intensity of various sorts on the finish. It has subtle power, increasingly becoming not so subtle. Over a few days time, the alcohol occasionally was quite evident on the palate as well, but it is frequently impressive for its age. This and the Symington's Smith Woodhouse flip flopped a bit from the way they showed early. This dried out a bit, becoming bright and sterner, while the Smith Woodhouse became sexier and more expressive, finishing with a bit of sugar. I was impressed with the depth here, but it did show its alcohol a bit often. It may yet develop more harmony under cork or in cask. This has a bar top cork, if you’re wondering. 89 points

Part of the Symington stable, others represented here include Warre’s, Smith Woodhouse and Dow’s. Importer: Premium Port Wines, San Francisco, Ca.; tel: (415) 554-9920.

1952 Colheita ($500)  Bottled 2012   
The 1952 Colheita is dark, concentrated, crisp and focused. This lovely Colheita was one of the stars of this report, elegant and persistent, piercing and silky—very sensually textured. It is remarkably graceful. If I have often liked them more on the decadent side, here is the epitome of harmony. Still quite fresh, with some alcohol in the background, it is well integrated and intensely flavorful on the gorgeous finish. The finish is what  makes this a truly great wine, the flavors driven home by the beautiful and refreshing acidity that allows the wine to seem so vibrant. The finish lingers a long, long while, actually increasing in intensity of flavor long after the wine was downed. The depth is there, but relatively subtle. It always seemed light on its feet without ever giving up the ghost. As much as I liked the first tastes, what really sold me on this wine was, again, that sunny, intensely flavorful and amazingly persistent finish. Alas, there isn't much of this. This rare, limited edition Colheita was a special bottling for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. It was tasted only from a 200ml bottle. It is not available in the USA; the price given to me by the importer for a 750ml is just an estimate.  97 points.

1969 Colheita ($350)  Bottled 2012
The 1969 Colheita is a blend, says the winery, from the best 6 casks of 1969s the winery had. Tasted from 200ml bottle, it is quite charming up front, with intensity and some power in the background.  A bit lighter than the '52 also reviewed here, it also was marked by prominent brandy notes up front and was a little disjointed early on, while remaining quite rich. For all that, its concentrated molasses overlay is notable and quite delicious. The bright, juicy finish is very appealing. It really showed far better the next day, when everything fell into place and it displayed a sunnier demeanor and nice texture. That juicy finish was laced with just a bit of brandy and intellectual interest in the background. This was particularly nice when drunk a little on the cool side. I would bet that this could develop more and improve under cork. Note: The USA label for this limited edition Colheita has “Colheita” only in small print and “SINGLE HARVEST” in large print—just a translation. There were just 712 bottles produced. 93 points

The old Kopke house, with 17th century roots, is another of the houses that takes Colheitas quite seriously. Unfortunately, it could not be represented in the first edition of this article, but these late arrivals are incorporated here now (January, 2013). Kopke is owned by Sogevinus (since 2006). These all come with bar top corks. Kopke has a long list of Colheitas, some of which were recently shipped and could not be accommodated as just a last, late addendum to this original article. Call that a plan for another day. This group, I’m told, is in inventory, although there were very small quantities.
Importer: Wine in Motion, Union, N.J.; tel: (908) 688-3837; Sogevinus, (201) 306-5706

1953 Colheita ($350.00) Bottled 2012 
This opens with the powerful aromatics, promising dense and concentrated juice, that makes me adore mature Colheitas so much. This is what it is all about at this end of the scale. Juicy and sweet on the long finish, it has bursts of enlivening acidity and some portents of elegance to come, but it is the dark, brandy-laced nuance on the finish with intense notes of molasses, bitter chocolate and treacle that helped make it special. Its very dark feel was nicely cut by the acidity, making it surprisingly sunny at times with actual hints of elegance. This is very fine, complex, sturdy and quite spry for a 60 year old. Despite the concentration and power, it still seems quite elegant as it comes together. 97 points.

