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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A Port For a Prince

Each individually numbered bottle comes in a very attractive presentation box.
Each individually numbered bottle comes in an attractive hand-crafted presentation box.

Graham’s Commemorative Bottling to Celebrate the Birth of HRH Prince George of Cambridge.

To mark the birth of HRH Prince George, the Symington family has decided to bottle a special commemorative edition of Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny Port from 1982, the year the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were born. To have selected a remarkable Tawny Port from the birth year of the parents to toast the birth of their first child makes this celebratory edition incomparable.

Prince George was born on 22nd July 2013 and is third in line to succeed his great grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, after his grandfather Prince Charles and his father Prince William. It is the first time, since the reign of Queen Victoria over a century ago that three generations of heirs to the throne are alive at the same time.

Graham's 1982 Commemorative Port, available in Jeroboams (4.5 litre bottles) with an oak box and in 75cl bottles.
Graham’s 1982 Commemorative Port, available in Jeroboams (4.5 litre bottles) with an oak box and in 75cl bottles.

For three decades, this very fine Port has been gently ageing in seasoned oak casks under the watchful eye of the Symington family, owners of this long established Port House. Two generations of Symington winemakers have followed the wine’s progress in the original Graham’s 1890 Lodge, on its long journey towards perfect maturity. Charles Symington, head taster and winemaker, has selected just 6 pipes (a little over 4,000 bottles) for this limited edition release. Each bottle is individually numbered.

In recent years Graham’s has released various exceptional Aged Tawnies, amongst them the 1961 and 1969 Single Harvest Ports, as well as the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port, which was bottled to commemorate Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Jeroboam Nº1 will be auctioned at a fund raising dinner in Graham's Vinum Restaurant on November 21st.
Jeroboam Nº1 will be auctioned at a fund raising dinner in Graham’s Vinum Restaurant on November 21st.

In the UK, Graham’s 1982 Single Harvest Tawny Port will be available from Berry Bros. & Rudd, Fortnum & Mason and Hedonism Wines, amongst others. In Portugal too, the Port will be available from leading fine wine merchants as well as at Graham’s own 1890 Lodge shop. The Port will be on the wine list of one of London’s most exclusive Hotels and Restaurants — The Goring, where the Duchess of Cambridge stayed the day before her marriage to Prince William. In Portugal it will feature on the wine list of Graham’s Vinum Restaurant, which opened earlier this year and is already highly regarded as one of Porto’s finest restaurants.

In aid of a good cause: a contribution from the proceeds of the sale of this limited edition Tawny Port will be donated to a children’s charity based in the Douro region where this wine was produced. We have selected Bagos d’Ouro, a charity that helps underprivileged children and young people in the region, namely by supporting their education. A fund raising dinner will be held at Graham’s Vinum restaurant on November 21st during which Jeroboam bottle Nº1 and 3 x 75cl bottles (in a special oak case) of the Graham’s 1982 will be auctioned.

LogoBOPort has always been a wine associated with celebration and longevity, given its ability to age over long periods. W & J Graham & Co invites you to raise a glass of this superb 1982 to salute the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s firstborn child.

Tasting Note, Graham’s 1982 Tawny Port

Graham's Vinum Restaurant where a fund raising event will be held in support of a Douro charity: Bagos d'Ouro
Graham’s Vinum Restaurant where a fund raising event will be held in support of a Douro charity: Bagos d’Ouro

The Port is beautifully aromatic with notes of vanilla, soft butterscotch and quince, combined with exotic spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. The palate is velvet-smooth with highly polished definition and elegance. Hints of honey, raisins and caramel show through, perfectly balanced by a backbone of orange zest with silky tannins.

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Wine Critics Praise the 2011 Vintage Ports

Grahams_2011_LabelThe recently announced 2011 Vintage Port declaration has met with considerable interest in Portugal and overseas. At Graham’s, we are very proud of our wines and it is very encouraging to register the excitement the 2011 Vintage is generating. This week, Jancis Robinson MW , one of the world’s leading wine critics wrote, “…anyone with an interest in superbly made top-quality red wine worth ageing for decades should arguably turn their backs on Bordeaux 2012 and look instead at Port 2011…There is little doubt that 2011 produced some stunning vintage ports, into which more effort and skill has gone than any other previous vintage in the Douro. And I find it impossible to think of any other wine region, anywhere in the world, that produced better wines.” In her assessment of 31 different Vintage Ports, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port and Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port were among the highest ranked, deserving exceptionally high marks: 18.5/20 and 19/20, respectively.

