Few names in the Port business conjure up the excitement and extraordinary consistency of excellent quality that Fonseca brings to the party.

Since the early part of the 20th century, Fonseca has been in the top handful of Ports in just about every single generally declared vintage, a stunning triumph. From the heady aromas to the massive concentration and complexity of flavors to the sheer elegance, this is a Port shipper that deserves its lofty spot for the incredible Vintage Ports it is best known for producing.

With Adrian Bridge, The Fladgate Partnership’s managing director forging Fonseca’s strategic plan for the foreseeable future, there is little doubt that success will continue. The highly gifted Portmaker, David Guimaraens, the sixth generation of Guimaraens in the family’s operation (he is the great/great/great grandson of the founder) ensures the reputation of Fonseca for decades to come. Virtually every vintage he’s touched, beginning with the masterpiece better known as the 1994 Fonseca Vintage Port; has simply been extraordinary.

If this has begun to sound like a love fest, can you blame me? Just pick up any bottle of Fonseca Vintage Port and immediately it becomes apparent: the sheer power, precision and opulence. But even the cold stabilized and filtered Fonseca Bin 27, now entering its 37th year of commercial success, is a smooth, consistent and enjoyable premium ruby that delivers the trademark plum and raisin profile. It’s reasonably priced and easy to drink.

The company was established in 1822 as Fonseca Guimaraens, after Manuel Pedro Guimaraens (MPG) procured the holdings of the Fonseca & Monteiro Company. In a brilliant move, Fonseca entered as part of the sales agreement with MPG that the name Fonseca would remain in perpetuity as long as the company survived. The family run Port shipper retained control until 1948, when the Guimaraens family sold the company to Taylor’s, after financial troubles plagued their firm (as well as most others in the Port trade) during the dour post-WWII period.

Fonseca controls three main quinta properties:
a. Quinta do Cruzeiro purchased in 1973
b. Quinta do Panascal purchased in 1978
c. Quinta do Santo Antonio purchased in 1979

Both Cruzeiro and Santo Antonio were used in Fonseca’s Vintage Ports as far back as 1927. Panascal is the largest of the three properties with approximately 50 of the 80 hectares planted to grapes.

A few fun Fonseca factoids:

  • The first Fonseca Vintage Port was shipped to England in 1847.
  • More Fonseca Vintage Port is sold in the USA than any other market.
  • Remarkably, from 1896-1992 a period of 96 years, there were primarily just two Guimaraens winemakers. A third winemaker, Dorothy Guimaraens made the 1955 Fonseca Vintage Port after her father Frank Guimaraens passed away having spent over 50 vintages as winemaker. She then mentored Bruce Guimaraens, who took over in 1960 and made every Port until his son David became Portmaker in 1994.
  • All Fonseca Vintage Port, including their Single Quinta Vintage Ports are 100% made by treading grapes in lagares.
  • Fonseca Bin 27 was first sold in 1972.
  • The Fladgate Partnership’s “Port toes” employs piston paddle technology to replicate treading of the non-vintage Port grapes.
  • David Guimaraens’ 1994 Taylor and Fonseca Vintage Ports both scored 100 points from The Wine Spectator during his very first vintage. Today, David is responsible for the production of Croft Ports as well.

FONSECA GUIMARAENS AT-A-GLANCE

Founded: 1822
Website: Fonseca Port Wine
Address: Rua Barao de Forrester – 404, Apartado 13, 4401, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Owners: The Fladgate Partnership
Managing Director: Adrian Bridge
Chief Winemaker: David Guimaraens

FTLOP Forum readers discussed their favorite Fonseca Vintage Ports.  Join us and share your favourite Fonsecas.

