Porto Souza is not a household name in the United States, as this Portuguese producer is really just gaining a foothold in North America. The company has been around for nearly 80 years and is popular in other parts of the world. I had an opportunity to assess a broad spectrum of the Souza Ports and invited a local group of wine enthusiasts to join me in a tasting of the wines. Before discussing the Ports we tried, here is a brief history of the Porto Souza company.
In 1925 Alcino Viera de Souza decided to enter the Port business. Up until that time, his expertise was in the blending and aging of Ports. I believe that the art of blending Ports requires even more talent and experience than is required in making the wine itself. Mr. Viera took on a business partner as the company achieved some early success and he expanded slowly. His partner was the legendary Manuel Barros, who owned many other Port companies including Feist, Hutcheson, Feuerheerd, Rocha, Kopke, Alameida and of course, Barros.
There proved to be excellent synergy between the two men, and Souza's Port business began to thrive. Unfortunately, in 1941, Mr. Souza passed away, leaving Barros as the sole owner of the company. Barros was already quite successful and his Ports were sold in quite a few markets. It wasn't long before the Souza Ports had gained recognition in the UK, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany and are solid performers in those markets today.
Now comes the hard part - moving into the large Port market of North America where a plethora of Port houses are already well established. Porto Souza has a lot of work ahead of them, but with a solid base of operations on the East coast, they are now making the right moves to spread their wings.
As mentioned above, I invited 15 guests here in the Seattle area to blind-taste these Ports. All Ports were properly decanted well in advance of the event and were poured in flights. A couple of "ringers" were tossed in as well, to make comparisons more interesting. Therefore, the names of the producers and styles of the Port were unbeknownst to the participants. Most participants in this Port tasting had never had a Colheita prior to this afternoon, and were expecting me to pour Vintage Ports. I decided to mix in a variety of Port styles and this tasting actually turned into a mini-seminar on the various styles of Port. Here are the tasting notes for the Souza Ports in the order that they were lined up.
1997 Souza Vintage Port (VP) - Dark ruby in color with a bright red edge, the '97 offered up bright blueberry and anise on the nose with a touch of alcohol. It possessed red berry flavors with some primary raspberry and depicted a medium to full body with a sweet and smooth palate presence. There was plenty of grip to this Port and the ripe tannins were met with some youthful alcohol on the finish. A good wine in need of lots more time to show its personality. 91 pts.
1995 Souza VP - Same color as above, with strawberry and fresh floral notes. A fine Vintage Port in a "drink-me-now" style, which offers a delightfully soft and smooth mouth feel. I enjoyed the plum and prune flavors, mild tannins and gentle lingering finish of this Port. Drink this while the 1997 sits in the cellar to age properly. 91 pts.
1994 Souza LBV - Brick red in color belying more age, highlighted by some spicy cinnamon and a bit of hot alcohol protruding on the nose. A good medium bodied "Late Bottled Vintage" Port with juicy red fruit and some intriguing, subtle spice and a touch of spirit on the aftertaste. 89 pts.
1994 Quinta do Noval LBV - A dark and youthful appearance, with a pomegranate and floral element to the wine. It shows dense, ripe boysenberry flavors and smooth, gentle tannins. Very pleasant and one of the rare LBVs I have enjoyed cellaring. One of my all-time favorite LBVs and certainly very high atop the Noval LBV pyramid and their best LBV of the decade. 92 pts.
1989 Souza Colheita - It was very clear that we were dealing with a different animal here. Tawny in color with a yellow rim and providing wonderful aromas of brown sugar, toasted nuts and an almost Olorosso Sherry note. This Colheita, (simply put, a single vintage Tawny Port) showed excellent length on the nutty, raisiny finish that was slightly marred by too much alcohol. 88 pts.
1987 Souza VP - Rhubarb red color with significant bricking on the rim, the aromatic pleasure consists of sweet leather, tobacco and anise. Some in the group called the nose "medicinal" but I did not detect that quality. Nonetheless, this was a tasty yet simple VP that was not one of the better wines in the Souza lineup. 85 pts.
1985 Souza VP - I liked this Vintage Port substantially more than the previous wine. It was a light, pale pink that had tea leaf, iodine and other odd aromas. Once past the nose though, this was a really fun Port with great complexity of layered flavors and a super smooth mouth feel which fooled me into thinking this was also a Colheita. Atypical for the '85 vintage but on its own merits this was very tasty. It ended with a very enjoyable and persistent finish. 90 pts.
1983 Souza Colheita - Tea color with a yellow edge and a unique Verdelho Madeira fragrance supported by pralines. Full-bodied, dense, yet silky smooth and showing evolved, tertiary flavors of maple, caramel and sweet hazelnuts. I really enjoyed sipping on this Port and this is a definitive winner. 94 pts.
1982 Souza Colheita - Amber hue with a clear edge, this was another well made Souza Colheita. It provided exotic aromas of citrus, caramelized sugar and oven roasted walnuts. The flavor profile was a bit drier than most of the other Ports in this lineup, with golden raisin and toasted nutty flavors that hung on long into the superb and long lasting aftertaste. 91 pts.
1981 Souza Colheita - This is the third consecutive vintage of Colheitas from a vintage year I have never seen used in the Port trade. The '81 Souza had a dark amber color with lighter yellow on the edge. Another delight to swirl and sniff in the glass, with orange peel, beef bouillon and crème brûlée notes that just dance inside my head. Wow, a treat to smell and even more delicious to drink - with viscous, sweet and rich pralines and butte flavors. This Colheita offers a silky texture and great complexity that rushes the palate in waves. 93 pts.
1967 Souza Colheita - Showing its age with dark cola color, and an explosive whiff of Sercial (Madeira) and mahogany which I really liked. Again the palate delivers wonderfully complex layers of toasted coconut, caramel and Madeira-like flavors, while having an elegance felt in the mouth. The finish is long and ethereal and this Colheita is one to seek out. 93 pts.
1966 Rocha Colheita - Tea color with a good amount of bricking on the rim. I've had this Colheita many times, always enjoy it and felt it would be an excellent juxtaposition alongside the '67 Souza. It provides some sweet and smoky prune, caramel and alcoholic characters on the nose. Medium bodied, with a touch of salinity to the nutty nuances here, the Rocha is a smooth operator. It shows off its best on the finish which is long lasting and quite impressive. 90 pts.
In summary, Porto Souza produces a solid lineup of Ports. I prefer their Colheitas which show a consistent house style and greater complexity, yet their Vintage Ports also deliver promise for the future as the 1995 and 1997 VPs have shown. Before long, Souza might be a far more familiar name on the Port scene in North America.