In similar vein, Manuel Carvalho, writing in Portugal’s respected ‘Público’ newspaper on April 27th, described Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 as a “masterpiece”, going on to write: “For its exuberant aromas of fruit, mint and Douro shrubs, for its suggestions of black tea, for its intriguing spice notes, such is its complexity and richness. For its volume on the palate, the power of its tannins, which announce decades of longevity whilst at the same time combining with the acidity and fruit to render it immediately approachable.” His wine critic colleague — Pedro Garcias — was so impressed with the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port that he summed up as follows, “One simple adjective suffices to describe this Port: superb”. Furthermore he predicted that the 2011 Vintage has what it takes to aspire to a legendary status in the history of Port.

The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham's Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.
The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham’s Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.

2011 Vintage Port tasting, Graham’s Lodge, April 30th: The first showing of the 2011 Vintage Ports produced by the Symington family was on April 18th (scroll down to see previous post) in which Portuguese journalists were hosted by Paul and Charles Symington. The family decided to organize a second tasting, earlier this week in response to the enormous interest shown in Portugal following the declaration, barely two weeks ago. We will spare our followers repetition, but it is worth reproducing here some interesting, complementary aspects — recounted by Paul and Charles in both tastings — that weren’t touched on in the previous post.

Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
  • Paul Symington emphasized the importance that Vintage Port declarations play as personal and career-defining moments, just as they were for previous generations who are remembered very much for the Vintages that they made ‘on their watch’. Paul has been involved in 9 Vintage declarations and Charles in 5 declarations, thus far.
  • All the 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family were 100% from their own vineyards, a natural development given their sustained investment in vineyards since the late 1970s (vineyard acquisitions and vineyard replanting). With a total of 965 hectares (2,385 acres) of vineyards, dotted across the finest sub-regions of the Douro Valley and representing an incredible diversity of terroirs, the family has remarkable scope in selecting wines for their Vintage Ports.
  • For the first time in half a century (specifically since the 1963 vintage in the Douro) the Vintage Ports in 2011 were 100% vinified in lagares (shallow treading tanks) and this shows through in the superb quality displayed by all the 2011 wines.
  • A point not often explained but one that has a great bearing on the family’s capacity to consistently produce outstanding Vintage Ports is the tremendous benefit of owning and operating several small micro-wineries (referred to by some as ‘boutique’ wineries) with independent winemaking teams (coordinated by Charles Symington) whose sole objective is the production of the best possible Port. There is no loss of focus in the pursuit of this goal because they are not distracted by the requirement to make styles of Port other than those with the potential to be graded as Vintage Port.
  • Leading on from the above, Charles was also keen to stress the significance of the substantial investment made over the last 10 to 15 years in numerous small storage tanks at these specialist wineries. This allows each fermentation to be kept separate until such time as the winemakers and tasters decide how to best use them. Paul reinforced that the possibility of keeping such ‘diamonds in the rough’ separately is a key contributor in the making of exceptional Ports.
  • During this second tasting session, Charles and Paul made a bit of a joke about the distinction made between old vines and the others — when describing the provenance of grapes that contribute to Vintage Port blends. The fact is that when we refer to old vines, we really should say very old mixed vines (50 years+) because ‘the others’ are 25 to 30 years old and thus, by any standard, are themselves old, mature vines (planted in single varietal parcels during the early 1980s).
The line-up of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family
The lineup of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family

Following this second tasting which involved 13 different wines (the 5 components of the Graham’s 2011 Vintage + 8 Vintage Ports; two Graham wines; two Vesuvio wines and one each from Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Quinta de Roriz), the 15 guest tasters were invited to lunch at the new Vinum restaurant at Graham’s where the highlight was a lovely Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port, celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant
Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant
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Graham's Declares the 2011 Vintage Port

Portugal was the first country in which the 2011 Vintages were shown. The UK, USA and others will follow in the coming weeks.
Portugal was the first country in which the recently declared 2011 Vintage Ports were shown. The UK, USA and others will follow in the coming weeks.

This has been an eventful week for Graham’s. On Monday, April 15th, Graham’s declared the 2011 Vintage Port. A few days later on Thursday the 18th, Charles and Paul Symington hosted a tasting of the family’s 2011 Vintage Ports at the recently renovated Graham’s 1890 Lodge. Their guests were Portuguese wine journalists and this event marked the first time that a declared Vintage Port was first shown in Portugal, before any other country. Some of the country’s leading wine critics came to this tasting, keen to gain their first impressions of the wines that have been generating considerable interest. Judging by the very positive comments it is clear that our guests agree with us that the 2011 is an outstanding Vintage.

