After what has been an extremely dry Spring, Portugal has been in the grip of a heatwave since early June. While high temperatures are normal at this time of year, the prolonged high temperatures, which have seen some areas reach temperatures in the low 40º’s, are deeply worrying due to the potential negative effects on vineyards and agriculture, and the threat of forest fire.
One must only look to the tragic events unfolding in Pedrógão Grande to understand the violent and devastating and tragic impact of wildfire. We have nothing but respect for the courage and determination shown by the firemen, emergency services, and armed forces, in helping to protect the lives of people and their property.
In the Douro Valley, Symington Family Estates’ weather station in Quinta do Ataide recorded temperatures of 43.7ºC on the 17th of June, and had three consecutive days with temperatures above 43. The thermometers in Quinta do Bomfim, in Pinhão, peaked at 42.1ºC, the highest temperature ever recorded in the estate since records began in 1957.
Fortunately, the weather forecast shows a slight decrease in these temperatures over the next few days.
During the release of a honey buzzard back to the wild at Quinta dos Malvedos, we spoke to Dr. João Tomás, of the Wild Birds Recovery Unit of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, about his life in the Douro and his passion for birds.
For more information on Wild Birds Recovery Unit visit their Facebook page, here (in Portuguese).
Adriano Ferreira Borges:Good morning. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living? João Tomás: Hello. My name is João Tomás and I’m a vet.
AFB:And where do you live? JT: At the moment in Vila Real, but originally, I’m from Batalha.
AFB:So, you’re not from the Douro then. Do you like it here? JT: Yes, of course! I came here to study in Vila Real, specifically, veterinary medicine in the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in 2008. When I finished my studies, I had the luck to be able to stay on in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) of the University Veterinary Hospital. However, I was born in the centre of Portugal, in Batalha, but now I think I am more than part Trásmontano (a person from Trás-os-Montes)… I like it in Vila Real, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but for now I like it here.
AFB:You said you worked in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit. Do you only work with birds, or do you also treat other animals? JT: We work with wild animals in general, including, wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Normally the animals that find their way to us are found injured on the street, and are brought to us by members of the public. We then try and figure out what’s wrong, and return them to their home in nature.
AFB:But you have a special relationship with birds, right? JT: Yes, since I was young I’ve been fascinated with them, something I inherited from my father who also loved to study them when he was young. In 2010, I volunteered in a recovery unit, and worked with a group of people passionate about birds, which made my interest grow even more. So now, a day doesn’t pass that I don’t look at a bird, and I don’t walk in the field with my binoculars to see what I can see. At this time, it is a passion and a hobby, and I hope in the future I can work in the area.
AFB:Did you ever work with wine? JT: To be honest, I never had much contact with it! I have a friend from secondary school whose family produce some wine, but just for their own consumption. And now that I think of it, I helped my uncle during the harvest when I was very young.
AFB:So, you have been living in the Douro nine years now, what changes have you noticed in this time? JT: Well, everything I like about it has stayed the same! The things that I can put my finger on are the more negative things, like the increase in forest fires in the summer, and this year even in the spring.
AFB:How do you imagine the Douro in ten years’ time? JT: In the last 10 or 15 years, the Douro has already changed for the better due to increased tourism and investment, something the region badly needed due to the desertification of the region in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that developments in the vineyards, and in winemaking are very positive for the local populations as it has created jobs and the opportunity for more companies to invest in the region. Tourism has also allowed new people to get to know this beautiful place.
AFB:So, you think tourism is a positive thing? JT: On one hand it is, due to what I said earlier. On the other, we must be careful, as we need to remember to preserve all living things, which need their own space. We need to protect what is already here.
AFB:Well, although you live in a beautiful place, you must go on holidays sometimes. Where do you go? JT: Good question! Basically, my holidays revolve around observing birds! I try and go to areas of the country that I know are inhabited by species of birds I haven’t seen before, and try to observe them.
AFB:That’s dedication! What sort of food do you like? JT: I like traditional Portuguese cooking, and principally my mother’s! AFB:Any favourite? JT: I love cozido á Portuguesa and posta Maronesa (steak maronesa)
AFB:Do you not mean to say Mirandesa (a breed of cow)? JT: No, no. The breed is Maronesa, from the Marão mountains, although now you find more of them in the Alvão.
