The View From Malvedos

If you look up at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos from the river, at the top of the hill to the right you will see a small cluster of buildings which were once the heart of a small quinta called Valdossa.  For years they sold their grapes to Graham’s and ultimately sold the property to us, and it became part of Malvedos.

Last Thursday I visited Malvedos, and so enjoyed the view from Valdossa, I thought you might too.  As the sign on the side of the house says,

If you like the view
From this place of Valdossa
Sit down and relax
Treat it as your own house

The first video pans across the view looking south to the river, from east to west:

The second video pans across the view west to east, looking north, from the crest of the hill top you see from the river.  As you will see, there is a lot more hill beyond!

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July 2011 Douro Insider

Although the end of June was destructively hot, almost as soon as the new month got underway there was a complete reversal of the broad-scale meteorological picture which came to dominate the weather in Portugal during most of July.  Very high pressure over the Azores combined with a thermal depression on the Iberian Peninsula caused strong winds to blow inland from the northwest for a large part of the month.  These maritime winds are typically very cool, meaning that the north of the country in particular was considerably fresher than might have been expected.  This was especially so at night.  It also explains why there was such a pronounced north-south divide when it came to temperatures: as the air currents blew southwards over the land they gradually warmed up and as a result the further south they got, the better the weather.  This led to the highly unusual situation whereby Faro was often the hottest city in the country.  Read Full Report

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Touriga Nacional at Quinta do Tua

Graham’s blogger is at Quinta do Tua this evening, and in the course of a sunset walk through the vineyards came across Charles Symington and Pedro Leal da Costa.  The most important part of our maturation studies is this:  tasting the berries.

This particular parcel of Touriga Nacional is only three years old and Charles is very pleased with the grapes, they will certainly be vinified this year.  He and Pedro were discussing the fact that oddly enough sometimes very young vines will come through with astonishingly mature flavours and complexity, and that is exactly what has happened with this vineyard.  The conditions this year have been auspicious, Charles said if we had had another year like 2009 (which was very hot and dry) the grapes would not have had a chance.

Touriga Nacional is known for small bunches and small berries, and as you can see these are true to form.

At 7:00 this evening, Charles was just finishing a whirlwind tour of Symington quintas, including Ataide (Altano), Telhada (Warre’s), Canais (Cockburn’s), and now Graham’s Quinta do Tua and he has been very pleased with the quality of the grapes throughout.  He said the vines are visibly happier (his word!) after the rain, the leaves have perked up and the grapes already are showing a little more moisture in them than last week, though he would not expect the full benefits of the rain to have come through yet.  We did have two days of overcast after the rains Sunday night and Monday morning, but as you can see it was a brilliantly sunny evening.

As he was getting in the car to go over to the Vinha Velha (old vines), he said you really couldn’t ask for better condtions than this.

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Pre-Harvest in the Tasting Room

Monday afternoon when I was wondering where Charles was for our harvest report meeting, I peeked into the tasting room.  Together with Nuno Moreira and Manuel Rocha (back to camera) he was reviewing a line up of white ports.

Every July we do our annual inventory of wine stocks.  Then, where we have small quantities of individual wines, Charles and his team do tastings like this one, to decide which small lotes can be blended and consolidated into a single larger lote.  In this way we can clear space in the Lodge so that when the 2011 Harvest wines are ready to come down to Gaia next winter and spring, there will be enough clean, empty casks waiting to receive them.

Beautiful colours on these whites.

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Prospects for Harvest 2011

Having completed our first few week of maturation studies, winemaker Charles Symington was ready to discuss the outlook for this year’s harvest at Graham’s.

