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Wine Legend: Dow’s Vintage Port 1955

Standing out for its elegance as well as richness...

Wine Legend: Dow’s Vintage Port 1955

Bottles produced N/A

Composition Principally Quinta do Bomfim, with an important Senhora da Ribeira component and possibly a very small contribution from Quinta do Zimbro

Yield N/A

Alcohol 20%

Release price £1

Price today £360

A legend because…

There was a plethora of excellent Ports made in this vintage, but Dow’s has long stood out for its elegance as well as richness. William Warre, who sold these wines for many years, described them as ‘rather more delicate, feminine wines’ that ‘seldom let anyone down in quality’. They age well, even if in their youth they seem less structured and powerful than some other well-known Ports. They are also a touch drier than some of the more sumptuous Ports, but that doesn’t impede their ageing ability.

Looking back

Silva & Cosens, an Anglo-Portuguese shipper, bought the established Dow’s brand in 1877, and one of the shareholders was a member of the Warre family. Warre’s own Port was owned by the Symington family, who invested in Silva & Cosens, and by 1961 had become the sole owner. There were no significant changes in the wine’s style during this period.

The vintage

This was the most widely declared vintage since 1927, so consistent was the evaluation of the wines by 26 shippers. The spring months were unusually hot and led to a good flowering. The summer was slightly warmer than average, and the little rain that fell sporadically proved beneficial as it quenched the thirst of dehydrating berries. The fine weather continued into the autumn. The resulting wines were rich but so well balanced that a long life in the cellar seemed certain.

The terroir

Like all vintage Ports, the Dow’s is a blend of different grape varieties from different vineyards. However, the mainstay of the blend is fruit from the Symington family’s Quinta do Bomfim, close to Pinhão, and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira in the isolated Douro Superior sub-region, farther upstream. The proportions of each vineyard’s contribution varied from vintage to vintage. The grape varieties were then field-blended and would have included Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Francisca, Tinto Cão and a small proportion of Touriga Nacional, which was then much less widely planted than it is today.

The wine

At this time virtually all of the wine would have been foot-trodden in lagares, the stone tanks traditionally used to crush the grapes and begin their fermentation. The fermentation period would have been slightly longer than for most other vintage Ports, and this accounts for the slightly drier style of Dow’s, as the yeasts would have consumed more sugar. After 18 months of storage in large wooden vats (to minimise the wood’s influence), the wine was bottled without fining or filtration.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent frequently tasted Dow’s Ports between the mid-1960s and 1998. In 1994 he noted that the 1955 had ‘a silkily tannic texture’ but in later years bottles were ‘tending to dry out although very flavoury, with a lingering finish. Vanilla and liquorice noted, then a touch of acidity creeping up.’

Richard Mayson adored the wine in 2008: ‘Still very deep in colour, only just browning on the rim; extraordinarily fresh, powerful, tight-knit bitter chocolate aromas, minty fruit; very fine and focused, dry in characteristic Dow style, remarkably fresh, ripe, minty fruit. Absolutely delicious. Just about as good as it gets.’

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