1975 Colheita ($90.00) Bottled 2012 
This is a lovely Colheita, gentle, yet complex and very graceful, with a powerful nose in the background, bright acidity and considerable charm. It finishes sweet and richer than the mid-palate initially suggests as it has those concentrated flavors I adore in Colheitas. It gather steam and manages to deliver intensity and concentration while remaining elegant and balanced, with some brandy-laced bursts of acidity dancing around. The good acidity gives it a lively feel, but ultimately what makes this a beauty is the combination of harmony and intensity, as odd as that sounds. There is some tannic pop on the finish at times, too. It covers all the bases, assertive without being obvious. The more I drank this, the more I liked it. At the price, it is a rather nice deal. 94 points.

1984 Colheita ($68.00) Bottled 2012 
Simply lovely, this surely lacks the concentration of some of the older wines here, but it is no slouch and it has that concentrated flavor nuance in the background. Plus, it is gracious and graceful, with velvety texture and a soft, round feel. Those who adore them on the somewhat younger, less intense side can get some validation here, as this sunny wine is simply a delight to drink. It is nowhere near as intense or complex as, say, Kopke’s ’53, though, but it is hard to resist and its sweet, delicious finish is completely charming. 92 points.

Niepoort is one of the Douro houses known for its Colheitas, a particular bragging point (among others). This lineup was typically aged in oak casks ranging from 550 to 600L and comes from old vines (around 60+ years, depending of course on which bottling). These were all tasted in the USA, but I am advised by Martine’s Wines that the 1978, 1979, 1987 and 2001 are not in stock. I was also told that it should be possible to order them all, although I could not obtain pricing for all of them. The “suggested retail” prices (often discounted on shelves) that are listed should provide a rough guideline for the others.
Importer: Martine’s Wines, Inc., Novato, CA.; tel: (415) 883-0400.

1934 Colheita ($1,275) Bottled 1981   
The 1934 is an example of a wine in bottle a long, long time—fortunately Niepoort’s Colheitas do have normal, long corks. If this handsome beast is this dense, concentrated and powerful now, I can barely imagine what it must have been like when it was bottled. My mouth waters to think of it. Remember, too, that this  had less than 50 years in cask. What would a version bottled today be like?  Besides the notable concentration and viscosity, it has powerful acidity to cut through its palate and make it seem bright and vibrant as well, with some brandy in the background. Aromatics, viscosity, acidity, complexity, amazing finish—it isn’t missing much. Well, perhaps elegance isn’t a word you’d use often here. If it seems rich, the amazing nose is so powerful, projecting molasses and dark chocolate, that it promises three times that level of richness. The acidity cuts the viscosity nicely, enlivens the wine and hammers home a deliciously, juicy finish that lingers more or less forever. Embarrassing to admit, but I forgot to brush my teeth after one tasting of this. The next morning, I could still taste it on my teeth, identifiable and rather fresh. With air and a couple of days, this wine loses just a tiny bit of its rich feel and begins to show more of its powerful structure. There is a lot of underlying power here, period. It never lost that rich texture and viscosity. It seemed more or less identical on Day 2 to Day 1, perhaps even better. By Day 3, it seemed to acquire just a bit more austerity, losing a little sugar and becoming a bit sterner, with an increasingly intense dark molasses and treacle overlay. That’s relative, of course. Everything remained in place. It was never less than remarkable. Then, it settled in and remained largely unchanged for as long as I had it, about a week. Note that this is also a good example of needing to drink the wine at the right temperature. Too hot (or, for that matter, too cold) and it could seem harsh, which is typical of many tawnies. Overall, I thought it drank best around 62F. At that point, all I could say is--what a remarkable beauty. This dense, full throttle Colheita simply takes no prisoners. If you’re looking for gentle and easy, this sure isn’t going to satisfy that urge on opening. It is a good example of how great older Colheitas can be—but also why some would just as soon have easier, lighter, gentler versions, typically younger. (Try Krohn’s 1987 or a Niepoort 1978 for an easier, more graceful style. It’s not just about age, to be sure, but also style and year.) All things said, this is simply brilliant. It is at a level of intensity and concentration that must be experienced. 99 points.

