2011 Lodge Team

The new guides for the 2011 season at Graham’s Port Lodge have begun their training in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Last week they were in the Lodge, simply watching and listening as the veteran guides went about their work.  This week, the training gets serious.

Paul Symington, far right, welcomes the new Lodge team to Graham's

9:00 Monday morning the Lodge team reported to the head office of Graham’s for breakfast with the boss, Paul Symington, and the start of formal training sessions about Graham’s and their responsibilities.

Paul welcomed the group and spoke about Graham’s heritage and the Symington family:  their passion for Port, the family’s 13 generation heritage in the Port trade, and their commitment to the Douro.

Paul went on to impress upon the new guides the importance of their role, as ambassadors for Graham’s.  There are many excellent wines out there, however Paul emphasised it is up to our guides to represent Graham’s and make clear to our visitors all the qualities that makes Graham’s unique among port wines.

Next, Joe Alvares Ribeiro, Director for Tourism, made a presentation to the group about Graham’s core values, not just rattling off the words, but providing concrete examples of how, in our day to day business, Graham’s lives up to its values of Quality, Family, Innovation, Terroir and Leadership.  He then moved on to list Graham’s expectations of the guides.  Above all:  smile!

The morning concluded with a presentation by Henri Sizaret about Graham’s marketing strategy, and a tour of the offices.

The blogger has joined the team for their training this week and will be reporting regularly on the activities and progress of the new guides.  Stay tuned!

Share this post

Decanting Vintage Port

Three old Graham's Vintage Ports decanted before dinner and standing on the sideboard at Malvedos

Much is made of decanting vintage port, so much so it can put people off even trying one of Graham’s wonderful vintage ports for fear they will somehow get it wrong and ruin the wine.

The truth is, Vintage Port is one of the easiest and most straightforward of wines to decant.  In fact, we might even recommend you practice your decanting skills on lots of port, before attempting to decant dry table wines!

Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, is slightly impatient with all the mystery.  He said the simplest fail-safe rule, which will do no harm to any well-made vintage port up to 40 years of age, is to open and decant the wine two to three hours before drinking.  For most of us, intending to drink our vintage ports after a meal, that means opening the bottle and decanting before we settle down to dinner.  What could be easier?

When you take the bottle from the cellar or shelf where it has been resting on its side, simply stand it upright – gently – and let it stand.  If the bottle is less than 40 years old, 5 to 10 minutes is adequate – the sediment in Port is quite heavy and will settle down quickly.  If the wine is very old – more than 40 years – then Charles suggests letting it stand upright a half hour.  More than that is hardly necessary.

Extract the cork gently, and then pour the wine into the decanter:  hold the wine bottle nearly level, so the wine flows smoothly with adequate airflow passing over the wine in the neck of the bottle – this way the wine will fall without the gurgling that comes from blocking the passage of air into the bottle.

Good light will help you spot the sediment moving into the neck as you finish decanting

Decanting is easiest with good light behind the bottle, so you can see clearly the sediment beginning to come into the bottle neck and stop pouring.  If in doubt, simply shift and pour the remaining wine into a glass – that way if there is sediment, you’ve not poured it into the decanter, on the other hand, if the wine is still clear, you can empty the glass contents into the decanter too.  It is always worth taking a quick nose and taste of the wine from the just-opened bottle, and comparing it with the aromas and flavour after a few hours in decanter.

If you are concerned that you may not be able to see the sediment when it reaches the bottle neck, then you may wish to use a funnel lined with a piece of muslin (thin cotton cloth) to catch the sediment as you reach the end of the bottle.

So that’s it:

  • Let the bottle stand upright 10 to 15 minutes if it’s less than 40 years old, and up to 30 minutes if it’s older.
  • If your vintage port is less than 40 years old, decant 2-3 hours before you plan to enjoy your wine; if it is older, better to decant just 30 minutes to an hour before.
  • Pour the wine gently into a decanter and stop pouring when you see the sediment moving into the bottle neck.
  • Optionally, you may pour through a funnel lined with a piece of muslin.
  • Enjoy your vintage port.

Above all, remember part of the great pleasure of fine bottle-aged ports is observing how the aromas and flavours unfold over time; you needn’t worry about missing some single perfect moment, these wines will give pleasure over the entire course of a relaxed evening with friends and family.

Share this post

Bottling the Second Cask of 1961

Those of you who follow us on Facebook may recall our announcement last December about the release of Graham’s 1961 Single Harvest Tawny Port.  During his routine tasting of all the wines ageing in our Lodge, our head winemaker, Charles Symington, was so impressed with the 1961s he decided to take the tasting equivalent of a closer look at these wines.  Out of 14 casks Charles  picked three that were especially fine and deserving of presentation as a single harvest tawny (also known as a colheita), something Graham’s had never before released.

