For whatever reason, Warre’s does not receive the attention that it deserves.
At least not here in America, and honestly, I’ve never understood why. After all, Warre’s produces a very solid range of Ports and while they remain under the radar of some collectors, their value for money is typically exceptional.
Warre’s is an integral constituent of the Symington Family Estates, whose dance card is stacked with icons like Graham’s, Dow’s, Quinta do Vesuvio and other very respectable names like Gould Campbell, Smith Woodhouse and Quarles Harris. Warre’s has actually been around longer than all of them, established in 1670, one of the very earliest Port trading “factors” or merchants in Porto.
The variety of Warre’s Port offerings include: the stalwart and immediately approachable Warre’s Warrior Reserve, their old-school top-tier unfiltered LBVs, a mix of young and ancient Colheita bottlings, and a balanced set of aged tawnies. These categories are all anchored by their fragrant, generously fruited and age-worthy Vintage Ports.
In 1729, nearly sixty years after the Port business was launched, William Warre joined the company at the tender age of twenty three. He was quite literally the first Warre’s family member to become involved in the Port business. Eventually he gained control from his partners, Clark & Thornton and his family continued their involvement in Warre’s for over two centuries.
I won’t delve too deeply into the history of this shipper here, as it is a fun read and it will give you something to do for your next homework assignment. The Warre’s story is rich with early Oporto and Gaia lore, interspersed with stories of the Napoleonic Wars and Wellington, (the Duke of -- not the beef dish) along with the liberation of Portugal, the knighthood of a Warre, and ultimately, fraught with the onset of Oidium and Phylloxera in the Douro.
To make a very long and fascinating story rather brief, Scotsman, Andrew J. Symington (AJS) arrived on the scene in 1882. By 1905, he became a shareholder in Warre and in less than a decade, AJS was not only a partner in the Warre’s Port firm, but the largest shareholder. In 1912, George Warre, the majority stockholder/partner in Silva & Cosens, (the Port shipper better known today as Dow’s) asked AJ Symington to look after a trio of vineyards and the Port Lodge in Gaia so that he could return to England.
Unfortunately, George Warre died shortly thereafter, and with a swift trade of his Warre’s stock, AJS wound up with nearly a one third ownership stake in Dow’s and still had his partnership intact at Warre’s. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Mr. Symington and his heirs apparent ran the company for many years, which eventually led to the Symington family’s acquisition of the entire Warre’s Port firm in 1961.
This has been the “cliff notes” abbreviated version of the Warre’s history, which is fascinating and would make for a very interesting chapter in a book. Now onto the Quintas, the vineyards and the Port itself, as this is only meant as a “profile.”
Warre’s Ports utilize grapes stemming from six vineyard sources at Quintas all owned by Symington family members, ergo the name Symington Family Estates. It is part of their mission that each family member owns a Quinta property with vineyards producing grapes for at least one of their core Port companies. These six vineyards have a total of nearly 290 acres of vines planted, to produce grapes for their premium Ports. One has to admire the vision behind the Symington’s strategy!
The main pair of properties is Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro Antigo the latter of which, if I am not mistaken, is just a new name for Quinta do Bom Retiro Pequeno to alleviate confusion with the well-known name of Ramos-Pinto’s Quinta do Bom Retiro.
Quinta da Cavadinha is located on the Western slope of the Pinhão Valley on the way toward Sabrosa. The grapes produced at Cavadinha as recently as the first half of the 20th century, were sold to Fonseca, then to Sandeman and thereafter to Ferreira. Not until 1980, did Warre’s obtain the grapes grown there, when the Symington’s purchased Quinta da Cavadinha outright.
The main vineyards of Cavadinha (30 hectares) are actually on the opposite side of the street, situated in a huge bowl shape (think of a ski resort, although not quite as steep). It shares a boundary with Taylor’s Quinta da Terra Feita that can be seen when walking the vineyards. Due to the degree of slope of the terrain, some older traditional terraced “socalcos” with old vines and field blends remain today, but situated lower on the slope. There are lots of vinha ao alto (rows planted vertically upslope). In addition, there are new plantings of the newer style of “patamares” (contoured terraces without stone walls, typically wider and with only 2 or 3 rows) which can be seen scattered throughout the entire bowl.
Miles Edlmann, handles the viticultural work for all of the Symington properties and two years ago during the 2007 Fortification Tour, our group spent a good deal of time with him, learning about his experimentation in the vineyard and enjoying a great selection of Ports.
