Fonseca-Guimaraens Tasting – Royal Air Force Club

Roy’s Note: Andy Velebil is no stranger to FTLOP’ers as he’s written several Guest Corner articles here in the past and of course, he’s the moderator of our Forum too. Andy has been drinking Port for a dozen years now and made his first of many trips to Portugal on the 2006 Port Harvest Tour. You will find his article recounting a fantastic Fonseca-Guimaraens vertical tasting held a year ago in London, an informative read.

APRIL 04, 2011

In April 2011 I once again made the long flight from Los Angeles to London to join many friends and fellow Port lovers for several days of Port tasting. Almost a year of detailed planning was about to come to fruition and April 4th would be the main event. With the help of The Fladgate Partnership CEO Adrian Bridge, this mammoth and monumental tasting of Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Ports was about to begin. As with a previous years tasting, we added in some key Classic Declarations from Fonseca as comparison.

The History of Fonseca Guimaraens

Before I continue I must inform readers that during the tasting, Adrian Bridge mentioned the history of this company was very complex. I later found out when doing research for this article just how complex it was. With David Guimaraens and Chris Forbes very gracious help after the fact, I’ve done my best to accurately condense that complex history here.

Fonseca was founded in 1815. In 1822 Manuel Pedro Guimaraens gained control of the Fonseca Monteiro Co., left Portugal for London, and began selling Ports under many names; including Manuel Pedro Guimaraens, Fonseca Monteiro & Guimaraens, Fonseca Monteiro & Co, Fonseca & Guimaraens and Fonseca & Monteiro. By 1840 the company was the second largest shipper of wine and this was also the year that saw the very first Vintage Port released under just the “Fonseca” label. From this point forward the company only used the “Fonseca” label for it’s finest Vintage Ports, retaining the other labels for lesser quality ones.

While Quinta d. Terra Feita was under contract to Fonseca to supply Ports, the 1909 and 1911 vintages were released under the Quinta d. Terra Feita label and not a Fonseca label. For all intents and purposes, 1931 is considered the first vintage under the Fonseca-Guimaraens label. 1931 also saw a Fonseca Special Reserve released as well. In 1933 and 1934 the company released Vintage Ports under both Fonseca and Fonseca-Guimaraens labels. However, after 1934 the company changed their policy and the two labels were never again released in the same year.

The London company of M P Guimaraens & Son closed in 1928 and the offices were moved to Oporto and operated under Guimaraens & Co name. Yet Guimaraens & Co. and Fonseca remained separately run companies until 1967 when Alistar Robertson merged the two companies together. A move that saved both companies from financial ruin and eventually led again to their rise in prominence. I must clarify this last point, while the administrative parts merged, the stocks of wine remained separate to retain each houses distinctive heritage, traditions, and wine style.

Unlike many Shippers who release a Single Quinta Vintage Port in non-classic declared years, Fonseca-Guimaraens isn’t a Single Quinta. It is a blend from the same Quinta’s that classic declared Fonseca’s come from. This allows them to be very selective in choosing the top barrels to blend into a high quality product. In essence, a Fonseca-Guimaraens is nothing more than a true Fonseca in a year not deemed a classic.

The Fonseca-Guimaraens Tasting

While my tasting notes on each wine are a bit longer than usual I thought it necessary to also include a summary, or in many cases direct quotes, from the actual Vintage Reports written at the end of each harvest by the current winemaker. I felt the historical significance and educational value is immense and worthy of the extra reading to gain a true context of how the vintage year played out.

I also must add the reason for a general lack of descriptors on the nose was the choice of stemware used. While the glasses were fine for tasting, they weren’t very good for obtaining descriptors on the nose. Then again, it’s not easy to find over 400 glasses suitable for mature Ports to use all at one time. As usual in these tastings, about half way through we took a much needed break for dinner.

Fonseca 30 Year Old Tawny Port - Unknown when this was bottled, as it had no year printed on it, although according to Adrian Bridge it was quite old. The color was a murky brown with lots of oranges and toffee on the nose. Apricots, nuts, wood showed promise but a very soft texture with little acidity to keep it fresh led to a rather disappointing experience. Newer bottles are far better than this one showed so don’t take this score as representative of current releases. 85 points

1933 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port  - A very light ruby color. Soft silky apricots on a fully mature palate laced into a long and very sweet finish. Well past its prime but a pleasure to be able to try such a rare old Port. Interestingly, this was sealed with an old white t-cork with “Guimaraens & Co” printed on the top. 87 Points

