Symington Family Estates Announce 2010 Quinta Vintage Ports

The Symington family are pleased to announce their decision to bottle 2010 Vintage Ports from our top quintas.  Two 2010 Vintage Ports will be released shortly for purchase en primeur:  the Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.

In addition, we will bottle Quinta Vintage Ports from each Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha and Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais.  In keeping with our normal practice, once bottled these Vintage Ports will be laid down in our own cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for release when ready to drink – typically 10 to 12 years after harvest.

After three very dry years, the winter of 2009-2010 saw an extraordinary change, with heavy rains of 100 mm or more recorded at Pinhão for each of six months in a row.  The viticultural year progressed well until July and August when we had not one drop of rain.  Temperatures in excess of 35ºC throughout most of August slowed the maturation cycle, as the vines cannot photosynthesise and mature the grapes properly in conditions of continued extreme heat.  As a result the harvest began 5 days later than usual, but was conducted under mostly perfect conditions with only one overnight rainfall in early October.  Paul Symington’s full Harvest Report for 2010 is available here on the Blog.

For more information about the 2010 Vintage Ports, including details of the blends and tasting notes for the Senhora da Ribeira and Vesuvio, please see the full article in the News page of The Vintage Port Site.

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Graham’s Lodge Renovations: Restaurant and Veranda

A shipment of Port leaves the Graham's Lodge for Trondheim, Norway, circa 1919.
Works in progress to create a veranda seating area for our visitors and diners.

One of the most exciting features of the renovations at Graham’s Lodge will be the opening of a restaurant.  Whilst we have previously offered dining and special events by private booking, we are looking forward to welcoming the public to our new restaurant during Lodge opening hours and in the evenings.

Originally the area at the front of the building was the dock for deliveries of port, whether new port wines arriving from the Douro at the end of the winter, or outgoing deliveries of finished Ports in cask ready to be shipped around the world.  More recently there has been a simple veranda but it was not an integral part of the visitor tour or public space.

Now, the area behind the veranda is being re-designed and will include the new shop, a private tasting room, a tapas bar, a restaurant, and a “chef’s table” area adjacent to the kitchen where we will hold exclusive Port tasting and food pairing events.

View from the Lodge circa 1905
View from the Lodge today - still breathtaking.

The restaurant seating area will extend onto the veranda itself, which will be enclosed in a glass conservatory, so our visitors and diners can enjoy the magnificent view up river year round and in all weathers.  The Graham’s Lodge, situated as it is high on the hill at a bend in the river, has a unique and spectacular view of both the Porto and Gaia waterfronts and historic landmarks such as the Dom Luis Bridge, designed by Téophile Seyrig, a one-time partner of Gustav Eiffel, the Sé Cathedral and the Serra do Pilar Monastery, where General Wellesley (better known as the Duke of Wellington) had headquarters during the Peninsular Wars.  Whilst our visitors have always enjoyed this view during the day, with the opening of the restaurant they will be able to see just how magical it is at night as well.

We look forward to welcoming you to our restaurant when the works are complete, later this year.  Keep in touch with Graham’s through the Blog, Facebook and Twitter for news of the opening and more details about the dining and wine tasting experiences we will be offering.

Note:  you can click on any photo to view it full size, then use your browser Back button to return to the blog text.

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Aromas and Flavours

Dominic Symington is on the road again, this week in São Paulo, Brazil at Expovinis, showing a range of Graham’s Ports including Six Grapes and the Graham’s 1983 Vintage, 10 and 20 Year Old Tawnies, and our 1969 Single Harvest Tawny.  Whilst there is nothing very unusual in this, he worked with José Carlos Santanita, of The Wine Academy who are also at Expovinis, to create an unconventional presentation and tasting experiment for visitors.

Arrayed on the table surrounding a bottle of Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny were wine glasses, each containing samples of herbs, spices or fruits, such as star aniseed, nutmeg, pepper, orange peel, and various fresh tropical fruits.  Guests were invited to enjoy a tasting of the Tawny and then “nose” the various foodstuffs.  This helps the connoisseur to identify aromas and flavours in the wine by comparing them with an actual sample of that food, and may also suggest compatible food pairings.