AFB:I won’t argue with you! Thanks for talking to me. JT: You’re welcome!
A European honey buzzard — Pernis apivorus — nursed back to health by the UTAD (Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro) Wildlife Rescue Centre was returned to the wild at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos on May 18th. Peter Symington, the SFE’s retired winemaker, who has been staying at the quinta with family and friends, released the female honey buzzard from one of the property’s highest vineyards at 350 metres (1,148 feet).
The Malvedos honey buzzard was taken to the University’s Veterinary Hospital in August 2016 after it had been found by members of the public, downed and injured near Miranda do Douro, a town in the north-eastern extremity of Portugal where the Douro marks the international border with Spain. The bird had been illegally shot, sustaining two fractures in one of its wings. It was operated on successfully at the veterinary hospital — which works closely with the wildlife rescue centre — and from October it began its recovery programme which consisted of several months of flying exercises in the rescue centre’s dedicated circular flight tunnel, the only one of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s unique in that it allows large birds of prey to fly continuously, thus regaining muscular strength and recovering flying proficiency in preparation for a return to nature.
Although its steady recovery was completed during the middle of winter, the rescue centre could not release the bird as it belongs to a migratory species, which flies south to sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the European Autumn in search of better feeding grounds, returning to Europe only in the spring for the mating season. As its name suggests, the honey buzzard feeds on bees and wasps and their larvae, raiding their nests. Its thick plumage, its claws covered with thick protective scales and narrow slit nostrils, protect it from attack by its preferred prey.
Dr. João Tomás, the veterinarian who accompanied the honey buzzard for release at Malvedos explained to those present that during the second week of May, approximately 8,000 honey buzzards were tracked over the Strait of Gibraltar, flying north on their return to Europe where they will mate, usually with the same partner, build nests and raise their chicks. He said that sightings of honey buzzards had already been reported in the Douro Superior and in the Trás-os-Montes and Beira Alta districts of Portugal. This was the signal that the timing was right to release ‘their’ bird.
The Symington family has supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens — CRAS, for short) since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Malvedos is home to a remarkable variety of bird species, which include golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds such as black kites, which frequently nest in the wooded areas of the quinta. Just moments after the release of the honey buzzard, João Tomás identified a Bonelli’s eagle gliding effortlessly on the thermals above the vineyards.
Andrew James Symington was the first of the Symington family to work in the Port trade, and came to Porto in 1892. He is the great-grandfather of the current generation of the Symington Family running the company. In the below excerpt from his book, “A Life in the Port Trade”, James Symington briefly describes a Porto that once was, and his grandfather’s penchant for motoring.
“AJS (Andrew James Symington) prospered in the Port business and acquired a fine house in the Avenida da Boavista. This was a major new artery running from the city, through what up to that time had been farmland, down to the sea. His son, Maurice was born in this house in 1895 and was to die there in 1974, in the same room in which he had been born. The house had a fine garden and AJS built a lovely and very English drawing room which gave onto it. He also had a special ceiling constructed in the dining room with a ventilator so that the cigar smoke could escape.
My grandfather was an early enthusiast of motoring and acquired a 1912 Daimler in which he ventured on occasion to the Douro over the appalling roads of the time. More usually however the train was the comfortable and practical way to visit the Douro, some three and a half hours’ journey from Porto. Although AJS was a keen motorist his skill at the wheel never matched his enthusiasm and he regularly battered his cars. On one occasion when he had just acquired a new car – a 1922 Cadillac – he decided he did not much like its colour and resolved to have it repainted. His sons, knowing full well that it would require a repaint very soon in their father’s hands, persuaded him that the colour was very pleasant and so it remained unaltered. Sure enough a few weeks later whilst driving out of his front gate, he scraped the whole side of the car and it had to be repaired and was then painted in his chosen colour.”
As part of the anual Symington Family Estates’ sales and marketing meeting, the SFE team assembled eight bicycles that were donated to the Associação Protetora da Criança – Valadares(Association for the Protection of Children – Valadares).