Cavadinha’s experimental vineyard contains slightly less than 8 acres of vines and Miles researches clonal selection, rootstocks, organics, grape varieties and the interplay of all these dynamics in the vineyard. He explained some examples of his experiments and it really sounded fascinating and compared to the Douro which is steeped in tradition, this seemed like rocket science. One must realize that the vast majority of the hectares in the Douro are still occupied by field blends, although that continues to slowly change. In many cases, even the owners and vineyard managers have no idea what grapes reside in their own vineyards. Yes, bloc planting by varietal is becoming much more popular in the past thirty five years, but these newer planting strategies are expensive initially and still relatively small in number of total hectares.
In 2006, the Symington Family purchased one of the lesser known Douro properties, Quinta do Retiro Antigo (Quinta do Bom Retiro Poqueno) which had historically been the backbone of Warre’s Vintage Ports. Having added that property to the mix in addition to Cavadinha is a major Coup and bodes very well for the Warre’s Ports in coming vintages. Further complexity should be gained by having a blend of this vineyard’s grapes (from a great area in the Rio Torto Valley) along with Cavadinha’s from the Pinhão Valley, considering the vastly different exposures and microclimates.
Robotics were first introduced by the Symington group in 1998 and quickly caught on across the Douro region. Quinta da Cavadinha has six stainless steel robotic lagares which were put into use in time for the 2003 vintage and each one holds 16 pipes (or 12 tons) per lagar. These are huge stainless steel vats rather than the traditional granite lagares that are still found in many Quintas (whether they are used or not).
They’re not the piston driven types which “punch down” the fermented grape cap into the must. These silicon feet actually replicate the human foot and very gently crush the grapes on the floor of the stainless steel tanks in which they are situated. Simply put, they are automated treading machines. They save labor which is in short supply in the Douro and of course are more efficient and never need a “sick day.” There are contrarian views which say that the human foot is still softer and does a better job than even these incredible machines, but the jury is still out. We’ll need to see how some of these newer Vintage Ports mature over the years. The Symington’s still believe in foot treading too, in addition to robotics, as evidenced by some of their other properties, (e.g. Quinta do Vesuvio where 100% of the grapes are foot trodden).
Last month when I provided information on The Fladgate Partnership’s “Port toes” I mistakenly explained their robotics doing the same thing. However their “plunger tank” system only does the punch down to get the best extraction of color from the grapes, but does not replicate the human foot with the extreme precision in treading pressure that the Symington’s robotics employ here. It is a different technology and I apologize for relaying that information to you incorrectly
Peter Symington has been selected as “Fortified Wine Maker of the Year” six times, at the International Wine Challenge in London.
Warre’s Warrior is the oldest Port “brand” dating back to 1750.
The 1970 Warre’s Vintage Port commemorated the 300th Anniversary of the company.
Quinta da Cavadinha at one time contained three distinct properties which eventually wound up being conjoined, but the Quinta itself was shared by the different families who owned those properties.
Quinta da Cavadinha’s very first Single Quinta Vintage Port was from the 1978 vintage. There is none of it left at the Quinta, and I have never even seen a bottle of it for sale.
William Warre’s brother-in-law, (his wife’s brother) John Whitehead, was none other than the architect and builder of The Factory House in Oporto.
In 2007, Quinta da Cavadinha yielded juice in the amount equal to 7,000 cases of Port from the 30 hectares of vineyards.
The short story below is repeated from a past issue of FTLOP.
I mentioned about my fond memories flooding back to me … Well almost exactly thirteen years earlier to the day, (my subsequent visit to Cavadinha was in May 2007) James Symington, (Rupert’s father) had graciously hosted me and my girlfriend at the time and invited us to stay at Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim for a couple of days, a short drive from Cavadinha. This came on the heels of my having Wednesday lunch at The Factory House just a day earlier with James, Peter and Michael, et al.
Antonio who I believe still works at Bomfim, drove us over to Cavadinha, which was locked and empty at the time. He let us in and showed us to the area where the Port casks were housed. As the language barrier made conversing difficult, he brought over two glasses and gestured to have at it. He then handed me a two feet length of green garden hose and showed me how to siphon the Ports directly from the “pipes” (casks) of Port. I am sure that is an experience I’ll never get to repeat.
He then motioned to his watch and made it clear he’d be back in two hours. It was one of the many great memories I have of being in the Douro during that first awe inspiring trip. I felt like a thief without a thief, at least the type that would have replaced the darn hose. I still have a funny photo that my gal took of me siphoning Port into my glass. Nothing I could ever do for Antonio could possibly repay him for the sheer enjoyment we had on that balmy May afternoon, left alone at Quinta do Cavadinha.
