Tasting ports in groups of several wines can highlight the differences between styles, vintages, or ageing regimes. Graham’s master blenders rarely taste a wine in isolation, but compare several different samples, or samples versus finished and bottled wines, in order to fully assess the qualities of a given wine by contrasting it with others.
Very broadly, “ruby” is used to describe ports for which the making process preserves the deep red colour and the intense fruit character of the new wine. These wines will undergo wood ageing only in immense balseiros of thousands of litres, and never for more than six or seven years. Ruby ports, both Fine and Finest Reserve, Six Grapes and Late Bottled Vintage, will be bottled ready to enjoy. Crusted port is bottled and then stored by us for three years before being released, and can be enjoyed upon release or for some years after. Vintage port of course is only made when we identify an exceptional wine which has the power and structure to age for decades in bottle after only two years in balseiro.
Wines are typically tasted in a sequence starting with the youngest, simplest or lightest weight and progressing to the most mature, complex and intense; in this way the palate is not so staggered by a powerful wine as to be unable to appreciate a younger or more finely nuanced wine afterwards.
The Graham’s Precious Ruby tasting at the Lodge is a line up of a Late Bottled Vintage, Six Grapes, and a Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage. Visitors often question the sequence – they expect to be presented first with the Six Grapes, then the LBV, then the Vintage, based on the above tasting guidelines.
In fact, the Late Bottled Vintage is best presented first, though strictly speaking it is likely to be an older wine. Our LBV spends four to six years in the large balseiros before it is lightly filtered and bottled. This means that the wine is smooth, and although both nose and palate have plenty of red summer fruit, the impact of the fruit will have begun to soften and the wine may just begin to show some secondary flavour notes such as pepper or chocolate, depending on the exact vintage being tasted. The cask ageing also gives this wine a long and complex finish.
Graham’s Six Grapes is, we think, unique among ruby ports for several reasons. First and foremost, our intention with this blend has been to create an “everyday” port as much like a young vintage as possible. In order to ensure a consistent vintage character, we actually select the wines for Six Grapes before we consider candidates for making into Late Bottled Vintage.
Comparing it to the LBV you will find Six Grapes more intensely sweet and more intense generally, both nose and palate are very rich, complex and purely fruity – you will not find any secondary flavours here. The finish is again very long, but it is a very generous, luscious sweet finish, richer and more intense than the finish on the LBV, hence the decision to present Six Grapes after LBV in the tasting.
The Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage stands out from the other two for its darker and more complex fruit character and marked floral notes. Whilst the first two wines are blended from all five Graham’s quintas, in this wine the unique character of Malvedos stands out. With a southern exposure on the banks of the Douro, the grapes achieve full ripeness most years – which guarantees intensity and complexity of flavours. Malvedos is planted with a very high proportion of Touriga Nacional (29%) which brings cassis, mulberry, blackberry and raspberry flavours as well as great structure. The Quinta also features one of our favourite grapes, Touriga Franca (36%), which gives the wines their wonderful floral, especially violet, aromas. The finish is again quite long – a Graham’s hallmark – but in the Vintage ports the finish is more firm, with more tannic structure.
Have you enjoyed the Precious Ruby tasting at our Lodge, or tried comparative tastings at home with Graham’s ports? We would love to hear about your experiences and impressions.