Port Basics


Enjoying Port

En Primeur

The majority of Vintage Port has always been and still is sold “en primeur”, whereby case-lot orders are placed at the time the Vintage is declared, for delivery later in the year or early the following year. As an example, the 2007 Vintage was declared in April or May of 2009, and we began to take orders at the en primeur, or release, price. The wine was bottled by June 2009 and shipments began that summer.

Typically, retailers will launch their Vintage Port offers in June of the year of declaration, and delivery could be made to you later that year or early the following. Many retailers offer storage in bond, an excellent option for several reasons. First, this means they will hold the wine in storage for you, at ideal conditions of temperature and humidity, until you choose to take delivery. For those without a good home cellar arrangement, this can be a great help. Secondly, very often the price paid at the time of the en primeur offer is the price of the wine only – payment of taxes and duties can be delayed until such time as you take delivery out of bonded storage. Ask you retailer for full details of the arrangements they offer.

En primeur orders are by case lot only – typically cases of either 6 or 12 x 75 cl bottles. En primeur is also the time to place orders for special format bottles – for example, magnums or jeraboams for anticipated special celebrations such as a birthday or anniversary. Cases of half-bottles are usually available as well (12 or 24 x 37.5 cl), and are a good choice if you often entertain smaller parties of just two to four people. Wine quality and ageing in half bottles is comparable to that of standard 75 cl bottles.

After Release

After the en-primeur release, the price of a fine Vintage Port typically climbs, though it is impossible to anticipate by how much, or how rapidly. Factors affecting price in later years include scarcity, reputation of the wine maker and producer, and receipt of prestigious awards or favourable reviews by influential critics.

Major or specialist wine retailers can often source individual bottles or cases of mature port, either from their own stock or through private market channels. In recent years premium wines have been perceived as an investment vehicle and an active market has developed for top wines, including many of the SFE Vintage Ports. Your wine merchant can advise you on their services around sourcing older wines for consumption or investment.Alternatively, many auction houses run specialist wine sales which include cases of mature port, and this can be an exciting option. There are several things to bear in mind, however:

Familiarise yourself with the auctioneer’s policies regarding pricing and payment – the hammer price you bid is not the amount you will finally pay! Typically there is a buyer’s premium, of 10% to 15% of hammer price. Also read carefully whether the hammer price will include taxes and duties or be ex-VAT. The catalogue should provide information about current rates for VAT, duty and any other applicable local taxes (bear in mind taxes on alcohol are often higher than taxes on other goods). You may wish to contact your wine merchant to determine recent prices and availability in the retail market, so you have some guidelines for your bidding. The auction catalog should tell you something about the provenance of the wine – most importantly, how has it been stored since the time of purchase? This can be the greatest risk in auction wine purchases, as poor storage conditions can compromise the quality of even the greatest wines. Check also how many bottles are in the lot – very often it will be a complete case of 6 or 12 bottles, but occasionally you may in fact be purchasing an odd number. One of those “missing” bottles may be opened for a pre-auction tasting, which you should attend if possible. Otherwise, their specialist may have tasted the wine privately and written tasting notes for the catalog. But do check carefully whether catalog notes are based on tasting a bottle from the auction lot, or from having tasted the wine on some other occasion.

Purchasing for Children

Laying down a few cases of Vintage Port to celebrate the birth of a child or god-child is an excellent and longstanding tradition. Not only will Vintage Port be drinking well for the child’s 21st birthday, it will last a lifetime and the recipient can enjoy the wine of his or her birth year throughout their life. Furthermore, fine Vintage Port should increase in value considerably over time, making it a nice investment if by chance the child should not turn out to be a Port drinker.