The white T-cork sealing the 1933

1942 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - The color was similar to the 1933 but a touch paler. Plenty of bold oranges, honey, and tobacco on the nose. The palate was fuller and brighter than the 1933 with tangerines cedar, tobacco, and a lovely silkiness across it. A dry winter and cold spring, rain in June helped. A hot summer and some rain in September helped did good. The vintage started on September 2nd and some weather from the 28th onward caused slow fermentations. While the wines had good colour they seemed to be lacking in body. 90 Points

1955 Fonseca Vintage Port - A dark reddish color was holding up well. Plenty of tobacco, brown sugar, noticeable tannins, with a semi-sweet texture. A long similar finish rounded out an excellent bottle. One that is still holding up very well and should for some time to come. 95 Points

Me pouring the 1955 Fonseca VP

1957 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - A very light ruby color with a strange sweet vegetal nose. Compared to the others before it, this was a drier style with tobacco and odd notes on the back end. I’ve never had this so I don’t have a reference but something did not seem correct with this bottle. I’ll score it, but take it with a grain of salt. Picking started on September 23rd. 78 Points

1960 Fonseca Vintage Port - A light ruby with no noticeable browning. The nose was a mix of sweetness and meats. Still quite tannic and full bodied with that typical sweetness these have shown so far, coupled with solid acidity, licorice, anise, and a long rich full finish. Still holding up well and I wish I could easily find more of this. Although May was wet, June was warm, and July was hot. Good berry set and then mature berries appeared larger than usual. Picking generally started on September 19th and the weather was fine and warm till the 23rd after it was dull, rainy, and cool. The wines took a lot of work and the color was good. 94 Points

1961 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Ruby with browning. A very poignant menthol nose. The palate was very soft and creamy with tobacco, licorice, oranges and brown sugar on the finish. A slightly simple mid palate hurt the overall score. My first time trying this vintage of it so I don’t know if that would have fleshed out with a longer decant. A wet and cold May, then a wet July caused sporadic outbreaks of mildew and a hail storm caused some damage on higher slopes. Wines seem to be more flavory than last year and sugar graduations were high, although the musts did not “stick” to the fingers as one would have expected. Yields were low and many farmers did not make up their full authorizations. 88 Points

1964 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - A brownish ruby color with a licorice nose. Tons of cedar on a very sweet palate, but a clipped finish hurt what was otherwise promising. A cold Spring lasted until the end of May causing the grapes to be 3 weeks behind normal. Hot June weather helped. Harvest started on October 1st and slow fermentions with light colours. The wines seemed to be lacking in body, but were sweeter than last year. 85 Points

1965 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Sadly this was corked. A dry winter and a wet spring was followed by a hot dry summer. Due to lack of rain the grapes had little juice. Picked started generally on September 27th, rain fell on the 24th and did more good than harm. N/R

Adrian Bridge deep in thought while taking notes

1966 Fonseca Vintage Port - A nice dark ruby color that is still youthful looking. While this showed a lot of heat, it had typical tobacco and cherry notes I’ve come to expect. However, this was a bit rougher than other bottles I’ve had and wasn’t showing its best on this evening. A very wet and warmer than normal winter. A very hot summer saw May setting records. The vintage started on September 26th with fully ripe grapes with fairly high sugar degrees, 13°. Rain on the 30th helped keep fermentations temperatures down. The musts took a lot of work and samples had deep colour. 91 Points

1967 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Light ruby with a soft soapy nose full of licorice. This was immediately lovely on the palate, balanced with cherries and some tannins that led into a long full finish. Holding up very well considering many 1967’s are starting to show signs of fading. Rainfall from October to March was 13.69 inches, slightly less than average. May had 2.54 inches and caused poor berry set. But July thru September were hot with almost no rain falling. Musts were slightly green and unripe, but had lots of colour and the wines should develop well. 92 Points

1968 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - A medium dark ruby with some purple still evident. Plums and licorise on the nose. The palate is pleasant yet simple. Dusty tobacco with a clipped finish. If this bottle is representative it’s time to drink these up soon. A warm and dry winter with a little rain in early Spring and a very hot June. The general picking date was September 30th, although the last farm started in October 14th. Sugar degrees varied in the lower Douro farms from 9° to 15° and in the upper Douro they were slightly lower at 13°. Musts took even more work than last year due mainly to the cool nights. 87 Points

