Graham’s at The Port Walk

Friday night Charles Symington was in London for one of his favourite events:  the Berry Brothers & Rudd Port Walk.  On the last Friday of November for some years now, BBR has invited Charles to co-host this event with Simon Field, BBR’s Port and Iberian wine buyer.

The evening is an extraordinary chance to taste 20 different ports, including examples of white, ruby and tawny, followed by, as Simon expressed it, an unashamed 15 different vintage ports from 1970 to 1998, including Graham’s and some of the other brands made by Symington Family Estates (SFE).

Charles tasted every wine on the table – both SFE’s and those made by our neighbours in Gaia and the Douro.  He was very pleased with how our wines were showing, and when asked his personal favourite, admitted to some fond memories of the Graham’s 1970, which was served at his own wedding as well as on several other memorable occasions.

In his remarks during the evening, Charles said he thought this format – an informal walkaround tasting of such a wide range of port styles and vintages – is an exceptional opportunity to learn which ports and what age of vintage you prefer.  Whilst it is traditional to drink aged vintage ports – anything upward of 20 years – many people find, on tasting, that they may prefer, or enjoy as well, younger vintages which are still full of rich ripe red and black fruit, rather than the mellower dried fruit or secondary flavours that characterise older ports.

In addition, Berry Bros provided canapés, so it was possible to try the different ports with such foods as game terrine, foie gras, Stilton and a chocolate brownie with chocolate mousse; again a great opportunity to test out personal preferences in combinations of tawny or vintage with different foods.

Graham’s wines on show included the 1994, 1980 and 1970 Vintages.  Additionally there were vintage ports from the SFE brands Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinta do Vesuvio, Smith Woodhouse and Gould Campbell.

If you would like to follow the tasting events at Berry Bros, or check the incredible range of ports available from their shop or mail order, consult their website is at

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The Vintage Port Academy Launches in Hong Kong

Euan Mackay explaining the unique Douro terroir

Earlier this month Euan Mackay, Graham’s Sales Director, was in Hong Kong to launch the Vintage Port Academy, which aims to promote the appreciation and understanding of Vintage Port.  The launch was marked by the biggest series of  Vintage Port events ever to be held in Asia, designed for press, wine trade professionals and consumers.  The Academy is a joint venture between Symington Family Estates, makers of Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s, and the Taylor-Fladgate Partnership, which produces Taylor’s, Croft and Fonseca ports.

Over the course of three days we held six different events including a press tasting and luncheon, a tasting of a range of vintage ports from 1977 to 2003 for our distributor’s VIP customers, two educational seminars aimed at young sommeliers and others just starting in the wine trade, a trade tasting and a consumer event on port and food pairing.  All events were fully subscribed.

Wines from all six houses were featured in vertical tasting flights of 2000, 2003 and 2007 Vintages at the press tasting event on 10 November at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong.  This was a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the house styles of the six producers, as well as to appreciate the unique character of each of these landmark vintage years.  Afterwards, the group enjoyed a lunch with featured two aged vintages:  Taylor’s 1963 and the Graham’s 1966 which was showing magnificently.

Really bringing home the message: a map and some schist

The Port Seminars were held at the Club Lusitano, one focussed solely on Vintage Ports and the other presenting the full range of Port styles.  Certificates were awarded for completion, and a test was administered at the conclusion of the general Port seminar.  The winner received a presentation case of one bottle of 2000 Vintage Port from each Graham’s, Warre’s Dow’s, Taylor’s, Fonseca and Croft.

Euan sharing this enthusiasm and knowledge at the food pairing event: Graham's Vintage 1994 and chocolate patisserie

Finally, there was a food pairing event at the restaurant La Loggia in central Hong Kong, which showed wines from both houses, including Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny with foie gras, a young Graham’s 1994 Vintage with dark chocolate,  a mature Taylor’s 1985 Vintage with blue cheese and Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny with smoked meat. Over 100 people turned up over the two hours, and thoroughly enjoyed the ports and taste sensations.