Many of Portugal's most influential wine writers gathered at the Graham's Lodge to gain their first impressions of the 2011 Vintage Ports.
Many of Portugal’s most influential wine writers gathered at the Graham’s Lodge to gain their first impressions of the 2011 Vintage Ports.

The event started with an opportunity to taste the component wines that comprise the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port. This wine is a careful selection of the finest wines produced at Graham’s five Douro Quintas. This proved an interesting experience in helping the tasters to understand what makes a classic Graham’s Vintage Port. Charles started with the Quintas whose aromatic contributions are more evident: Lages, Vila Velha and Malvedos. Lages wines have long been favoured for their elegant complexity, showing fine violet aromas, characteristics no doubt influenced by the property’s (cooler) north and east-facing aspects in the Rio Torto. Similarly, Vila Velha, with a predominantly west-facing aspect, has a relatively cool maturation cycle, which allowed its late-ripening Touriga Franca grapes to excel and deliver superb aromas of rockrose and violets in 2011. Malvedos, the cornerstone of Graham’s Vintage Port since 1890, provides floral characteristics of eucalyptus and mint with soft violet overtones as well as rich flavours of cassis, mulberry and blackberries. Quinta do Tua and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas were the last two component wines tasted and they each showed the muscularity for which they are known, in the form of tremendous concentration and weighty tannins which add great structure and staying power to the final wine.

Paul and Charles Symington talk the guests through the wines
Paul shares some anecdotes with his guests
The line up of component wines which comprise the Graham's 2011 Vintage Port blend.
The line up of five component wines which comprise Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port

Leading on from the fascinating terroir tasting of the component wines, it was time to sample the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port, whose final blend is made up as follows: 35% Malvedos; 19% Vale Malhadas ; 18% Vila Velha; 16% Tua; 12% Lages. Both Charles and Paul explained the sequence of events that laid the foundations for this Vintage year: Abundant 2010/2011 winter rains, which replenished the water reserves deep in the Douro subsoil and compensated for an otherwise very dry year; a very dry June and July, followed by an ideal weather pattern immediately leading up to and during the vintage (opportune rain showers in late August/early September, followed by weeks of dry, sunny conditions); perfectly ripened grapes with copybook balance of baumés (sugar content), phenolics (pigments, tannins) and acidity (freshness and longevity).

The tasters put the wines through their paces
The tasters put the component wines from Graham’s five Quintas (vineyards) through their paces

A very interesting characteristic is apparent in the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port, as well as in the other Symington family’s 2011 Vintage Port houses, namely a marked schistous minerality which lends the 2011 wines a very distinctive profile. They have an exceptional depth of colour and concentration, superb aromatic elegance and well-structured schist-edged tannins. Paul described this schist character as akin to the smell of the parched, powdery Douro schist soil just after rain when it exudes a wonderful, fragrant wet-earth scent. Charles explained that this very attractive aromatic character also owes much to the exceptional performance of the Touriga Franca varietal in this vintage. He explained that as a late-ripening variety, the Touriga Franca thrived in the idyllic conditions leading up to and during the vintage (it was the last variety to be picked in October). In other words, the weeks of uninterrupted dry sunny conditions, which followed the well-timed rain of August 21st and 1st/2nd of September allowed the Touriga Franca to ripen evenly and completely, delivering its full quality potential. Charles is a great believer in the Touriga Franca and explained that this variety is often unjustly overshadowed by the Touriga Nacional. It can be a tricky varietal to grow in less favourable weather, but when conditions are right, it has a great deal to offer, particularly in aromatic finesse. Accordingly there was a higher inclusion of Touriga Franca — 31%, compared to 25% in the previous declared Vintage, the 2007.

IMG_1969Of the total production from Graham’s five Quintas (88,855 cases), and following months of exhaustive tastings, Charles and his cousins selected just 9% — or 8,000 cases — to release as Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port.

Graham's TST labelPaul and Charles then revealed that together with their cousins, they had decided to offer for the first time, alongside Graham’s classic Vintage Port, a very small bottling (250 cases, or 3,000 bottles) of Vintage Port drawn from two very special parcels of traditional stone-terraced vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos. Accordingly, they named the wine, Graham’s ‘The Stone Terraces’ Vintage Port. These two 18th century terraced vineyards have consistently produced extraordinary Ports. One of the two vineyard parcels was originally called Port Arthur and has eleven schist stone terraces, ten of which have only a single row of vines on each. The other vineyard is known as Vinha dos Cardenhos and between them, the two parcels amount to a tiny fraction (1.8 hectares) of the Malvedos vineyard (89 hectares). The latter has a predominantly South-facing aspect, whereas the Port Arthur and Vinha dos Cardenhos vineyards are East-facing and North-facing. These cooler aspects mean the grapes mature very gradually and evenly and being shielded from the powerful July and August Douro afternoon sun, their unique aromatic properties come more readily to the fore. This is a very individual and distinct Vintage Port of extraordinary intensity and quality.