The Symingtons own a good portion of the Douro Valley, with many famous brands like Warre’s, Graham’s, Dow and Smith Woodhouse, all represented in this report.
Importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL; tel. (205) 980-8802

1997 Colheita ($35) Bottled 2008
The 1997 Colheita, roughly the equivalent of a 10 year tawny, is an excellent nice value in a young tawny. On opening, it is rich, sweet and nutty—and it still has a notable dose of sugar days later—while maintaining an elegant, graceful, youthful style. The whiff of brandy in the background emerged with a little air, but it balanced the sugar out and integrated well with time. Eventually, it showed some lurking power, too. Of the Symington's young Colheitas in this article, this was probably the sexiest of the three, although not deepest (see the Dow) or my favorite (see Smith Woodhouse). Delectably juicy on the finish, it was, early on, the epitome of that sweet, chocolately style I often adore, but note that its good acidity cuts through the sugar and balances the little bit of decadence. With a few days time, it showed some bursts of power and alcohol, too, but make no mistake, though: this is about easygoing fruit and sex appeal. It often lacks a little definition and concentration at its young age, but it is hard to resist and it evolves well. I will grant that this has some limitations of youth, but it is so good at what it does that I am making it one of those young guys that has to get a little extra credit. It certainly would if drunk alone rather than for this exercise. This is bottled with a bar top cork. 90 points.

Wiese & Krohn
Some houses in Portugal tend to be more known than others for Colheitas. Krohn [2018 insertion: now owned by the Fladgate Group] is certainly one of those, as its typical publicity notes: “These are probably the most appreciated Ports from our House.”  They ain’t lying. Judging from the prices I was given, the prices seem pretty good, too.
Importer: Megawine, Van Nuys, CA; tel: 877-MEGAWINE.

1987 Colheita ($50.00) Bottled 2009  
The 1987 Colheita, more or less a 20 year tawny now in bottle for a couple of years, is quite a nice value in this lineup. Quite lovely, with moderate depth and a whiff of brandy on the finish when it opens, this is rather understated. The harvest in 1987 had to be interrupted in the 3rd week due to rainfall, says the winery, but it still produced fruity wines. Hence, the '87 here is like a smaller scaled, lighter, more elegant version of the winery’s go-for-broke '61, fresh but certainly without the '61s concentration or pure power. It is bright, focused and graceful, sweet but balanced and laced with strong caramel and toffee notes. Youthful and vibrant, it is very fine, combining sex appeal and elegance. The alcohol submerges nicely over the next few days. It has a pretty nice price, too, and in a vintage that the winery seemed to consider a bit difficult, it is a fine performance. Yes, it is notably lighter than the norm and not as immediately impressive as some Colheitas are. It really grew on me, though, even though I tend to like them best on the decadent side. I can overlook the modest concentration here considering how brilliantly it does everything else. It seems like a value point in these wines if you like its style. I’ve seen it for as little as $40.00. 92 points

1961 Colheita ($200.00) Bottled 2011   
The 1961 Colheita is a current release, just bottled in 2011. For such a long ager, it remarkably fresh. On opening, it was simply sensational. Darkly colored, it comes from a year that Krohn says produced ripe and sweet wines with both fruit and tannin.  Rich, viscous and very concentrated, it is sweet on the finish and deep in the mid-palate. It seemed so youthful that I thought initially that I confused my glasses and this was really the 1987 (which is a very nice value point). The mouth-coating texture is a marvel on opening and this was delicious in a decadent, full-on, sexy style. It’s always good to get past that first rush, though. Once past that, it became more noticeably impressive for its depth and muscular power. Now, if you like nuanced, more graceful notes—this thick, powerful and sweet Colheita is probably not likely to be your first choice. It is more in a go-for-broke style. On day 2, after the wine calmed down, it showed more treacle and molasses—and more alcohol—with a bit less richness. It remained muscular and powerful. After that, it settled in and became more graceful from Day 3 onwards, but I confess that the incarnation I liked best was its first hours (and what the score is may be affected by when you score it!). For many, all that won’t matter—it will be gone in short order. It was always very fine. Some additional good news is that despite the “suggested” retail price, I’ve seen this selling for a lot less—more like $125.00, which, it seems to me, is not a bad price for something this fine and this old. These are bottled with real corks. 95 points.