Dominic’s own findings:

I did compare lemon thyme and dried desiccated orange peel … Even a hint of cinnamon stick and a little vanilla pod.   Amazing how individually you can find hints of these aromas when you smell them pure in a glass and then compare to a glass of 20 Year Old Tawny!  Sadly I didn’t have a chance to try this with a young vintage.

Anyone who has done a wine course is likely to have worked with the bottled aroma essences in wine education kits, but have you ever tried this kind of experiment with foods, flowers or other aromatic materials to compare with your Port wines?  What have you found that surprised you?

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Tracking the Season – 20 April

Touriga Franca at Quinta dos Malvedos, 18 April, late afternoon

Our viticulturist at Quinta dos Malvedos, Alexandre Mariz, sent in this photo of our Touriga Franca vine, taken earlier this week.  The late afternoon sunlight through the emerging leaves shows up the fresh green colour. (You can click on the photo to open it full size, then use your browser back button to return to the blog.)

As mentioned in our last post, we have begun the despampa, the thinning of the shoots to leave just the two strongest on each bud.  To complete this task across both Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua will take us almost two months, as this is an entirely manual process and we have a small team of just 8 to 10 people doing this.

In the past two weeks we have had quite a lot of showers in Vila Nova de Gaia, but both Alexandre and Miles Edlmann, our research viticulturist, confirm very little of that rain has made it over the Marão mountain range and into our quintas.

We have had a number of queries from readers about the weather – many saying something like, “You say one thing, but this xyz weather website says…”  Others ask where can they find detailed local Douro weather reports.

Checking the colour of a glass of Port against a drizzly grey sky today at Cavadinha

Very often we talk about the micro-climatisation of our vineyards.  Just this morning Miles was speaking with visitors at another of our quintas and made the argument that every single vine has a unique microclimate.  But stepping back slightly from that level, let’s just look at some rainfall averages to give you a starting point to understand the differences across the Douro.  Using 15 year average annual rainfall figures at Symington’s own quintas:

  • Vila Nova de Gaia, 1300 mm of rain per year
  • The Marão (the crest of the mountains), 1500 mm
  • Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha, 1065 mm
  • Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, 772 mm
  • Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, 606 mm
  • Quinta do Vesuvio, 423 mm

Bomfim is on the river at Pinhão, Cavadinha is only 4 km away as the crow flies and gets on average 38% more rainfall.  Paul and Charles co-hosted a tasting last autumn and told the story of Paul being at Bomfim in a raging rainstorm, on the phone to Charles sitting out on the veranda at Malvedos, enjoying the late afternoon sun and a glass of port.  Charles was aware of some thunder, but no rain fell on him at Malvedos that evening.

As far as tracking the weather yourself – most weather websites only report on conditions in Vila Real – which is in the Marão, so far wetter than most of the vineyard region.  The Portuguese weather authority has a website, the Instituto de Meteorologia, which reports on conditions across the country, though again the only Douro location is Vila Real.  Your best bet is to follow us here and on Facebook to keep up with conditions at our quintas year round.

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March 2012 Douro Insider

Hopes were raised on the first day of the month that this year’s hideous climatic patterns might finally be changing for the better (i.e. worse) when we enjoyed the very lightest speckling of drizzle during the afternoon, but it was so little that at several of the weather stations the amount wasn’t even enough to register.  Some more odd drops fell over the first weekend of the month but, as they say in these parts, it was barely enough to settle the dust.  And then it got worse (or better?) as temperatures began to warm up considerably to the extent that we were into the high 20ºs C in some parts of the country by the middle of the next week.  The heat, combined with the ongoing drought, was a recipe for wild fires with a number burning around the Vila Real area on the 15th.  By this date, according to the Met Office, a huge 53 % of continental Portugal was under ‘extreme’ drought conditions, and the remaining 47 % was merely ‘severe’.

The sudden onset of this warm weather made quite a change since figures released by the Instituto de Meteorologia had just confirmed that on a national scale this winter (December to February) was the third coldest since records began in 1931, as well as the driest, needless to say.  But the first hot spell was well and truly over by the 20th and we then had about a week of much cooler, cloudier days.  But no more than that.  Temperatures climbed back into the high 20ºs again by the end of the month and there was a definite summery feel in the air – which was the last thing that anyone wanted. Read Full Report

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Graham’s Lodge Renovations: Accommodating a Surprise

One feature of the renovations at the Graham’s Lodge has been to improve accessibility for our visitors.  As we were beginning alterations to install a lift, we made an unexpected discovery:  a water cistern underneath a space near the rear of the building.