The north-facing Vinha dos Cardenhos, behind the Quinta house at Malvedos
The north-facing Vinha dos Cardenhos vineyard parcel, behind the house of Graham’s historic Quinta dos Malvedos

Paul Symington’s tasting note for the 2011 Graham’s The Stone terraces Vintage Port: This wine is very individual; it has highly specific characteristics with a very intense tannic structure and a colour of purple-black intensity. The easterly and northerly aspect of these two small vineyards results in fresh scented aromas of violets and mint. There is a complex palate of weighty and spicy tannins combined with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. This is an extraordinary wine of great power and elegance; it is a new departure for Graham’s and the Symington family.

The Cardenhos and Port Arthur vineyards, shown here in a 1925 survey of Quinta dos Malvedos.
The Cardenhos and Port Arthur vineyards, shown here in a 1925 survey of Quinta dos Malvedos. The original survey chart is exhibited at Graham’s Museum in the 1890 Lodge

Following this tasting session, which included a further six 2011 Vintage Ports from Graham’s sister companies (Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinta do Vesuvio and Quinta de Roriz), the tasters were invited to lunch at the recently opened Vinum restaurant, contained within the Graham’s Port lodge. The food was served with various Symington Douro wines, including the Chryseia 2004 Douro DOC (made jointly by the Symington family and Bruno Prats) and — to end the meal on a particularly high note — Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port (served from two magnum bottles). The Vintage Port was simply sublime, 50 years old and still so vital and complete. Curiously some commented that this Port too showed the ‘schistous’ aromatic notes that Paul had earlier associated with the 2011 wines. There were also wonderful aromas of tea-leaf and mint, bergamot and cinnamon and a seductive palate, complex and very, very refined. An absolute delight. We believe that in 2061, when the 2011s reach fifty, they too will offer up a similarly extraordinary experience.

What better way to end a fabulous meal than with two magnums of Graham's superb 1963...
What better way to end a fabulous meal than with two magnums of Graham’s superb 1963…
The tasting was followed by a delicious meal served at Graham's VINUM restaurant
The tasting was followed by a delicious meal served at Graham’s VINUM restaurant
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Graham's Ports Leave Their Mark in Memorable Tasting


The Essência do Vinho, now in its tenth edition, is the principal wine event held annually in northern Portugal, and generates ever increasing interest not just from the trade — wine professionals, sommeliers and restaurateurs — but also from consumers (Portuguese and foreign) as well as journalists from Portugal and from farther afield. The organizers prepared a very comprehensive and interesting programme for the 2013 edition, featuring a number of tutored tastings, which revolve around varied themes, involving both Portuguese wines and wines from other countries. More than 20,000 visitors are expected over the four-day event (7th – 10th February).

Porto's old stock exchange, the venue for the 10th edition of "Essência do Vinho."
Porto’s old stock exchange, the venue for the 10th edition of “Essência do Vinho.”

The venue is the magnificent old Stock Exchange building in Porto (the Palácio da Bolsa) and under its covered, lofty courtyard, 350 wine producers are showing visitors over 3000 different wines. This has always proven one of the reasons for the event’s great popularity: the fact consumers, and wine enthusiasts generally, can discuss their favourite wines directly with the producers and winemakers themselves. The atmosphere is very relaxed and very rewarding for the scope it allows visitors in tasting wines from Portugal’s varied and rich wine heritage, ranging from the country’s great fortified wines (Port and Madeira) to the up-and-coming dry wines from the Douro, Alentejo and the Dão, as well as those from other less well known regions.

The covered courtyard where exhibitors show their wines.
The covered courtyard where exhibitors show their wines.

One of the themed tastings that has generated greatest interest over the last few days has been Symington Family Estates’s ‘Voyage in Time: 3 Centuries – 10 Wines’ — a tutored tasting hosted by Paul Symington on Saturday, February 9th. Indeed as soon as it was announced, it was almost immediately sold out and the organizers approached the family asking if it were possible to accommodate more people (from the original starting figure of 25). This isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, because when you’ve only got a few dozen bottles of the legendary Graham’s 1948 left in your private family cellar, it isn’t a mute point!  In the end, a few additional people were accommodated and they were very grateful that they managed a place because the tasting proved to be indeed memorable.