Our thanks to the organisers, Independent Wine Centre (IWC), who did a fantastic job setting up the events and keeping them all running smoothly throughout the three days.  We look forward to working with them again in 2011.    Watch their website for news of events in the new year:

The Port Academy was also featured in the Winebuzz blog, Hong Kong’s daily English-language wine blog covering the newest wines, stores, wine bars, tastings and more.  Take a look, there are some great photos:

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Port for Thanksgiving

With the holiday season upon us and lots of food and entertaining ahead, we thought it time to explore which Graham’s ports worked with the holiday treats, beginning with a few Thanksgiving classics.

When polled, the Symington family unanimously voted for Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny to accompany the desserts of a typical American Thanksgiving dinner.

Why?  The fundamental tenet of food pairing is to think about balancing the weight and complexity of the wine with that of the dish; you don’t want one to overpower the other – they should be in balance.  In terms of flavour qualities, you can choose between complementing or contrasting the food with the wine.

In the case of Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port, your wine is rich, sweet and smooth on the palate, balanced, with a long finish, and very supple and silky – for all its complexity and richness it does not feel like a heavy wine in the mouth.  The tasting notes are distinctly nutty, with mature fruit, caramel, possibly a whiff of orange peel on both nose and palate.

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny pairs well with an apple pie and roasted chestnuts

Typical Thanksgiving desserts are fruit pies:  apple pies, pear tarts, pumpkin pies.  If you think about eating or cooking with any of those fruits you know they are complemented – their flavours enhanced – by nuts, caramel and orange flavours, so a wine which possesses these kinds of tasting notes is a good bet to complement dishes made with these fruits.

Spending the post-meal evening with family, friends and a bottle of 20 Year Old Tawny whilst working slowly through a big bowl of fresh roasted chestnuts and dried fruit, such as apricots, is also an inviting and relaxing prospect.

If you wish to go with a dish to contrast with your Tawny, try creamy desserts:  a crème brulée (our Lodge staff’s favourite) or even a vanilla or nut ice cream make a wonderful foil for the richness of the wine.

In the interest of proving the theory, just to be sure! we baked an apple pie, a pumpkin and maple pie, and roasted some chestnuts last night.  After exhaustive taste tasting on your behalf, we are able to confirm that theory has not failed us in this case – Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny really does match well and complement these foods.

What will you be serving this Thanksgiving, and which Ports will you be pairing with your meals?  We would love to know!  Post a comment and share your suggestions and experience with us and all our readers.

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The Guest Books

Quinta dos Malvedos is most well known as the flagship quinta and the winery for the Graham’s ports, but it is also a family home, though we do use it as a base for entertaining trade as well as personal visitors.  The guest books are an incredible resource which reflect all these aspects:  a working vineyard and winery, family life, and a delight to all who visit.

Looking through a few of the books from the past 120 years turned up some amusing bits and pieces, we thought you might enjoy.

All the Symington family take an intense interest in the vineyard conditions, weather and state of the grapes year round, but especially during harvest, and continue the century-old tradition of noting all these things when they visit.  Paul and Jane Symington signed in September 2002, with both harvest conditions and family observations:

Wet and damp for the last few days, grapes still in good condition, but we need some dry sunny weather.  Robert working in the winery, the 5th generation of the Symington Family makes a start!

Paul got his wish for a spell of dry weather: about 8 days later Charles signed:

Weather holding on temperatures up to high 20’s, cut only the second lagar on Saturday, very good atmosphere with a great result, Baumé at 14 degrees with great colour.  Some rot with the Amarela however with the dry days of the past 5/6 days the Francesa (Franca) is looking quite good.

Rupert updated a few days later still:

Picking finished on the 3rd in fairly wet conditions – some rot but on the whole grapes quite sound.

Something about the property and Graham’s wines inspires many visitors to express themselves in verse.

Quando eu bebo o vinho
Sinto o ceú na boca
Uma musica que soa
Que o coração toca

When I drink the wine
I feel the sky in my mouth
A music which sounds
Which touches the heart

There once was a Port dude named Peter
Whom a Portuguese lass found much sweeter
Whether in a lagar
Or a Symington car…

Actually, the last line of that one is unrepeatable, as is the next recorded limerick.  The quinta, wines and wonderful Douro fresh air seem to inspire mischief and high spirits amongst our guests as well.