1977 Colheita Port "ROYAL OPORTO" ($80.00) Bottled 2010  
Well balanced, this Colheita is a blend of familiar grapes—Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional. Call it elegant. It seemed quite light for a tawny of this age on opening. Thankfully, it fleshed out a bit after opening and I started liking it a lot. It has some very appealing virtues, beautiful aromatics and complexity, well integrated sugar and brandy mingling with the increasingly focused and subtly viscous mid-palate. It has a lovely finish laced with caramel and molasses. If it does not approach the grandeur of some other older tawnies, it is well priced and offers some fine drinking in that context. 90 points.

1998 Colheita Port  "ROYAL OPORTO" ($40.00) Bottled 2008
Crisp and powerful on the finish, this is a touch harsh on the finish early on, but it resolved well and it has lovely aromatics. After ten years in cask, it is at a point where the benefits of long cask aging have just begun to show. It is a wine with some promise as times goes on. 88 points.

1999 Colheita Port “ROYAL OPORTO” ($40.00) Bottled 2011
A big three blend (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca), this is a bit odd, with some off flavors, lacking a little in freshness and was perhaps a touch oxidized. Despite its issues, I still rather liked it at times for its structure and relative richness. Focused and burnished, it had its moments, but certainly not enough of them. 84 points.

1988 Colheita ($70.00) Bottled 2012
The 1988 here is more energetic and vigorous than its older siblings, with a fresh feel, good concentration for its age and some power leaning into the palate. In some respects, at least relatively speaking, it was my favorite of this winery’s offerings, weighing anticipated price and status, while noting that it certainly lacks the mature complexity and expressiveness of the 1976. Solid and dense for its young age, it is tightly wound and beautifully focused, mingling brightness, intensity, elegance, some sweetness and a just a little sex appeal. In the long run, as it developed over a few days, it became even more elegant, very bright, juicy and quite delicious. I liked this a lot. I bet it gradually improves under cork, too. 91 points.

1994 Colheita ($53.00) Bottled 2012
The 1994 is the relative youngster in this lineup and it has all the easy going charm of youth.  It has many of the same stylistic traits as its predecessors in this lineup, but its freshness, tasty chocolate-y nuances and more sugary finish give it a sexier feel. It certainly lacks the viscosity and finish of, say, the ’76 as well as its complexity, but I did appreciate its friendly feel and delectable finish, making it a wine in this lineup that I liked more or less as well, albeit for completely different reasons, as its older companions. It has pretty good depth for its youth, too. This does its job about as well the older guys, noting the limitations of youth. Maybe this is one of those young-ish ones where I have to let a little relativity have its way, but I wound up liking it a lot. 90 points.