A well needed break for dinner

1970 Fonseca Vintage Port - A light purple that belies it true age. The nose is no different with dark plums dominating. Black cherries, medium sweet, lots of tannins, and some menthol showing late in the game. An amazingly long full finish rounds out a Port with a very long life ahead of it. Winter rainfall was above average at 16.78 inches followed by a dry Spring and rain in May and June. Almost no rain fell from July to October and the vintage was made under ideal conditions. Picking started on September 21st and the bunches were in perfect condition and completely free from disease. Sunny and cool nights resulted in musts with tremendous depth of colour that took a lot of work. Yields were high and it is expected that the new wines will be of a high quality. 96 Points

1972 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Compared to others the color was very pale, almost watery with an unpleasant odd medicinal smell that wasn’t pleasing. The palate tasted of soapy rotten oranges and also wasn’t pleasant. A vintage not often seen as this was the first of two years affected by the aguardente scandal. A vintage that saw very low yields, picking generally started on September 25th. The price of musts rose 20% but brandy prices remained the same as 1971. The price differential between the lower Douro and the best musts in the upper Douro is standing at around 60%, which is now a true evaluation of the difference in quality between these two areas. Fermentation temperatures were low and musts took a considerable amount of work. 68 Points



1976 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - The color of this was amazing dark, being solid black with a tawny colored rim around the outside. I can’t ever remember seeing a color like this on this old VP. The nose was very gummy and thick with a floral aspect similar to the elderberry flower. Very reducted on the palate with thick tar, raisins, and green stems. Yet it was still tannic at the same time. The finish was moderate with a rich mint aspect to it. While good in its own right, served blind this could have easily been mistaken for a lighter style PX Sherry. An extremely dry winter was followed by a hot summer causing springs and wells to dry up for the first time in living memory. Some older vines didn’t survive the summer. Some rain started to fall in August and September was cool with light rains. Picking started on September 23rd and fermentations were slow due to cool weather. Yields were down over 30% compared to 1975. 89 Points

1977 Fonseca Vintage Port - Lighter ruby in color with cherries dominating the nose. On the palate there were plenty of cherries, leather, cedar, and a touch of heat which lead into a long tannic finish. A good bottle but not up to par for what this bottle can normally show. 91 Points

1978 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - A pale ruby color with that now familiar light cherry and cedar nose. Very pleasing on the palate with licorice, tobacco leaf, anise, and a lovely sweet medium long finish. Based on this bottle it appears to be fully mature and in a perfect drinking spot at the moment. A very wet winter. Flowering was good but affected in some regions by cold, wet weather in May. Long hot summer was followed by light rain in September. At harvest, bunches were well formed and free of disease. Relatively long maceration times, due to warm days and cool nights, produced wines of excellent depth of colour and intensity of aromas, although with slightly less body than those made the previous year. 90 Points

1982 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - While not corked, this bottle had a signature oaky/woody aspect on the palate that set it apart from other vintages. There was an odd flavor of bacon which I don’t normally encounter in a VP. Still tannic but out of balance with the rest of it. A short simple finish wrapped up this Port from what has become a variable vintage. The drought from the previous year continued throughout 1982 and by September only 6.75 inches of rain had fallen in Pinhao. What rain did fall, did so at the most appropriate time and flowering and budset were above the mean. A long hot summer meant picking started early on September 13th. Fruit was generally healthy and sugar levels were high. Hot weather lead to some rapid fermentations, but the wines still showed extremely good colour, firm structure, and an unusually powerful and fragrant aroma. 84 Points

1984 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - A nice even medium ruby in color. Lighter bodied than other vintages with a touch of heat and a simple short finish. Pleasant and drinking well, but at peak if this bottle is representative. A very wet, cold, and humid winter continued into the Spring delaying flowering and general growth. However, later summer and early Autumn the weather changed for the better and the Douro was blessed with exceptionally hot and sunny weather. The vintage began with bunches of grapes that were well formed although lacking in some natural sugar content. Then mid vintage the Douro suffered cyclonic weather for 3 days which stopped picking and lowered sugar readings for a while. The weather then cleared and the vintage continued under ideal conditions. 84 Points

Derek helping with pouring

1985 Fonseca Vintage Port - When you see a Port this old that still has purple showing good things are hopefully to follow and this didn’t disappoint. Big rich and young fruit coupled with youthful harsh tannins, cigar, a bold body and a long rich tannic finish. This is still a baby and has decades ahead of it. There is a reason this holds a top spot in this vintage and this is it. A cold and wet winter continued into Spring and bud burst came early in April. Berry set was above average and the rain in April was extremely beneficial. A hot summer with no rain was broken by a 3-hour thunderstorm on September 7th. Fonseca decided to start picking earlier than most other Shippers and were able to get all their first class grapes in under ideal conditions and before the rain which fell later in the month. 95 Points