Our Lodge is situated near the top of a hill at a bend in the Douro River, and the area is in fact one of the oldest inhabited parts of Vila Nova de Gaia.  With the rainy climate here (average rainfall is normally over 1100 mm per year) there are many linhas de agua – that is, natural water run-offs.  Over the centuries, many of these have been channeled into man-made canals to capture and use the water, and it seems that when the Lodge was built, this cistern was created to capture rain water for use cooling and cleaning the building.

But it seems that the linha de agua which fed this cistern was blocked upstream many years ago, so at some point it was simply built over to create additional floor space above, hence our surprise when we unearthed it during our work.

Our architects were able to modify the building plans to re-locate the lift and incorporate the cistern as a feature.  When you take your tour through the renovated space later this summer, you will be able to see this detail of our Lodge’s history for yourself.

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The New Plantation at Quinta do Tua

Very young Touriga Franca vine at Quinta do Tua
Late March and the tiny clusters of flower buds are already formed

Perhaps the single greatest expression of our faith in the future of Graham’s is the planting of new vineyards.

Last August we described the start of the landscaping process in the 5 hectares of cleared area at Quinta do Tua, and in January we showed the completed patamares and some of the drainage works that had been done.  In February and March, we planted 14,000 pés, literally “feet”, rootstocks that have already been bench-grafted with our choice of grape variety scion.  One of the few advantages of the dry winter this year was that we were able to complete the planting quite rapidly, with no weather delays.  In late March the vines appeared to be settling in well and were beginning to put forth their first leaves and cachos, the nascent clusters of flower buds which after pollination will become grapes.

A little over half the vines are Touriga Franca, the balance, below the new roadway, are Touriga Nacional.  All the terraces are patamares estreitos, that is narrow soil banked terraces that support a single row of vines along the outer edge of the terrace.

The next step in the works is the construction of the trellis system.  By the end of the first week of April we were well along in the process.  Although we can use our tractor to drill the holes, the job of setting in the posts and re-settling the soil around them is manual – we need to be very careful not to disturb the new vines.  Finally, we will install the wire trellising system later in the spring or early summer – regulations require this be done by end July.

In the year before we will take out an old vineyard, we modify our maintenance routines to a minimal upkeep regime.  The work of actually clearing the old vines and trellises, re-sculpting the terrain, planting the new vines and installing the new trellis system takes a year.  It will then be probably four years before we harvest our first grapes for vinification, and somewhere around 10 to 15 years after planting, the vines should have reached a level of maturity to make “really interesting wines” as Charles Symington, our head winemaker, calls them.

On that schedule, the first wine from the vines you see here is likely to be made in 2016, and not until somewhere around 2022 to 2027 will the grapes start to show the complexity and quality to be possible candidates for inclusion in a Vintage blend.  With the full south facing location of this A-rated hillside vineyard, situated at 150 to 250 metres looking out over the Douro, the grapes will have excellent conditions for maturation and ripening.  We, and the next generation of Symingtons, look forward to tasting the results.

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Pairing Port and Cigars

Graham’s 1994 Vintage Port has recently won an unusual accolade:  that of the best Vintage Port to pair with the Habano cigar Romeo y Julieta Belicoso.

Like Port, fine cigars are unique products of their region, agriculture, and processes of selection, curing, fermentation, ageing and blending.  The work is intensely manual and requires extraordinary attention to quality every step of the way.

Habanos SA, the world leader in the premium cigar market, sponsors the annual Festival del Habano, the world’s most prestigious Cigar event.  Held annually in Cuba, its wide ranging program includes events focussing on premium products to match with their cigars.  This year, the focus was on Port.  A preliminary event last November narrowed the field to just five port wines in each the Tawny and Vintage categories for pairing with two specific cigars.  On 1 March at the 14th Festival del Habano in Cuba, judges were asked to pick the best pairing of the Montecristo Edmundo with a Tawny Port and the Romeo e Julieta Belicoso with a Vintage Port, based on the tastes and sensations experienced.  The Ports were tasted blind.

Complex and full-bodied, Graham’s 1994 Vintage Port shows intense fruit aromas and a long finish of dark chocolate and ripe black fruit.  This extraordinary port pairs magnificently with the balanced and aromatic Romeo e Julieta Belicoso, a cigar produced from leaves entirely from the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba, widely regarded as producing the finest quality tobacco.