Website URL: http://www.warre.com
Address: Travesa do Barão de Forrester, Apartado 26, 4401, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Phone: +351 22 377 6300
Owners: Symington Family Estates
Co-Managing Directors: Paul and Rupert Symington
Chief Winemakers: Peter and Charles Symington
Forum readers discussed their favorite Warre’s Vintage Ports. Here is a glimpse at our conversation:
WARRE’S PORT TASTING NOTES
COLHEITA & TAWNY PORT
1937 Warre’s Colheita Port – How fortunate to have this twice in the past six weeks, the second time was in late June during my birthday weekend. Coffee color with a golden-yellowish rim. Everyone in our group came over to see what I thought about this Port. What can I say that they didn’t taste This puts us in mind-blowing Colheita territory and I am pleased to see how much they loved this old beauty. A complex scent of Cognac, orange blossom and toasted almonds, with just a touch of spirit poking its nose into my business. Delicate and intricately spun brown sugar with hints of honey, generous praline and butterscotch flavors that linger for minutes at a time. A rich and silky textured Colheita that will drink well tonight, tomorrow or for years to come. Another truly hedonistic bottle of Warre’s Colheita and there was no better place to sip this than during my revisit to Cavadinha. 96+ points
Warre’s Otima 20 Year Old Tawny Port – Slightly more orange colored than the 10 year old, but what a difference an extra decade in wood makes, as this Otima is sublime. Loaded with citrus, toasted almonds, spicy cinnamon and golden raisin flavors which create a complex drink with a smooth, unctuous palate presence. It finishes long and sweet with a succulent aftertaste of caramel and toffee. Did I say I love the texture Much harder to find than the 10 year old Otima. 92 points
1994 Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port Part 1: This is going to a two part tasting note, as I opened the bottle at 11 p.m. this evening and had no time to decant it, given the sediment. Having spent an hour with this Port, it clearly needs to have some time to aerate. There is a lot of youthful spirituous character on both the nose and palate. It is very dark and opaque black with a purplish edge. Make no mistake, this is a whopper. Interestingly, Warre's makes a rare “unfiltered” version of LBV Port, compared to the vast majority of British Port Shippers who choose to produce fined and filtered LBVs, ready for immediate consumption. The non-processed, wood-matured LBV has always been Warre's style. On the front label, a separate sticker below the front label and the back label mention that this bottling not only spends four years in cask, but then ages an additional four years in bottle prior to release. For instance, this particular Port was bottled in 1998 and then released a couple of years ago in 2002. That’s quite different and a nice departure from any other LBV that I know of (most age 4-6 years in wood). The nose initially displays a bit too much warmth along with fragrant violets and a faint grenadine essence. The 1994 offers a light-medium body, but it gained weight even after just an hour. There’s moderate grip and razor sharp acidity that should integrate into this rich, demonstrative Port. Spicy, and fine black pepper nuances enhance the ripe, young blueberry and grenadine flavors. The longer this sits in the glass, the better it becomes. The finish which was clipped at first is now showing much better length, and this has only been open about 1.5 hours at this point. More notes to follow on day two as I started this too late to see it reach fruition although it’s very promising so far. I’ll decant the rest tomorrow.
Part 2: What changed the most this evening was the body weight picked up considerably after it was decanted for 3 hours. This increased the richness and more so, the mouthfeel of the Port which was not as round last night. The other notable difference was the distinctive youthful alcohol which showed prominently on the nose and palate seems more integrated, as expected. The finish is sublime and persistent although it did exhibit a small dose of spirit on the aftertaste. 93 points
1999 Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port – Bottled in 2003 and released recently. Very dark and fully opaque purple ink. Big and boisterous fruit explodes in the mouth and offers a chewy fig and plum flavored affair. Yowza! This is a fine LBV and one you can enjoy immediately upon opening the bottle with a quick decant. Smooth and rich across the tongue with crisp acidity and no sign of heat. A deliciously l-o-n-g finish. The 1999 LBV should have no problem drinking well through 2015. 91 points