1986 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Seducing sweet red cherries, with cigar box flavors dominating the palate. Drinks very well now, but a bit delicate and based on this bottle I’d recommend drinking these sooner for maximum pleasure. There were no extreme temperatures but the cold weather continued until middle of May. A heavy thunderstorm on May 25th caused considerable damage in the Alijo/Sabrosa area and damaged some young shoots in certain top quality areas. Plant growth was delayed until early May when an extremely hot streak caused extremely rapid shoot growth. A very hot June and July, and a cooler than normal August. By the beginning of September the fruit was slightly backwards in maturation. Sporadic rain between September 11th and 23rd caused some rot, mainly in the lower Douro. Warmer weather then prevailed and sugar and acidity readings returned to normal. 1986 turned out much better than had been originally envisaged. 89 Points

The bottles after being decanted and poured

1987 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - As with its older brother the 1985, this also still had a purple hue in the color. Still young and rough with lots of chocolate, tannins, and a big rich long finish. So inviting at the moment but with lots of future ageing potential. Another stellar bottle from a vintage that arguably should have been a classic declaration. Winter rainfall only totaled 7.14 inches. A warm dry Spring and flowering in the Valley started in early May although it was a month that was very humid causing outbreaks of mildew and oidium. Summer had intense heat in June, July and early August with a few days of light rain the last three days of August. By the time picking started on September 16th it was extremely hot and orders were given only to pick until the early afternoon. By harvest the grapes already were suffering from hydric stress and were subsisting on their own fruit. Uneven maturation even within the same bunches, with outside berries small and wrinkled and inside berries were just ripe. Sugar levels were exceptionally high. By the 23rd rain started to fall which was beneficial as the plants quickly absorbed the water. Interesting is what Bruce Guimaraens stated at the end of his report, “It is too early at this stage to predict the quality of the 1987 Ports.” 94 Points

1988 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Like the 1987 this too still had a purple hue to it. Where the 1987 was dense and rich, the 1988 was fresh and crisp with red fruit, plenty of tannins, figs that showed later, and a young rough finish. While this probably won’t make as old of bones as the 1987, this still has a nice long life ahead of it. A superb job in a vintage rarely talked about. A warm wet winter and Spring that led to a number of fungus diseases which caused serious damage to the crop in spite of constant treatment. A hot and wet spring and early summer helped spread fungus spores and hot August weather resulted in the desiccation of the affected berries, which were cut off during harvest. This caused a significant reduction in quantities produced. The upper Douro was generally down 50% and the Baixo Corgo was approximately down 30-40%. The Port Wine Institute authorized 140,000 pipes to be produced, the largest amount in history. Yet, it would be unlikely if even 100,000 pipes are produced. 92 Points

1991 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - I’ve had this many times and something was slightly off from the moment I tasted this; eucalyptus, tobacco, and some stewed fruit. This appeared to have suffered some poor storage conditions somewhere along the way and was slightly cooked. Yet despite that this was still pleasant and a testament to how well this Port normally can be (which is far better than this bottle). A generally dry winter until heavy rain broke out in early January that lasted until March. Flowering took place in May in warm dry conditions. A hot and dry summer with excellent flower set. Due to lack of rain the grapes were unbalanced and showed high acidity levels until early September when rain brought it back down. Sugar levels were above average and the grapes showed balanced maturity. Bruce Guimaraens wrote, “It remains to be seen how the young wines will develop during the forthcoming Winter months, but at this stage they look very promising.” 88 Points

1992 Fonseca Vintage Port - I was immediately struck by the large youthful tannins on first sipping this. Then a dense wall of fresh red fruit and berries, and tobacco leaf which envelope the senses. The finish seemed to last forever and was no different than the palate, just a seamless Port from start to finish. 1991/1992 was a split declaration and choosing this vintage was clearly the right choice for Fonseca. A dry winter with only light rain falling in April and May. Flowering started the second week of May and a few days of rain in June was extremely beneficial. While most shippers started picking on the 21st, the Taylor/Fonseca group did not start until the 28th when the fruit was fully mature. Well balanced acidity levels combined with high sugar levels and excellent color extraction resulted in musts of very high quality. Bruce Guimaraens wrote, “Whilst it is still far too early to predict how the 1992 Ports will develop, the first signs…bodes well for the future.” 96 Points