Manuel Rocha (left), fourth generation blender at Graham’s and Henry Shotton (our winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos) comment the 1948 Graham’s they have just decanted

Of the 10 Ports tasted, Graham’s provided the main offering, showing 5 wines; the 1948, 1963 and 1970 Vintages, as well as the 1952 (‘Diamond Jubilee’) and 1935 Colheita, or Single Harvest Tawnies. Landmark Vintage Ports from the family’s three other Port marques (Cockburn, Dow and Warre) were also present and the tasting culminated on a very high note with the unprecedented opportunity of sampling a treasured family heirloom, a very old family reserve (cask-matured) Port dating from the late 19th century. The tasting was held in the ‘Arab Salon’ — an exquisitely decorated chamber of the old stock exchange well known as a venue for ceremonial events.

The tasting gets off to a start in the magnificent 'Arab Salon' of the stock exchange
The tasting gets off to a start in the magnificent ‘Arab Salon’ of the stock exchange

The first Graham’s wine shown was the 1970, heralded as one of the finest Vintage Ports of the second half of the twentieth century. Paul commented to the captive audience of tasters that, in his opinion, this is indeed one of the finest 3 or 4 Vintages of the last half-century. The 1970 holds a particular significance for Paul and his family as it was the first Graham’s Vintage made by them, shortly after acquiring the famous Port house. Paul’s father and his cousins, who made the wine, couldn’t have wished for a more auspicious start. One could say this Port is 43 years young, such is the evident capacity of this impressive wine to carry on developing still further (years? decades?). But if you are fortunate enough to have this gorgeous wine in your cellar, why wait any longer to enjoy it?? It is drinking magnificently well right now.

Paul Symington enthuses the virtues of the legendary Graham's 1948
Paul Symington enthuses the virtues of the legendary Graham’s 1948

The next wine sampled was the 1963, and once again one could be forgiven for heaping superlatives on this half-century old Port. As Paul pointed out — just how many of the world’s fine wines can reach 50 years of age and still show such balance, complexity, sheer completeness? The 1963 was a landmark Vintage; it marked a turnaround in Port’s fortunes following the post world war II era when sales of Port took a long time to recover.

Only two bottles of the 1948 were made available by the family for this tasting.
Only two bottles of the 1948 were made available by the family for this tasting.

The legendary Graham’s 1948 was next and it proved one of the several high points of the tasting. As Paul remarked, “this is a wine that commands respect and admiration”. The wine showed an ethereal quality, with hints of mint, cinnamon and nuances of coffee (a distinctive hallmark of the 1948). A superbly refined wine with ripple after ripple of flavours and sensations, culminating with an endless, persistent aftertaste. Recovering from flu, Paul told the audience that he was feeling much better for sampling all these superb wines — the very best medicine he could take for a speedy recovery! This is a wine that deserves to be enjoyed on its own, without any unnecessary distractions.

Following this majestic trio of Vintages, Paul guided the gathered tasters through the other great interpretation of the art of Port: the cask-matured wines. The exquisitely elegant and charming Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee surprised the tasters with its vitality and freshness, belying its 60 years of age. The subtlety of the 1935 enchanted all those present, but the best was kept till last: the family reserve dating from the late 19th century. The concentration and complexity of this exceptional wine left everyone spellbound by its sheer intensity and presence. Layer upon layer of flavours teased the assembled palates, leaving everybody enchanted. The aftertaste will linger for a long time in the memory of those who were privileged to take part in this tasting.

To learn more about all the Vintage Ports shown at this tasting, read  the blog on The Vintage Port Site.

The trio of Graham's Vintage Ports tasted; they provided the tasters with a memorable experience.
The trio of Graham’s Vintage Ports tasted; they provided the tasters with a memorable experience.
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Which Port Did Johnny Symington Enjoy This Christmas?

Johnny Symington at the launch of the Graham's 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port earlier this year
Johnny Symington at the launch of the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port earlier this year

Just before Christmas our Vintage Port Site blogger asked the Symingtons and colleagues around the office what Ports they would be enjoying with their holiday feasts.

We only heard from Johnny Symington the morning after Christmas, but wanted to share his story with you:

Sorry not to reply earlier, I only decided on Christmas eve.

Having had a Pre launch taster of the Graham’s 1952 at last years Christmas lunch (before it was the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port and before it was approved by the palace and served at the Sovereign Heads Lunch at Windsor Castle). I decided on Christmas Eve this year that I would finish the Diamond Jubilee year with the same wine and celebrate and reflect on the outstanding PR success  that this wine has had for Graham’s.

