The past two weeks have seen Paul Symington on the road with his cousins – Johnny in London and Charles in Lisbon – to demonstrate the quality and longevity of Quinta Vintage ports and the extraordinary range of terroir character in the Douro. Journalists and other wine trade professionals were invited to partake in these extraordinary events.
Nineteen Vintage Ports were served from across all the Symington port brands; the Graham’s wines included Malvedos Vintages 2006, 1999, 1979, 1965, 1958 and 1950, and a Quinta do Tua 2006. As an extra curiousity at the end of the tasting, we served a cask sample of 2011 Touriga Franca from Malvedos, so the Ports ranged in age from 61 years to just one month old!
When Paul and his cousins were planning the event, they reviewed the contents of the cellars here in Gaia to select vintages and found there were only seven bottles left of the Malvedos 1950. The plan was to open one bottle in the tasting room to decide whether or not to include the 1950 in the tasting. On the way up from the cellar, that bottle was dropped… and then there were six! Three were sent to London, and three to Lisbon, untasted, and the wine was a revelation to everyone, with its extraordinary freshness, balance, and intense and complex flavours.
The tasting was introduced with a discussion of the extraordinary diversity within the Douro region, with Paul citing such variables as average temperatures, rainfall, soil pH and composition, at quintas from Warre’s Cavadinha a few kilometres north of the river in the Pinhão Valley, to Dow’s Bomfim on the riverfront at Pinhão, to Malvedos 10 km upriver, to Vesuvio another 14 km further upriver towards the border with Spain. These facts and figures were made real when guests tasted the feminine elegance of Cavadinha, the spicy, dry austerity of Bomfim, the opulent sweet fruit of Malvedos, and the elegant power of Vesuvio.
After the tastings Paul, Johnny and Charles had a chance to catch up with their friends in the trade over champagne, though a few people preferred to top up their glasses of a favourite Vintage Port.
About Quinta Vintage Ports
In the really extraordinary years, perhaps three times in a decade, we declare a classic Graham’s Vintage Port, with the wines from Quinta dos Malvedos at its heart, but also blending in wines made from any of Graham’s four other quintas, including nearby Quinta do Tua and Quinta da Vila Velha, Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto valley south of Pinhão, and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior.
In the years between, we usually bottle a Quinta Vintage Port from Quinta dos Malvedos. Exactly as for classic Vintage, the wines are aged in cask for about 18 months before bottling. But whereas classic Vintages are always released en primeur shortly after bottling, Quinta Vintages are aged in bottle in our own Lodge here in Vila Nova de Gaia until we consider it ready for drinking. Typically, this means the Quinta Vintage Ports are released around ten years after the Vintage – for example, the currently available Malvedos is 1999.
The extraordinarily rugged mountain landscape of the Douro creates an astonishing range of microclimatisation between even nearby properties. Both Malvedos and Tua are fundamentally south facing quintas on the north bank of the Douro and they are only a couple kilometres apart, but the landscapes and taste profiles for the properties are very different. Malvedos has the more varied landscape and a higher top altitude, so the vineyards are not just south facing: with areas of vine facing east, or located in narrow valleys where the heat can concentrate, Malvedos wines have extraordinary aromatics of mint, eucalyptus and floral notes, particularly violets, and the wines have great complexity and balanced structure.
Tua, on the other hand, has an old walled vineyard that faces west and south west, and the rest of the vineyards are stretched out along a south facing area which does not have as deep undulations or as great a variety of exposures as Malvedos, and the vineyards are mostly confined within a narrower band of altitude. What Tua does have is a very high percentage of old vines, and the wines stand out for their complexity and tannic structure. Our first Quinta do Tua Vintage Port was made in 2006, the year we acquired the quinta, and this wine is among those still ageing in our Lodge.
Those attendees who have already published about the event have been very impressed indeed, by the sheer quality of the wines, the very clear differences between properties by virtue of their terroir and most of all by Paul, Johnny and Charles’s passion for the wines and properties.
Quentin Sadler, a wine educator and consultant in England, has written a detailed review of the event and the wines, and concluded
I could happily pull the cork on any of these and sit in a garden enjoying these wonderfully complex and fascinating wines.
Jane McQuitty of The Times (29 October, her column in The Weekend section) wrote to recommend the Malvedos 1999 to her readers:
The best and best-value single quinta port available at the moment is the utterly gorgeous, luscious, floral, mint and cabbage rose-scented 1999 Quinta dos Malvedos.
Wine writer and event organiser Heather Dougherty wrote about Wines That Look Good at Fifty in her blog Liquid Assets to recommend the Malvedos 1999 as well:
This is beautifully perfumed, incredibly rich and sweet. There are flavours and aromas of pipe tobacco and sweet spiced cherry. Malvedos is famous for producing opulent, sweet ports and this certainly fits that profile. The sweetness would make it a great match for desserts – sticky toffee pudding or crème brûlée could be naughty but nice.
In the on-line edition of the trade magazine Harper’s Wine and Spirits, Anne Krebiehl made a thought-provoking observation
… the older vintages were a marvel: a thoughtful reminder that we are apt to miss a lot by just concentrating on the ‘finest’ vintages or the highest scores.
Perhaps wine writer Joanna Simon summed it up best with her comment
It was a tasting that demonstrated the longevity and quality of these single quintas and their very different and distinct characters.