FONSECA VINTAGE PORT TASTING NOTES:

1948 Fonseca Vintage Port – Another UK bottling from pristine storage conditions, checked carefully prior to its purchase in London by a friend in CA. It was only my 3rd time consuming this wine in the past five years and I know that Suckling had bestowed 100 points on this VP. This was a far better showing than the bottle that a friend opened in 2001. Tawny-centered color with a light yellowish edge, with surprisingly light color overall, not what I am used to. In contrast to the massive masculine style of the Taylor, this showed the smooth elegance and feminine style of a great well-aged vintage Port. It exhibits soft, silky and mouth coating with gobs of cherry and sweet cranberry fruit, along with an incredibly complex and everlasting finish. 96 points

1963 Fonseca Vintage Port – It does not get much better than this in the VP world. When you open a ‘spot on’ bottle of 1963 Fonseca, you have reached one of the peaks at Port’s pinnacle. Although 1963 has the reputation as a great Port vintage, I normally prefer the wines of 1966 and also see the beauty in 1970 and ’77 too. Oddly, the 1963 harvest was a dismal failure pretty much throughout the rest of Europe, although it excelled in Portugal, as it had exactly one century earlier. In the Douro, the growing season was exemplary, if not a classic. It had a cool wet spring and long warm summer, with a heat wave in July and August. Some rain was welcomed in early September which helped to enliven the grapes and plump them up, just in time for the extreme heat which arrived in time for the harvest. Fortunately, the nights were considerably cooler and the levels of acidity increased with the extra hang time, along with deeply extracted colors and super-concentrated flavors. “Nearly perfect” was the verdict of the Port trade, at the time. Tip: Even at today’s pricing, this is still a fabulous, best buy. This Fonseca Vintage Port exhibits a deep magenta color, showing little indication of its true age on the edge. It offers a stunning nose of boysenberry and blueberry fruit, with violets and a backdrop of graham cracker that grew less intense and integrated with time in the glass. This is a seamless Vintage Port that hits on all cylinders and on the palate. The great plum character of Fonseca comes to the fore along with smoky cherry and chocolate that combines for one sumptuous and tantalizing finish. Great body weight, yet it is so smooth that it feels like liquid butterscotch. This was an exemplary bottling of F63 from Victoria Street’s, Army & Navy Store, Ltd. 97 points

1985 Fonseca Vintage Port – I’ve had this Fonseca so many times that I question my sanity on opening more, but it is just such a pleasure packed Port. It was to share with a good friend and this was a beautiful example of what a superb VP this really is. Decanted for 10 hours and it finally hit its sweet spot, although just a little bit reticent on the nose until coaxed once inside my glass. Dark ruby color with a clear rim. Fresh fragrance of violets and lavender, plums and mocha, the palate was big and brash with powerful and primary boysenberry and grenadine flavors and a licorice thread on the fabulous finish. The acidity and tannins will easily bring the fruit to bear at least a half century of life, although I would recommend drinking it anytime between 2015 and 2035 for peak appeal. 96+ points

1994 Fonseca Vintage Port – Totally black/purple in color showing wild flowers, lush violets and a mild lactic nuance on the nose. As much as I liked the 1985 this was another breed altogether. It has a more classic Fonseca structure and poise, given its decade plus in the bottle. Dense, chewy blackberry flavors that tail off to the plum spectrum and provide waves of juicy, ripe fruit that is laden with glycerin. This Fonseca 1994 is a tannic monster which is atypical of how this has shown in the past when I’ve found it more approachable. It finished with mouth filling viscous Porty flavors and brought a smile to my face. TOP HONORS of the tasting; with twenty+ more years before it will truly offer up its best showing and will be enjoyable past the midpoint of the 21st century. 98+ points

2003 Fonseca Vintage Port – This saturated purplish-ruby effort, exhibits a wine of great balance and approachability. Warming, generous, big, juicy, feminine, super equilibrium and was even better the second day and superb on the third. It started off as a medium-bodied wine and kept gaining weight until it tipped the scales. A soft, round mouth feel on the palate which shows off cassis and currants, this is a Port of finesse with a finish you could time with a sundial. Fonseca again is at the apex of another fine vintage. Although this wine can be enjoyed now, there is a compelling reason to let this reach maturity. The 2003 is a sublime, complete and nearly perfect young Port and every bit as enjoyable as was their 1994 at the same stage. 12,000 cases produced. 98+ points