The Graham's 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port
The Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port

So as I sipped and reflected at our Christmas Dinner this year the overwhelming thought was “no wonder it was such a success, the wine is so delicious and over delivers in every respect”.

As we go into 2013 this wine becomes a collectors’ item of great rarity and significance.

You can read more about which Ports we enjoyed during our holiday festivities on The Vintage Port Site blog.

How about you? What Ports have you enjoyed this holiday season, or are looking forward to in the coming week?  We would love to hear from you!

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The Wine Society hosts Paul Symington and Graham's Ports in a Magnificent Evening of Fine Cuisine

The Chryseia 2007 Douro wine, made jointly by the Symington family and Bruno Prats, drew manty superlatives from those present.
The Chryseia 2007 Douro wine, made jointly by the Symington family and Bruno Prats, drew many superlatives from those present.

The Wine Society’s 12th Annual Festive Dinner, which took place in the magnificent Merchant Taylor’s Hall in the City of London on December 18th was a resounding success. The delighted guest of honour, Paul Symington, was particularly pleased with how Portuguese cuisine impressed the guests, commenting: “In my long experience of promoting Portuguese wines in the UK, I have never seen an audience so captivated and enthralled by the quality of world-class Portuguese food, in this instance prepared by chef Rui Paula.” Paul added that it was a pleasure to witness the easy rapport established between the resident English chef of the Merchant Taylor’s Hall restaurant and his Portuguese counterpart, “the effortless understanding between Richard and Rui, and their teams, no doubt contributed to the exceptional quality of the food and service that the guests were privileged to experience.”

João Vasconcelos, Graham’s Market Manager for the UK, echoed Paul’s sentiment and mentioned that many of the Wine Society members attending the dinner made a point of letting him know that this was, by far, the finest Festive Dinner organized by The Society.

Chef Rui Paula (centre) with the Merchant Taylor's Hall resident Chef, Richard on his right, in the hall's lofty kitchens
Chef Rui Paula (centre) with the Merchant Taylor’s Hall resident Chef, Richard on his right, in the hall’s lofty kitchens

Following his welcome speech, in which Paul described how the great wines of the Douro are his family’s very lifeblood, it was time for fine Portuguese cuisine, accompanied by fine Portuguese wines (made by his family), to take centre stage. Each wine was described by Paul, as each course was served. Rui Paula designed the menu around the wines (Symington family Douro DOC wines and Graham’s Ports) and in this task his acknowledged talent was once more revealed: the perfect food and wine matches were unsurpassed. Rui thanked The Wine Society and Paul Symington for the unique opportunity to showcase his cuisine outside his native Portugal, where he owns and runs two of the country’s finest restaurants; one in Oporto (‘DOP’) and the other in the Douro region (‘DOC’), both of which have legions of fans.

A packed house of Wine Society members prepare for the 5 course wonder of Portuguese dishes
A packed house of Wine Society members prepare for the 5 course wonder of Portuguese dishes

Other highlights of the evening were the Graham’s Ports that were served with the dessert and cheese courses. The Graham’s 20 Year Old was served at just the right temperature (lightly chilled) with the exquisite ‘Abade de Priscos’ pudding, whilst the Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port stole people’s breath by its sheer quality (although those familiar with this Graham’s landmark Vintage weren’t in the least surprised that this Port still delivers so much pleasure, showing many years of life still ahead of it).

The Graham's 1970 Vintage served with traditional Portuguese cheeses (Serra, Ilhas and Azeitão) was triumphant.
The Graham’s 1970 Vintage served with traditional Portuguese cheeses (Serra, Ilhas and Azeitão) was triumphant.

The excellence of the table wines was also extolled, the Altano Quinta do Ataíde 2008 Reserva interacting perfectly with the rich flavours of the ‘Francezinha’ (Traditional Oporto Veal Sandwich with Mozzarella Cheese and Crayfish Sauce), whilst the Chryseia 2007 married beautifully with another traditional Portuguese dish — the Suckling Pig with Potatoes Gallete (‘Leitão com Batata Gallete’).

Graham's 20 Years Tawny impressed guests as a perfect dessert accompaniment - served at just the right, lightly chilled, temperature.
Graham’s 20 Years Tawny impressed guests as a perfect dessert accompaniment – served at just the right, lightly chilled, temperature.

The venue of the dinner, The Merchant Taylor’s Hall has occupied its present site between Threadneedle Street and Cornhill since 1347, in other words, it has stood in the same site for over 600 years. The Merchant Taylors’ Company is one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London and can trace its foundation back over 800 years. Livery Companies, or Guilds as they were previously known, began in mediaeval times as fraternities, which were often religious but also existed to protect the interests of particular trades.