The association, founded in Valadares (a parish of Vila Nova de Gaia) in 1953, aims to support disadvantaged children and young people on various levels, providing them with a stable environment within which to grow, both intellectually and emotionally.
Symington Family Estates is proud to support such a fine institution.
This week, journalist, wine critic, and founder of fortheloveofport.com, Roy Hersh, commits to the daunting task of selecting his favourite Symington Family Estates’ vintage.
Given the depth and breadth of vintages to consider, selecting an individual year produced by this esteemed stable of Port shippers, is no easy feat. In order to meet the criteria, a specific harvest had to produce a great bandwidth of outstanding Ports and be very drinkable today. While a vintage like 1927 would be an easy choice, it makes far more sense to choose a year that most Port lovers can relate to.
In recent times, the 2011 vintage is a no-brainer. Low yielding and led by the near-perfect Dow and supported by many other excellent Vintage Ports from the Symingtons and others, it is a great year to have cases aging in the cellar. While delicious and approachable in their youth, I’d prefer these continue to age for another 12 to 15 years before beginning to pull corks; as the complexity and secondary nuances would really just be hitting their stride at that time. Overall, a great year, but it is just too soon to settle on the 2011 vintage.
While this may be an odd choice, I’ve always felt that the 1980 vintage was not only an under-appreciated year, but one in which the Symington Family Vintage Ports excelled. There are some other shippers that made fine Vintages too, however across the board, Dow’s and Graham’s are likely the two Ports at the top of the 1980 class, respectively. There are others from SFE too, such as Gould Campbell which over delivered in ‘80 and still show loads of upside from here, while Smith Woodhouse is a little more predictable, yet deeply extracted and with concentrated flavours.
1980 Warre’s is definitely a smooth and sexy Port and while it has already begun to develop secondary characteristics, its best drinking is still several years hence. Therein lies the conundrum, as the drinkability factor comes into question. At 37 years of age, it is hard for readers to understand when I say that this vintage is still drinking young. The Dow’s, Graham’s, Gould Campbell and Smith Woodhouse if tasted blind, would fool many into guessing that these Ports are from a younger vintage such as 1994 or even 1997… Which is saying a lot.
So, 2011 and even 1980 are a bit too young, 1945 and 1927 a bit obscure for the average Port consumer… How about we focus on the 1966 vintage which just passed the half century mark last year? For current drinking with serious Port friends, this is my go to vintage. 1966 was especially kind to the Port shippers that now make up the breadth of Symington Family Estates, even though several of these houses were acquired by the Symington family after these Ports were vinified and bottled. Across the board the 1966 vintage shows an exceptional number of Ports that are drinking à point today, but also well within their window of peak performance.
When I look at the Port houses owned by the Symington family and consider their 1966s, this would have to be the sweet spot for current consumption. Personally, I do prefer Vintage Ports that present secondary, if not tertiary, characteristics and well-defined flavour profiles. I am sure many others would select the 1970 vintage, 1963 or even choose 1994. But across the board, every 1966 Vintage Port by the Symington’s is still in fantastic condition, when one comes across bottles cellared properly.
If forced to select just one, there’s no question that for my palate preference the Dow, is at the top rung of the 1966 ladder for SFE. It has been drinking well for many years, and when I say well, that is an understatement here. I’ve had the good fortune to taste nearly a dozen bottles of this Vintage in the past six or seven years. Best bottles are still exhibiting a dark garnet colour, with gutsy structures, well-delineated aromas and an intensity and sophistication in both the utter richness and succulent dark berry flavours. Graham’s is also incredible and often this ’66 is picked as “group favourite” during blind tastings. It appeals in a smooth, ripe, approachable style that it is noticeably softer than the Dow’s tannic structure and may offer greater overall hedonism, vs. the Dow’s which shows extraordinary vibrancy and signs of power given its age.