Our Douro  grapes are looking  very good.  Despite a rather dry year so far the vines have not suffered any undue water stress, only enough to actually be good for the wines.  As always at this point in the season, we were wishing for just a bit of rain, and this year we got it.  Sunday evening, after a weekend of dark and stormy clouds, a good thunderstorm swept across the Douro and as of Monday morning we had recorded 17 mm of rain at Quinta do Vesuvio, next door to Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, and it had not finished yet.  Far more rain fell at Malvedos and in the Pinhao and Rio Torto valleys.  The family are very happy, saying this is a very useful amount of rain, almost ideal in fact. Depending of course on the weather now clearing up, the forecast is looking promising…

Last week’s baumés (measure of sugars in the grapes) were well above average for this time of year, but we expected high readings given the rapid development of the vines and grapes this year.  Ideally you want phenolic maturity to be balanced with the development of the sugars, and with the rain, the grapes can continue to concentrate and develop their phenolic compounds (which give wines flavour and colour) by photosynthesis, rather than dehydration.  Rain at this time of year is always welcome to help pace the final stretch of the maturation process. For a few days the  baumés will drop as the vines absorb the welcome rainfall, before rising again.  In particular, the rain will soften the skins, allowing for much better colour and flavours in the must.  This is how great wines are made.

Right now the forecast for the near future is good: not too hot, in fact pretty nearly ideal.  Charles said the conditions are very similar to 2007 – and if you have tasted Graham’s 2007 Vintage Port, that should be very cheering news.  We had an unusually cool July, and though he has not yet seen the statistics for August. Charles said we certainly did not have any excessive heat, though it had been dry up until Sunday’s rain.  Paul, Dominic and Johnny, who all spent their entire August summer holidays at their Quintas in the Douro, confirm that August was warm, with some hot days, but certainly nothing too exegarated.  So conditions have been close to ideal so far.

Tinta Roriz last month at Malvedos

The Touriga Franca is looking particularly promising.  The Tinta Barroca production is much reduced, we lost as much as half our crop in some quintas due to either hail or sunburn (see Miles’s June Douro Insider report for more details), and this actually lead to a more rapid ripening for what fruit remained on the vines.  It is even possible that some quintas may harvest the Barroca and then stop and wait a bit before harvesting the other varieties.  The Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz are both candidates for harvesting next after the Barroca, Charles will be watching those closely in the next few weeks to determine the right picking order between them.  Overall, we anticipate yields to be average to low.

Early indications suggest that Malvedos, Tua and Vila Velha might start the harvest in earnest some time during the week of the 12th September.  In the Douro Superior, some of the south-facing quintas for our sister brands may begin picking as early as the first week of September (for example Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais or Warre’s Quinta da Telhada), but Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, with its north-facing aspect, probably won’t begin picking until the week of the 12th as well, and Quinta das Lages, in the Rio Torto valley south of Pinhão, may start picking as much as a week after that.

To learn more about how we conduct our maturity studies, you might like to read this article.

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Sculpting a New Vineyard At Quinta do Tua

Old vines are wonderful for the intensity and richness their grapes bring to Graham’s ports, but sadly there comes a point when the yields are so low, and there are so many falhas (missing vines) that an old vineyard is just not economically viable any more.  Then it is more important to invest for the future, re-plant the vineyard and start again.  So it was at Quinta do Tua this year, when we made the decision to clear some old mixed vineyards.  Ironically, during last year’s harvest, we commented that these old vines were adjacent to some of our newest vines, a plantation of Souzão.

So, how exactly is a new vineyard created from an old one?  First, the old posts and wires are cleared out and the old vines as well.  Then the whole hillside – in this case 5 hectares – gets broken up and smoothed out.

Once the whole area is pretty well smoothed out, the next step is to establish the main roadways through the vineyard.  This is critical – not only are the roads used for transport, they are the key to our drainage strategy.  All the terraces will be gently inclined so that accumulated surface water will run off into the roadways and then follow the roads down the hill, thus minimising erosion damage to the terraces.  In some cases, we may cut a dedicated drainage ditch alongside the roadway, and even lay down pipes if appropriate.

The day I visited this plantation, the roadways had been established, and we were sculpting the patamares, the terraces atop earth banks which are used on all gradients greater than 30% incline.

Bulldozer slowly carves a new patamare out of the hillside

The process looks deceptively simple.  The bulldozer starts at the top of the vineyard and effectively snowploughs the first terrace and the angled talude (embankment) above it, allowing all excess rock and soil to cascade down the hill.  They then repeat this manoeuvre over and over, moving down the hill one terrace at a time.  The real art of it, however, is to always angle the terrace surface back towards the hill side, and generally sculpt the length of the terrace to angle ever so gently downwards towards the roadway end, so runoff is managed into the drainage system established earlier.