The Wine Society owes its existence to the Great Exhibitions of the mid-19th century. For the last of these, in 1874, various countries sent large quantities of wine in cask to be stored in the cellars of the Royal Albert Hall where, to quote from an early history: ‘it entirely escaped notice from the visitors’. Portuguese growers, who had taken great efforts to present their wines, appealed for help and it was the subsequent efforts to promote their sale that laid the seeds for the foundation of the Wine Society, the world’s longest established wine club. Yet another long-standing tie between Portugal and Great Britain, who share the world’s longest standing alliance between two nations.

Chef Rui Paula in the illustrious setting of the Mercgant Taylor's Hall in the City of London, December 18th, 2012
Chef Rui Paula in the illustrious setting of the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in the City of London, December 18th, 2012
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Graham’s Busy Autumn in The Far East

Hong Kong Kee Club: Graham’s Ports featured in a very enjoyable Port and Food Pairing party held on October 26th at Hong Kong’s exclusive Kee Club.  The well attended party attracted over 100 VIP guests, keen to take part in this, the third edition of the popular event held jointly by Graham’s and Taylor’s. The evening was hosted by Graham’s Euan Mackay and Jorge Nunes, supported by Howard Palmes from Fine Vintage Ltd — Graham’s distributor in Hong Kong. Nicholas Heath from Taylor’s was also present.

Euan Mackay pours Graham's 20 Years Tawny from a Jeroboam (4.5 litre) bottle
Euan Mackay pours Graham’s 20 Years Tawny from a Jeroboam (4.5 litre) bottle

A variety of food pairings were offered to match a selection of Ports from the Graham’s range, and these included: Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage 2006 with Francesca Hazelnuts covered in dark chocolate; Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny served from a unique 4.5 litre ‘Jeroboam’ bottle with Foie Gras; Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny jelly on a chocolate biscuit and Graham’s 1980 Vintage Port with Venison Patties. For more in-depth information on Graham’s superb 1980 Vintage Port, please visit The Vintage Port Site.

Graham's Aged Tawny Ports  make wonderful food matches.
Graham’s Aged Tawny Ports make wonderful food matches.

The thrilled guests were left fully converted to the exquisite symbiosis that can be achieved between a great variety of foods and the wide-ranging styles of Port, which make it one of the most versatile of wines. Some Ports lend themselves more to the aperitif occasion, whilst others are better suited to enjoyment as after-dinner wines. The various serving opportunities also define the appropriate temperatures at which specific styles of Port should ideally be served. The enjoyment of aged tawny Ports, in particular, may be greatly enhanced by serving them lightly chilled.

A prize draw was held and the lucky winner took home a bottle of the superb Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest Tawny Port.

Euan Mackay presents a bottle of Graham's 1969 Single Harvest Port to the satisfied winner of the prize draw.
Euan Mackay presents a bottle of Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest Port to the satisfied winner of the prize draw.

Tainan, Taiwan, November 2nd: Jorge Nunes, Graham’s Asia Pacific Market Manager, stayed in party mode, flying off to Taiwan just a few days after the Hong Kong event in order to host a wine dinner in the historic city of Tainan (the ancient capital of the country). This Altano – Graham’s dinner was jointly organized by our importer, St Finesse and by our local distributor, Bacchus. The dinner showcased the Symington family’s Douro Altano still wines, as well as their best-known Ports from Graham’s.

Jorge Nunes, Asia Pacific Market Manager for Graham's (centre) at the restaurant in Tainan.
Jorge Nunes, centre, at the restaurant in Tainan. On his left is Sonia from Bacchus, the distributor in Tainan.

Tainan proved an inspired venue for this most entertaining wine dinner. It is the oldest city on the island and proudly regards itself as the birthplace of Taiwan. The city boasts a rich cultural heritage, including rich culinary traditions, which make it stand out in the country as a centre of fine cuisine. The Taiwanese themselves admire the city for its charm, and its friendly inhabitants who are very welcoming to outsiders, including an increasing number of foreign visitors.

Jorge Nunes, Graham's Asia Pacific Market Manager. To his right, Dave Huang, President of our Taiwan importer: St Finesse.
Jorge Nunes, Graham’s Asia Pacific Market Manager. To his right, Dave Huang, President of our Taiwan importer: St Finesse.
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Graham's Vintage Ports Perform Magnificently at Christie's Auction

The ‘Graham’s Grenadier’, a symbolic figure used by Graham’s for advertising its Ports in the 1920s and which also named a range of the company’s wines.