1977 Warre's Vintage Port – From magnum, I opened this bottle to share in celebrating FTLOP’s 3rd anniversary with Stewart, Jody and Dorene, but I knew that Pedro Branco (owner of Quinta do Portal) would be joining us for dinner here along with his US importer. A fine wine to end the evening with, although due to it being a magnum, we did not finish it as our guests had a long drive back to Seattle. I gave Stewart some to take home and kept enough so that I had another impression the following day. Medium cranberry in color with a lighter ruby edge. By the time we had commenced consumption, the Warre’s had been in decanter for 11.5 hours. The nose evolved nicely over that time frame and I detected scents of mint, spirit and a touch of stalkiness. Taylor mentioned raspberries and yep, she was right on the money. Medium-bodied with a fine roasted coffee bean flavor along with raisins and raspberries and a gentle backdrop of heat which was rather mild but noticeable. It was showing its age but it was by no means over the hill, just a fun and mature VP at this stage. The tannins were fully resolved and the aftertaste lingered nicely. The following day, the texture had really settled down and it was silky smooth and really delightful but otherwise, this VP was pretty much unchanged. Drink now through 2015 for maximum pleasure. Shockingly, Stewart nailed the vintage with his first guess and I almost fell off my chair, boldly stating, “It is a 1977.” I bought this in 1993 at Total Beverage in Chantilly, VA for the insane price (they had it mis-marked) of $29 for the mag. That’s what I paid for several cases of the 750s there (per bottle) as this was my daily pour back then. Fond memories! 92 points
1980 Warre's Vintage Port – Dark ruby color and a clear rim, showing its youthful appearance. A mélange of raspberry, cherry, mocha and cedar are interspersed with some light notes of aguardente. The 1980 shows lots of brash, chewy and viscous wild berry fruit along with chocolate and caramel on the palate. I’ve noted some bottle variation over the years, with some exhibiting more maturity, but this one was rock solid. The finish is long and nearly perfect. Drink now through 2020. 92 points
1985 Warre’s Vintage Port – Another Vintage Port which was badly in need of revisiting by this taster. It was a beautiful baby and I bought and drank lots of it when it was about 8-12 years old. This bottle was purchased in April of 1996 for $25. Those were the good old days. It showed a dark cranberry color with a lighter pink edge. My daughter decanted this bottle and she said, “raspberries” while pouring it through cheesecloth (always her first guess) . Not bad for 5, although to me it was much brighter with strawberry scents and an exotic side with espresso bean and dark chocolate, absolutely lovely aromatics! I poured this “blind” for my tasting group which was split down the middle between loving it and those who found it too hot. There was a slight sense of alcohol here but very minor and unobtrusive. The medium-bodied Warre’s delivered a mélange of cherry and strawberry to my pleasure zone and I was really happy how well this was showing. The tannins were quite soft and I am not sure that this is going to get much better, but should be interesting as it develops more secondary nuances, as it is still quite primary. Even though it is a bit light, the taste is so delicious that I’d pop these now and for the next decade, but no reason to save these for the long haul, except for curiosity sake. (Note: subsequently … I had a much better bottle while visiting the Symington’s. Although this bottle was solid, it was not as great as the one in Portugal!) 92 points
1991 Warre’s Vintage Port – I like this vintage and the Warre’s is certainly one that I always enjoy. Thank you James Symington for advising me early in 1994 to invest in 1991s, (the Dow and Graham’s are very fine too!). Medium dark ruby, the nose closely mirrors the palate here, both offering sweet grenadine, tar, cedar and a charred note which I actually enjoyed. Sweet and delicious, the medium-body is supported by finely knit tannins and cleansing acidity. This is put together well and always delivers pleasure. There is still some solid upside potential here and I’d suggest drinking this through 2028. 92+ points
2003 Warre’s Vintage Port – Opaque purple. Demonstrates an unyielding, reserved nose which improved significantly with lots of airtime and offered fragrant red berry fruit, mocha and a bit of spirit. Warre's ‘03 is a full-bodied Port, whose foundation is a super structure. In fact, it is the most tannic of the Symington’s “Big 3” as a cask sample. It possesses lively acidity, is deftly balanced and has the grip and characteristics to cellar for the long haul. This Port reveals very sweet raspberry, cherry and a distinct black pepper nuance that play out to support the tannic and long lasting finish. 9,000 cases produced. It should age beautifully for 3-4 decades. 93+ points
2005 Quinta da Cavadinha Vintage Port – Cask sample. This ooze monster is one of the better VPs of the vintage and both the 2004 and 2005 SQVPs from the Cavadinha property have impressed me and I look forward to seeing how the next full-bore Warre’s VP is going to present itself. Deeply extracted dark purplish-crimson color and fully opaque. Classy from the first sniff its vivid violet, licorice and plum notes offered a sexy scent. Initially it showed a medium body and later joined the ranks of heavy weight contenders. Big, bright and massively structured with an intertwined marionberry and pomegranate profile, the fruit tannins are enormous and will make for a long lived Port. It’s a harmonious wine that may not be a blockbuster, but it exudes complexity on the mid-palate and possesses a sound foundation, firmly based in its superb balance and has excellent prospects for aging 2-3 decades. Drink today, tomorrow or through 2030. 94-96+ points