Breaking up the schist with a backhoe

We use an excavator (giratória) to dig a succession of ditches and move the soil from each new ditch to fill in the last one, turning over the top layer of soil.  This surriba breaks up the schist, but if we hit huge outcrops of solid rock which the diggers can’t manage, we might have recourse to compressors and dynamite.  It’s really the same process as double digging your vegetable patch, but on a slightly bigger scale!

Believe it or not, this will smooth out the terrace considerably

Finally our own tractorista, Alexandre, trundles along the new patamar with a little mini dozer pulling a scarifier to smooth out the tilth of the (still pretty rocky) soil.

Sometime between January and March of next year these 5 hectares will be planted in single varietal blocks of bench-grafted Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa.  Although we will allow the vines to sprawl their first year, we do need to get the trellis system set up some time before July in order to comply with the regulations governing the subsidies for vineyard replanting.

At the height of harvest last September the new plantation of Souzão looked pretty bleak next to the other vineyards
Surrounded by five hectares of newly cleared hillside the Souzão plantation looks almost lush
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Vertically Speaking

Rupert Symington and Roy Hersh

Readers may recall our mentioning Rupert Symington’s visit to Vancouver last March, where, together with Roy Hersh, he presented “Elegance, Power and Complexity” a vertical tasting of eight of Graham’s Vintage ports since 1970.  

If our readers are not yet familiar with Roy, we are pleased to introduce him to you here.  Roy has enjoyed a long career in the food and wine industry, as wine critic, judge, writer and teacher.  In 2003 he was one of just two Americans invited to join the Confraria do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Brotherhood) here in Porto.  To fulfill his oath to promote Port, he launched For the Love of Port, a website which is a terrific resource to the Port lover, as it includes an active discussion board, a database of members’ tasting notes, and a subscriber’s newsletter, as well as offering annual insiders’ tours to Porto, the Douro and Madeira.

Below is Roy’s report on the Vancouver tasting, with his own tasting notes.  (Note: The following material is Copyright July 2011, Roy Hersh)

The scene was set at the 33rd annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.  A gathering of consumers and media members packed the room to partake in a very special tasting of Port.  Just moments before the presentation was to begin Rupert Symington approached me to join him on the podium to present a vertical tasting of eight extraordinary vintages of Graham’s Port ranging from 2007 to 1970.

This was one of the premiere tastings featured this year, as “Fortified Wine” was one of the two main themes featured during the weeklong festival.  The room was filled with a mix of curious wine enthusiasts and some avid Port fans seeking to gain a greater understanding of Graham’s while sipping on some mighty impressive Vintage Ports.  I felt somewhat unprepared, not even knowing what was included in the lineup; but how do you say no to Mr. Symington?

Rupert had prepared an agenda and eloquently spoke about the history of Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos and other vineyards involved in the mix, and he provided fine descriptions about treading in lagares, the cellar worthiness of Port and a brief discussion of the important period between 1720 and 1890, as well as the typical production levels for vintage releases of Graham’s.  Great info!

We then turned directly to the actual tasting session, which began with the youngest Vintage Port, the 2007 and headed back in time to 1970:

2007 Graham’s Vintage Port – Opaque magenta with a purplish edge.  Lush floral aromas with mocha and chocolate.  Plum and boysenberry flavors with medium ripe tannins and a seamlessly, long finish.  From a small crop that yielded only 72,000 bottles.  I think it’s safe to say the 2007 Graham’s should age very well for 30-40 years.  94+ points

2003 Graham’s Vintage Port – Fantastic fragrance of freshly crushed grape exhibiting great purity and seasoned by scents of menthol and esteva.  Dark fruit flavors prevail, bright, rich and concentrated.  Although a powerful Port, its refined tannins and sublime texture lead up to a most stunning finish. Drink now to 2048.  9,000 cases produced.  Graham’s  excelled in this hot vintage! ~ 95+ points

