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.