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Port producer proposes new classification for ‘young harvest’ releases

A Port producer has launched a bid to release young, premium quality Ports in the run-up to Christmas, three months after each harvest, but not everybody is so sure of the idea.

Albino Jorge Sousa, owner of Port estate Quinta da Boeira, said his proposal for a new classification called ‘Full Body-Young Harvest’ Ports would inject cashflow earlier for Port producers.

Jorge Sousa urged the Port sector to ‘wake up’ to meet what he said was growing demand for younger Ports from wine buyers and importers over the past two years.

His proposal comes amid wider efforts to help reinvigorate the Port category.

This year, Portugal’s Port and Douro Wine Institute, the IVDP, approved Port Tonic drinks in cans and also the new classifications – ‘Very, very old Port’, ‘50 year Tawny Port’ and ‘50 year White Port’ – reflecting its willingness to adopt changes to the category.

The IVDP told Decanter that it was analysing details of Jorge Sousa’s proposal, which it received just over a week ago.

At harvest, Ports are capable of showing aromas and flavours of forest fruits and dark chocolate. There have also been suggestions that some Ports are now easier to drink when young than in the past.

‘The consensus is that Ports are now more approachable when young,’ said Rob Symington, director of Symington Family Estates.

He attributed the changing profile of Port at harvest to quality control throughout the Port making process, from vineyard maturation studies to bunch selection at the winery door, as well as fermentation techniques and control – and ‘possibly’ more refined grape spirit than was used prior to the 1980s.

‘We would certainly not rule out using this new classification if it wins approval,’ Symington said.

However, Adrian Bridge, CEO of Port producer the Fladgate Partnership, said he feared the new proposal would ‘damage’ sales of Vintage and LBV Ports.

Bridge described the classification proposal as ‘Port Nouveau’.

But Jorge Sousa said only the best grapes usually selected for Vintage and LBV Ports would be used in the new class of ‘Full Body- Young Harvest’ Ports.

He also said producers were now better able to assess vintage quality at harvest.

‘We select vineyard plots and the best quality grapes, and we spend more time during fermentation extracting the colour from the skin of the grapes,’ he said.

‘These styles of wines are more expensive to make, with much more work at the vineyards and at the winery,’ he added.

Jorge Sousa dismissed Port industry concerns that more ageing was required for Ports to enable the brandy used for their fortification to ‘marry’ or integrate with base wines and to ensure stabilisation. ‘After three months, our young Ports are ready,’ he said.

Under the proposal, ‘Full Body-Young Harvest’ Ports could be aged in chestnut, stainless steel or wooden vats, prior to their release in December.

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