Vintage Port is the most expensive and prestigious member of the Port family. Though accounting for just 1% of total Port production, Vintage Port commands the most attention and speculation from world wine markets. Vintages are only ‘declared’ when the quality of the fruit, the quantity available and market demand meet. It may take up to two years after harvest for a vintage declaration to be made, and even when one Port shipper judges the conditions sufficient for Vintage Port, other shippers may not necessarily agree. This scenario is highly unusual, though, and has only occurred a handful of times in history.
The quality of grapes used in Vintage Port is one of this style's distinguishing factors. The grapes, typically grown in the Cima Corgo sub-region of Douro, are left to achieve full ripeness before they are picked. This is Vintage Port’s first step in what will usually be a long life before consumption. It is often said that no other wine requires as much time in bottle to balance itself as Vintage Port: the minimum bottle-ageing period is considered to be 15 years, with the finest examples capable of vitality well after 50 years.
One of the reasons for this Port’s bottle-ageing requirement is that it spends a relatively short length of time in barrel and is bottled unfiltered. Between two and three years is an average time for vintage Port to remain in oak, meaning that once it is bottled it is still very dense and full of sediment. Decanting Vintage Port prior to serving is considered mandatory, since the sediment can take on crusty characteristics over time.