2000 Graham’s Vintage Port – Aromatically this was a bit reticent, but some coaxing allowed the red fruit notes to emerge.  Medium weight and seemingly more vinous than either the 2003 or 2007.  Smoky and spicy black cherry, cocoa and eucalyptus flavors melded beautifully. The 2000 is still very tannic and will support long term cellaring, improving for many years and showing more grip than either previous Port.  Drink now or cellar through the middle decades of the century. A gorgeous young Vintage Port, it deserved more hours in decanter and it would have performed even better.  But why quibble about a great Graham’s like this? ~ 94+ points

1994 Graham’s Vintage Port – Vinous, extremely balanced and offering scents of red licorice and raspberry fruit with a mocha note. The 1994 offers focused and concentrated fruit that stands out in a crowd.  The acidity and ripe, round tannins deliver deft balance.  This is going to reward patience and although easy to sip now, Graham’s ’94 will evolve at a high level for another 5 decades and should be permitted to improve in bottle.  It’s a remarkable, classic Vintage Port. ~ 95+ points

1985 Graham’s Vintage Port – The audience realized after having tasted their way through half of Graham’s stellar vintages; that they were onto something special with this 1985 offering. Great depth of color and deeply extracted, with no clue we were drinking a Port possessing a quarter century of bottle age.  Great intensity and extraordinary density; this 1985 is unbelievably youthful.  Spicy and sweet ripe plum and sandalwood seasoning, crisp acidity along with soft and mouth coating tannins.  It is a Port for the ages; I look forward to seeing how well this will drink in 25 more years.  ~ 94+ points

1980 Graham’s Vintage Port – 1980 is likely the most underrated of the vintages included in this tasting.  I have always been a great fan of the Dow, Warre, Gould Campbell & Graham’s Ports from this year.  The Symington family seemed to “own the vintage.” Delicious, soft, classic Graham’s style; it’s still showing prominent tannins at 31 years of age.  Sweet grenadine and ripe fig flavors along with eucalyptus, cocoa powder and a sublimely soft, smooth mouthfeel and persistent finish.  1980 was never considered a legendary vintage, but it just goes to show how soundly Graham’s performs even in vintages that were not appreciated by the critics when young. 1980 Graham’s will easily drink well for 15-20 more years from here.  92+ points

1977 Graham’s Vintage Port – I will admit when I am wrong.  Throughout the early part of the 1990’s and up to the mid-point of the past decade, I was never a fan of the 1977 Graham’s.  It was too hot and spirituous for my liking and I couldn’t see how after so many years, this would ever resolve itself.  The last six bottles I’ve been a part of since 2005, have proved me wrong.  The 1977 has finally morphed and today, it presents really well.  Notes of prune, tea leaf, herbs and bouquet garni elicit an evocative aromatic profile.  Delicious and finely balanced with vibrancy and round tannins providing structure at nearly 35 years of age.  I see this continuing to improve for at least another 15 years before hitting a plateau.  The “comeback kid” has arrived. ~ 93+ points

1970 Graham’s Vintage Port – This was the first Vintage Port produced as the Symingtons purchased the firm from the Graham’s brothers in 1970. James Symington (Rupert’s father) actually made this very first vintage under the new ownership.  I’ve always been a huge fan of this particular Graham’s and it is up there with other exalted Ports like Nacional, Fonseca & Taylor which is rarified territory in this brilliant vintage.  This particular bottle was exemplary, a really fine showing; with an amazingly youthful appearance and a hedonistic, silky mouthfeel of great length. ~ 96+ points

Graham’s has proven again, that the consistency of its Port is its hallmark.  It is my opinion, having led or participated in vertical tastings of all the major Port houses, that since WW2, no other Port producer has achieved the same level of excellence, regardless of vintage, as has Graham’s.  Another remarkable quality of this shipper is the ability of its Vintage Ports to consistently age 50+ years.

Note:  Roy’s tastings notes on these wines have now been added to the Knowledge Base of our Vintage Port Site, where you can read more about Graham’s and all the Vintage Ports made by Symington Family Estates.

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Reasons to Visit Graham’s Lodge

August is the month almost everyone takes at least some time off work.  Have you thought of coming to visit Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia?  There are lots of good reasons to come to our Lodge, some of which are featured in the gallery below.