Importer: Vinum Importing, Redmond, Wa.; tel: (206) 621-8843

1997 Colheita ($30.00) Bottled 2010
The 1997 Colheita is graceful, seamless and nicely priced, with a sweet finish and a sunny demeanor. For a young Colheita and at the price, it’s a “can’t miss” if you like its style. It blows off some of the sugar with time and those nutty hints in the background become a bit more interesting. Perhaps intended by them as a pejorative—not by me--the British often reference gentle and understated Bordeaux as "luncheon clarets." Call them “drink, don’t obsess” wines. This understated Port is a "luncheon colheita." Laid back, easygoing, bright and sensually textured, it sometimes seems almost to be a table wine with extras at times, unassuming but tasty, subtle and charming, gradually growing on you. It seems far more graceful than, oh, some California big boy zins. Of course, unlike (most) table wines, the alcoholic kick may sneak up on you before you know it as it goes down soft and easy and you hardly notice until it’s too late. This is a Colheita without much concentration, but notable refinement, a characteristic emphasized as I resampled it over several days. As I got to Day 4 I would have to say I was not quite as happy with where this was. This was one Colheita that seemed to decline a bit. In any event, most won’t worry about that and it is bargain priced. There is certainly something to be said for a perfectly balanced wine that you never tire of drinking. This Colheita uses not only a normal cork, but a full size one. The bottling date here is on the front label. 88 points.

Real Companhia Velha (“RCV”) bottles its Colheitas and other tawnies in pretty, but non-standard bottles (see, the photo next to the review of the 1977). The winery told me that they are meant to be stored standing up to avoid seepage issues as they have the "bar top" or "stopper cork" referenced in the article. They come with bar tops (as many do) to facilitate easy re-closure and reopening, given that tawnies hold well and many resample them over time, the winery said.  The 1977, 2000 and 2001 were tasted in the USA, the others only in Portugal. While I can’t honestly say that these represented the pinnacle of the category, they still deserve attention at least for one reason—they offer value. They are, overall, pretty nice drinking at price points that make them affordable even for older wines.  One small advantage is that they come in pretty bottles. It almost turns every Colheita into a free decanter when the wine is finished—although you’ll need a funnel as the neck is a typical wine bottle neck and very narrow.
Importer: Admiral Wine Imports, Irvington, N.J.; tel: (973) 857-2100.

1974 Colheita Port "ROYAL OPORTO" ($80.00) Bottled 2011
In a rather well priced lineup between 1974 and 2002, this and the '76 were my favorites. Perhaps not coincidentally, they were the most recently bottled of the older ones. They showed rather differently, though. This was the most powerful, laced with bursts of acidity, although it calmed down as time went on. If not terribly harmonious at the outset, it was lovely overall when I went back to it, crisp, intense, delicious and sweet, with lip smacking fruit. The acidity cuts through the fruit and sugar and enlivens it beautifully, balancing the rich flavors with tension. 90 points.

1975 Colheita Port "ROYAL OPORTO" ($80.00) Bottled 2008
The '75 is a smaller scaled Colheita in this lineup, but it is beautifully balanced and elegant with fine integration of its parts. Noting that it was bottled well before the 1974, it is showing beautifully at the moment and most will appreciate its gentle harmony and rich flavors. 89 points.

1976 Colheita Port "ROYAL OPORTO" ($80.00)  Bottled 2011
This doesn’t have quite the same intensity on opening as the 1974, but depending on your preferences, you might like it better. It seems better integrated, if not always quite as thrilling, but the balance here may be better with the richness of the wine countered by a certain (if sometimes subtle) harmony, despite a degree of decadence. This relatively decadent, but restrained tawny is part of a pretty well priced group (the ’77 and ’74 being strong competitors) that each have their own virtues. If comparing, note that the ’77 has been in bottle a bit longer. 90 points.

2000 Colheita Port "ROYAL OPORTO" ($40.00) Bottled 2012
Like the general run of this lineup, this is, I’m told, a big three blend (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca). Although without much complexity, this young tawny is well priced, tasty and fat on opening, with a bright, luscious finish that has a burst of sugar. This won't strike anyone as the most profound tawny, but it does have structure and it preens a bit, rising beyond its fat and initially sweet and decadent demeanor to become something a bit more after that first rush of fruit and sugar. After a few days open, this became utterly charming, although it thinned out noticeably. The initial fatness disappeared more or less completely. It epitomized what I have taken to calling a “luncheon colheita”—no pejorative intended—for its understated “drink, don’t obsess” charm. Gentle and harmonious and hard to stop drinking, this shows awfully well. It is hard to rate this highly considering its lack of concentration—I’m aware!—but I found it hard to resist and enjoyed it more and more over ensuing days. That counts. 88 points.