Looking back to some older guest books dating from around 1910, there were a few short verses the sentiments of which are certainly still true:

Like Mary is the climate
Of Douro I am told
For when its bad it’s awful
Though sometimes good as gold

When British beer tastes muddy
Under suns which never shine
We’ll think of the Douro quintas
And we’ll drink the Douro wine

Finally, a couple entries from Harvest 2009 that caught my eye:

First vintage of the blog – a fun experiment

A series of beautiful sunny days – temperatures up to 32° – grapes rather dry.  More details in the blog!!

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PFV Gala Dinner

Dominic Symington has reported in from Brazil, to let us know that the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) Gala Dinner event at the São Paulo Jockey Club Thursday night was an outstanding success.  The event was hosted and coordinated by TV Globo news anchorman Renato Machado who is also a well know wine enthusiast; over 300 people attended.

The wines served at dinner are a dream list of the world’s finest:

Pol Roger, Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1998

Hugel & Fils, Riesling Jubilee 2005
J. Drouhin, Puligny Montrachet Folatières 2002

Torres, Torres Mas La Plana 2004 (España)
Antinori, Tignanello 2001 (Toscana IGT), (Magnum)
Tenuto San Guido, Sassicaia 2002 (Magnum)
Ch. Beaucastel, Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge  Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2001 (Magnum)
Vega Sicilia, Vega Sicilia, Unico 1994
Mouton Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild 1996 Magnum

Egon Müller Scharzhof, 2007 Scharzhofberger Auslese Goldkapsel
Graham’s, Graham’s 1994 Vintage Port

Dominic added:

The wines showed superbly with the Graham’s 1994 showing particularly well and causing quite a stir amongst the guests.  The wine had been decanted between 3:00 and 4:00 pm and was served at 11:00 pm.  After plenty of time to open up it was showing beautiful tones of lifted violets but still with plenty of youthful grip to match perfectly with a dark chocolate and caramel tart.

The Gala Dinner is a fund raising event for the Childhood Brazil Foundation.  The PFV collection case, a handsome wooden collector’s case containing the finest currently available vintage of a wine from each of the producers in the PFV group, was successfully auctioned for the staggering sum of R$ 250,000, equivalent to € 106,000 or US$ 145,000.

This money, together with the donations included in the dinner ticket prices, and many additional donations from attendees, all went directly to Childhood Brazil, the Brazilian branch of the World Childhood Foundation, created in 1999 by Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden.  This charity focuses on protecting children and adolescents from abuse and exploitation through a wide range of regional and national programs throughout Brazil, and has already reached over 1 million people.

The PFV group, who presented their wines at the Gala Dinner as well as at other events this week in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, left to right:

Dominc Symington (Graham’s Port), Francois Perrin (Ch. Beaucastel), Laurent Drouhin (J. Drouhin), Valeska Müller (Egon Müller Scharzhof), Sebastiano Rosa (Tenuta San Guido – Sassicaia), Philippe Sereys de Rothschild (Ch. Mouton Rotschild), Albiera Antinori (Antinori), Hubert de Billy (Pol Roger), Pablo Alvarez (Vega Sicilia), Etienne Hugel (Hugel & Fils) and Miguel Torres (Torres).

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Primum Familiae Vini in Brazil

This week Dominic Symington is in Brazil, co-hosting a series of events which he has organised for the Primum Familiae Vini group.

Almost 20 years ago two of the world’s great winemakers, Robert Drouhin and Miguel Torres, were chatting as close friends do, of their respective businesses and the challenges they faced, both as makers of premium wines and as heads of family owned and run businesses.  Though they worked in different countries, they realised their concerns were common, and the idea was born to form an association of the top family-owned winemakers around the world in order to work together and share ideas and information on their unique issues.

Since then, the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) group has developed, and the activities of its current eleven members have expanded, their charter now setting the following goals for the group:

  • To promote and defend the ethical values that are the backbone of family businesses.
  • To exchange viticultural and oenological information and promote traditional methods that underpin the quality of the wine and respect for the terroir.
  • To promote the consumption in moderation of fine wine, which we consider to be an essential tradition of a great lifestyle.

Each year there is an annual meeting of the group which includes members of the coming generation as well as current management, as just one step in handing down and re-enforcing the values of the group.  Plans are made for the coming year, which include educational visits between the winemakers or their production teams, to share information and technology.  Though their terroirs and wines are very different, there is much knowledge and experience to be shared, and in the past viticulturalists and bottling plant teams from each winemaker have exchanged visits to learn from one anothers’ successes, challenges and findings.