If you have a large group, contact Isabel or any of the team at grahams at grahamsportlodge dot com to make arrangements (use the usual symbols, we just spell it out here to avoid spam).

Click into the first thumbnail below to open the photo into a full size page, then use the hyperlinks at the base of the photo to scroll back and forth through the gallery and read more about what’s on offer at the Lodge.

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The Grapes

At Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, just above the winery, there are a few short terraces which were planted in 2000 with just one or two rows each of the most important grape varieties used in Port wines.

One of the great strengths of Port is that it is a blended wine, so we can make use of the flavour profiles and structural qualities of several different grapes in order to produce wines with the perfect combination of deep colour, great flavour complexity and a firm, balanced structure to ensure a long life.

As previously reported by both our head winemaker Charles Symington and our research viticulturalist Miles Edlmann, the vines are fully two weeks ahead of the average development cycle, and we have had an early pintor (colour change).  See for yourself with these photos taken on the 22nd July at Malvedos, and take a virtual walk with us through this demonstration vineyard to learn a little more about our grapes.

Tinta Roriz

Tinta Roriz, above, is best grown in dry, well-exposed areas as these grapes have a thick skin which protects against sunburn.  At its fully ripened best, Tinta Roriz gives Graham’s wines long-lasting structure, intense colour and powerful tannins all of which make it an ideal choice for wines meant to age for a long period of time.   The nose is aromatic, often characterised by spices and rockrose, and the palate tends towards black fruits such as mulberry, blackberry, black cherry and jam.

Tinta Roriz is also known as Arogonês elsewhere in Portugal, and Tempranillo in Spain.

Tinta Barroca

Long a favourite of Port makers, Tinta Barroca is known for high tannins and high sugar levels.  The bunches are long and loose and the berries thin skinned which make it susceptible to sunburn.

The colour of Tinta Barroca wines is not particularly intense, and acidity can be low, but it brings flavours of cherry, raspberry and mulberry, elegant aromas and a long finish to our blends.

Touriga Nacional

Touriga Nacional is probably the most well known of the Port grapes, and prized for its intensity and complexity.  Its flavour range includes raspberry, black fruits and floral notes, particularly violets.  With high tannin levels and good natural acidity, this grape ensures our Ports age without loss of structure or balance.

This variety typically produces only one kilo of grapes or even less on older vines, the clusters are small and the individual berries are smaller than other varieties, with a distinctly dark blue colour, almost like a blueberry.

Touriga Francesa

Touriga Francesa is a widely planted grape for reasons of both quality and quantity.  Whilst the wines are not as intensely concentrated as those made from Touriga Nacional, they have good natural acidity and fabulous lifted floral aromas of esteva (rockrose) as well as red fruit and sometimes blackberry flavours.  The vines are naturally and consistently high yielding, and in fact we need to control that tendency somewhat to ensure the quality of the grapes.

The Francesa has thick skinned berries, which makes it very resistant to the intense heat of the Douro.  It grows well throughout the region, but it really thrives where it can enjoy maximum sunlight to ensure full ripening.

The grape is also known as Touriga Franca, its official name since 2000.


Souzão is a thin skinned variety which is very susceptible to sunburn – in fact we do not grow Souzão at Malvedos, except this demonstration row, because the south to southwest facing exposure is not ideal.  In blends, this grape brings notes of herbs, pine tar or smokiness.

Tinta Amarela

Tinta Amarela has thin skins and compact bunches, which can make it a bit of a challenge to the viticulturalist to keep healthy.  Good canopy management and a dry situation lower the risk of disease and ensure full ripening.

The wines are remarkably fragrant, and have a nice balance of acidity which make it well worth including in blends, despite its rather low tannins and less intense colour.

Would you like to learn more about these grapes and Douro viticulture in general?  Miles Edlmann writes very clearly and entertainingly about viticulture.  The Vintage Port Site has a series of articles by Miles about viticulture, including one about the annual cycle of the grapevine, another with more information about the grape varieties, and more.

If you want to follow the cycle of the current viticultural year and keep up with meteorological conditions in the region, you will want to follow his Douro Insider reports which are posted each month in this blog.  The full archive can easily be accessed directly on this page of the Blog site.

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