2001 Colheita Port  "ROYAL OPORTO" ($40.00) Bottled 2009
A blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, this rather young Colheita, just barely legal with only 8 years in cask, shows a lot of potential in some respects with reasonable density for its youth, notable power, precision and a nice finish—but it also is a touch off beat, showing a somewhat odd nuance, a bit of a gamey note? If I saw that in a table wine, I’d suspect brett, but whatever it was, it was distracting. I tasted this both in the USA and in Douro. While my notes don’t reflect that nuance in Douro (where I obviously had less time with the wine as contrasted with tasting it over several hours on Day 1 and over several days in the USA), it was pretty apparent in the USA tastings. If you appreciate or at least don’t mind that, this very nice otherwise, but it is hard not to take it into account. I’d love to see this one day with more cask age, just to see what happens along the way. 84 points.

2002 Colheita Port "ROYAL OPORTO" ($40.00) Bottled 2009
Quite lovely, gentle and easy going, this is a nice effort in what was a rather awful vintage in Douro (and most of Portugal). In its youth, it lacks the rich aromatics of older tawnies and it does not have the concentration of most, but it is quite charming and a pleasure to drink. 86 points.

Quinta Da Noval 
These were aged in large, used oak barrels (640 liters) and they come bottled with real corks, not bar top stoppers. These were retasted in the USA (excepting the 1937 and 1971). This lineup was simply an exceptional presentation, displaying Noval’s wonderful touch with Colheitas. As typically happens with the top producers, the wines show both concentration and balance, plus remarkable freshness for their ages.
Importer: Vintus, Pleasantville, N.Y.; tel: (914) 769-3000

1937 Colheita Port ($1,100) Bottled 2008 
This opens as a brute, with bursts of powerful acidity and a somewhat harsh beginning. Yet it is very complex aromatically, as these older guys tend to be, and as it sat it showed its viscosity, calming a bit, seeming surprisingly fresh, quite serious and multi-layered, with many dimensions. I liked this magnificent Colheita more and more with every sip. It has everything to gush about in terms of the obvious—fruit, sweetness and aromatics—but its aged complexity gave it that extra dimension I truly appreciated. It is quite wonderful. 97 points.

1964 Colheita Port ($365) Bottled 2011 
This release is rich enough, but gorgeously balanced, aromatic and complex. It is a triumph over the year, which, as described by the winery “was a year of difficult weather conditions, with a severe winter, late burst and early drought. Rain in Spring and August. A very hot September. The year was characterized by late rain and inconstant weather that affected the harvest. The year was particularly marked by the lack of human labour in the vineyard due to illegal emigration towards France.” When I first saw this 1964 several years back, it was in full flight and unusually exuberant. A year or so in the bottle has calmed this new version down (the earlier release that I saw was bottled around the end of 2007 or early 2008). It frankly did not seem quite as impressive, although it is very fine. Now, it seems to emphasize instead its impeccable balance, showing increasingly fine harmony and elegance, some subtlety to go with its pungent aromatics and a long, gripping finish, driving fruit into the palate. How can something this old, this long in cask possibly be so fresh, harmonious and graceful? It is a pleasure just to smell and its ability to remain persistent is quite impressive. It settled in around Day 2 and maintained impeccable balance for the next several days (until gone).  95 points.

1968 Colheita Port  ($340) Bottled 2012 
Surprisingly dense on opening, this new release is delicious, with intense caramel notes lingering on the finish. This rich wine has all the elements for obvious appeal, but it seemed to me to also show fine balance and integration of its parts. Plus, it is has those wonderful aromatics--but then, that seems redundant to say in this lineup. Early on, in fact, it seemed denser and more concentrated than the 1964--although note that the ’64 had a year in bottle to settle in. However, I didn’t find that to be true as the days passed by and they converged. This calmed down, became more elegant and beautifully harmonious while remaining quite delicious. I wasn’t expecting as much here, perhaps, as with that ’64 that I’ve adored in other incarnations, but it showed me a lot. 95 points.