It really depends on which house style appeals most. Warre’s is at a near-perfect place in its evolution today; at peak, it will never be better than it is right now. That being said, I’d be happy to drink the Warre’s any day of the week. It is a viscous and elegant Port stuffed with sweet black cherry and mocha and generous acidity to keep it interesting in the glass, with a memorably soft ending. The Smith Woodhouse ‘66 is a classic and this one has held up very well indeed. Broad shouldered, with layers of fragrant earth and grape, a meio seco core that’s somewhere between secondary and tertiary flavours. Gould Campbell is a rock star in this vintage and likely my second favourite Port of SFE’s 1966s. Spiced purple freshness on the nose with plum and boysenberry notes that translate to the palate. With a solid five hour decant the Gould morphs into a multi-layered rich wine, with plenty of time to drink well from here.
This handful of Vintage Ports make it very easy to choose 1966, which was not initially thought to be a great vintage. Critics back in the day believed this vintage was too tannic and would never come into full balance. In reality, the tannins have enabled these Vintage Ports to evolve and show an invincibility through their first half century, yet spotlight their seamless symmetry too. The best of the 1966s will continue to develop deeper and multifaceted personalities, and the best bottles will reward the patience of Port enthusiasts who appreciate what mature Vintage Port has to offer.
Produced at two of the Douro Superior’s most remote vineyards, the Symington family is pleased to announce the declaration of the Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2015 Vintage Ports.
In the Douro Superior, the 2105 growing season was simultaneously the hottest and driest for 36 years, although (unusually for the Douro Superior) it had benefited from more spring rain than the other sub-regions of the Douro, putting the vines in a good place to withstand the intense heat.
Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira
At Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, the vintage began on the 8th of September, although the finest varieties, namely the Touriga Nacional from the east-facing Vinha Grande and the Touriga Franca from the south-facing Vinha da Pedreira, were only picked towards the end of the month in order to reap the benefit from the heaven-sent rain which fell on September 15th.
The best Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, combined with some Sousão, were fermented in the estates’ lagares to produce a Port with an exceptionally intense, purple-black color with deep complexity, fine tannins and balanced acidity.
Quinta do Vesuvio
At Quinta do Vesuvio, Touriga Nacional from the Vinha Nova and Raposa vineyards began to be picked from the 21st of September, followed by Touriga Franca from the Vale da Teja vineyards, a week later.
Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the only estates to still use traditional granite lagares, which were constructed in 1827, to make all the property’s Ports. During the 2015 vintage, 50 people tread grapes for up to three hours at the end of each day’s picking to create a Vintage Port that is exceptionally complex, concentrated and elegant.
In this series we will interview the people that live, work and travel in the Douro Valley. This week, Adriano Ferreira Borges speaks to António Júlio Vieira.
AFB: Hello there. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?António Júlia Vieira: My names is António Júlio Vieira, and I work for myself.
AFB: Are you from Foz Tua? AJV: No, I’m from São Mamede de Ribatua (Alíjo).
AFB: Not too far away so! What sort of food do you like? AJV: All that’s good (laughs), but only if your paying!
AFB: Ah go on, you must have a favourite! AJV: I like diversity, and mostly greens. All sorts of greens!
AFB: And to wash it down? Do you have any connection with wine production in the region? AJV: Well, I’ve always worked for myself. I worked in construction and built my own house and buildings, but I don’t do that anymore. My children don’t want houses! On the side I produce wine for myself, and sell what’s left to the co-op winery.
AFB: How do you think the Douro will be in ten year’s time? AJV: I think it won’t change too much. The elderly are already dying and the young don’t want to work!
AFB: What about the increase in tourism? AJV: It’s true that its growing. And that’s a good thing, at least, as the region needs to make a bit of money somehow!
AFB: And what about yourself, do you ever go on holidays? AJV: Me? That depends. I’ve gone to Madeira and to the Azores. And some years I’ve just stayed here.
For the second time ever, Graham’s is declaring a Vintage Port made exclusively from the time-worn stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos. Read on for more information on the wine and its provenance.
The Stone Terraces vineyard at Malvedos comprises three adjacent parcels in a narrow curving valley; one faces north and is known as ‘Cardenhos’, whilst the other two, known as ‘Port Arthur’ (see here for a possible history of the name), face each other across the Síbio brook; one facing due east, the other due west. The fact that there is no south facing terraces proved to be of great benefit during the 2015 growing and maturation cycles, which were the driest and hottest of the last three decades.