Each cask contained wine for 712 bottles, and the first cask was bottled and released for sale in late 2010.  The second cask was bottled last Thursday, 9th March, and the packaging was completed on Friday 10th March.  The wine has been so popular and demand so great that nearly all of Cask 2 is already committed for sale and the sales team is negotiating with the production department to schedule the bottling of Cask 3 soon.

Such an extraordinary wine merits very special packaging, and the press has commented favourably on the very handsome presentation as well as the superb wine.  How is it done?  Almost entirely by hand.

Gently tapping in the T-cork stoppers whilst four more bottles fill with wine
Double checking labels and polishing the bottle
Applying the IVDP label so it aligns perfectly with the front label

For such a small bottling run in the special “Oslo” style bottle, we used a very compact bottling station – no long conveyor lines or automated processes for this product.   Bottles are washed, then placed into and removed from the filling machine by hand, no more than four at a time.  The T-shaped cork stoppers are then gently tapped into place with a mallet, and the bottles are labelled, again placed by hand into the machine, two at a time.  After labelling, the bottles are then passed to a colleague who double checks that the labels are perfectly aligned and smooth, polishes the bottle and then places it back into a sectioned carton very carefully, to ensure the labels are not scratched or rumpled by the carton dividers.  It took approximately four hours for a team of four people to fill, cork and label 712 bottles.

On Friday, there were two operations to complete:  first, the numbered IVDP labels are carefully applied to every bottle by hand, and then a clear plastic capsule is placed over the stopper and neck by hand, and passed to a colleague who uses a machine to heat-seal the capsules in place.  The attention to detail is extraordinary:  the stoppers are twisted, if necessary, to ensure the Graham’s name on top faces the front of the bottle, the IVDP labels are placed in the same place on each bottle, crossing the word Graham’s on the stopper, and aligning the IVDP numbered seal with the centre front label.  Again at the conclusion of the process the bottles are meticulously inspected to ensure labels and seal are perfect and the bottles clean before they are replaced into the cartons.  Three people worked for about 3 hours to complete this part of the process.

João Magalhães numbers each bottle by hand, with both cask and bottle number
Certificates are also numbered by hand, sealed, and slipped into the presentation tube with the bottle
Each wooden box contains four bottles in their presentation tubes, and is sealed as further evidence of authenticity

The third and final procedure is the numbering and packaging.  Every bottle is numbered by hand on the back label and accompanied by an identically numbered certificate of authenticity which is included in every presentation tube.  Last summer we actually asked our employees to submit handwriting samples, to see who had the nicest writing for this purpose.  In the end, it was João Magalhães of Quality Control who was asked to be responsible for the hand-written labels and certificates.  We made a special cradle of styrofoam so the bottle would be held horizontal and level to make his job easier.

Each bottle is numbered, wrapped in tissue, set into the presentation tube with its certificate, and then four tubes are packed into each wooden case which is then sealed.  Both seals and wooden cases indicate the cask number from which the wine was bottled.  The cases are meticulously lined up on a pallet, and will be wrapped carefully for shipping around the world.  Five people worked together, every task by hand, for five hours to number and package the wine and prepare it for shipping.

Have you bought a bottle of Graham’s 1961?  Leave us a message and tell us the cask and bottle number you have purchased, and where in the world you will be enjoying it.

Share this post

To Our Friends in Japan

The Symington family and everyone at Graham’s sends their deepest condolences and hopes for safe recovery to everyone in Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami that has hit northern Japan.

One of our colleagues in Japan has been able to contact us, however we are anxious to hear from our distributors, Asahi.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Share this post

20 Year Old Tawny And…

Graham’s makes a wide and versatile range of ports, suitable for enjoying with a broad spectrum of foods.  Over the past few years we have worked with top chefs and sommeliers all over the world to break out of the after-dinner-with-cheese habit.  Dominic Symington and the rest of the sales team have opened up their files and shared some extraordinary menus, specific port and food combinations as well as broader insights to food and flavour combining, which we will explore with you in the coming months.

For the past couple years Dominic has set a challenge to some of the top chefs in Germany:  they were given bottles of one of Graham’s ports and asked to develop a dish to showcase the port as an accompaniment.  Standard after-dinner combinations of either cheese or chocolate were strictly forbidden.

Chef Cornelia Poletto, of Poletto-Restaurant in Hamburg was presented with Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny, which is known for its complex but harmonious palate of almond, mature fruit and delicate spice notes.

A fundamental tenet of food pairing is to be sure the “weight” on the palate of wine and dish are balanced.  In this case the rich and complex flavour of the port calls for a full-flavoured accompaniment.  Assessing the sweetness of the wine and admiring the spicey notes, Cornelia opted to include bitter elements in her dish to contrast the sweetness, and spices to complement and enhance the wine’s flavours.

