At Graham’s we entertain a lot of guests during the harvest , and we have had long associations with many of our visitors, but London-based wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd, one of the world’s definitive experts on vintage port, may well take the prize for longest relationship. Founded in 1698, they have operated from their premises in London’s St. James’s Street almost – not quite – as long as we and our ancestors have been in the port trade here in Portugal. Johnny Symington, who is hosting them for several days at Malvedos, can remember both his father and grandfather working with the late Anthony Berry and Christopher Berry Green. Certainly Johnny’s great-grandfather sold Vintage Ports to Berry’s in the late 19th century.
The two family businesses share a common philosophy of excellence rooted in a tradition of heritage, quality and innovation. Both have survived and flourished as family businesses when many others have been swallowed up by big commercial groups. The relationship between the companies has not only been a successful commercial partnership, but has been forged on the basis of close friendship over generations.
The group was based at Malvedos but have visited other key Symington estates up and down the Douro. They started at Warre’s Cavadinha, where our research viticulturalist Miles Edlmann introduced them to our research vineyards and robotic lagars. At Malvedos, they visited Henry Shotton who is responsible for the winemaking at the Graham’s winery, and they then did a tour through our vineyards. The trip was rounded off with a visit and tasting at the very remote Dow’s Senhora de Ribeira, then they crossed the river by launch to dine and visit the winery at Quinta do Vesuvio. Before dinner the BBR team shared their reactions to the Douro and our wines.
Alun Griffiths, BBR’s Wine Director, shared his assessment of the three single-quinta ports tasted in the adega at Senhora de Ribeira.
1999 Sra da Ribeira – deep black ruby, no sign of ageing, bouquet of ripe figs and plums, still relatively immature, vibrant, lovely freshness. On the palate, very harmonious integration between alcohol, sweetness and tannin; excellent texture in the mouth, superb length. Ready to drink now, but every prospect of continuing to improve over the next 5 to 10 years.
2001 Sra da Ribeira – Similar deep black ruby colour, slightly more youthful bouquet, emphasis on sweet ripe black fruit, hints of slight rawness. On the palate more pronounced acidity and tannin than the 99, not yet fully harmonious. All the elements are there to make a fine port, but more time needed for them to integrate fully and truly become truly harmonious. Slightly bony, it has all the structure, just needs a little more time to fill out with more flesh.
2005 Sra da Ribeira – Impenetrable black colour; gloriously rich nose of sweet elderberries, black cherries and plums. On the palate magnificent texture, freshness, and opulence of fruit, spirit and tannin well hidden beneath the weight of pure fruit. A wine of great beauty with magnificent length which will probably approachable earlier than most, such is its richness.
Rocky, stock controller and salesman from the Berry’s Basingstoke shop, is a real train enthusiast in his spare time, and from both Malvedos and Vesuvio took time out to dash out to the nearby railway tracks and take photos. The Quinta do Vesuvio, and incidentally the Vesuvio railway station, was one of his favourite parts of the whole visit! When we asked him about the wines, he was near speechless, which prompted us all to collaborate on a limerick:
There was a young man called Rocky,
Who we thought was decidedly stocky,
He likes wine less than trains
But is well-blessed with brains
We ask “Is he honest or cocky?”
Marie, from the Berry’s London shop, is an oenologist who has grown up in the family vineyards and wine business in Languedoc-Rousillon. She had visited the Douro once before, as an end of course field trip with her oenology class, but had not yet seen any of the Symington Quintas, so all of us were pleased we could round out her knowledge of the Douro.
Returning to the Douro after eight years, Rebecca Lamont, London Wine Education Manager, is again awed by the extraordinary landscape, “so beautiful it just brings tears to your eyes.”
Berry’s Italian Wine Specialist and Fine Wine Account Manager, Chris Pollington, actually traces his start in the wine trade to drinking fine Vintage Ports which his brothers shared with him at too early an age for us to mention in public. Seeing the Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Vesuvio Quintas at last has been a dream come true for him, he told us.
At dinner, Johnny broke to the Berry Bros team the real reason for the trip and hospitality they have enjoyed: they were not just visiting the winery at Vesuvio, they would be put to work: we needed a source of cheap labour to fill out the team in the lagares that night. And so they got to work…
Thank you to the Berry Bros team for your collaboration on this posting, it was great fun working with you, both on the verandah and later in the lagar.