Whilst most of the Malvedos vineyards, which have a predominantly southerly aspect, were subjected to challenging conditions, the Stone Terraces vineyards in their more sheltered positions were shielded from the excesses of the heat.
In 2015, the grapes were picked by hand over the weekend of the 12th/13th of September, a couple of days before substantial rain fell across the Douro Valley, and were subsequently fermented in lagares at Quinta dos Malvedos’ own small winery. Yields were incredibly low, at just 0.82 kg per vine, and several hours of treading over the following days delivered a magnificent wine with sublime violet aromas.
Tasting note (from cask samples in the Symington Family Estates’ tasting room):
A wine with a sublime floral essence reminiscent of bouquets of roses and violets – gorgeous. There is a discreet hint of toffee. The palate is opulent, whilst not overbearing, and reveals a mineral freshness and some peppery spice. Supremely refined, it is elegant and balanced.
Today, Cockburn’s announced the declaration of the 2015 Vintage, and as such the second Cockburn’s Vintage Port produced under Symington Family stewardship. Below, we recapitulate the viticultural year in Quinta dos Canais.
The Year in the Making
Rainfall marked the beginning of the viticultural year in October, replenishing water reserves that had been diminished during the preceding summer. In the months to come, these water reserves would prove crucial, as the winter of 2014/2015 and the spring that followed were very dry. As such, the period between the start of the vegetative cycle and the initial stages of the ripening season was simultaneously the hottest and driest of the last 36 years.
Fortunately, in the Douro Superior (where Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais and Quinta do Vale Coelho are located) rain arrived as temperatures began to rise in May. This rain was of enormous benefit and helped sustain the vines throughout June and July, although, the temperature fell in July, and August was significantly colder than usual, offsetting some of the effects of drought. Coupled to this, cool August nights proved decisive in preserving the natural acidity in the berries, and in the run up to the vintage the vineyards were in good condition.
Although the grapes were in good condition in early September, phenolic development was still incomplete and signs of hydric stress were beginning to show. As such, when the vintage started in Quinta dos Canais on September 7th, the vulnerable younger vines were picked first in the hope that rain would soon arrive to allow the final ripening of the most valuable grapes.
Charles Symington noted: “We held back and on the morning of the 15th [of September] a massive storm hit the Douro which lasted until early next morning, the skies then cleared and temperatures dropped to ideal ripening conditions…perfect! The vines responded to this miraculous rain and within 4 days the Touriga Nacional was transformed, skins having softened and flavours developed. At Canais picking resumed on the 21st and the Nacional was in fantastic condition and a week later the pickers moved on to the Touriga Franca, which was considerably advanced and showing great promise, possibly the most promising Franca I have seen.”
Unsurprisingly, Touriga Franca constitutes the largest component of the Cockburn’s 2015 Vintage Port, with 41% (compared with 30% in the 2011). It is followed by Touriga Nacional with 37%— this variety also excelled at Canais where it was sourced from the distinctive, mature 30 years Bico de Pato (duck’s bill) vineyard. Picked 8 days after the rain of the 15th, the perfectly ripe berries delivered just 0.96 Kg/vine, giving the wine its velvety tannins and incomparable finesse and elegance.
The superb Touriga Franca was sourced principally from Canais, and complemented by a smaller quantity from Vale Coelho. The balance of the blend was made up of old mixed vines (9%); Sousão (7%) and Alicante Bouschet (6%), the latter from Quinta do Cachão de Arnozelo, which contributed to the structure of the wine. A co-fermentation from Vale Coelho of old mixed vines, yielding just 0.36 Kg/vine, combined with Sousão and Touriga Franca added great concentration, freshness and grip to the wine.
The resulting wine is focused and precise, with great vitality and purity of fruit. Exuding freshness, it springs out of the glass with aromas of fleshy, black plums, and eucalyptus and flavours of red cherries. Well-toned and muscular, Cockburn’s 2015 Vintage Port is full-flavoured with a typical Cockburn’s ‘grip’.