Latest Releases: Graham’s LBV and Crusted Ports

Henry Shotton assessing the Graham's LBV 2006 in the tasting room in Gaia

You know that we at Graham’s are obsessed with quality, but this is never more clear than when we are tasting our ports just one last time before committing to bottle or release a new wine.

Typically a cask sample or bottle will be brought up from the Lodge to our tasting rooms for our head wine maker Charles Symington to review and discuss with the Sala de Prova (tasting room) team.  If he approves the quality and character of the wine, we go ahead with the commercial decisions to bottle wines presently in cask or to release bottles from storage at the Lodge into the marketplace.

Henry Shotton, whom our readers will know as the winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos during harvest, is officially the first after Charles to taste the wines and begin writing up the tasting notes, but mysteriously enough word goes out those bottles are open and available to taste, and nearly every member of the family as well as Marketing and Sales (and blogging!) teams finds their way to the tasting room to check out the wines for themselves!   Henry leaves his pad out for everyone to note down their impressions, and when the reviews are all in, he will draft the official technical tasting sheets which will be found on the Graham’s  website.

Graham’s 2006 LBV

Last week, we had a cask sample of Graham’s 2006 LBV available for final review.  The wine has been patiently ageing in immense wooden balseiros at our Lodge for nearly four years now, and the decision has been made to bottle this early in 2011.  Unofficially, this is really luscious.  Officially, the tasting notes are as follows:

Winemaker’s Comment on the 2006 Vintage

“While the last fermentations are ending at the time of writing, it is clear that there are some very fine tanks and casks of Port from the 2006 harvest amongst the total wine made this year. Overall it can be said that the average quality of wine made is reasonably good throughout the valley.”

Charles Symington, 16th October 2006

Graham’s 2006 Late Bottled Vintage has a dark, opaque ruby colour with a deep red rim. With a lovely complex nose packed with opulent and powerful aromas of freshly picked rich, dark, blackberries, black cherries and hints of chocolate. The palate has a velvety intensity and is backed with solid, structured, rich and intense black fruit flavours.

A racy and firm tannic structure leads to a long, sweet and immensely seductive finish.

Graham’s Crusted Port Bottled 2003

The crusted style of port is possibly one of the least understood.  Briefly, it is a blend of wines from two or possibly three harvest years which is aged two to three years in wood, then bottled without any fining or filtration, hence the name “crusted” as, after several years in bottle, a natural deposit will form.  Just as for vintage ports, the wine should be stored lying on its side, and when ready to serve, should stand upright for a few hours to allow the deposit to settle before the wine is decanted.  IVDP regulation only allows the year of bottling to feature on the label.  Regulation also requires the maker hold the wine in bottle at least three years before releasing to the market.  The wines will drink well upon release, but will age and develop in bottle very like a vintage port; in fact crusted port is an excellent value alternative to vintage.

In the case of Graham’s Crusted Port Bottled 2003, this was officially released last month, though another bottle was brought up from the Lodge last week together with the LBV sample and opened for everyone to check one more time!  Official tasting notes:

The crusted was opened in the morning, but was too cold from the cellar, we had to wait till the afternoon to taste it.

Deep ruby colour with a red rim.

At the time of writing (2010) Graham’s Crusted Port bottled 2003 has beautifully mellow and perfumed bottle age bouquet. Intense nose of crushed berries and red fruits such as cherries combine with freshly picked mint and eucalyptus notes.

On the palate suave flavours of ripe blackberries and hints of dark chocolate are lifted by silky tannins and a fresh acidity, leading to a long persistent finish.

Drinking well. But still room to develop.

We certainly enjoyed these wines in the tasting room and hope you will enjoy them on your tables soon.  When you do try them, please stop back and leave a comment for us here or on our Facebook page, we would love to hear from you.

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Drainage in the Douro Vineyards

Rainwater from vineyard terraces runs off in the roadside ditches as it should, though the drain needed to be dug out

Regular readers may recall Paul Symington’s article about the heavy rains last winter  and the damage they caused in our vineyards.  Whilst the climate in the port vineyards of the Douro is renowned for being dry, as much rain as we do get tends to occur almost entirely during the winter, so we are likely to receive a lot of rain in a short space of time.  Managing drainage when it does rain is critical for several reasons.

First, we want to encourage as much water as possible to soak deeply into the soil, rather than run off, in order to build the water supply for the roots of our vines to draw on during the summer months.  Second, we want any runoff to follow a path of our choosing, to avoid damage to the terraces and again to try to ultimately capture the water in some useful place.

Water collecting at the back of the terrace, as it should
The terraces are arched to encourage excess water to run off the ends

To accomplish these goals, the patamares (banked terraces) are carefully sculpted to direct the flow of water in a very distinct pattern.  The level terrace surface is in fact slightly sloped backwards, into the face of the hill, to encourage the water to accumulate in a place where it will ultimately soak into the vineyard soil.   Additionally, the length of the terrace is slightly arched, or  sometimes angled entirely to one end, so that any water that cannot soak in and needs to run off, will be led to the ends of the terrace, and from there into dug-out gutters that run along the sides of the vineyard roadways.  In strategic places we open up drains, where the water can empty off the roadway and into underground pipes.

On a recent rainy-day visit to Quinta da Cavadinha (the flagship quinta for our sister brand, Warre’s, in the Pinhão Valley) our research viticulturalist Miles Edlmann was very encouraged to see that although the patamares in the photos are still under construction, this water flow pattern is already in effect.