The result:  handmade wild boar tortelloni in a sauce that played with notes of cinnamon, pepper and cardamom, served with shallots sautéed in port and a salad featuring radicchio, a slightly bitter peppery leaf.

The dish was well received by those attending the port and food pairing seminar, the braised leg of wild boar used in the tortelloni balancing the wine very well.  Dominic commented that the aromas of the sauce reminded him of the smell of recently-emptied port barrels.  The dish was featured on the Poletto-Restaurant menu afterwards, and customers were surprised and intrigued by the suggestion, and when they ordered it, very pleased by the combination.

Chef Cornelia Poletto
Eppendorfer Landstrasse 145 · 20251 Hamburg
Poletto Winebar
Eppendorfer Weg 287  20251 Hamburg

Have you tried a tawny Port with a savoury starter or main dish course?  We would love to learn more about your choices – leave a comment below telling us about your experiences!

Share this post

January 2011 Douro Insider

For those strong enough to venture outside on the first two or three days of the year, 2011 seemed to have got off to a reasonably good start, with the weather generally sunny and dry.  This being January, however, inevitably meant that not long would pass before it turned rather damp again.  Indeed, an area of low pressure over the UK obliged almost immediately, and started to suck in wet air off the Atlantic that passed right over northern Portugal.  All of a sudden it seemed like December again, but with added windiness.  It was certainly not as cold though (neither here, nor in the rest of Europe) as maritime-driven weather replaced the continental freeze.  In Germany the winter thaw caused serious flooding as the Rhine overflowed, whilst in the Douro temperatures approached 20º C.  More to the point, the minimum temperatures dropped little at night due to the insulating effects of a more or less permanent cloud blanket, so it actually felt unseasonably mild around the middle of the month.  This was accompanied by a steady trickle of rain, making sure that the soil was kept very damp. Full Report

Share this post

Watching Rainfall in the Douro

If you are wondering where January’s Douro Insider is… it will be here shortly.  I checked in with Miles for an update, and while I was at it, got a brief lesson in weather stations and rainfall tracking.

SFE has five weather stations at various quintas around the Douro, including one at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos.  For Douro Insider purposes we rely on the statistics from Pinhão (Quinta do Bomfim) as being both central for the region and also the one location for which we have over 40 years of data.

Three of the weather stations, including the one in Pinhão, are quite high tech indeed – solar powered, they electronically transmit a steady stream of data including high, low and average temperatures daily, rainfall tracking, wind speed and direction, and measures of sunlight, relative humidity and evapo-transpiration (water evaporating from the soil).  Miles can log into a private website at any time and watch the data coming in, and of course download everything he needs to do his analysis and create his temperature and rainfall graphs.

But High Tech is no match for Mother Nature.  It seems occasionally a bird will perch on the edge of the pluviometer (that cup-like device at the top that catches and measures rainfall) and leave a little something behind that jams the device, and disrupts our data flow, as happened this month.  But never fear, Miles has other means of getting his statistics, so the graphs will go on.

Miles can review his statistics and with just a few keystrokes generate a graph like this one, which shows each month’s rainfall (green bars), the 41-year mean for each month (blue bars), as well as the annual cumulative total, both current year (yellow line) and 41-year mean (red line).  The means are based on statistics at Pinhão from 1967 to 2007.

But long before there we had computers and spreadsheets (long before we had Miles!), we maintained painstaking records of rainfall.  At the SFE offices in Gaia there is a meticulously drawn and documented chart of rainfall, comparing statistics for the Douro (brown vertical bars) with Porto (the black bars) over the course of 20 years, from 1901 to 1920.  On the left are recorded the precise figures, in inches and millimetres for rainfall in Porto, on the right, for the Douro.  As you can see, we get substantially more – nearly twice as much – rain here as in the Douro.

Let’s see what Miles’s next graph tells us about how 2011 is getting started for rainfall in the Douro.  Stay tuned.

Share this post

Charles on Tasting Glasses

Caught up with Charles Symington, Graham’s wine maker, at last, to learn more about his perceptions of the differences between glasses, and what were the factors that guided his choice of glasses to retain or eliminate between flights at last Friday’s Riedel tasting of Vintage Port at Factory House.

From the first flight of 16 glasses, it was easy to eliminate 8 – many were not intended as wine glasses, and were non-runners from Charles’s point of view simply because the glasses did not hold the aromas of the port at all.