Not only did Graham’s win the Vintage pairing, but sister brand Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny, known for its remarkable raisiny, dried fruit flavours, exquisite creamy texture and exceptionally long, lingering finish, was the winning Tawny for pairing with the Montecristo Edmundo.

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Tracking the Season – 5 April

Since our first post to begin tracking the progress in our vineyards this year we finally have had a little rain.  Alexandre Mariz, Graham’s viticulturist responsible for Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua, said there was some rain over the weekend of 31 March – 1 April, and also that we had had just few drops last night (night of 4 April).  (For more about the rain situation this winter, and why we are so grateful for this news, see the latest Douro Insider).

First we headed up to Quinta do Tua, to inspect the work in the new plantation – more details of that in another post.  But in this view across the newly replanted vineyards you can see a very faint haze of green beginning to show, as the newly planted vines sprout their first leaves and shoots.

View across Quint do Tua, 5 April 2012, 10:35

Next, over to Quinta dos Malvedos, to check on our Touriga Francesa vine.  As you can see, the leaves have burst forth from the buds that were left on each spur after pruning last winter.

Touriga Franca at Quinta dos Malvedos, 5 April 2012, 11:59

In fact, if you look closely, you can see the first miniature grape bunch has already formed on one shoot – look on the left-pointing shoot in this photo.  Click to enlarge the image, then use your browser back button to return to this article.

The day started with a heavy cloud cover, which began breaking up (see view of Tua above) and by mid day it was brilliantly sunny and warm – so warm, that we were able to smell esteva before we saw it.  This is a type of rock rose very typical of the Douro, and its fragrance – imagine something halfway between an old fashioned rose and eucalyptus – is often distinctly discernable in Graham’s or Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage ports.  That photo, by the way, was taken at 13:03, so you can see how the morning’s clouds cleared away!

After lunch, we continued our walk through Quinta dos Malvedos, as Alexandre checked the progress and health of our vineyards.  So far, so good – many of the grafts made just two or three weeks ago have already taken and begun to sprout leaves.  With the progress of the vines, we will shortly begin despampa – the thinning of the shoots to leave just the one strongest on each bud.  In tandem with this, we also remove any suckers that are sprouting from the americano rootstocks – we don’t want the energy of the vine going into these non-productive shoots.  Alexandre was cheered to see this 7-spot ladybug on a Touriga Nacional vine – these benign insects are a good sign of equilibrio – a balanced and healthy environment in our vineyards.

By 16:00 however, it was very dark and cloudy again and the first few drops of rain began to fall.  It showered gently and intermittently the rest of the evening.  As the blogger was leaving Tua, there was a rainbow over the quinta, but later in the evening Dominic Symington, who is spending the holiday weekend at Quinta do Vesuvio in the Douro Superior, sent in this spectacular photo of a double rainbow which is very clearly ending in our sister brand Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.  Good auspices for the year ahead!

Double rainbow 5 April 2012, 19:30 which ends in Dow's Quinta da Sanhora da Ribeira
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Graham’s New Lisbon Airport Shop

Next time you pass through the airport in Lisbon, be sure to stop by Graham’s Travel Retail shop which has recently been completely re-built as part of the Lisbon Airport works.  You will find the same kind of warm and inviting space as you experience in our Lodge, with an emphasis on simple but elegant and functional design, and traditional materials such as wrought iron used for design details based on the iconic Quinta dos Malvedos gate and the wood which characterises our premium cases and presentation boxes.

Within the shop you will find the full range of Graham’s wines, arranged so you can easily find your preferred styles, and a special Vintage display area, which currently  includes not only the most recent Graham’s 2007 and Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 Vintage Ports, but more mature wines such as Graham’s 1994 and the Private Cellar release of Graham’s 1970.  Any of our Ports will make a perfect gift to enjoy with friends and family at your destination.

In addition to Graham’s Ports you will find a broad selection of wines from across the family of Symington Family Estates brands, including Dow’s and Warre’s Ports, the Altano Douro DOC wines, Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port and Douro DOC, and the Prats + Symington Douro DOC wines as well.

The shop also features photos from the Symington family archives and even gives you one last look at the Douro before you leave Portugal, with photos of our Quinta dos Malvedos.

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