1995 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - While this was still tannic and tasting of fresh red fruit like the 1992, this didn’t have the depth that the ’92 possesses. Drinking well now, but with a good many years to come, this well-made Port will be a very good one to sip while you wait for the 1992’s to mature. A warm winter with heavy rain fall and a dry February with hot early Spring. Budding started earlier than normal, in mid April, as a result. A cool early summer was followed by a hot August causing some shrinking in the grapes. That led to some shippers to start picking in last week of August which was far too early. Picking started on September 11th and except for one day of rain on the 19th, the weather remained fine. Bruce Guimaraens wrote that sugar readings were highest in his 40 years of winemaking. “An abundant vintage in quantity, and excellent in quality, the young wines have a promising future.” 92 Points

1996 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - A bit of departure with this one, as this was dominated by bitter chocolate, some slightly stewed fruit, and then a massive wave of chocolate late on the finish. This bottle may not have been perfectly on-par, yet it still performed well. I’d like to try this one again as I think it will show much better. A wet winter which saw some flooding. Flowering took place in hot weather on May 25th. August was cool and ripening was uneven and by early September the grapes were tasting green and lacking in flavor. September 7-8th saw almost an inch of rain followed by a week of rain during the 16th-21st. Strong winds and hot weather arrived starting on the 27th which dried things out and allowed the grapes to fully ripen. 89 Points

1998 Fonseca Quinta do Panascal Vintage Port - I really enjoyed the fresh vibrant ruby fruit, moderate tannins, and well-balanced chocolate that shows later on the medium length finish. Drinking very well at present, this makes a fantastic mid-term drinker. Very high rainfall during winter replenished the water reserves but caused widespread erosion issues. A cold and wet April delayed shoot growth but a warmer May, coupled with plentiful water reserves, caused a large shoot growth. From flowering until harvest there was no rain. The month of July was extremely hot with average record temperatures being recorded. Powdery mildew was a major problem for many farmers in the region. Rain started to fall on September 20th and it rained almost daily for the duration of the picking. Yields were the lowest in the past decade, in some cases 60% lower than average. Although the rain caused some dilution the potential for quality was enormous. 90 Points

1998 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Better balanced than the Panascal with its fresh cherries, dustier tannins, more complex body and a sexy long finish. I was very impressed with this bottle and must seek some out for my own cellar. See above tasting note for David Guimaraens Vintage Report summary. 92 Points

2000 Fonseca Vintage Port - No signs of even the slightest fading in color, this is still opaque as ever. From the first sip there is no hiding the fact this is a monster. Massive dense berries with lots of furry tannins laced between expressive flowers and cassis that overwhelm. Impossible to tell where the palate stops and the long finish begins. This has an amazing laser precision to it. I’m confident this will become a legendary Fonseca in due time. 97 Points

2001 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Plenty of lush rich cherries on a medium body with furry tannins, which bordered on being too tannic at this moment in its young life. But a good lush fruity finish rounds out another excellent vintage for this Port. One of the wettest winters on record, Pinhao recorded 1,057mm (17.3”). A moderately hot summer with light winds which helped prevent disease. Harvest started at Quinta de Vargellas on September 17th and on the 20th in the Pinhao Valley. 10mm of rain on the 29th and again on the 5th of October affected only the end of the vintage. Yields were up almost 30% over 2000. David Guimaraens wrote, “This year is certainly distinguished by being a year of larger production with a consistently high overall quality, as has not been seen since 1995.” 91+ Points

2004 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Just a solid wall of black fruit, with primary large tannins, solid acidity, and a lush quality that really makes it stand out. A nice dose of chocolate on the long lingering finish rounds out a Port which had me coming back for more. A very dry winter and summer lead to worries about the vines abilities to ripen the grapes. Along with a cool summer, with only one day above 40° recorded in Vale de Mendiz, was saved by the rains of mid-August that allowed the grapes to ripen. A late start to harvest on the 20th and hot weather brought Baume’s up to 15°. 92 Points

2005 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port - Full of primary grapes and cherries still, this was quite tight and took some coaxing to express itself. Tannic and acidic, this was rougher than the 2004 at the moment. While the 2004 drinks better now, this has better structure and will be the better of the two years down the road. A fantastic showing of this Port. With the exception of winter rains in October and November of 2004, it was a very cold and dry winter. Budburst started later than normal, on March 24th. The whole growing season was marked by the vines struggle to grow. With only 100mm of rain in the Spring, three distinct heat waves in June, July, and the first week of August caused a tremendous amount of stress on the vines, limiting their development in every aspect. However, the grapes showed a remarkable capacity to slowly develop and are the healthiest in years. An extremely hot August gave way to 20-30mm of rain between September 6th-9th, which gave critical relief and allowed the grapes to finish ripening. Perfect weather during picking led to “Great Portos being made from the Douro, regardless of region or altitude.” 93 Points

 Article and photos by Andy Velebil © February 2012

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