1971 Colheita Port  ($340) bottled 2008 
Elegant and caressing, with a sweet kicker on the finish, this is bright and lovely, mingling delicious fruit, acidity and an occasional whiff of brandy. I loved the mouthfeel on this wine, sensual and silky, another fine Colheita from Noval, this one showing off its beautiful balance and harmony as well as its impressive first attack (and note that this one has been bottle in a few years). This, I’m told, is not available in the USA due to limited stocks available, which is regrettable because it beautifully combines balance and sex appeal. 95 points.

1976 Colheita Port ($300) Bottled 2012  
Another beauty in this wonderful Noval lineup, this, like so many of them, opens so rich and viscous that it seems simply astonishing that it is really this mature. It seems burly and youthful, fresh and invigorating. True, given the 2012 bottling date, it has not done much settling in the bottle—and those first tastes are often amazing. However, it was retasted in the USA as well some months later and over several days to boot. That rich, decadent first attack was still stunning a couple of days later, although the character and complexity were beginning to emerge then as well. Sugary on the finish, with those whiffs of brandy in the background despite the 21% listed alcohol, this showed fine grip and tannic power on the finish, yet it managed to maintain its balance thanks to the acidity mingling with the sugar. The lurking power is not always lurking, but the molasses-laced finish here is long and remarkable. That juicy finish simply made my mouth water. Every time I went back to it, it seemed quite spectacular. It is probably not coincidental that this was just recently bottled—no doubt it will calm down with time in the bottle—but I sure do adore this incarnation of it. 96 points.

1986 Colheita Port ($240) Bottled 2012 
Held (per custom) in used oak barrels of 640 liters, this is hard edged at the outset, quite intense, piercing, very dense for its relatively young age and remarkably sweet in impression with a viscous texture. Vibrant, youthful and lively, with a lot of energy and tension at the moment, it is a Colheita that opens disjointed and obviously has a ton of everything. If it is not yet quite as complex as some of the older vintages, its energy and concentration make it quite thrilling, although it hardly displays the balance and harmony of, say, Noval’s ’64. It actually seems far too young and I can’t wait to see other incarnations of this as time goes on. Or, perhaps try holding it in bottle for a few years, which may smooth it out as well. As these things go, this is not a really old Colheita and it sure isn’t cheap, but it surely seems to overachieve. 94 points.

1995 Colheita Port ($60.00) Bottled 2010 
Noval provided some precise analysis for this and the ’97. It is a blend of 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Franca and 10% field blend. Noval describes the vintage as follows: “Winter of mild temperatures, with enough rain to assure in depth water reservations. Spring with little rain and high temperatures provided a precocious, fast and regular blooming, with an excellent vegetal growth for all the vines. The strong rain of June and the beginning of July were followed by a dry summer, with high temperatures, which originated a short ripeness period. In consequence of the rainy cycle and of the good grape sanitary conditions, 1995 was a year of average production with excellent quality.” This reminds me of a younger version of the '86, big, vibrant, powerful and preening in its relative youth, showing off all its components and bragging about it a bit. Like all of the wines in this lineup, its intensity is matched by fine fruit. Additional bottle age may add complexity to this beautiful release as might additional barrel age when it is re-released one day, but it is awfully fine now and a big bargain in this lineup. 92 points.

1997 Colheita Port ($50.00) Bottled 2012 
This is a blend of 30% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Roriz, 20%, Tinta Barroca and a 10% field blend. The winery described this year as follows: “In 1997, winter began very cold and the snow covered the whole Quinta during some days, which hadn't happened for more than three decades. In February and March temperatures were very hot, getting to reach 29 degrees and it didn't rain, causing a 15 days blooming advance inferior to the average. Blooming elapsed a month earlier than in 96, with above 20 degrees temperatures and almost without any rain, providing excellent conditions for a good maturation. The rain compensated the lack of water in the soil in April and May and by the temperatures below the average that reached normal values in the end of June. Ripeness was excellent in August and September, with very hot days and night breeze.” It seems to me on looking over my notes that 1997s as a group have seemed remarkably elegant. So, too, here. Quite possibly the most graceful and restrained of this group of Novals, it is lovely and charming, easy to like, sweet, refined and a little subtle--relatively speaking. It is an ingratiating wine that does a lot without being overly obvious about it. 90 points.