Another annual PFV event is what must be the ultimate wine roadshow.  Every year the group select an up and coming market for their wines, and organise a series of tastings and educational events in a key city or series of cities, to be rounded off with a grand gala dinner, showing the top wines of each maker.  The gala evening culminates in the auction of a special case, which contains the finest currently available vintage of a wine from each of the producers in the group.  All proceeds from the dinner and the auction are donated to a charity, this year Childhood Brazil, a branch of the World Childhood Foundation created in 1999 by Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden.

Dominic and his son Anthony at the Rio de Janeiro tasting

This week, Dominic will be showing Graham’s wines at three different events, as well as the Gala dinner.  There are two trade tastings, one in São Paulo and another in Rio de Janeiro, where each of the eleven PFV members will show up to eight of their top wines.  Lucky Brazilian wine trade professionals will taste:

Graham’s 2007 Vintage Port
Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port
Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port
Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port
Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Also two DOC wines from Graham’s sister company, Quinta do Vesuvio:

Quinta do Vesuvio 2007 DOC Douro
Pombal do Vesuvio 2007 DOC Douro

A third tasting event will be held for some of the top opinion-makers of the Brazilian press, where family members will show just two wines:  one young and one old, and talk through the making and development of their wines.  From Graham’s, we will be showing two of our fabulous Vintage Ports:  2007 and 1980.

And as if that weren’t enough, Dominic and his colleagues from PFV will then move on to Chile where, in addition to a private dinner in Santiago, they will make working visits to some of the PFV members’ Chilean wineries.

The Symingtons are proud to be active members of the PFV group alongside:

Champagne Pol Roger
Joseph Drouhin
Hugel & Fils
Perrin & Fils
Marchesi Antinori
Tenuta San Guido
Vega Sicilia
Chateau Mouton Rothschild
Egon Müller-Scharzhof

To learn more about the Primum Familiae Vini and its members, visit their website at

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About the Douro Insider

The blog is very pleased to make room for the Douro Insider report, which has now migrated here, coming off its previous home, the Vintage Port Site.

Miles examining the Touriga Francesa in one of his research vineyards, September 2010

If you are not yet familiar with this report, it is absolutely unique in the Douro and the Port trade, and something of which we are very proud.  Miles Edlmann, our Research Viticulturalist, writes every month to review the weather and vineyard conditions and viticultural activity in the the Douro.  If you are secretly thinking right now this sounds hideously dull, please, treat yourself and read just one report.  We defy you to find anyone else who can make a low pressure system over the Atlantic or the fourth straight month of shoot-trimming so captivating and entertaining as well as solidly informative.  Miles’s occasional digressions on related matters, such as the secret life of enological students during maturation studies, are also something to which you can look forward.

The back catalog of monthly reports are now integrated to the main blog’s running text, but they also have a dedicated page.  Take a look at the menu tabs above, and click on the Douro Insider tab to get a full archive of links to the reports.  We are going live today with all the 2010 reports, and 2009 and 2008 will be posted shortly.

Looking down from the top of Malvedos to Vila Velha, south west across the river on the near bend

One thing to bear in mind:  unless otherwise stated, the main content of this blog is focussed on Graham’s and the five quintas which contribute to the Graham’s wines.  Miles’s Douro Insider reports, however, digest conditions across the entire region and discuss broad tendencies.  With the intense micro-climatisation of the Douro landscape, this can sometimes lead to apparent discrepancies.  It is not uncommon for there to be, for example, rainfall generally across the region, whilst select pockets remain bone dry.  Even among the five Graham’s quintas, we can have passing showers at Quinta dos Malvedos that never make it either south of the Douro to Quinta das Lages deep in the Rio Torto valley, or all the way east to Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in theDouro Superior.

The Douro Insider reports typically are published around the 10th to 15th of the month following the month under review.  This gives Miles time to gather and digest all the statistical data for rainfall and temperatures and write his report without neglecting his vines.

The next report will be issued mid-late November, and will be a combined September and October review, as the harvest typically spans those two months.  Additionally, October marks the end of the viticultural year, and Miles will also provides a summary retrospective of the year.

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