Several lots of Graham’s Vintage Ports were auctioned yesterday, Wednesday November 7th, at a fine wine auction organized by Christie’s in Amsterdam, Holland. Borrowing freely from an advertising slogan from a Graham’s 1920s publicity placard (see left): “Ten, Twenty, Thirty, Forty, Fifty Years Ago — and still something to make a song about!” Indeed, a very rare lot of six bottles of Graham’s 1945 Vintage (a wine now 67 years old), was auctioned for €6,325 ($8,099), approximately double the value estimated and indicated in the official auction catalogue. Expensive perhaps, but considering the exceptional quality of this legendary Vintage Port, no doubt the buyer will be satisfied with this acquisition. The 1945 is an exceptional year and was bottled in relatively small quantities due to the difficult trading conditions in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. This makes the 1945 a very rare wine, increasingly difficult to find. Despite its near 7 decades of age, this Port is still remarkably vital and immensely pleasurable to drink. A wine that leaves the drinker with an unforgettable impression on the palate.

The Graham’s 1945, bottled in Oporto (in 1947) — a break with tradition as most Vintage Ports up until then had been bottled by the importing wine merchants. This reflected the difficulties faced by them in the post WW2 period.

Another well placed Vintage Port was Graham’s unusual 1970 ‘Tappit Hen’ (triple, or 210cl bottle), several lots of which were sold, with the auctioneer’s hammer closing the highest bid at €1,350 ($1,767) — that’s nearly four times above the indicated price estimate. Other strong performers were the Graham’s 1994 and the Graham’s 2000 Vintage, the latter a Wine Spectator 98 point scorer and widely acknowledged as the finest 2000 Vintage Port produced by any house. Interestingly, bidders were keen to snap up the larger bottle sizes, such as a 6 litre bottle of 1994 (sold for €2,200) and a remarkable 15 litre bottle of the 2000 Vintage (seems like somebody is going to be inviting a large number of friends around to share the glories of this superb wine…). Then again, the 2000 is still quite young, with a long career ahead of it. On the other hand, the 1994 — another twentieth century Graham’s classic is beginning to drink remarkably well, although it too will repay keeping for at least another two to three years, to be enjoyed at its very best.

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Christie's Fine Wine Auction: 6th and 7th of November

Graham’s Legendary 1945 Vintage makes the cover of Christie’s Wine Auction catalogue, 6th and 7th of November, 2012

Bottles of Graham’s legendary 1945 Vintage Port illustrate the cover of Christie’s Catalogue of the ‘Fine Wine and Rare Vintage Port’ auction that the famous auction house is holding in Amsterdam over two days (November 6th and 7th). We are proud that out of the many hundreds of lots up for auction (including some of the world’s most famous names), it is one of Graham’s most emblematic Vintages of the twentieth century that was chosen to adorn the cover.

A selection of Graham’s Vintage Ports will be auctioned during the afternoon session of Wednesday the 7th. Bidding for the lot of 6 bottles of Graham’s 1945 (“in original wooden case”) will start at between €3,300 and €4,500. Michael Broadbent MW, who built a distinguished career over many years as Christie’s Senior Director of the auctioneer’s Wine Department in London (a post he held for several decades), maintained that Graham’s was — “Oustandingly the loveliest ’45…the sweetest of eleven ’45s tasted in Florida in 1989, and easily the best at The World’s Greatest Ports tasting; a sweet-smelling, fragrant yet powerful wine, still tannic, profound.”

Some of the Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port will be available in rare ‘Tappit Hen’ (triple) bottles

Also of interest to prospective bidders will no doubt be the other lots of Graham’s Vintage Ports on offer, in particular the splendid Graham’s 1970, widely regarded as the benchmark wine produced in that year (interestingly the year in which Graham’s was acquired by the Symington family; the 1970 was the first Graham’s Vintage Port they made). Robert Parker, one of the world’s leading wine critics wrote on Graham’s 1970: “…Graham has probably been the most consistent producer of great Vintage Port in the post-World War II era. Their Vintage Ports are truly sublime and sumptuous. The 1970 is a monumental Vintage Port and one of the greats of the vintage. It begs to be drunk now, although it will last for at least another two decades.” (Robert parker Buying Guide, 1989).

Besides being offered for auction in 75cl bottles, the famed Graham’s 1970 will also be available in very rare ‘Tappit Hen’ bottles (a Tappit Hen is a rare, no longer produced bottle size — equivalent to three standard bottles). Watch this space to learn the outcome of this auction…

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