Graham’s 2013 Harvest – Tasting the Ports for the first time

When Charles Symington is in the Tasting Room it is very difficult to talk to him. He simply doesn’t hear you: he is intensely focused. All that can be heard is the sipping of wine, the clinking of glasses being placed back on the bench, and the low murmurs of the three tasters as they compare their impressions with one another.

“You need tranquility and peace when tasting,” Charles explains. There certainly is that in Graham’s Tasting Room: it is a place of deep concentration. Over recent weeks, samples of the 2013 Port Wine from each vineyard and each fermentation have been on their way from the Douro to the Tasting Room in Vila Nova de Gaia. Charles and his team, Nuno Moreira and Manuel Rocha, have been assessing each lote of young Port Wine and determining its future.

As they work through each sample, they determine which of Graham’s Ports the wine will be suitable for. This sometimes requires that they foresee the wine’s characteristics up to 40 years into the future for Graham’s 40 Years Old Tawny Port, for example. There is one special case though and that is Graham’s Six Grapes.

Charles explains that Six Grapes is so special that you only very rarely come across a wine of sufficient quality to make it. If you go looking for Six Grapes, you won’t find it: it is something that you come across while you’re not looking – and it doesn’t happen very often.

Like in an artist’s studio, the light in the Tasting Room is also extremely important. If it is not right Charles will often postpone his team’s work, especially when tasting Vintage Ports, which because of their deeper colour require the perfect conditions to be assessed properly. For the same reason, tasting is only done in the mornings.

It is a massive logistical challenge to gather all these samples. “You can’t just email wines around,” Charles remarks.

For some months after the brandy has been added to the wine, the young Port Wines cannot be tasted. They require this period of time to “fall bright”, that is, to become fully expressive in flavor and colour. During this period, the wine actually grows darker and the aromas intensify.

Charles and his team use this period to make fresh blends of Graham’s Aged Tawny Ports, which are then allowed to marry together for at least one year.

Charles, Nuno and Manuel conduct a quick first assessment of the wines, during which they record their first impressions and organize the wines accordingly into broad categories. They then work through them much more slowly, spending a long time over each lote, before deciding on their final classification.

Charles’ general comments about the 2013 wines were that they had remarkably good colour. A Port Winemaker, he then said, has to be fascinated by colour.

Have you got any questions for Charles regarding our 2013 wines? Ask him here – post us a comment.

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Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar – One Year On

One year ago today, on the 21st March 2013, we officially inaugurated the newly renovated Graham’s Lodge and Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar. Looking back, it has been a year of which we can be proud.

The Symington family’s partnership with Sagardi family has proved extremely successful. The Symington family has created an outstanding wine list, including their own Douro wines and ports as well as those of other winemakers with whom they have close relationships, from Portugal and around the world. While at the same time, Sagardi has brought together the best of traditional Portuguese cuisine with a cosmopolitan touch. The result is a menu, a wine list and a team that has now, already, made Vinum one of the top gastronomic destinations in the north of Portugal.

One of the year’s culinary highlights was the Boi de Trás os Montes menu prepared last autumn. Two oxen were specially selected from farmers in the Trás os Montes region (which literally means, Behind the Mountains): this is one of Portugal’s most exciting and relatively undiscovered culinary regions. This seasonal menu that was designed to accompany the meat celebrated the local ingredients of the region and the Portuguese wines that perfectly complement them.

Vinum also hosted the charity dinner at the end of last year for Bagos d’Ouro and the launch of the Symington family’s commemorative Graham’s 1982 Single Harvest Tawny Port. This raised a substantial sum for the Douro based charity.

There is no better place to be in Porto or in Vila Nova de Gaia when the sun is shining than the terrace outside Vinum with a glass of wine and tapas. Vinum’s mission is to set the standard for outstanding Portuguese cuisine, and the signs are so far very positive. Portugal’s food and wine are still relatively new on the international gastronomic scene. Thanks to projects like Vinum Restaurant, though, the country is starting to gain the reputation it deserves.

Vinum has recently received two important awards. First, it won the Best of Wine Tourism award for Best Portuguese Restaurant, in the Great Wine Capitals competition. Then second, at the annual Revista de Vinhos awards ceremony in Portugal, Vinum was named Best Restaurant of the Year 2013.

These two accolades are wonderful milestones by which to measure the Restaurant’s achievements over the last year. Really what they reflect though, is the passion and dedication to fine Portuguese food and wine that the whole of the Vinum team has embodied in their work in the last year. It is this that has built Vinum’s reputation as one of the best Portuguese restaurants around.

Find out more about Vinum, the menu or make a reservation here.

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The best 2011 red wines anywhere

The mesmerizing Salão Arábe in Porto’s Palácio da Bolsa was the perfect setting for this special tasting. Framed by the intricately carved walls and stained-glass windows of this sublime room the Mayor of Porto and Rui Falcão, one of Portugal’s top wine journalists, introduced Paul and Charles Symington and the family’s 2011 Vintage Ports.

The 2011 Vintage Ports have made a lot of noise in the wine world since they were declared earlier last year. Jancis Robinson, wine-writer for The Financial Times, praised them as, “The best 2011 reds anywhere”. These wines, she said, have put Vintage Port firmly back on the world’s fine wine map. Proof of this, some other influential people were in the audience, amongst them Manuel Moreira, former sommelier of the year, and André Ribeirinho, the food and wine journalist.