The photo above shows Charles’s glasses at the end of judging the first flight – the glasses pulled forward are the ones he voted to eliminate.  From left to right, the pulled forward glasses are number 1, the Ouverture Bourbon glass, 2 is the Wine Tumbler Champagne glass, number 6 is a Restaurant Tequila glass, number 9 is the Vinum XL Aquavit glass, 10 is the Ouverture Spirits glass, 13 is the Sommelier Cognac XO, 15 is the Restaurant Single Malt Whiskey, and 16 is the Wine Tumbler Port glass.

If you look at the shapes, the glasses he eliminated are all fairly open, and the beverages for which they were designed are all (except the champagne) very high alcohol spirits, not wines.

When I asked how he made his choices in subsequent flights, he said it’s not something you can easily explain, the best glasses concentrated the aromas better, but also made them very sharp.  He said it’s maybe best explained by analogy – the difference between music played on a child’s inexpensive beginner violin versus the same music played on a Stradivarius – there is an accuracy and purity in the impressions you receive from the finer instrument.

Charles said it will be very apparent to anyone who does this kind of tasting: the different aromas of the wine will be sharper, more clear, in a more suitable glass.

One of our readers asked what glass Charles uses in his blending work.  The photo at far left is from our Sala da Prova (Tasting Room), taken when they were setting out some wines last summer to review for possible blending; near left is the Riedel Sommelier Vintage Port glass (this leaded glass, and its non-lead glass twin were joint finalists at Friday’s tasting).

The Sala da Prova glass is a professional tasting glass made in Portugal, Charles described it as a fairly closed tulip shape, and commented it is actually not very easy to drink from – but it does concentrate the aromas for him.

Tasting the same wine – Vintage Port, of course! – from multiple glasses is definitely worth trying.  If you look at the comments on the prior post about the Riedel tasting, several people commented they were skeptical what difference a glass could make until they went through this kind of exercise themselves.  If you would like to try this at home, here are a few tips:

  • Do line up a wide variety of glasses – narrow tulip, open bowl-shaped, straight sided, as well as the specialist Vintage Port glasses – so you can experience the results from the very different shapes, and how they hold (or don’t) the aromas of Vintage Port.
  • Be sure the glasses are scrupulously clean – the Riedel website has very specific directions, most notably, detergent is not necessary, hot water should do the trick.
  • Sniff the clean empty glass to be sure there are no lingering odours from detergent, chlorinated water, or a dirty dish-towel (a common problem in restaurants).
  • Before you pour your wine servings, dispense just a little port in the glass and swirl, then discard that liquid into the next glass, swirl and repeat for all glasses in the line up.  This should clear any last lingering off odours.
  • Think about your fill quantities in the glass:  keep them consistent across all the glasses.
  • Perhaps try the effect of different fill levels in identical glasses – Charles was wondering aloud if that might affect aroma perceptions (volume of space available in the glass for aromas to rise into).
  • Of course follow the classic wine tasting assessment routine:  swirl the wine in the glass, then sniff and assess the aromas, really think about those, before tasting the wine.
  • When you assess the performance of each glass, think about the aromas (concentration, variety or complexity perceptible), but think also about the drinking sensations:  flavour of course, but also texture, perception of alcohol, acidity and tannins.  Georg Riedel feels that even these things can be influenced by the glass shape.

Several people asked for the full list of glasses tested on Friday.  Note that the event was focussed on the “on-trade” glassess – those available to restaurants, bars, etc.  Most of these are also available at retail, possibly by a different range name, your Riedel dealer will be able to help you.  Note that number 11 was only made the first time a week or two ago, but it is identical to number 3, the Sommelier Vintage Port, which is available at retail.  These two were tied as the final choice for best glass.

  1. 6408/77 – Ouverture Bourbon – Non lead
  2. 412/08   Wine tumbler champagne – Non Lead
  3. 4400/60 Sommelier Vintage Port – Lead Cristal 24% PBO hand made
  4. 480/5     Ouverture White Wine – Non Lead
  5. 446/71   Restaurant Cognac – Non Lead
  6. 446/18 Restaurant Tequila – Non lead
  7. 4444/55 Vinum Extrem Icewine – Lead Cristal machine made
  8. 4444/85 Vinum Extrem Prosecco – Lead Cristal machine made
  9. 6416/10  Vinum XL Aquavit – Lead Cristal machine made
  10. 6408/19 Ouverture Spirits – Non lead
  11. 446/60 Restaurant Port Glass – Non lead
  12. 6416/60 Vinum Port glass – Lead Cristal machine made
  13. 4400/70 Sommeliers Cognac XO –  Lead Cristal hand made
  14. 4400/61 Sommeliers Tawny Port –Lead Cristal hand made
  15. 446/80  Restaurant Single Malt Whisky – Non lead
  16. 412/60  Wine Tumbler Port glass – Non lead

If you do your own testing at home, we would love to hear about it!  Post to the comment space below to tell us about it, or on Facebook, if you want to include a photo.

Share this post