Above all, we do not want water to accumulate near, or cascade over the lip of any terrace – this is the most damaging possible scenario, as the soil quickly erodes under the rushing water, forming a deep cut in the face of the terrace.  In addition, if the talude, the bank, becomes saturated, that could undermine the stability of the entire terrace.  In the case of old walled terraces, this kind of accumulation or cascading is even worse.  Not only is it heartbreaking to see these beautiful old walls destroyed, but the UNESCO World Heritage status of the Douro Vineyards obliges us to repair the damage, naturally something we would rather not have to do.

Spring water runs clean from the pipe that leads it out of the hillside

Occasionally it isn’t just rain that causes trouble – after a bank collapsed two years running, we felt certain there was something more than the winter rainfall causing the trouble.  Sure enough, during the dry summer months we watched the hillside closely and found distinct wet patches in an otherwise dry landscape.  We dug down and discovered a spring inside the hill which was keeping the whole area saturated year round.  Ultimately we created a stone-filled soakaway space around the spring and installed drainage pipes to channel the water out of the hillside, so the bank could dry out and stabilise.  During our recent visit to Cavadinha the spring water was running out from that pipe almost crystal clear, as opposed to the rainwater runoff which was clouded with soil.

Miles was also pleased to see how the dense cover crops between vines in the vertical plantings were preventing runoff and erosion, but the many uses of cover crops is subject for another article.

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Olive Harvest at Malhadas

Are you wondering what we do up in the Douro all winter?  Whilst there is a lot of work going on in the Graham’s vineyards, which we will write about shortly, we also have another harvest we have to finish before year end:  the olives.

Graham’s quintas are typically only about 50% under vine, the balance of the land being either left wild or planted with olives and citrus.  When and where possible the olives are harvested and pressed at the local cooperative.  The resulting oil supplies the family, the quintas’ own tables, and the lunch room and kitchen at our offices in Gaia, year round.

Olives dripping rain at Cavadinha, 7 December

We thought you might be interested to see the olive harvest.  You may also be interested and amused to know what it took to get this story!  The first week I was due to go up and join Miles at Quinta da Vila Velha to see the start of harvest there, but Miles called to say it was postponed.  The local cooperative was shut down, waiting for parts for a broken bit of equipment,  and we have no capacity for holding the olives, we have to be able to take them directly to the cooperative after picking.  The second week, the cooperative was back in business, and Miles and I agreed I should come up on the Wednesday.  It wasn’t till around 5:00 AM that morning, as I was getting ready to catch the train up river, that it dawned on me it was the day of a general strike in Portugal, so there was no relying on the train service to run to the Douro.  The third week, I did succeed in getting up river by car with Miles as far as Cavadinha, the lead quinta for our sister brand, Warre’s.  Whilst checking out the state of the drainage in the heaving rain, Miles got the call that the olive harvesting that day at Vila Velha was being cancelled, due to the rain.  Finally, week 4, I gave up on reaching Vila Velha with Miles and went to Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, just beyond Vesúvio in the Douro Superior to – at last! – watch and photograph the olive harvest.

The wait was worth it – the day was spectacular, perfect harvest weather:  clear and sunny, albeit at around 10° C it was 15 to 25 degrees cooler than we are accustomed to for the grape harvest.

Follow the harvest in our photo gallery:  click on an image, which will open in a new blog page, then follow the links at the bottom of each photo back and forth through the series.  When you want to return to the blog, click on the post title at the top of the individual photo display page.

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Graham’s Ports and Chocolate

In a recent discussion about wine, someone said, by all means, drink the wine of a country with its unique food, but when you are having family food, comfort food – drink Portuguese wines.  For many of us, chocolate is the ultimate comfort food, and Port is certainly the ultimate Portuguese wine.  The combination is spectacular.

As with any food pairing, the key concept is matching the weight and intensity of the food with that of the wine.  With dark, intense chocolate flavours we suggest Graham’s Six Grapes, a Late Bottled Vintage or a younger, ripe-fruit-driven Vintage Port.  In fact, when we show these Ports we frequently provide a plain 70% chocolate to our guests.

At two food pairing events in England earlier this year restaurant owners, chefs and sommeliers tried several of our wines with a wide variety of foods.  There was no doubt at both venues that our Six Grapes wine was ideal with dark chocolate, in fact the ultimate favourite of one evening was the pairing of  Six Grapes and Mini Dark Chocolate Fondants.  Your blogger is (frequently!) partial to humble home made chocolate brownies – very dark intense ones – with Six Grapes.

The English tasting groups also enjoyed Quinta dos Malvedos 1998 with a Chocolate Praline dessert, and imagined that a chocolate paired with some kind of brambley flavour would also be good.

With that in mind, we did a little research recently, and made an intense chocolate torte which we served with fresh raspberries and Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage 1999.  The raspberry and chocolate combination together with the rich, plummy intensity and long luscious finish of the wine was out of this world.

Have you tried Ports with chocolates or chocolate desserts?  Will you be serving this combination during your holiday and end of year festivities?  We would love to have your comments and suggestions here, or if you have photos, please post them with your comments on our Facebook page (link in the margin).

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September and October 2010 Douro Insider

First day of harvest at Malvedos: late afternoon clouds and rumbles of thunder, but not a drop of rain

In retrospect it is hard to know what to make of the weather over the vintage period this year.  Almost certainly it is fair to say that some rain at the start of September might have been quite beneficial for ripening.  Probably if temperatures had also been a little cooler for the first two weeks of the month then the maturation of some varieties would have been improved.  But on the other hand, the forecasts leading up to the start of the harvest, and during the first few days of it, were extremely volatile and threatened all sorts of trouble which fortunately never materialised.  There was a whole series of tropical storms or hurricanes that basically brewed up around the Caribbean and proceeded to cross the Atlantic in a merry parade but, if and when they made landfall in Iberia, they no longer had enough energy to make it over the Marão.  In that respect, we were extremely lucky.  Full Report

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