Charles and Paul talked eloquently about the wines their family had made. A Port Winemaker, they explained, is like a painter who needs to have a whole array of colours before him on his palate to choose from. Vintage Port is a wine made from the grapes of multiple complimentary vineyards; the result is that the final wine achieves a balance and complexity that surpasses any of the individual lotes. This makes Vintage Port unique amongst the fine wines of the world.

“Charles came to me some years ago saying, ‘I need more small tanks,’” said Paul. The reason for this, he explained, was to allow Charles to store small quantities of wine separately, thereby avoiding the need to blend the wines from different parcels of vineyard at 3am during the Vintage time when there was no conceivable way of properly assessing the wines. Simply put, this expands the ‘palate’ of wines available to Charles and his winemaking team.

The skill and precision that this process involves was demonstrated in the first part of the tasting. Charles guided the audience through a tasting of the component wines in Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port from each of Graham’s five Douro Quintas. Each property has distinctive characteristics, which these wines expressed. And the job of the winemaker is to marry them together to create the perfect balance. (More detail on this part of the tasting and the individual characteristics of the component wines from Graham’s Quintas will be published here soon.)

There was still more to come, though. Graham’s Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port was next on the stage. This year was the first in which this wine was made. It is a very specific expression of micro-terroir, made only from two small old terraced vineyards next to the river, below the house at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, one North-facing and the other South-facing. It couldn’t be more different, in terms of the approach to winemaking, to the Graham’s Vintage Port.

The success that this potentially quite challenging wine has achieved since it was made has been amply demonstrated by the awards lavished upon it. It was voted amongst the Top 10 Portuguese Wines by a panel of 18 international journalists at Essência do Vinho and subsequently selected as the Best Port Wine. Revista de Vinhos gave it 19/20 points. Jancis Robinson gave it 18.5/20 describing it as “stunning…racy…distinctive”. While James Suckling and the Wine Spectator each gave it 97/100 points.

No one was left in any doubt by the end of this tasting as to the appropriateness of Jancis Robinson’s remarks: “the best 2011 reds anywhere”. But more than anything, it was quite clear that there was a lot more to come from these wines … Stay tuned to find out more.

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Graham’s approach to winter pruning.

As the winter pruning concludes at Malvedos, there is time for reflection. Winter pruning is often thought to be the time of year when the mind switches into autopilot. But in Graham’s vineyards this is far from the truth. Pruning, which happens between November and February, is the single most important time of year in the lifecycle of our vines.

It is at this time that micro-viticultural decisions are made, which determine the individual future of every single vine and have a fundamental impact on the success of the next year’s crop of grapes. It is this that guides Graham’s approach and why we do not carry out mechanical pruning.

The other day, one of the men had just finished pruning one vine and was moving to the next one. He stood in front of it, bent over, examined the spurs where they grew out of the main cordon branch and examined each of the canes. Then after a few moments he made a few swift clips with his secateurs and moved on to its neighbour, where he repeated this process.

In those few moments, this pruner made the crucial decisions that will influence the growth of this vine over the next year. Its fate quite literally lay in the hands (holding the secateurs) of this man. It was then that the skill, knowledge and experience that these pruners have was fully impressed on me, proving that manual pruning of this nature really is an art form.

The pruners, guided by many years of experience, employ a different strategy for each vine in each vineyard parcel. In areas of low vigour, for example, they will reduce the number of fruit-bearing buds. This ensures that the yields of each vine are controlled in order to produce grapes of absolutely optimum quality. Each year, therefore, this strategy is altered depending on the present and previous year’s conditions. It is a dynamic process, designed in real time according to the needs of each vine.

Such individual care and personal attentiveness to the vines is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

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Riedel glass tasting at Graham’s Lodge

Georg Riedel, the 10th generation of crystal glass makers in his family, held a unique tasting at Graham’s Lodge last week revealing how the shape of the wineglass influences the flavours and aromas of the wine.

The tasting showcased Riedel’s innovative Grape Varietal Specific range of glasses and was hosted at the Lodge by Portfolio Vinhos, distributors of Graham’s Port and Riedel’s glassware in Portugal.

By guiding participants through a tasting of three grape varieties, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet and Pinot Noir, Georg Riedel illustrated the crucial role that the glass plays in showing the wine at its best.

The reason for this is that the aromas of the wine are conveyed differently depending on the design of the glass and the size of its aperture: different varieties express themselves best in glasses of different shapes. Georg Riedel illustrated this by leading a tasting of the wines first in the same plastic mug, in which their characteristics were dulled and their individual expressiveness reduced. When in the glass specifically designed for them, however, each wine sang strongly and in its own unique way.

Likewise, the size of the aperture determines exactly where on the palate the wine is directed. The human palate has specific areas for sensing each of the principle components of taste. The right glass allows the natural balance of the wine’s flavours to be properly felt.

Georg Riedel held another tasting with us in Portugal a couple of years ago in a quest to discover the perfect glass to drink Vintage Port from.

Do you have any thoughts? Send us a comment.

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Wild Boar in the Vineyards at Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

Walking through the vineyard parcel at Quinta do Vale de Malhadas early the other morning we came across proof of the infamous Douro wild boar. Proof, amidst the winter landscape, of this regions important biodiversity, which has a particular stronghold at Vale de Malhadas because of the 112 hectares of native scrubland that is conserved as a natural wilderness.

The mud on the track had frozen in the early hours of the morning preserving the hoof-prints of the wild boar that had passed through during the night.

These boars are native to the Douro and are often hunted. They can cause a lot of damage to property and vineyards, since they tend to forage with their tusks, digging up the earth like a plough.

In fact, our vineyards have previously been the victims of such damage.

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