Importer: M Imports, Coppell, TX; tel: (214) 505-0616.

1994 Colheita Port ($42.00) Bottled 2002
The 1994 Colheita is not thick or powerful, but there is a big hit of sugar on the finish that mingles beautifully with the fruit and gives it a certain decadent note. This very young, barely legal Colheita does not have a lot of concentration, but it is awfully sexy. If you are the type of drinker that loves them on the easy and more decadent side, this is for you, which is to say, I really liked this aromatic and very youthful tawny even with its modest aging in barrel. It may be a bit undefined and not terribly focused, which constrains scoring, but it does gather steam and show some persistence on the finish. A hint of brandy pops up with air. After 3 days, there was a bit more (and very welcome) acidity and development, but mostly it just remained delicious. If you prefer your tawnies powerful and concentrated, persistent, focused and more complex—well, this isn’t going to be any of those things. It is just rather scrumptious and completely delicious, fresh and youthful. It is a good demonstration of why some people would just as soon have younger ones, even without the power, concentration and complexity. The bottling date here is in the tiniest of tiny print on the upper right of the back label. Portal uses normal corks, not bar tops—although they are quite small corks.  89 points

2000 Colheita Port ($42.00) Bottled 2010
The 2000 Colheita is along the same lines as the ’94 reviewed in this article in style, but if anything it seems a touch older, at least, more restrained, not as rich, as sweet or as vibrant and not much more concentrated either. That said, after an hour or so open, they began to converge. Easygoing and restrained, this drinks very nicely and tastes increasingly great with air and time, but I’d still give the nod to its 1994 sibling for its pure sex appeal. The bottling date here is in the tiniest of tiny print on the upper right of the back label. 88 points.

Importer: P.R. Grisley, Salt Lake City, Utah; tel: (801) 201-4892

1996 Colheita ($38) Bottled 2010
A blend of Touriga Franca (35%), Tinta Roriz (20%), Touriga Nacional (15%), Tinta Barroca (10%), Tinto Cão (8%) and a smattering of others from the Douro Superior (Quinta Vale d’Agodinho), this 1996 Colheita was oak aged for 12 years. Elegant and crisp, with a sweet end, this is strong on nutty flavors and beautifully balanced. As it pulls itself together after opening, it delivers a burst of acidity and a whiff of brandy, becoming a bit more nuanced and interesting. This is not a blockbuster, rather one aimed more at those who appreciate the elegance and refreshing acidity, but it gradually grew on me and stayed in balance. It is a charming youngster. 89 points.

The Symingtons are also represented here with others in their array of Port houses—Warre’s, Dow’s and Graham’s.
Importer: Premium Port Wines, San Francisco, Ca.; tel: (415) 554-9920.

1994 Colheita ($48.00) Bottled 2012  
The 1994 Colheita, a blend of the best 1994 juice from the estate, the winery says, opens wonderfully nutty and laced with brandy notes, but not much richness, giving it a rather stern and powerful characteristic early on. It resolves with some sweetness, but seems more focused on structure and power. If you think tawnies never change, here is a good example to the contrary. Some four days later, this seemed very different. It had become more expressive, the sugar it had was coming to the foreground and it was far less stern, even occasionally seeming soft and beautifully integrated. I liked both incarnations, but it didn’t always seem to be the same wine. The juicy finish was delightful and lingering, matching its beautiful aromatics.  This was, by a hair, my favorite of the three youngsters from the Symingtons. This has a bar top cork, if you’re wondering. 90 points.

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